BY SOPHIA MUNOZ, CREATIVE DIRECTOR
BURGER records, once a popular indie-surf-rock label, based in Los Angeles, is no more after weeks of sexual abuse allegations made against staff and band members associated with the label.
What has been uncovered isn’t just the names of perpetrators of sexual violence, but clear evidence of an established institution founded on broken principles of patriarchal poison. Big names such as The Growlers, The Buttertones and SWMRS have all been linked to the toxic environment perpetuated by BURGER records.
In response to the allegations prompted by the Instagram account, lured_by_burger_records, the label announced a new name, BRGR RCRDS, and a new president, Jessa Zapor-Gray.
Shortly after accepting the position she retracted her decision and stepped down clarifying in a statement, “When I was asked to take over in this capacity, I expected some blowback for my decision to accept but I believed that the opportunity to have a role in effecting real and lasting positive change within the Burger and indie music scenes was worth the risk. Upon further review, I have informed Burger Records that I no longer believe I will be able to achieve my intended goals in assuming the leadership role at Burger in the current climate. Therefore, I have decided to step away from the label entirely to focus on my other projects.”
Zapor-Gray’s decision is reflective of the degree of dissonance that exists in the current indie music scene for young women and girls. Her decision to step down was the last straw for an organization that has failed its fan base.
The sudden downfall of this seemingly steady music label brings a more significant issue to the surface: why is sexual assault against women and young girls so prevalent in the music industry?
For a lot of young teenage girls entering the frustrating realm of self-discovery, music is how they feel most understood. The bands and artists they love speak to them in ways that their parents and the immature prepubescent boys they go to high school with can’t. Exploring these sounds and believing in the people behind them becomes an integral part of their identity.
There is a naive nature that comes with being a teenage girl and the music industry exploits that. Teenage girls are fetishized and used as instruments for their demise. It is written into the songs and dialogue of many popular bands. In a recent interview by the L.A. Record with The Growlers, lead vocalist and co-founder Brooks Nielson responded to a question about the graphic language used in their song “Wet dreams.”
He stated, “Men are different than women, and a lot of people don’t like to say that but it’s damn true. We look at a chick’s legs or something and we go crazy — or boobs or whatever. It’s like we’re all battling ourselves. We have girlfriends that we love and like, but at the same time …
Hot sixteen-year-olds looking at you funny.” He went on in the interview to state, “If I did what I felt, I’d be fucking sixteen-year-olds, and I’d be like, being a fucking punk still and being aggressive. It’s like, ‘Dude, it’s not do what you feel — it’s do what’s right.’ I have to control myself.”
Though Nielson made a point to acknowledge that it’s not always right to act on what you feel, this is still an example of blatant predatory language that is outrageously offensive and dangerous. This type of dialogue encourages violent sexual behavior against young, vulnerable teenage girls who make up a significant portion of many musical fan bases.
Clementine Creevy, of the band Cherry Glazerr, was one of the first women in the recent series of allegations to expose the gross environment that the LA music scene protects. She made a statement about her former bandmate Sean Redman: “As a young teenage girl, I witnessed a culture of predatory, misogynistic, and abusive behavior towards women by Sean, some of his bandmates in the Buttertones, and other men in their circle. I want to say with no conditionality whatsoever that this is not atypical of the music scene.”
After a fan released information about a recent coercive sexual encounter with Redman in May, Creevy posted to Instagram, “I want to talk about Sean Redman, bassist of the Buttertones, who also made music with me, and the recent post made by @Chloeraznik about him.” Creevy goes on to say that Redman “started a relationship with me when I was 14 and he was 20. He and I met at a music workshop in Hollywood. I was going into 9th grade. He asked for my number and started texting me. I told him I was 16, to which he replied, ‘That’s okay I still feel like a kid myself most of the time.’ We eventually met up at his apartment where he, much to my surprise, had sex with me. I was not expecting it, nor was I ready. I remember feeling confused and uncomfortable that he was trying to have sex with me but I went along with it. He also insisted on not using protection and gave me HPV. That was the first time I had sex.”
Sean Redman has since left the Buttertones and their label and has not responded publicly to these accusations. What happened in the situation with Clementine Creevy and very likely many others, is statutory rape. There is no question about that. It is incredibly disheartening to learn these truths, but it is even more disheartening to know that this behavior is prevalent.
Why do men in these positions of power abuse young girls? A simple answer is because they know they can. These men understand the light in which young girls see them and the pedestal they are put on. They understand that young girls who love their music subsequently trust the person behind it and would do just about anything to please that person.
In response to the accumulating allegations on social media against BURGER RECORDS and their affiliates, Joey Armstrong of the band SWMRS, who was signed with BURGER RECORDS, took to Instagram to affirm his support for the survivors who came forward to tell their stories. A day later, Lydia Knight, of the band the Regrettes, informed the world of Armstrong’s hypocritically toxic patterns of behavior and how their relationship was a prime example of the power dynamic that many male musicians exploit young girls with.
In her post on Instagram, Knight wrote, “ I was in a relationship with Joey that started when I was 16 and ended right before my 18th birthday. For so long I viewed it just as being toxic and not something valid enough to share but now I know that what I actually experienced was sexual coercion by someone in a position of power over me. It’s important to me that Joey and his entire band are held accountable to fully understand that even though they may view themselves as “good guys” they are continuing to perpetuate the exact toxic culture they are trying to call out.”
Lydia Knight’s story is an example of how an artist may portray themselves as one way but live in a very contradicting manner. Artists are not always reflections of their art. Lydia Knight powerfully concluded her post and wrote, “My goal here isn’t to ‘cancel’ anyone but to further the conversation on the intricacies of power abuse, grooming, and manipulation that not only exists in the music industry but in so many other industries.”
Knight brings up a great point in that this conversation about sexual violence in the music industry should not be a reason to cancel an artist. Instead, it should prompt more education, conversation and investment in preventative measures so that these stories stop repeating themselves.