Earlier this year, Eric Murillo was remembered a “hero” after his death, timed days before he was due in court for a rape charge.
This month EmoBaby wilfully came forward about the abuse she was subject to at the hands of Octavian, who openly talked about the violence on tracks and in interviews.
Abuse of power in the music industry is being brought to our attention time after time, but is enough being done in local music scenes to stop these stories repeating themselves?
In July we posted an article, Blame Culture, Consent and the Divide in Convictions, which delved into the careless treatment of sexual abuse victims, the far too unfamiliar topic of boundaries, consent and themes of power and unfair trial. Written by Charlie Culverhouse, the article was shared hundreds of times and conversations were ignited on Instagram.
BABMAG was proud to see people passionately engaging with the topic — one conversation that began on the post was so impactful those involved wanted to share it publicly in more depth…
We warmly welcome Hannah and Priya, who, unafraid to dive deeper into the politics and power dynamics at play within the electronic music scene, highlight through their discussion the underrepresented, underground ideals and how to make lasting, hard hitting change in a scene that has been allowed to flow into murky waters.
Hannah is a writer advocating for critical interventions in music journalism. In addition, she chairs panel discussions on electronic music and contributes to Resident Advisor, VICE and The Quietus.
Priya [pseudonym] is a DJ and artist who hosts DJ workshops for women and non-binary folks. She has hosted shows on NTS, Rinse FM & Sable Radio.
Hannah: Hi Priya! How are you? It’s funny, I’ve been an admirer of yours for some time, but I don’t think we’ve actually had a one-on-one discussion before. It was great to spark up a conversation in the comments of the BABMAG article.
I feel like my immediate response to that piece was quite reactionary because, although I think it is essential to highlight statistics and the prevalence of sexual harassment globally, I’m also wondering how we can mobilise on a local level to create accountability within Birmingham’s electronic music community.
I want to see more focused, preventative action and engaged discussion on the issues of gender imbalances in all facets of the Midland’s music industry, sexual harassment at gigs and the meaning of consent.
Priya: Hey Hannah, was really refreshing to have this exchange with you! I think my impression was reactionary also – I was just glad to see these topics being discussed, without having read the article.
However, upon reading, I noticed some issues too. Sexual violence is always an essential conversation, not just now. While it’s important that consent, victim-blaming and racial disparities in convictions of American rapists were discussed, it is vital we return back to base and seriously consider how all of this plays out in our immediate environments.
An essential point is missing: Black, brown, queer, disabled, trans and younger folks are more vulnerable to fetishisation, sexual violence, marginalisation, being silenced and receiving less access to relevant resources for healing. Of course, this plays out in music spaces too. We need to centre safety and create event spaces where there’s meaningful support, so that people feel comfortable speaking up when they’ve been harmed.
The values held by event organisers play into this – do you care about the people who attend your event, or just about the money and ego-boost their presence gives you? Is your ‘safer-spaces’ advocacy simply written on the wall, or is there an approachable individual(s) who’s knowledgeable in safeguarding that people can go to? I think, in general, in these often hedonistic spaces, we really need to check in on each other’s safety and wellbeing. It is cool to show care.
Sexual assault is a massive problem in the ‘DJ scene’ with much complacence and facilitation of harmful behaviour and very little responsibility, accountability and support for survivors. The perpetuation of patriarchy for non cis-male survivors adds another element of trauma to navigate.
At the same time, men who have experienced sexual abuse also need space to be able to speak about things; we need to dismantle the stigma and practice care.
Hannah: So true. I know this is an incredibly difficult time for everyone involved in the music world. There’s so much instability, both in relation to economic precarity and the uncertainty of when gigs will actually be able to take place again. But I think this is also a really crucial moment – while everything is still stuck on pause – to question the way things have always been.
Time can feel urgent on social media, but it’s slower in real life and this is what we need to aim towards – practising care and listening to each other. I’m really hoping for more transparency with venues and collectives clearly stating their intentions. For example, what happens if someone is engaging in problematic behaviour in their spaces? Do their staff have anti-racism and de-escalation training? Will they refuse to book acts who have a history of abuse and who have shown no acknowledgement of the harm that they have caused?
Priya: So true, we need to strategise on ways of accountability. What this could look like is something I’ve been trying to figure out too… Also, what happens when problematic behaviour is carried out in spaces where the promoters or owners are the abusers? Who can you turn to for support there? Power dynamic imbalances are a serious issue. In creating changes, I think transparency really is the keyword; a possible way to practice integrity and build trust.
For promoters and DJs, I think change starts in interrogating whether your careerism overshadows everything else. I’ve seen career focused individuals facilitate and be complicit in abuse (often carried out by their peers or someone with more DJ-clout than themselves), at the cost of people’s wellbeing, to boost their own clout and combat insecurity.
Values lie at the core of action and until we genuinely shift our values and prioritise the community and victim-centred approaches for healing and transforming, things won’t shift. For example, refusing to work with abusers until there is tangible transformation and rebuilding of trust is important to signal that you don’t support their abuse of their power. Creating space for people to feel safe to have these conversations would also be a start.
Another key issue, as the BABMAG article addresses, is the ostracisation of people who speak up against abuse. There needs to be an interconnected and community approach to addressing sexual violence, because, as with white supremacy and other power structures, when the victim tries to stand up to injustice, there’s already a massive power imbalance which has allowed harm to happen in the first place. In these instances, victims stand further vulnerable after trying to open up about their experience and seeking healing and justice.
Hannah: I really feel that. Perhaps another aspect in Birmingham is how fragmented the city can be both in terms of its layout – the distance between Digbeth, Kings Heath, the Jewellery Quarter etc – but also disparate aspects of its music.
You’ve got The Mill, the Hare and Hounds, Broad Street… how do you bring them together? I’m wondering how to build a cohesive dialogue between the different communities so that problematic actions and individuals can be flagged and talked about.
It often seems the work of educating or facilitating discussions is put into femxle lead platforms like Selextorhood and there’s not much effort from other collectives, artists or venues. At the very base level, there needs to be more discussion and open practice, and this has to be something that we are all invested in collectively.
Priya: Definitely! It’s not moving anywhere till allies step up. There’s way too many men in music who stay quiet about their friends’ shitty behaviour, allowing it to continue and not considering it important to value and support non cis-men in situations of harm.
Hannah: I completely agree with you about the careerist aspect. The electronic music industry operates within the same neoliberal framework as the rest of the world and is complicit in the cult of the individual. Meld that with a patriarchal culture of entitlement, drug abuse and enabling social circles that can’t deal with conflict resolution or confrontation. I think we all need to get invested in endeavouring to do transformative justice, having difficult conversations and inventions as a community, especially white, cis, privileged people within the scene who hold power.
Whilst, of course, it’s a not a ‘fix-all solution’ I think workshop/talk lead models are incredibly useful in this regard as they facilitate for skill sharing, networking opportunities and discussion. All these aspects are so important to undo the rampant nepotism of the music world.
Events like Dweller Festival are so radical because they also challenge dominant narratives by centring the work of marginalised people. I think it’s the same with Discwoman and their use of contracts with clauses and commitment to fair pay. Exercising economic freedom is crucial to speaking against the status quo, something that DJ Sprinkles has written about, and which feminist agency owners have emphasised.
Priya: I agree with what you’re saying about the necessity of knowledge, skill and experience sharing. The BABMAG article rightly pointed out that it can sometimes take a long time for people to come to terms with trauma, abuse and exploitation (especially those with a history of internalising it) so, exchange with others is key. We all experience hardships in life and different challenges, and it really is amazing that we are able to communicate, exchange and offer tools and resources to one another to be able to navigate things.
Hannah: Campaigns, manifestos and pledges can be very effective, and it would be wonderful to see that city-wide, but these would also need to be flexible to attend to the nuances of situations and different contexts. For instance, if someone is removed from a space, do they understand why happened? Throwing out a guilty party without de-escalation and explanation can potentially lead to that person engaging in bothersome behaviour elsewhere in the city.
Do their security staff have de-esculation training or do they only know how to enforce violence? How do you create a sex-positive environment (as we need our clubs to be!) that doesn’t give-way to predatory exchanges? Does the venue or platform appreciate why all these aspects are important? Are they clued up on the history of the music that they are playing?
I see people like Ben UFO doing the rounds in Brum, but do these bookers know where dubstep comes from? Would they be interested in booking Cooly G or Sherelle or Anz, and not as a token gesture but because they value their work. Will they promise not to book acts with a proven history of abusive?
I vividly remember being in a green room with a bunch of dudes discussing if they should programme Jackmaster post-harassment and drug scandal as his fee was so cheap… Like, the conversation was literally just that he was a big name draw who was now less costly…
Priya: That green room Jackmaster story is gross. It’s definitely a wider contextual issue, which requires responsibility and respect to resolve. Localised support for victims of abuse, as well as education, accountability, transparency, transformation within surrounding contexts. This work transcends an individual’s identity, as complicity is a wider community, intersectional thing.
Serious conversations about consent, safeguarding in clubs (countless stories of club security sexually harassing people, especially QTBIPoC), and dismantling exploitative power dynamics need to be had and we also need to dismantle the ridiculous trope of idolising DJs, putting them on an untouchable pedestal – feeding their ego and power, which when abused, often means that their abusive behaviour gets swept under the carpet and victims are made to feel powerless, and afraid to speak out.
What structural remedies to this look like, I’m unsure. So far, I’ve not felt reassured by the co-opting of ‘safer spaces’ by mainstream venues. It has felt like words and surface level, rather than actions and values. We need more people involved in this industry to recognise that these are very real, very common problems and we all need to work together and pool resources to support one another.
Hannah: This will necessarily be a long, difficult discussion that will unfold in many different ways, but I’m really invested in seeing it happen. Whilst obviously we want to condemn the actions of some “weak” men in the scene, we also need to be proactively challenging the contexts that legitimise and validate their behaviour.
As Adrienne Maree Brown says, we need to be working towards transformation,“not the transformation from vibrant flawed humans to bits of ash, but rather the transformation from broken people and communities to whole ones.”
Priya: Definitely, and it’s got to start with ourselves and our circles.
A non-exhaustive resource list for issues relating to…
Community & Transformative Justice
Some resources on the importance of communicating and doing reparative justice on an interpersonal and political level.
How to Support Harm Doers in Being Accountable, a series initiated by Adrienne Maree Brown.
Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair by Sarah Schulman
In the Scene
Revisionist histories that centre the work of marginalised people, as well as discussions on visibility and gender imbalance within the electronic music scene. It is important to remember that dance music originated from black, queer and femme contexts, and is indebted to the legacy of that lineage.
WAS talk with Discwoman’s Akua and Juana, Amsterdam-based DJ Jasmin, Lisa Molle programmer at EKKO, hosted by Sophia Seawell, a feminist writer.
– Topics discussed include the ways in which we can amplify each other’s voices, tokenism and the unpaid work that comes with seeing and calling out bullshit
Dancing on our own terms: FemCity presents, how can we shift the conversation towards equal and safe clubbing experiences in a way that represents more voices? [Discussion begins at 11:00]
Assembling a Black Counter Culture by DeForrest Brown, Jr. (upcoming, via Primary Information Publishers, Winter 2020-2021)
Consent is often presented as a binary of no means no, yes means yes, but the reality is that human interactions are much more complicated than this. It is essential to acknowledge the power relations in exchanges and be attentive to them. These are some sources that deal with a nuanced and complex take on the concept of consent:
I May Destroy You by Michaela Coel (BBC series)
Learning Good Consent: On Healthy Relationships and Survivor Support, Edited by Cindy Crabb