“Can we just let Erick rest in peace now?”, some people (mostly men) might ask, rolling their eyes. The answer is no, no we cannot.
In the same way that the George Floyd protests sparked the long-overdue realisation that the electronic music industry is racist to the core (something that Black people have always known), the outpouring of fawning tributes for Erick Morillo has yet again reminded women, trans women and non-binary people in the scene of how little they matter in the eyes of their male peers.
There is no denying Erick’s musical legacy. A house legend, an incredible DJ and producer, a global superstar — all of these things are true.
By all accounts, it seems that Erick was also a great mate to many of his male peers who have variously described him as “humble”, “a gent”, “generous”, “kind”, “welcoming”, etc.
His death must have been shocking and painful to his friends. But in either failing to mention the rape and assault charges at all, or euphemising them as “demons”, “flaws”, the work of a “troubled soul”, etc, they demonstrate just how insignificant they deem the rape of a woman to be, and inadvertently, how rarely they consider the female perspective at all.
“Yes he was a troubled soul…many great geniuses are. He was human,” said Sharam, here suggesting that committing rape is an unfortunate side effect of being a human.
“It’s easy to focus on the mistakes of some but we choose to focus on the LEGEND that you are,” said The Martinez Brothers. Never mind the rape, people. He was a legend, after all.
“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” said Dennis Ferrer (this one hurt). Right, so if you’re not perfect because you, I don’t know, had sex before marriage or shoplifted as a teen, you have no right to cast judgement on a rapist?
BBC Radio 1 host Pete Tong, meanwhile, said, “You had your demons and were brave enough to discuss them publicly with me a few years ago. I’ll always be grateful for that.” Sure, Morillo might have opened up to Tong about injecting ketamine at the height of his addiction and nearly losing his arm because of it, but I don’t think he ever spoke publicly about his penchant for non-consensual sex.
I’m not suggesting that these men are all irredeemable sexist pigs, but the fact that they can so easily compartmentalise and gloss over Morillo’s history of sexual violence is disturbing*.
Before anyone jumps in to protest that he hadn’t had his day in court yet: the rape kit tested positive and he turned himself in. And I’m sorry, but innocent men with nothing to hide and a desire to clear their name usually don’t die suddenly three days before their trial.
As for those who claim not to have known about Morillo’s behaviour, I find that hard to believe. Even if they’d never witnessed Morillo act inappropriately towards women (and there’s a plethora of accounts that suggest they would have), they would have certainly heard about it. You’ll notice that none of the tributes tried to assert that Morillo was innocent. His friends all knew what he was like.
I wouldn’t begrudge anyone wanting to mourn their friend, but to do so without acknowledging the severity of his crime is unacceptable. If he had raped their sister or girlfriend, these men would probably be celebrating his death, not eulogising him. When they don’t know the woman in question, her suffering means little to them.
I also couldn’t help but think about how if it were a female DJ who had sexually assaulted or raped someone, male or female, she’d be immediately ostracised in the scene, with barely a friend left, and no one would book her. Most women would refrain from posting eulogies out of respect for the victim/s. Her suicide would go down as a terrible tragedy, as is Erick’s premature death, but the heinous thing she did would not be downplayed and support would be extended to her victim/s, who would never get to see their day in court.
Most women innately understand the terror and trauma of being a victim of sexual assault or rape, often because they have experienced it themselves (plenty of men have experienced it too, but to a much lesser extent in our industry, I would wager).
Even if a woman has been lucky enough to have avoided this, she can easily imagine the horror of having her body violated like that. She knows the gravity of the crime and just how deeply it can affect a victim. The psychological damage caused by rape or assault can last a lifetime, leading to crippling depression and anxiety, addictions, and in some particularly tragic cases, suicide.
It is well documented that Erick was indeed a troubled man who had his own battles with addiction. He had “demons”, but rape and assault are not demons. Rape is even worse when the woman involved is drugged. In such cases, it’s the work of a predator committing a premeditated crime.
I fear that these Morillo allegations are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sexual harassment, abuse and assault in the industry, and that there are a lot of men out there who are rightfully afraid that their time is up. There are a lot of fantastic men in our scene, too, and I am not trying to tar them all with the same brush of sexism and misogyny. But in the same way that racism is, these are systemic problems that have existed for a long time and are ongoing thanks to capitalist patriarchal structures that continue to diminish the worth of women. Black women, and Black trans women and non-binary people especially, bear the brunt of this most of all.
Women need protection, but more than that, they need to be valued and respected. It’s about time the industry embraced this idea fully, both on and off the dancefloor.
*Jamie Jones later apologised for the insensitivity of his post, and other DJs may have done the same. It is appreciated, but unfortunately by that stage the damage had already been done.