Jesse Valencia examines recent instances of abuse in indie music circles and wonders, why aren’t abusers being held accountable?
It’s been a bizarre week for indie music. Life or Death PR & Management Founder and CEO Heathcliff Berru was exposed as a serial sexual predator and Foxygen’s Sam France may have found himself in hot water for alleged physical abuse of his ex, Elizabeth le Fey.
Left: Heathcliff Berru, fallen CEO of Life or Death PR. Right: Sam France of Foxygen.
Berru’s case has exploded. Several women including Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors, Yasmine Kittles of Tearist, Chelsea Wolfe, and others have spoken out against Berru, claiming he groped them, grabbed their asses, made them touch his dick, tried to kiss them. All kinds of gross shit. Berru’s disgusting behavior has been rightfully outed by several women in the music industry, leading to his resignation from Life or Death who’ve formed a new company in the aftermath, Liberal Arts.
But is it enough? Is Berru going to do any time? Likely not, blaming his actions on “addiction to drugs and alcohol.” My, my. How original.
We can’t let that excuse get him off the hook, but by and large my gut feeling is telling me that it’s going to. Why, you ask? The music industry is as rotten to the core as the movie industry. It isn’t a simple case of widespread hedonism. Male abusers are protected because they’re making other people loads of money and the culture implicit in those industries is designed to keep that dough rolling in, whatever the cost. Money is money.
DIIV’s Devin Rubin Perez
Consider Ariel Pink’s sexist comments about Madonna, or DIIV’s Devin Rubin Perez’s posts on 4chan a while back (DIIV, interestingly, was a client of Berru’s at one time). Musicians and artists aren’t role models by any means, but come on. Where’s the accountability? My parents used to tell me when I was a child (whenever I went overboard and said or did stupid shit), “Sorry is not good enough.” There has to be punitive action. Why are we letting these sick losers get away with this shit? Hey, it’s all rock and roll, maaaan …
There are multiple reasons for this. Motormouthmedia’s owner Judy Silverman told Think Progress concerning Berru, “… fear was very pervasive, and all of these women didn’t want the usual: To be called sluts and whores and they deserved it, or, it didn’t really happen. … Women don’t want to lose their jobs, their reputation, they don’t want to litigate, they’ve been harmed and they think they can live with it and they’re going to move forward.”
The male-centric culture of indie rock, and the music industry at large, perpetuates this same fear, shaming, and violence towards women. This logic could also be applicable to Foxygen whose interband conflicts have been covered extensively. Globelamp’s Elizabeth le Fey was so closely involved with the group that when she wrote a controversial Tumblr post a couple summers ago, many people thought Foxygen had broken up, claims that were quickly dismissed by the band.
Elizabeth le Fey
Most recently, le Fey, who just recently released her second record under the moniker Globelamp, gave an extensive interview to Blake Gillespie of Impose Magazine where she describes in detail how she was shunned, shamed, and silenced by Foxygen and their legal team after allegedly suffering abuse at the hands of Foxygen’s lead singer, Sam France, whom she dated during her time in the group.
When she and France fought, le Fey recalls, France became physically violent. In October of 2013, le Fey tweeted a pic of her busted lip after France allegedly struck her in the face. Months later, after separating from the group, le Fey was served with a 32-page restraining order by France.
Le Fey found herself without a voice in the court proceedings, which favored France and his deeper pockets. Gillespie gave her one in his article, but Fort Williams Management, who represents Foxygen, wrote in an email to Gillespie that by running his story he was “giving voice to Sam’s abuser …” Others in the comments section trolled le Fey, telling her that her narrative is “old news” and “wasn’t important.”
Is this a classic case of victim blaming? The abused framed as the abuser? One thing that is clear is that the music industry seems equally keen, as it appears to with every other case, to dismiss a thing like this as insignificant, which is why no one seems to be talking about it. But why aren’t we talking about it? Why is there so much fog and uncertainty around these and other stories that are bound to pop up? Why did it take so long for Berru to be outed as the “The Bill Cosby Of Indie Music”?
Indie music has a white male problem, and it runs deep.
Whether it is artist or management, whether it is sexual abuse, physical abuse, or stupid shit being said, we can’t allow ourselves to tolerate it. We must demand accountability. We must give space to victims, to unheard voices, and not shame or silence them, especially women, who obviously have the lesser hand in it all, and weed out the sick bastards abusing them and keeping them down and getting away with it.
I’m not going to mic drop on this one. I’m going to hand that microphone to you. Spread the word.