Sexual harassment in dance music: five women tell their story
Ever since the revelations in Hollywood about film producer Harvey Weinstein, and the subsequent #MeToo stories of sexual misconduct, the dance music world has been waiting for tales from our scene to come to light. And it seems that there are plenty. The following accounts are from women in our scene who have been harassed, abused or bullied by men taking liberties — without their consent. Names have been kept out of the accounts for obvious reasons. A helpline has been launched specifically for the electronic dance music industry, details are at the bottom of the page...
“To be honest, it’s easier to come up with a time something sexist DIDN’T happen. There are so many instances I don’t know where to start really. As well as the big ones that are nasty and dangerous, there is the constant small ones. Like a sort of background noise that is always there. Being quizzed all the time. Being talked over. Pressure to be glam. As if how you look has anything to do with what comes out of the speakers.
“There are different types of pressures for different jobs in the industry. I think female agents and managers have to be, like, ten times more aggressive and hard than men, and some have told me it is horrible for them ‘cos it isn’t really how they are. Or want to work, ideally. And of course if you are tough and a woman you are a ‘bitch’ — and worse. But if it is a man you are just good at your job. Look at “I will bite you” manager. Bet he got a pat on the back for all that.
“I once arrived at a gig and it was one of the early days in my career of air travel being a novelty, so also a little scary in itself. We don’t all get minders and tour managers. You are a long way from home, arriving in the middle of the night. So I got through customs and the promoter is there and he is really standing out in, like, sunglasses at midnight, and you can see before he even opens his trap that he loves himself. Some people only interact with you in ‘come-on’ mode. This was one. From the get-go he is turning on the charm. Clearly on drugs, too. And you know, it’s late and you've already done a thousand miles and a gig the night before…
“So in the car he is making loads of innuendo, and it is hard to know what to do cos if you are too cold men can get aggressive and it is even riskier to pretend to respond, so you are in this sort of limbo of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers and ‘uh-huh’ and ‘mmm’, and trying to sound like you are listening but also project disinterest. I think all women know what I am talking about. I won’t repeat what he was coming out with but it was not very nice. And it is scary on a motorway at night with no other cars about.
“By the time we get into town he keeps talking about what a good time I am going to have, and you just want to say, 'Look, I’m here to work, mate', and then he starts asking personal questions like if I am married and all that, and you are like, ‘Oh lord, he we go!' So the first direct proposition is in the car. A really shit one too, like 'How about it?' and waggling eyebrows like he's 15 or something. So you just laugh it off. What else can you do? This is the person who is supposed to be paying you, your ‘employer’.
“So instead of dropping me and picking me up, he is ‘helping me check-in’. As if any decent hotel doesn’t have multi-lingual staff. Then he’s ‘helping with the bags’. So then I get to the lift and it starts to get real. It's a confined space and he is staring me out. Then he presses the emergency stop, and I just go rigid. I couldn’t even tell you what he was saying, I was so petrified, but it was a variation of the earlier come-on. I started pressing buttons on the lift and that seemed to break the tension, so he started it up again. In hindsight he knew them buttons too well. He’d done it before.
“Then he tried it on again outside the door. Saying how he’d booked me because he’d fallen in love with me. Basically, booking me because of photographs. I was in bits by this point. Couldn’t get in the room fast enough, and slammed the door in his face. Been propositioned three times before I’d even got in the hotel room. Had to be some sort of record. Can you imagine how you feel as a performer that you’ve basically just been told what you do is irrelevant, all that matters is what you look like?
“Luckily someone else came to pick me up. My confidence was shot by this point. I played like shit that night. What kind of professional hammers an artist’s confidence like that and then expects them to deliver? He ran the night with this business partner who did the journey to the gig from the hotel. I just said as diplomatically as I could, 'I ain't getting in a car with your mate again', and he just laughed, like ‘Oh yeah, he is a bit of a lad that one’. This is the real problem right there. Acceptance.
"One last thing. I can’t stand ‘female DJ’ — we are just DJs thanks.”
“I used to go out alone in clubs for many years. I really like moving from club to club to hear some artists, and to be free if I decide to go home. My legendary frosty behaviour in clubs helps me a lot to feel safe, to always keep the control of some situations. Just in case. I always play it safe.
“I had to go to work in Lyon to take some pics (live and portraits) of a famous Brazilian DJ, who is part of a big record label. I missed this DJ two days before in Marseille, he was playing in a club where I knew the promoters. The deal was that he had to pay my train tickets and my hotel in Lyon.
“I met him then on a boat with his manager, he was running late and had to perform live 15 minutes after. In this boat I met some very nice people (boys and girls) from Lyon, who gave me their phone numbers if I wanted to join them in an after-party. After the live show, the promoter told us to leave the venue very quickly, and as there was no backstage area I couldn’t take my pics there. The DJ asked me to go with them to the hotel for some portrait shots instead.
“We arrived at the hotel, and despite the deal, they said that they wouldn't pay for a room for me now. Also, the hotel was suddenly full. I was quite angry, then the DJ asked me to stay with his manager for half an hour in his room because he had to be alone to make a Skype call with his wife first, and after that he would find a solution.
“I shouldn't have come to his room. I guess the actresses felt the same too for Weinstein. And that's what people (other DJs) told me. Because yes, it's ALWAYS our fault. But when you are here for WORK, and when the guys knew I've already taken some pics of other DJs from their label, how I could imagine that the manager would try to rape me?
“I was very lucky because the other rooms heard me screaming. Screaming ‘NO!’. A lot of times. ‘NO!’. ‘STOP!’.
“I thank all the other rooms who called reception. I thank the receptionist of the hotel to have called the room and taken action. And I thank the kind local man I met earlier on the boat to have come five minutes later after my call to bring me to a safe place. I was in shock, I cried and had an anxiety attack all night long.
“I’ve never published the pics of the gig. I don't ever want to see them again.”
THE SOUL SISTER
“I knew this DJ a while as he has been part of the scene since the start, as he likes to tell everyone at any opportunity. He was accused of rape formally and had a really awful rep before that too, but I just didn’t believe it — especially when he got off the charge. It’s easy with hindsight, but none of my friends or family liked him and I spent quite a bit of time with him until I finally stepped away. I paid for nearly everything when we were together. Something I hear happened to the others. I now know there are many others he abused like me.
“The police are almost powerless with ‘conjugal rape’. That is his thing. The others and myself were fooled into a relationship, and gradually the violence and perversity are upped and upped. I won’t go too much into the details of what he does, but suffice to say it is not consensual.
“I have made numerous complaints to the police regarding him. They have assured me if I made a complaint about his sexual preference they would take me seriously and investigate. I haven’t done this mainly as it means I will have to put myself through more trauma and I just want to forget I was even with him, to be honest. I am in a new relationship now and although my boyfriend has promised me if I want to he will support me, I am not sure I am able to handle the stress at the moment. After all, he got away with it before so often.
“We all have troubled relationships, but it is what happens after that makes it even worse. He has such a terrible reputation and is so paranoid that he spends most of his time stalking Facebook and Twitter to see what people are saying about him. His whole life is wrapped up in that keyboard — thinking everyone is out to get him. This was long before he crumbled and made everyone aware that he is very unhinged.
“He was always blaming the women before me — I was too blind to see the signs. When we were together he made me block my friends and people in the industry who were ‘against’ him. It was so embarrassing. They never asked me to work with them again, which was awful.
“He has had fake social media accounts and uses them to monitor and threaten people. He also has spent the last few years slagging me off and telling lies about me all over social media and to anyone who wanted to listen. He uses his dwindling fame and small gang of fans to outnumber and surround victims. Abusing his position. I worked in the biz myself a bit, but afterwards he blackened my name with anyone he could. In my normal job he got the police to call my work to give me a ‘harassment warning’. How he kept finding me I don’t know. But stalking is illegal. This is after police gave him a verbal warning about his abuse over social media regarding me.
“He is a manipulative narcissistic bully who has got away with it for too long. I'm doing this [speaking out] so one day others will know, and be able to steer clear of him.”
THE ARTIST MANAGER
“These days I’m an artist manager in the electronic music scene, but I was 20 years old in 2001 when the incident took place in my hometown. At the time I was a raver and hung out with various people in the scene. I loved to go out, and I loved my music.
“The night in question was a week-night and I had a funeral to go to the next day, the funeral of a close family friend — and I got wasted. I had an aversion to funerals and was always good at missing them. I went out on a mission to get drunk. I was out with some friends in one of the local clubs, and I was sad but wild. I remember lining up shots and drinking at least four at a time for quite a while. When the club was closing he was there, and he asked a male friend and I back to his apartment. My friend changed his mind at the last minute and I went back.
“I’d met the perpetrator a handful of times before, and he was on the scene. He was a friend of a friend, about 15 years older than me, and I thought he was a regular nice guy. I wasn’t attracted to him and didn’t flirt or give any signals. I was out getting drunk with friends.
“I thought I was in safe hands when I went back with him. I just didn’t want to go home — as that meant the reality of the funeral in the morning would kick in — and we didn’t live that far apart. I trusted him.
“I remember listening to some music in the living room and feeling cold. He gave me a hoodie to keep warm and we were chatting away. I remember feeling tired and very, very drunk. He got out some Tamazepan, gave me a whole one to take, and that’s the last I remember.
“I will never forget how cold I felt when I opened my eyes in the morning. The light was creeping through the edge of the blinds, and I had no idea where I was. I didn’t know what had happened and I felt sick thinking about what could have happened — I felt ashamed. I was half-naked, and he was there next to me in his bed. I wish I could remember but I’m glad I wasn’t conscious — does that make sense? I had been sexually assaulted whilst unconscious by a man I thought I could trust.
“He hardly said a word to me in the morning — it was awful. He got up, got dressed, left the house and said I could let myself out. I didn’t even know where I was. I have always tried to forget what happened that night, and to some extent I did forget as it was easier that way.
“I like to think this experience had no impact on me because I spent so much time pretending it never happened. I went off the rails and drank a lot. I told some of my friends about it and they were great, they supported me, but it wasn’t the norm to report it or go to the police.
“My feelings turned to anger for a while when the guy turned up to a party at my house (my flatmate had unwittingly invited him) with his new girlfriend — the girlfriend who a few months later shouted at me because she said she knew that we had slept together! Six months or so later at a house party a mutual friend of ours made some joke about me and ‘him’. I flew off the handle and told everyone in the room what happened — they were shocked but the funny thing is nobody told me to report it, nobody called him out on it. In those days it wasn’t the done thing.
“Today I feel sad about it, and still a little ashamed. He’s now a tour manager for one of the UK’s most well-known DJs and from time to time I bump into him at gigs or events — the best you will get from me is an exchange of pleasantries. I hope that my silence all those years ago has not meant that others have suffered at his hands. I am talking about this today because it’s NOT OKAY for anybody to prey on the vulnerable and take advantage of somebody under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”
“I’m a photographer that has specialised in shooting electronic music for the past ten years. Most notably I worked in Fabric from 2006 until 2017. My experiences mainly fall under the dubstep genre.
“In 2013, when I first started working for the person who wronged me, it was great. I was quite proud to work for his label as I really believed in its ethos and the music it produced. Working with this man was fairly easy to start with.
“This artist is well known to be an extreme womaniser, although I didn’t know it at the time as I went into this scene totally blind. What you have to remember is that artists are in a different world, they are given everything they want. In some cases it doesn’t change a person, but others become entitled — and this also applies to the treatment of women.
“As a female that worked for him I got thrown into that mix, unfortunately. There is an expectation around women in the industry that we are available, because — let’s face it — some are. When you are used to women saying yes and believe that’s how it should go and you also manipulate women, that is misogyny and entitlement. So I would say yes, this artist had an assumption that you are there to cater to him by whatever means he sees fit — and he will do anything to get what he wants.
“I very nearly fell for the manipulating — embarrassingly so, I might add. I was nearly played, and in the end I cut off contact. If you sleep with this guy, you will be left alone to progress in your career. As I did not and left the label, it became clear that that was expected of me — otherwise he wouldn’t have got so angry after I walked away, he just wouldn’t have cared.
“I wasn’t aware of anything afterwards for a long time and went about my business for a year or so, but then some odd things happened. I lost a large show with a well-known brand — in fact, they rarely employed me again after that. I was gaslighted by a lot of artists I had worked for in the years previously, as a lot of them never supported me ever again — some even ran away from me at events. I knew something was up, but it was so under the radar I couldn’t prove anything. There was a massive shift in the way I was treated by a whole group of people around this guy — maybe 15-20 people in total.
“Some people in the scene confirmed to me that this was the modus operandi of this artist. He was known to ostracise girls out of the whole scene by smearing their characters and reputation. Some people confirmed it did happen to me later on, which was devastating. Even though this was common knowledge and a regular pattern of behaviour for this guy, nobody helped me or even talked to me about it all. A few very good people did see what was happening and tried to fix it, but to no avail. It’s a very insidious form of bullying.
“His character assassination was severe, as people who had never even met me treated me in a cold way. I also sent a lot of emails to gain work but never received any answer back — it was clear I was being cold-shouldered. The shift of attitude between how welcoming people were before to after was massive.
“After I stopped working for him, he harassed me at a number of events. He chased me out of a tent at a festival in 2015, he got me removed from the pit at a festival in Croatia, and at another event he accused my boyfriend at the time — who was a sound engineer — of sabotaging his set. As far as the bullying goes, this kind of dynamic plays out in all workplaces across the world, but as music is unregulated nothing is done. This kind of bullying is called mobbing, it’s a very nasty business indeed.
“This artist smearing me has affected my work to a huge degree. It’s also rather scary when someone tries to intimidate you out of places where you are minding your own business. In the end, to actually speak up honestly about issues and how this industry works, I have had to step out of it. This is a ten-year career I just firebranded to speak the truth. So it’s pretty career-ending this kind of thing, very Weinstein-like.
“I have been accused of being a fantasist. The fact that a lot of my work is low-paid and I do it for the love of music has been mocked, and many artists who I respected and wanted to capture through my images have stabbed me in the back. This is all from one issue with one artist in over a decade of work. Yet this artist has a history of terrible behaviour and he is believed — it is, in reality, a cult-like dynamic.
“The treatment of women in this industry and society as a whole needs to be overhauled. The age of the boys club is over. We are going through a purge in the entertainment industry, and it needs to be done.
“I hope I get an apology, although I doubt that will come. The thing is, this artist is hugely talented and this kind of behaviour hurts himself. If you act out and treat people badly, this industry is small and word does get around. Music is teamwork. Men like him with narcissistic/sociopathic and ego-based traits do treat women like this — to them you are an object to serve. It’s toxic masculinity made worse by the excesses of drugs and the fame lifestyle, coupled with personality traits.”
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, a helpline number has been launched specifically for the electronic dance music industry. Funded by DJ Mag, the Association For Electronic Muisc (AFEM) and others, the helpline is being operated by workplace health organisation Health Assured and staffed by trained experts.
The number to call is 0800 030 5182.
Compiled by Tim Sheridan & Carl Loben
Copyright Thrust Publishing Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.djmag.com as the source.