Roar writer Elena Veris Reynolds discusses sexual violence and lack of accountability in the indie rock scene.
CW: This article includes mention of sexual violence and assault.
The indie rock scene has a problem with sexual violence, and we need to talk about it. In the wake of the Me Too Movement, more men in rock bands have been revealed as abusive than anyone can count. In June 2020, an entire indie label was brought down, as a tidal wave of allegations against Burger Records artists and staff members came out. For too long, artists have used their status and power to get away with harmful behaviour, with very little in the way of consequences. Rock music has a totally ingrained culture of toxic masculinity, which has been present for more than seventy years.
One of the biggest ways this culture is upheld is the reluctancy of those in the industry, as well as the media and fans, to hold people to account. This happened recently with a band that used to be very close to my heart, The Front Bottoms. In 2019, a victim came forward with a statement that an ex-member of the band, Ciaran O’Donnell, had sexually assaulted them in 2015. While this caused some ripples on the internet, there was little mainstream coverage of it and many still continued to support the Front Bottoms due to the fact that this member had left the band in 2016. However, at the end of December 2020, the same victim came forward with a statement that detailed how the other members of the band had treated them incredibly poorly, including keeping O’Donnell on as part of the band for a further seven months after they knew about the assault. Following this, several others came forward with similar statements concerning O’Donnell and a crew member that toured with the band.
The Front Bottoms are yet to publicly address the situation or release a statement. Many fans like me have been deeply disappointed in their failure to even acknowledge the victim’s statement and bravery in coming forward. But in fan circles there were still those who cried, “They don’t owe anyone an explanation!” and “They shouldn’t be responsible for their bandmates’ actions.” Prior to this, I had always found the fanbase a positive and supporting space, and have met some of my best friends through the Front Bottoms. As soon as this happened, spaces that had previously been really positive turned nasty and unsafe.
These arguments are not only false but incredibly damaging. The incidents all happened after the Front Bottoms’ shows, or on tour, even without the added mistreatment that the victim mentions in their statement. Sexual violence doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and with how common these transgressions are in indie rock, the other members of the Front Bottoms have a lot to answer for in terms of how they treated the victims, and how they are part of the problem.
One of the upsetting things about this situation is that the Front Bottoms are a band who have claimed to be pro-gender equality and pro- Black Lives Matter. They have built their career and sold records off their socially conscious image, so for all this to come out feels like a betrayal. All their gestures feel empty and like pure marketing ploys, rather than being driven by any real belief in making a better world; another reason why The Front Bottoms especially have a responsibility to address the situation, to attempt to repair the situation and work with the victims on what justice should look like.
Fans, media and the industry holding artists accountable can actually lead to real, meaningful change. When one half of queer-punk band PWR BTTM was outed as having been abusive, other bands stopped touring with them, fans and the media called them out, and the band ended up going on a permanent hiatus. So why are so many still reluctant to ask their favourite artists to do better?
For real change to happen, we need to demand accountability from bands and artists. We need all those in the industry to commit to real change, to listening to victims, and to creating a new culture, rather than making shallow gestures. Without real commitment, the indie rock scene will remain unsafe, male-dominated and toxic.