It's hard to believe it's been only a year since the #MeToo movement brought sexual assault, harassment and discrimination against women into the public consciousness. These things have been shameful realities for a lot of women for a long time and most had been exchanging traumatic tales before the hashtag went viral, privately, with friends or therapists and in secret social media support groups men never saw. While the floodgates seemed to open for females and those who identify as female to finally get it all out there after film mogul Harvey Weinstein's accusers came forward, one contingent in entertainment has seemed reticent in calling out misconduct that's been just as prevalent: the nightlife and music industry.
Los Angeles is an inimitable Mecca for music creation and discovery, just as it is for film. With the glamour and decadence of our after-dark destinations adding to the allure, it's no wonder so many come to L.A. or grow up here with big dreams and a desire or desperation to be part of it. It's an old story but not much has changed, even in the wake of #MeToo and #TimesUp. Though both sexes can be vulnerable to nefarious power, especially in the entertainment world, women have historically been the ones to suffer in both subtle and overt ways. The irony, of course, is that women in rock & roll, for example, are seen as badass and powerful by the masses once they make it — but no one really thinks about what they had to go through to get there, from unwanted male attention and come-ons to attacks, inequity and misogyny.
Most women in the music world just put up with it. They didn't want to seem "difficult" or be looked upon as a "bitch." As a music and culture journalist who's interviewed hundreds of women in entertainment over the years, I know that the ol' "women fighting for respect in a male-dominated field" discussion has always been a given but I think that at some point we all got weary of it. It's always been there but highlighting it started to sound, even for those who've never censored themselves, like complaining with no purpose. So many decided to overlook the crap they dealt with and simply focus on their craft. Though the playing field was never level, they didn't want to be highlighted for their gender in magazine spreads or music festival bills, or talk about their hardships. But post-#MeToo, this is changing.
Right now, women in music and nightlife don't care as much about being seen as too sensitive or man-hating feminists. They don't fear slut-shaming as much as they used to or being blackballed for exposing bad behavior. They are very aware that LGBTQ, gender-nonconforming and straight male allies deal with some of the same mistreatment. But patriarchal power has not allowed for change and they know that something must be done or that mistreatment will never end. Younger artists now use social media to call out wrongs and older artists are leading by example, sharing realizations that stuff they went through in the past was not OK.
As the year of #MeToo comes to a close, and many of us strive to live with the triggering aftermath of the Kavanaugh hearings — not to mention our pussy-grabber president's continuing disrespect of women's minds and bodies — many want to do more. They want not only to speak but to act, beyond the occasional march, especially within the music world, which has been uncharacteristically quiet. I'm talking about musicians, managers, bookers, promoters, DJs and anyone who works in the music, club or concert orbit. But I am also talking about you and me — women who buy music, who go to shows and festivals and clubs, who might want to have a few drinks while doing so, or smoke a joint, or wear a halter top or a mini skirt while banging our heads in the pit, or shaking our booties blissfully and freely on a dance floor — because that carefree joy is what it's all about. Though music never had a major #MeToo moment like film did, in L.A., where both enjoy high profiles, women have slowly been mobilizing for change on both sides of the stage, and they will not stay quiet any longer.
"Sexual misconduct is built into the foundation of the music industry," proclaims Jessicka Addams, frontwoman of the band Jack Off Jill. "In my personal experience, dozens of women have come forward to me privately. That number is very high considering my limited reach. How many more are out there? The abuse, the violence and the intrinsic sexism that fuels this industry is unacceptable and disturbing."
Addams is one of the first and few musicians who did come forward after the Weinstein revelations. She reached out to me last year even before that, and she wasn't the first with an exclusive story of abuse or assault, either. But the publications I write for (including this one, under different ownership at the time) were trepidatious about these types of stories and potential legal action that might arise from publishing the claims. Addams ended up sharing her story via Facebook in October 2017, detailing the actions of her ex-boyfriend Jeordie White, aka Twiggy Ramirez of Marilyn Manson. Addams, who now lives in L.A., came up in the Florida scene along with Manson, and her story included a shocking account of her and White's abusive relationship, which included not only violence and rape but psychological torment and even a lifting of her stage persona (both musicians wore dreadlocks, goth makeup and old house dresses onstage).
Manson fired White soon after, but it didn't end there. While sharing her story led to an outpouring of support from fans who had their own upsetting stories to tell (which led to a private group page, Sparkle in Darkness, on Facebook), Addams also found herself the target of even more abuse by Manson fans online.
"Threats, hate accounts, weird fan interactions, being hacked several times over the last year — reporting harassment and blocking just became a part of life as I now know it," Addams says. "For some fans it became their life's mission to watch my every move via social media, create false narratives, all in order to let people know that I am not perfect. The same fake accounts of online detectives trying to prove by my actions that I might possibly be lying. They suggested I deserved what happened to me. They questioned why after 20 years would I destroy a man's life? I did not destroy anybody's life. The man who did what he did to me and many other women destroyed his own life by his egregious actions."
Women in the music industry who come forward with similar stories can expect just as much harassment, judgment and doubt online as support, and probably more of the former because "sex, drugs and rock & roll" is built into its mystique. It's expected. Still, some have been brave enough to speak out regardless. In the pop world, Taylor Swift and Kesha were the biggest names to call out behaviors ranging from inappropriate to abusive. And in R&B and hip-hop, the list of men accused of varying degrees of assault goes on and on: Russell Simmons, R. Kelly, L.A. Reid, Chris Brown —all of whom seem to have been for the most part, unscathed professionally. Indeed, the inherent rebelliousness and seduction of the music world makes for a slippery slope. While I spoke with women in indie and rock music for this story, there are so many more to talk to and the problem is far-reaching. The L.A. Weekly will continue to explore these issues within other genres and L.A. nightlife environments on a regular basis next year.
The dance music world for example, is particularly troublesome. Isla Jones of the electro-dance group Purple Crush and promoter of L.A.'s Banjee Ball parties recalls how she found herself the target of cyberbullying via DJ/producer Diplo's Hollertronix message board. "There was this 'dude bro' persona that Diplo iconified, which legions of internet DJs emulated. Being the outspoken woman that I am, I became an easy target for them and was clowned on a weekly basis," she says. The clowning translated into physical violence a couple times, and Jones, who is known in L.A. for her inclusive LGBTQ events, says that it was celebrated online. "It felt like digital rape."
Alice Glass, former frontwoman of Crystal Castles, is one of the few indie artists who came out with a story similar to Addams', accusing her ex-bandmate and beau Ethan Kath of physical and sexual abuse in October 2017. He denied it and filed a defamation suit against her, which was later dismissed. She has gone on to make some of the most powerful music of her career and now is seen as an advocate for victims of assault. In general, though, women who want to prove they can rock with the boys seem more likely to suck it up. As one rock legend tells it, it's hard enough getting acknowledged as a musician in the first place.
"The Go-Go's had been together for three years and could sell out any club we played on the West Coast," recalls guitarist/songwriter Jane Wiedlin, "yet not one major label was interested in us. The attitude was, there'd never been a successful all-female band and so there never would be. There was even an article on the front page of the L.A. Times' Calendar section: 'Why Can't The Go-Go's Get a Record Deal?' It was very frustrating. Finally, a new and tiny label, I.R.S. Records, came to see us, loved us, and offered us a record deal."
Though I.R.S. was small, it cared about the band and supported them irrespective of sex, which put The Go-Go's on a successful, hit-packed trajectory. Still, when Wiedlin forged a career on her own years later, she was not immune to vulturous actions. "When I first went solo, in 1985, I took a dinner meeting with a record producer who claimed he wanted to work with me," she recalls. "He ended up trapping me in a room and wouldn't let me leave until I 'put out.' I ended up giving in because I didn't know what else to do. For decades I thought it was my fault, because I hadn't fought back. Now I feel differently about it. Now I know I was assaulted by a sexual predator."
Wiedlin's story is not revelatory but it does reflect how women who accepted these behaviors back then view their experiences now. And whether onstage or off-, the challenges remain the same. Even when women seemingly are in control, they often have to deal with limitations that hinder their success if they don't act a certain way. Men in power were — and are — allowed to wield it without judgment; women, not so much.
Britt Witt has made a name for herself booking and running the Hi Hat in Highland Park, but it didn't come easy. "I think I was in denial. I think I still am because I've always just focused on getting the job done rather than why I can't," she explains. "I [used to] attribute being dismissed, ignored and underpaid to just not being good enough. Nowadays, I realize that I'm constantly overcoming the challenge of being considered intimidating, brash or bitchy just because I put my foot down in the same places men do. Encountering skepticism with ideas and facts where a man repeats the same statement minutes later to celebration."
From management to booking to being a club owner, the frustrations I've heard from women working in the music biz over the years have played like a badly broken record. "Owning a music venue with a guy was very frustrating in that I was never taken seriously," says Michelle Carr, proprietress of legendary '90s music venue Jabberjaw, where Nirvana famously first played L.A. "Most would not take my word. They more often than not would seek out Gary [her former partner] for any wants or needs — he was the default. What was most surprising was when even the Riot Grrrl contingent would treat me as such."
Dayle Gloria, who booked the legendary L.A. club Scream, helping to discover bands like Jane's Addiction in the process, and later the Viper Room, echoes Carr's complaints about being taken seriously. "In order to do that I had to really 'man up,' leaving so much of my femininity behind," she admits. "I was always a tomboy but had to be harder than that. If I asked for something once, it was never enough. It was getting to the point where to be heard I had to yell and scream. To get things done. It's not a great way to live."
"I wanted to be seen as a professional manager and executive, and not looked upon as a groupie, girlfriend or disposable mommy," echoes Vicky Hamilton, known for her work managing Guns N' Roses and Poison in the '80s. "To be treated fairly and paid equal to a man for the work done. I have a much better track record then many of my male counterparts, and the bands I have worked with have sold over 250 million records collectively, but I feel it is much harder to get financial backing for my new record company than it would be for a white male with lesser achievements."
Witt books some of the hottest shows in L.A. right now, but Gloria and Carr are happily out of the music and club business (though Carr is working on a documentary about Jabberjaw). Hamilton soldiers on with a new label, Dark Spark Music, even after years of not being acknowledged for her contributions. "[When] I was an A&R person at a major label, the executive who was supposed to be mentoring me, who took full credit for a band that I brought to the label, told me that my snake in the grass was about recognition and credit. My response was, 'No shit, since I never seem to get either around here.' A month later my contract option was not renewed," she recalls.
Fear of not being seen as a team player or even losing one's job has been a factor for many women in terms of the varying levels of bad treatment they might accept. It's one of the reasons the news about FYF Fest founder Sean Carlson took so long to surface. Nobody wanted to be the first one, possibly standing alone against a powerful man, to put the truth out there. But as detailed in a 2017 Spin magazine article, Carlson's misconduct was "an open secret" for quite some time. Though the Spin piece featured all but one woman sharing stories anonymously, the tales of assault at FYF-associated parties were corroborated by many on social media afterward, and Carlson himself issued a statement to Spin acknowledging his behavior. "I acted inappropriately and shamefully, and deeply regret my actions," he wrote, though the end of the statement went for the all-too-common "blame it on the alcohol" type of excuses that some felt were disingenuous.
Goldenvoice severed all ties with Carlson just before the story broke around this time last year. Soon after, in what should have been a validating and somewhat victorious moment for women, Goldenvoice announced that FYF would go on, unveiling a female-heavy lineup minus Carlson's input, curated mostly by women at the company, including Goldenvoice vet Jennifer Yacoubian, who previously booked the El Rey Theatre and the Shrine Auditorium. The lineup, one of the best FYF would ever see, included Janet Jackson as headliner along with Florence + the Machine, St. Vincent, The Breeders, The xx, U.S. Girls, My Bloody Valentine, Charlotte Gainsbourg and more. But a few months later the entire fest was canceled, reportedly due to low ticket sales. Many journalists, including this one, were dumbfounded that a lineup like that could fail, and a fair share wondered online if there was more to the cancellation. Many of us are hoping that FYF will try again for a similarly gender-equal lineup next year. We'll see.
Festival culture has in many ways become a microcosm of the music world these days, reflecting sexual culture and pop culture in general. The biggest, Coachella, also put together by Goldenvoice/AEG, has made some strides in representing the concerns of women onstage and off-, but for many of us more is needed, and all the major promoters could do better. Warped Tour brought in a group called Safe Spaces to monitor safety for young girls at the event, and even amidst controversy concerning the group's tactics, it was a signal for change that had a positive impact. Unfortunately, Warped is now kaput.
Warped vet Monique Powell of the ska-punk outfit Save Ferris has used her social media to call out the disparities she's seen as a performer on the festival circuit for years, such as flyers, posters and advertisements that belittle female performers by putting them at the bottom of the bill, even when their bands have bigger followings. She also has told the world about the outright sexism she's encountered on tour from promoters, other bands and even her own bandmates. Like Addams, Powell became the victim of brutal online harassment after a legal battle ensued over use of Save Ferris' name when she sought to forge a comeback after a long hiatus. It got worse when she won the case.
"People didn't like that I was bringing it back and I was doing it my way," she says wearily. "I was trolled. I got death threats. And the commonality was unmistakable: They were all young men, 25 to 35 and they all liked a specific band from Orange County."
Powell stops short of naming the band but says a long-held rivalry with a male singer in the scene has led to her feeling unsafe and targeted in recent years, even by the media (TMZ, Perez Hilton and O.C. Weekly's reports about the lawsuit all seem to subtly villainize her). Powell, who lives in L.A. now but grew up in Orange County, says she became "a punching bag. I believe that in Orange County, and in L.A. as well, there's still an accepted underlying misogyny, where strong women who have a voice are not considered ladylike, and therefore not to be trusted."
To counteract this perception, Powell is shining a light on it, sharing her experiences online and hashtagging them with #dontskirttheissue. She hopes to take the conversation that has emerged and turn it into something bigger, with meetups and a bona fide watchdog group that points out women in music being overlooked and judged by their gender unfairly, in promos, media and more.
Mobilization is coming from all fronts right now, and speaking out is only the beginning. Like the women mentioned thus far, Daisy O'Dell, Ana Calderon, Michelle Pesce and Kate Mazzuca are all names known in local music circles nightlife and beyond, the first three as top L.A. DJs and music curators/supervisors and the latter as a marketing and events entrepreneur. Last year, around the same time that #MeToo started building steam, they sought to make change for women in nightlife by creating a group called, fittingly, woman. The collective grew out of a weekly lunch gathering of female DJs, and its goals were many, but the main one was to create welcoming and safe environments for women in a music and club scene where objectification and discrimination had become commonplace and stories of assault and druggings at venues, some where the gals spun, had started to become more frequent. The women of woman. realized that it was the mindset — of venue owners and promoters, who were all male — that needed to change.
Calderon recalls her aggravation sitting in on club meetings. "We would hear some of the most obscene discussions that you would never expect to hear today about women and women attending venues," she reveals, going on to recount the conversation that made her quit doing clubs in bottle service–driven West Hollywood. "I was brought in to bring more interesting people to the club, and it was a lot of Eastside creatives and LGBT, but at one particular meeting a promoter said he appreciated the mix I brought in but he wondered if I could 'target prettier trans people.' I walked out. I was sad and grossed out and felt like something needed to be done. We couldn't have clubs owned and run just by men anymore."
"What's interesting is that these feelings of unrest, of wanting to take action in terms of sexism and misogyny — even though we were all somewhat isolated from each other — happened simultaneously," interjects O'Dell, who encountered a lot of both as a touring DJ for concerts and in clubs. She realized it was embedded into the system she was a part of. "We were all coming to the same realization that, as veterans in this industry, we had to do something because the younger generation kind of looks to us to lead anyway."
Earlier this year, the ladies pulled together their resources and sought to open an all-female-run nightclub. But as fate would have it, on the day they were going to sign the lease for the perfect Hollywood space, an accusation of abuse emerged against one of the building's owners by his former girlfriend. Though he was a male ally to their vision, they opted not to move forward. Hesitant to qualify the allegations as true or false (charges have since been dropped), they admit there was internal conflict. "It was a very difficult decision to make because we had worked so hard and we had come so far and we had gotten so close," O'Dell says. Adds Calderon, "It was heartbreaking."
O'Dell and Calderon say they will open up a club one day but in the meantime they are channeling their energy into initiatives: The first is a list of guidelines for the nightclub industry touting inclusion and equality; and the second is an even bigger objective that goes beyond clubs and into events, including the all-important music festival arena.
Named for the Greek goddess of safety and salvation, "soteria." is a designated safe space and service hub at music events created to ensure "the safety and well-being of any visitor experiencing trauma trigger, harassment, sexual misconduct and/or assault."
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They already instituted soteria. (which they stress is for everyone who might feel vulnerable at music events, not just women) at the Form festival in Arizona and the Summit LA18 event last month in DTLA with great success, providing safety ambassadors and crisis managers on the ground as well as a private "sanctuary room" and lounge area. They promise much more to come, changing the game for people who love music and those who make it at events.
Sadly, Addams is not making music any longer, but for those who are, like Glass, and new female artists, establishing boundaries is key so that the various forms of mistreatment outlined here will no longer be normalized. Despite the challenges, more women than ever are out there rocking, and in L.A. acts like Starcrawler, Deap Vally, The Regrettes, Cherry Glazerr, Kate Crash, Beck Black, Feels, Dorothy, War Paint, Best Coast and so many more are re-defining the roles, audaciously and unapologetically, scoring huge opening-band tour slots and higher rankings on festival lineups in the process. Local female ground-breakers like L7, Allison Wolfe, Abby Travis, Alice Bag, and Miss Wiedlin herself, are still at it too.
In addition to woman. other groups are providing even more platforms: the Women of Rock project has been collecting stories for some time now, and there's the Girl Cult coalition (which has an event this weekend). There's also Women in Music L.A, and the new book Women Who Rock has spawned an activist group as well. Private women's groups on Facebook have been a resource for women from all walks of life (the music world included) such as "Girls Night Out" and "Binders Full of Women Writers," both of which throw events in town. The latter has led to a popular annual event called BinderCon in various cities.
Beyond supporting each other and holding certain men responsible for their actions, the cultural reckoning happening right now is about finding power in numbers. In the L.A. music scene, it's transcending talk, taking action and hopefully transforming old norms so that real change can occur and everyone, no matter what gender they identify with, can unite and celebrate life. "Solutions are the future of the conversation," O'Dell says hopefully. "It's so exciting to see what was born out of women in nightlife and music holding space for each other."