The last few days have been crushing, reading about the atrocities committed by a lot of the musicians I listened to, saw live, or even dated in the last 15 years. After Burger Records shut down, following multiple sexual abuse allegations made against a large number of the bands on their roster, several bands issued statements acknowledging predatory behaviors from their current and former members. This lifts the veil on a culture of silence in the music industry, where (mostly) men can sexually abuse women without being held accountable, while many people know about their behavior and stay silent. My guess is what is going on now with the downfall of this label will expand to other labels, and bands, far beyond the LA scene, as indie rock’n’roll is a worldwide microcosm where everyone knows everyone – and the same shit happens everywhere.
I started going to gigs at 13 (no one ever ID’d me in France at the time), and got adult band members hitting on me from that age. The tormented kid I was, raging and desperate to find some beauty in a dark world, found comfort in music, and was flattered when men from these bands I looked up to showed me appreciation and commented on “how mature I was for my age.” Now 28, I understand it was grooming.
To outsiders, it is hard to grasp how much rock’n’roll has impacted my life on its every aspect, far beyond just liking the music. It exudes from how I dress, the people I date, the drugs I take, the places I’ve lived – and I don’t even play music myself. With the music, I know I will never be alone again, and that scene is the family I got to choose. Obviously rock’n’roll is a music full of sexual energy, made by and for people who don’t fit, and who are often troubled, promiscuous, and excessive. A lot of apologists argue that “back in the 70’s all of these things were normal,” and we certainly don’t want to rip this culture from everything that made it. People can have all the orgies they want as long as there is consent, and even hurt themselves if that’s what they’re going for, as long as they don’t hurt others. Simply “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll” doesn’t have to be “rape, drugs and rock’n’roll”.
In light of the extent of the problem, we can tell that we are not in presence of a few bad apples, but a toxic dynamic, a systemic problem where predators use rock’n’roll as an excuse to lure their victims, where their entourage knows about this, remains silent and does not confront them (either by convenience or fear of being ostracized), and where survivors have to brush off their trauma like it’s no big deal and simply something that’s part of the culture. Yet, people prefer to blame the groupie culture rather than the abusers and toxic masculinity, or they use the mental illness card like it’s a magic pass for sexually abusing and assaulting others.
For so many years, I brushed off toxic behaviors of male friends because hey, “it’s only rock’n’roll baby.” But is it normal, really, that this friend I’ve known since high school will always wait for me to be completely wasted to make a move on me? Or that this guy everyone knows is a rapist still plays in four bands and gets invited to all the parties so I have to warn my girlfriends to stay away from him? The betrayal is all the more so painful because these horrors are associated with some of the most precious moments of my life. Talking about this with a friend, he told me: “most girls experience shit while being in a space they enjoy or having experiences they cherish. For girls, rock’n’roll is, ‘here’s a piece of golden light while some moron grabs my ass’,” and that is exactly how I feel.
I know it sucks so many bands got cancelled following anonymous stories on some instagram accounts (@lured_by_burger_records to name the main one), as anonymous claims are never an ideal format and can lead to excesses. But an important question to ask ourselves is, why did women have to come forward and tell their stories that way? It is very obvious that everybody involved in the music scene knew, and anyone saying otherwise is a liar. If you’re mad your favorite band got cancelled, be mad at all the men who knew they had an abuser amongst them and did nothing, rather than attacking women who, running out of alternatives and desperate to be heard, used this last resort. Because whenever us women spoke up, we were dismissed as ‘groupies’. Yet, ‘groupie’ wasn’t so negative when we were paying those guys’ rent, going to their shows, buying their merch, flattering their ego with our presence, inspiring them to write their songs or even co-writing them.
I read a lot of half-assed apologies that bands posted on their social media after being outed, and they all seemed to be following the same template of “sorry/have issues/better person now/will delete my music.” And what is most people’s reaction in the comments (even when the musician in question was accused of brutally assaulting his partner)? “Don’t delete the music!” Apologists always bring up the eternal “separate the man from the artist” catchphrase, but when venues become hunting grounds, when music becomes a lure, when fans become victims, when bandmates become silent accomplices, and when record labels try to cover up these stories, there is no possible separation between the man and the artist, as predators are using their art to facilitate their crimes.
I wish those cry-babies could know without experiencing it firsthand how it feels to have your body betray you and freeze when a long-time friend tries to force himself on you, knowing you cannot tell anyone about it because “X is so charming everybody loves him.” How it feels trying to speak to your dearest friend and being called jealous and a liar so you know you should never speak about it again, and knowing it will resurface randomly in moments that were meant to be beautiful – like making love to someone you care about. It eats you from the inside and gets more unbearable as silence sinks in, and just hearing the name of X said out loud will always send you back to that sofa, that night, and to your shame. Maybe – maybe – then they would understand that 12 tracks being deleted from the internet is not the worst.
The time has come for male musicians to sit together and talk, and not only to that problematic friend (although this is absolutely necessary and in most cases hasn’t been done). They must get into the habit of talking, not only about consent but also their feelings in general, their own trauma, their fears, and their hopes, as this is the only path towards a collective learning and healing.
People regularly disappear overnight from the scene and we do not question it. Those are mostly women following a traumatic experience with an abuser, or men who tried to speak up against a predator and got silenced by other bands. Why do we keep being complicit in it? Because rock’n’roll is a greater good? Well I’m not so sure about it anymore. And it hurts, it hurts so much, knowing this scene is something I could never leave, but part of it will always remain inside of me like a rotten tumoral organ.
Rock’n’roll ain’t dying, you’re killing it.