The mantra “Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” is no longer the rule in the Los Angeles and Orange County indie music scene after several high-profile musicians have been accused of sexual misconduct and assault. The female and non-binary accusers have included both underaged fans and members of other well-known bands, bringing to light a long-standing power dynamic that exists even in the underground.
Those in the scene say such a reckoning is long overdue – but thanks to social media and a pandemic that has put live music on pause, it could result in real change.
In June, allegations began circling surrounding Sean Redman, the bassist of L.A. indie-rockers The Buttertones. But the movement picked up speed on July 15 when Clem Creevy, the frontwoman of Cherry Glazerr, a band that came up in the L.A. punk scene in the 2010s, corroborated these claims by sharing her own experience with The Buttertones’ Redman on Instagram. In her post, Creevy detailed her claim that Redman began a sexual relationship with her when she was 14 and he was 20, allegedly resulting in her contracting a sexually transmitted disease and suffering emotional trauma.
Wrote Creevy: “Countless women I know have experiences like mine with male musicians and it is heartbreaking and infuriating that young girls wanting to play music or see music should ever have to endure being sexualized by older male musicians in the scene – it is disgusting and it needs to end now.”
Creevy’s statement inspired several others to recount their experiences with other musicians and led to the creation of a number of anonymous Instagram accounts. Chief among them was @lured_by_burger_records, which shared posts specific to inappropriate behavior by members of bands associated with the record label. Others included the handles @wecleanstreets and @creepsinthescene, which more broadly focused on L.A.-based bands and musicians.
A few days after Creevy’s claim, 19-year-old Lydia Night of The Regrettes came forward with allegations against SWMRS, a SoCal favorite known for their frenetic shows and drummer Joey Armstrong, son of Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong. Her post came on the heels of SWMRS’ own statement of solidarity with survivors – in fact, it’s what Night says compelled her to share her allegation that Armstrong had pursued her when she was 16 and he was 22. She details how the relationship continued when SWMRS took The Regrettes on tour, and Night and Armstrong developed an unhealthy power dynamic that was used to sexually coerce her, she claimed. Though Night specifically named Armstrong, she also called out the other members of the band for enabling his behavior and refusing to take accountability.
“Joey is only one out of so many people who don’t realize that their power dynamic makes any romantic relationship abusive and inappropriate by nature,” Night wrote. “You can have feelings for someone and be in a technically consensual relationship and still be a victim of abuse and coercion. The deep seeded toxic norms of men need to be called out for exactly what they are.”
By the end of the week, a handful of allegations against a few bands and band members turned into a few dozen, many of them anonymous. Incidents of sexual assault and misconduct were leveraged against members of other bands including, but not limited to: The Growlers, Together Pangea, Spendtime Palace, The Frights, The Black Lips, No Parents, Gap Dream, Part Time, The High Curbs, NoBunny and Cosmonauts.
Keeli Sorensen, VP of victims services at RAINN, said that change can and will happen because of movements like these, especially in insular communities like local music scenes.
“Anytime these kinds of art forms are jeopardized by abuse, I think this conversation is an opportunity for the community to refocus on the positive, on centering this art in its true form, or what its true form should be,” Sorensen says. “It can be navigated together and can result in different and healthier ways of relating to each other in the long run. We really can get to a place where this doesn’t have to be something that we expect to happen.”
Arrow de Wilde, lead singer of punk band Starcrawler and the daughter of noted photographer and filmmaker Autumn de Wilde and drummer Aaron Sperske added a voice of credibility to the claims against the Growlers, the biggest of the groups with nearly two million monthly listeners on Spotify and over 260,000 Instagram followers. “It just felt wrong to me [to not speak out],” de Wilde tells Variety. “I felt like a lot of people believed that they had changed and were different now. That’s why I wanted to come out and say, ‘No, this sh-t happened this year.'”
According to de Wilde, while out on a two-week Australian tour, the Growlers surprised her with a male stripper who proceeded to rub his bare genitalia on de Wilde’s face while members of the Growlers laughed and took videos. That the band members found it funny to humiliate and degrade her in such a way – and not step in when it went too far – forever changed her view of the Growlers.
“While none of The Growlers band members assaulted me directly, they hired someone else for their enjoyment,” wrote de Wilde in an Instagram post. “It was a huge bummer for me because up until that point, I truly believed that they had respect for me and saw me as an equal. I know my experience isn’t the same as some of the survivors who’ve come forward recently, but the humiliation and lack of respect they’ve shown so many women seems like a pattern.”
Growlers singer Brooks Nielsen responded to de Wilde’s allegation with a post of his own in which he apologized on behalf of the band for the incident involving de Wilde. He also announced that guitarist Matt Taylor, who had been the subject of previous anonymous allegations, would be temporarily leaving the group, noting that Taylor “adamantly denies the allegations made against him.”
“An apology is a step, for sure, but it’s not like everything is just going to change because they said sorry,” de Wilde says. “I think people should be called out on their actions and face repercussions because if they don’t, they’re going to think that it’s okay.”
San Diego locals The Frights were also called out. On July 16, 22-year-old Claire Allard tweeted about an experience with band member Mikey Carnevale. She recounted a sexual encounter with Carnevale at a show in Orange County when she was just 16, detailing how one of his bandmates and their manager enabled the situation by leaving her alone with Carnevale in a van. Allard says that she’d previously thought of the O.C. scene as a safe and inclusive community.
“When I was invited to go to hang out with them in the van, I thought that was such a cool experience because I was noticed and that they had picked me out of all these people,” Allard says. “But looking back at it, I realize that it was an abuse of power type situation. I personally was never asked what my age was.”
Allard didn’t truly realize that what had happened to her met the definition of sexual assault until allegations against other bands began to pop up on her feed. After taking a few days off from social media to gather her thoughts, she decided to post because in her words, “It’s about damn time.”
It’s true that misogyny has long been an accessory to fame in music, particularly when it came to the male-dominated rock scenes of decades past. The mythical construct of a groupie, as put forth in Pamela des Barres’ famous tell-all “I’m With the Band” or in the Cameron Crowe movie “Almost Famous,” paints the role of the girl as willingly subservient. There is no advocacy for equality.
That’s why the abuse allegations that centered around Burger Records, a label founded in Fullerton in 2007 and popularized due to its DIY roots — releasing albums on cassette tapes and cultivating a fanbase of like-minded punks — felt like the death-knell for what had long been regarded as a prospering scene. Upon closer inspection, Burger’s mostly white, mostly male acts proved to be more of a liability. After allegations surfaced suggesting Burger, which was located in a Fullerton strip mall, was complicit in these acts, the label completely shut down on July 21.
Stephanie Loza, 22, the frontwoman of local band Whaja Dew who has worked as an audio engineer at L.A. venue The Smell, describes her experience playing shows with Burger bands or at Burger-sponsored events as one of two extremes: sexism or hyper-sexualization. Says Loza: “The amount of times I’ve been told, ‘Oh, you’re pretty good for a girl’ … Or one time at a show, the owner of a venue didn’t believe I was in the band. Also, the sexual harassment, like guys coming up to you after a show like ‘That was so good’ and then immediately trying to get touchy.”
Loza and Whaja Dew now refuse to play with any known abusers in the scene – often to their disadvantage.
“I’ve had to drop shows because I don’t want to play with an abuser,” Loza says. “I’ve seen that so much — clout over victims. And it’s like, I don’t care how much money they’ll make for your show, you’re literally profiting off of abusers.”
She believes that the deep-rooted misogyny within the scene has allowed bands containing abusers to remain prevalent, which in turn pushes out femme-fronted or genderqueer bands.
“There’s so many awesome women bands and non-binary bands that essentially have no space in this scene because of predatory men,” Loza offers. “The more diverse group of musicians you have on your label, the more empathetic the people listening to your music will be. But when you only have cis white males on your label, like Burger Records pretty much did, no one’s going to give a sh-t about consent or empathy.”
Although the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has put shows on hold indefinitely, the pause provides a rare opportunity for the SoCal scene to be rebuilt as a safer, healthier and more inclusive space for everyone. This is a cause especially close to the heart of writer, photographer and survivor Ashton Carr, who believes the only way forward is for men to hold themselves and their bandmates accountable in a way that’s completely transparent.
“If a band member gets called out for being a creep, they need to apologize directly to the person first and then make a statement,” Carr says. “The abuser 100% needs to be kicked out of the band, and if the band has been fostering that behavior, the band 100% needs to disband. But that shouldn’t be the end of it.”
The route most bands have gone – if they have addressed the allegations at all – is a simple statement disavowing the abuser’s behavior and standing in solidarity with survivors. Although a few have kicked members out or disbanded entirely, multiple people interviewed for this story say they believe some bands are holding out hope that this will just blow over – which is not the case, according to Carr. When addressing this type of behavior, Carr believes bands need to take swift and public action.
“There are a few bands that I know personally that have kicked out members quietly for having allegations like this against them, and they have never addressed it publicly,” Carr says. “It’s something that’s very important to talk about publicly because the more you talk about it, the more it’s going to scare people from acting like that, and the more it will weed out the crappy people from the industry.”
One statement that has received mostly positive feedback is that of The Frights in response to Allard’s allegations. After making her initial post, Allard was shocked to receive a DM from Carnevale on The Frights’ Twitter account, asking to talk about what had happened. Although Allard says Carnevale started off their conversation defensively, they were able to process the events of the night in question and came up with a joint statement that was posted to both Allard’s and The Frights’ social media accounts:
“After the show we engaged in what I would call hooking up. We went in the van, and made out which eventually led to sexual touching. At this point Claire and I reach discrepancies in our stories but I encourage you to listen to her story nonetheless,” Carnevale wrote. “All I will say on that part is I wouldn’t force anyone to do anything sexually. It is not in me. Though I should not have assumed, I was unaware she was underage at the time. I definitely should have asked.
“I cannot be more disgusted with myself that as an adult of 19-20 years old I let myself sink to using my platform to hook up with girls,” the post continues. “This situation is my fault, I should have taken control when I was too weak to.” (Read Carnevale and Allard’s full statement here.)
Allard says that creating the joint statement was a largely positive experience that gave her the closure and the contrition she felt she deserved. “He really took into consideration my feelings and what I wanted him to say, and made sure to get my approval and ask for edits,” Allard says.
RAINN’s Sorensen agrees that Carnevale and Allard’s statement was a healthy response, but contends that it is up to every survivor to determine the type of closure they need.
“The same response isn’t going to work for everyone, and that’s because the way that these assaults and offenses hurt survivors’ lives are so unique to them,” Sorensen says. “But I think at the end of the day, taking responsibility is a very key first step. Owning that there was wrongdoing, owning that it was on them, not the survivor.”
Although Allard is grateful that Carnevale was able to learn and grow from their interaction, she believes that it’s on the men in the scene to change the culture, and not the responsibility of survivors to teach them after the fact. “It’s dependent on the guys to take care of themselves,” she says. “Us girls and non-binary people, we’ve done our part, so now it’s up to them.”
Darren Kaiser and Koch of L.A. local band Joynoise are looking to lead the charge of men in music turning inward to eliminate their own toxicity. They started from within, removing a bandmate on July 8 after a song he wrote in 2015 resurfaced in which he condoned the actions of an abuser, according to Kaiser and Koch. Joynoise publicly announced his departure and have been reflecting on their place and power in the scene ever since.
“A lot of what is coming out right now is that guys are using their power and status to get girls into the position where they can sexually assault them,” Kaiser says. “That’s not what music’s about. Music is about music, and if you’re actually passionate about music, you need to hold the people that aren’t accountable for it.”
Koch and Kaiser have spent the past months having conversations with themselves and the women in their lives in an attempt to dismantle the structural sexism that has been ingrained in them. Says Koch: “It takes all the mental, emotional and almost spiritual work to really look at yourself and change yourself. I think that every man needs to look at themselves and really assess the sexism that they were taught. There’s only so much that other people can do, we have to change ourselves.”
Moving forward, both Kaiser and Koch want to see a completely new, more equal scene rise from the ashes.
“What we’re witnessing right now is the abolishment of ‘Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.’ It’s going to give the genre a new breath and I think that it’s going to be female-led and that’s long overdue,” Koch says.
Loza is hopeful that this reckoning will serve as an important lesson to younger generations who have watched it unfold on social media, fostering a hyper-aware environment where people are encouraged to speak up and hold each other accountable.
“Women are tired of telling men ‘No means no.’ I feel like a broken record and I’m sure every other woman and non-binary person in the world feels that way too,” Loza says. “I really hope for the future that the fans of these bands can see what’s going on and decide for themselves, ‘I will never do that to a person,’ or ‘I will always make sure a sexual experience is consensual.’ A lot of these fans might want to get into music – and they deserve better examples.”
If you or a loved one has experience sexual assault, do not hesitate to call RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.