Written by Parisa Eshrati
In solidarity with survivors of sexual assault across the music industry—including those who have recently come forward with allegations against Bassnectar and artists and staff at Burger Records—this article discusses the intersectionality of the music industry, rape culture and white supremacy, and provides resources for building a stronger foundation for the safety and well-being of music fans, especially youth and QTBIPOC.
**Content Warning: Sexual abuse, assault**
I’ve had so many iterations of this post over the last few years, but I’ve come to the point where I finally had to sit down and write this thing. I’ve avoided doing this partially because it hurts to have to write this. It’s extremely disheartening being a music lover and managing a music blog, but at the same time wanting nothing to do with the music scene. It’s painful to be a woman of color and finding solace in the music community, only to find out that an overwhelming amount of people don’t care about your safety.
But this isn’t about me. This is about sharing stories from countless folks who are standing up against abusers in the music industry and discussing their trauma. This is about helping people understand the realities of the music industry, the disproportionate power dynamics held by musicians, and how that influence is misused. This is about the imperative to believe survivors, to demand change for a safer music community, and, most importantly, to tie these issues into the ongoing movement for racial justice.
If you’ve been following @lured_by_burger_records, @evidenceagainstbassnectar, or just been on the internet within the past few years, you know there’s a lot of brave people coming out with stories of assault from musicians and figures in the music industry. These experiences aren’t new, and the gendered and racial inequalities in the music industry have always been an issue. But thanks to social media and the power of the #MeToo movement, these long overdue discussions of power and sexual abuse have reached the public arena. While it is uncomfortable to discuss, we have to first acknowledge these issues on a group level in order for the music scene to evolve. Once we realize how broad and widely acceptable abuse is within the music community, only then can we create a new space for change. Music has always served as a means for solace and comfort, so it’s time that the culture reflects the radical inclusivity that it claims to be about.
And to clear up a common misconception - this is not “cancel culture.” We as music fans have to hold our artists accountable for their actions. We can’t blindly support someone’s art if they are using it as a means to coerce non-consensual and abusive behaviors. Even if these bands aren’t bands that you listen to, you should realize that no genre is exempt from these discussions. Whenever there is a person in a position of power (especially cis-gendered white men), we must be critical of how they use their influence.
Below, I’ve gathered some ideas, articles, and other resources to discuss the intersectionality of the music industry, rape culture, and white supremacy. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but again, as a manager of a music blog, it’s my responsibility to use this platform to discuss the most currently pressing issue in music culture. My intention is to create an informational post that can help music lovers (especially white men) think critically about the state of the music industry and support a safer, more inclusive future.
Resources of Sexual Assault Survivors
Please remember that reading these stories can be extremely triggering. First and foremost, take care of your mental health and reach out to your friends who are survivors and let them know they are supported.
Sexual Assault Resource Guide
National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Sexual Assault Hotline
Tips for Talking with Survivors of Sexual Assault
How To Help A Friend Who's Been Triggered
Understanding Consent in the Music Industry
One of the recently outed abusers is Nahko Bear, frontman of alternative world music group Nahko and Medicine for the People. After a week of silence, he issued a statement on Facebook in which he apologizes but also says that he’s not guilty. What stood out the most to me is that he focuses on the fact that what he did “was not illegal.”
But the law today does not do a good job of defining consent. Just because what someone did wasn’t necessarily illegal doesn’t mean that it was acceptable. Especially in the music industry, we have to acknowledge that there are implicit power dynamics between a musician and a fan. This post from EDM producer G Jones explains it well:
Here are additional resources exploring power dynamics and their role in consent:
(Note: Drugs and alcohol heavily influence consent, especially in the EDM or festival scene. However, we all have to be mindful to not shame all drug users or claim that drugs are the reason for the abuse. Narcotics absolutely alter the lines of consent, but it is not the sole reason why someone is an abuser. Learn more on How Shame Impacts Addiction & Recovery.)
Analyzing Abuser Statements
Another invaluable asset that music fans need to hone in on is being able to read an alleged abuser’s statement and decipher whether or not they are genuinely taking accountability for their actions. On top of that, we need to be able to recognize whether or not we’re being manipulated into believing the abuser is actually the victim. Language plays a big part in this, and most artists have a PR firm write these statements (oftentimes, you can see word-for-word statements from different artists). By developing critical understanding of the language used by artists and their PR team, we can avoid being gaslighted into pitying an abuser and further our support for the victims.
Let’s start by looking at Nahko Bear’s statement:
First off, he addresses this letter to the “Medicine Tribe and Relatives”. I understand that that’s how he usually addresses his fans, but right off the bat, we can see that his addressing us as family sets a tone of empathy towards himself. He might not have addressed this letter intentionally, but regardless, he is setting himself up as a familiar member of our family, not as a famous artist. This already is gaslighting us to believe he’s just another “part of the tribe” instead of a musician with a lot of notoriety and power.
Next, he states that he did not do anything illegal, but then goes onto apologizing. An apology is empty if there is no admittal of mistake, this is just a tactic to appease people but not take a firm stance. He later uses vague language that he acknowledges he has “caused pain”, but that’s meaningless if he’s still saying he isn’t a perpetrator. Plus, saying that he’s caused pain doesn’t reflect the same type of responsibilities as if he were to admit that he in fact sexually assaulted women.
I also think that in this case specifically, we should acknowledge the use of pseudo-spiritual language, as spirituality is a big component of his music persona. I’ll elaborate more on the spiritual music community and gaslighting in the section below, but for now let’s consider the words used in his post. He mentions how he is doing “soul searching” -- but what does that actually mean? Something as vague as “soul searching” is not showing any actual steps to unlearning rape culture and toxic masculinity. These words always sound profound (especially coming from someone who is always singing about meditation) but if all that “spiritual introspective” still led him to be a sexual predator, then it’s probably not enough to hold himself accountable and unlearn this way of thinking.
On top of that, there is zero mention of how he will make amends to his victims. It is all about him and his wellness, his soul searching, his mental health, with no focus on his survivors. He even closes his statement saying that, “I’m beyond grateful for to be a part of a community that holds itself accountables, cares so much for truth, honor, and for healing.” Again, he starts off refuting claims of assault, but ends it thanking people for helping him in his healing. The healing is only focused on him, and does not offer a place for healing for the people actually affected by his actions. This is very similar to a statement that Datsik made after his allegations, where he positions himself to be the victim. The focus acknowledges nothing but their own pain and journey.
This is just one example, and we can see these patterns in statements from so many bands. Most all the Burger bands also refuted claims while also giving a “we’re working on ourselves” type of statement. While abusers do need to hold themselves accountable, they cannot do so without acknowledging their faults. These men absolutely do have a long journey of unlearning privilege and toxic masculinity. However, the priority first and foremost with these statements should be addressing their victims and their faults, not woefully talk about themselves in an attempt of self-preservation.
“Separating the Art from the Artist”
The idea of separating the art from the artist has always been a point of discussion in the music community. I’ve had this discussion so many times where my friends and I will talk about how we met one of our favorite artists, and they turned out to be a total dick. While it bummed us out, we often felt that we could still support their music and go to their concerts as their art still meant a lot to us. There are varying degrees of this discussion - perhaps your favorite artist said something problematic, doesn’t hold the same political views as you, and so on. There will always be grey lines and subjective opinions on that matter, but in conversations of assault, I think there’s a really clear line we can draw in this discussion:
While originally an artist may have made a song for whatever personal reason, and we have listened to it for our own personal enjoyment, the context of the music completely changes when we learn it was used as a platform for assault. These artists used their music as a tool to gain power, feed their ego, and ultimately use it as a way to lure and abuse their fans. The music itself was used as a direct tool to abuse impressionable fans. Therefore, there is no separation.
It’s not to say that the music may not still mean something to you. Music can hold nostalgia and memories that can’t be taken away from us, but the “separating the art from the artist” argument has been used as a way to avoid holding musicians accountable. Yeah, maybe you’ll still want to hear some songs at home if it’s not already tainted, but that doesn’t mean we should actively be supporting an artist’s platform and continue to book them. If they can’t figure out how to make music without using their platform for abuse, then they don’t deserve that platform anymore. We can’t separate the art from the artist if they are using their art as a means to abuse power. Period.
I wanted to quickly address the other layer of power dynamics in the music industry, and that is the idea of a “groupie.” This word has been used all throughout rock ‘n roll history to slut shame or to claim fans knowingly put themselves in a position where they’re expected to have sex with artists. In actuality, the idea of a groupie further disconnects us from the reality of unbalanced power dynamics, and fans are quick to judge survivors as “groupies who just wanted to sleep with the band.” I highly recommend this article titled The Groupie Myth: How Teens Are Exploited Both On the Road and Online for a further understanding of how the groupie myth is another form of victim blaming.
In the case of Burger Records and assault of underage teens, some have commented, “Well, this goes to show that we shouldn’t have all-ages shows!” This is akin to arguing that women wearing short skirts are “asking for it.” Why do we have to deny children and teenagers the joy of live music to keep them safe? Why can’t we just hold musicians and attendees to the standard of not being predators? Instead of punishing children by not letting them go to concerts, we should instead actively work on creating more inclusive spaces so that live music can be a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone.
The Fault of “Asking for Proof” or Jury Conviction
Before I deleted all my social media (which I did to get out of the wormhole of these conversations and responding to trolls all the time), I was seeing a lot of demand for “proof” for these allegations. You’ll see this sentiment all over the comments that an artist should be innocent until proven guilty by a jury, or that we shouldn’t make any assumptions without any proof. But here’s the thing:
Not everyone happens to have screenshotted convos of their perpetrator that admits fault.
Not everyone happens to have recordings of their assaulter talking with them on the phone.
Not everyone has photos of themselves with the artist to prove they actually met.
Not every artist has assaulted more than one person, so we can’t assume that we should wait for x many people to come out before it’s plausible.
And with all that being said, Burger Records, Bassnectar, and Nahko all have entire pages showing pictures, screenshots, and phone recordings, but even that’s not enough. There are still fans saying that they could be photoshopped or otherwise edited.
Here are some resources in understanding why asking for proof is not the answer in regards to sexual assault cases, and how jury convictions hardly ever work in favor of the victims:
Gaslighting and White Supremacy within the Music Festival Scene
In regards to artists like Nahko Bear, Thriftworks, Space Jesus and Bassnectar, it’s necessary to unpack the “conscious” or “transformational” music festival circuit that they were all a part of, and how the community lends itself to a toxic culture of gaslighting and white supremacy.
The most obvious example of these types of festivals is Burning Man, a community and arts festival based on ten principles including Radical Inclusion, Radical Self-Expression, and Participation. The idea is that these types of festivals are more than just a party; there’s a clear intention of creating a loving and radical community. These pillars are usually carried through workshops, meditations, yoga classes, and more. While Burning Man is the sort of pinnacle of these festivals, there are countless regional Burning Man decompressions and wilderness gatherings that mimic these ideals. Some other notable “conscious” festivals include Shangri-la, Symbiosis, Arise, Envision, Beloved, and the one I’ve covered for this blog, Gem and Jam.
Unfortunately, there is an extra suspension of belief for survivors in this community. When these artists are singing about these principles of Radical Inclusion and Radical Self-Expression, preach love and oneness, and facilitate meditation practices, people see them as healers. It’s not uncommon for fans to idolize their favorite musician to some extent, but in this festival scene there’s the added element of a “spiritual bond.” So when these artists go on to use their platform for abuse, there is always the question from avid fans: “How can someone so good do something so bad?” It’s harder for people to believe that their favorite festie artist could do something so heinous, whereas it might be easier for people to believe a rock ‘n roll singer who’s persona is based around partying could do something reprehensible.
Due to the “good vibes only” attitude of these festivals, the community is also quick to turn away from conflict and avoid any real responsibility. I could share countless personal stories of times I’ve tried to help someone struggling at a festival, and everyone in the crowd in response gave some sort of “it’s not in my flow” or “it’s too low of a vibration” kind of answer. But I think the most concrete example of moral ignorance is the case of The Hart Tribe Family, which is continuously brushed under the rug and never talked about from any festival, despite their major involvement in the festie circuit. The linked article tells the full story, but essentially these two white women adopted six Black children to have a little freelovin’ family, go to festivals, and preach love and acceptance (they even collaborated on a song with Nahko Bear). The real story is a harrowing one of child abuse, and ultimately a mass murder-suicide. Though many POC outside the festival community would comment on the questionable behaviors of these mothers, not a single festival took these allegations seriously:
“...many have implicated CPS, law enforcement, and the ‘bliss seeking’ music community of being blinded by ‘WhiteGaze.’ The whitegaze syndrome is essentially encompassed by white privilege, white savior-ism, and racial biases that run rampant within our world. The large majority of commentators from within the POC community believe that racial bias has prevented people from seeing the painful truth behind the Hart children’s beautiful smiles.”
To this day, I still haven’t seen any music festivals (or Nahko, for that matter), give any justice to these childrens. They posted their #RIP hashtags, but no discussions were ever made about the horrifying reality of abuse that these “bliss seeking” communities refused to acknowledge.
What is the point of having principles in place for radical inclusivity if there’s an unwillingness to work through real-world issues, such as racial biases, power dynamics or rape culture? Perhaps this mirrors the sort of utopian ideologies that these festivals seek to create. They hope to build a peaceful community, but once problems seep in, organizers and attendees alike retreat to their world of ignorance and white privilege to keep the party going. It’s easier to brush these problems under the rug to keep the veil of new-age spiritual love alive rather than take accountability and address and work through these issues openly.
Though white supremacy has been a problem throughout the entire history of the music industry, these spiritual communities are an obvious case if you look at their lineup. These festivals feature genres that were created by Black artists and other POC (i.e. EDM, bluegrass), but for the most part only include white men in their lineups. In the last seven years that I’ve been going to Gem and Jam, I’ve seen less than a dozen Black, POC or women artists on their stage. While I’ve always made it a point to try and only do interviews with those artists as a part of my coverage, it still didn’t mean much when my options were so few and far between. It’s not to say that there isn’t any Black or POC representation, as they also incorporate artists, dancers and workshops in their lineup. But the question remains: Why are minorities only represented on the sidelines? Why isn’t there representation on the main stage, especially when these genres were created by Black and POC artists?
This whole argument may seem tangential to the discussion of sexual abuse, but it’s to show that in these music festivals and various other music scenes, QTBIPOC (Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Color) are already marginalized and treated as auxiliary to the community -- so compare that with the statistics of how sexual assault disproportionately affects QTBIPOC to see that we have a much larger issue here.
There are so many stories that never see the light because QTBIPOC victims don’t feel safe sharing their stories. The Growlers, for instance, noted in a statement that their accusers “were all anonymous”, but anonymity for a QTBIPOC person could be the factor that saves their life. While supporting all sexual assault survivors, we should push even harder to provide a safe platform for QTBIPOC to speak out, as they face even larger hurdles to be respected in these communities, let alone be believed when it comes to serious allegations.
Ultimately, our discussions of sexual assault in the music community must be rooted in anti-racism. We can’t support music culture without supporting Black lives, justice, safety and joy.
Some resources in understanding how assault disproportionally affects gender and racial minorities, and how representation creates safer spaces:
The Way Forward
First and foremost, while offering our support to victims, we must start addressing the root of the issue. In order to have a solid foundation for the music community, we need to be educating ourselves and the younger generation of music lovers on consent, gaslighting, power dynamics, and creating safe spaces.
Simultaneously, musicians must be held accountable for their actions. Abusers need to be held accountable by leaving their platform, their privileges, and taking time away from the spotlight to understand how they contributed to the problem of rape culture. Again, this is not about “cancel culture” or saying someone needs to be forever banished from society. This letter from The Festival Scribe writes a thoughtful point in their open letter to Bassnectar:
“This is where the idea of calling in vs. calling out comes in. I recently came across this concept in a virtual workshop led by Stacey Forrester of Good Night Out Vancouver... I used to think that taking a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment at music venues was the solution... We [also] need to hold space for people to ask questions and to learn from their mistakes. This is an essential part of growth.”
While our venues should indeed hold policies for sexual harassment, the root of the problem lies in education. We have all lived under norms of hyper masculinity and have a lot of unlearning to do. I urge men reading this to look up support groups online or in their community that deconstruct ideas of toxic masculinity. Good Night Out Vancouver is a great resource to start, especially for discussions within the arts.
Moreso, as music fans we should all reach out to our local venues and music festivals and urge them to create safer spaces, as well as amplify voices of womxn and QTBIPOC. Though live music is shut down for the foreseeable future, this time can be used to create a dialogue in your music community to ensure safety and well-being once things re-open.
Here are some resources on creating safe spaces in venues, and understanding how this work should all be rooted in anti-racism:
Abuse in the music industry is a massive problem, so no single piece will ever do it justice. I can only end by expressing my deepest gratitude for all the survivors who speak out and make themselves vulnerable in these discussions. Thank you to the admins of the @Lured_By_Burger_Records and @EvidenceAgainstBassnectar accounts who read through countless deeply triggering messages in order to give each voice a platform. May you all gain the peace, love and community you’ve always deserved.