Time’s up. Now what?

Image: Wayne Taylor/Fairfax Media

Electronic music is finally having its #metoo moment. But we need a binding code of conduct to make the scene a safer place

Last year, the death of Erick Morillo triggered what felt like electronic music’s #metoo moment. The stories of sexual assault and sexual harassment that emerged in the wake of Morillo’s death, joining the sexual battery charge that he had been due to face court for, revealed that Morillo had been attacking women for as long as he’d been spinning records — and getting away with it.

For many survivors, Morillo’s sudden death cheated them of the opportunity to see any kind of justice served. But their brave testimonies encouraged others to start talking about their own experiences of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the dance music scene. Before long it was obvious that we were dealing with an epidemic; that a plague of predators has been abusing women in the community for decades.

Techno artist Derrick May was the next major star to be outed as an alleged abuser, with multiple accounts pointing to a pattern of sexual assault and sexual harassment spanning around thirty years. Unlike Morillo, however, May is alive. The question now is: what, if any, price will he pay for his alleged crimes?

Last year, when rumours of May’s alleged abuses began to swirl, major events including Paris Electronic Week and FAC51 The Haçienda removed him from their lineups. Following the publication of the second May investigation for Resident Advisor this year, Awakenings was the first major promoter to take him off the bill at their planned September festival, and in March, Club 69 in Paisley, Scotland, announced that they were cancelling May’s upcoming gig “in light of the recent allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment against Derrick May.” But beyond that, the reaction from the electronic music industry has felt strangely muted. On January 16th of this year, New Jersey club Barcode hosted a Detroit Love party headlined by Carl Craig and Derrick May despite the recent publication of two articles in Resident Advisor and DJ Mag detailing May’s alleged sexual harassment and sexual assaults. Hardly any of May’s peers have publicly condemned his behaviour, either, with techno star Rebekah one of few notable exceptions.

Currently, May is listed as performing at several upcoming events. He’s due to play this Sunday as part of the “Kaos Music Revolution” for Milanese radio station Radio Crossover Disco. He’s playing a gig in Dortmund on April 30th, according to Eventseeker.com. He’s appearing at an event in Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain in June, in partnership with local promoter La Guasanga and his Transmat record label, managed by Patricia Altisent. May was also on the bill for the slated 51st State Festival in London this August, alongside legends such as Masters At Work and Roger Sanchez. After raising concerns with the festival about booking May on Twitter they said, “we are aware of the situation and will be updating for 2021 just as soon as we can.”

It remains to be seen how many venues and promoters will continue to book alleged abusers such as May when clubbing returns to normal. In the meantime, my inbox is flooded with emails from more survivors with stories of being abused by other DJs and/or industry employees. I intend to help as many as I can, but beyond exposing predators one-by-one in the media (a task that would keep me busy for the rest of my life), we need to work together as a community to tackle this behaviour at the root and diminish the need to tell these kinds of stories. The pandemic might have dulled any sense of urgency, but the collective response so far has been nonetheless minimal.

Last November, the Association for Electronic Music released its Code of Conduct Against Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination, proposing a prevention program centred around three key directives: STOP [the incident in question, where safe to do so]; SUPPORT [the victim of the abuse] and REPORT [the incident/s to the relevant authorities, according to the victim/survivor’s wishes]. The code is a great first step and contains many pertinent points, but it currently targets AFEM members only (although the wider industry is invited to adopt it), and is merely an “advisory document”. Currently, there is no way of gauging the code’s efficacy, nor of enforcing it. AFEM’s 240-odd current members include some major companies and events, but with a limited reach and non-compulsory status, the code doesn’t meet the enormity of the task at hand.

We need a strategic, actionable, measurable approach to end abuse and discrimination in the scene, a plan that at once protects and supports victims and survivors; penalises and, depending on the severity of their crime/s, aims to rehabilitate offenders; and educates the industry overall on what is acceptable behaviour and what is not.

We need a compulsory code of conduct that every artist, manager, booker, promoter and industry employee MUST sign and adhere to in order to perform at or attend ticketed events, a code that applies equally in the office as it does at conferences, functions, gigs and afterparties, and that extends to punters, too. Failure to comply should incur fines and/or penalties ranging from suspension of bookings to termination of jobs or contracts, and survivors should have access to independent counselling and support if they wish to report any incidents to their employers and/or authorities.

When survivors contact me, it’s often out of desperation and frustration with a system that has failed them. So many incidents are never reported to the police for myriad reasons including sheer shock and shame, fear of the perpetrator, the intense re-traumatisation that a police investigation and ensuing court case might entail, and a lack of the concrete evidence required to lay charges. In lieu of this, rigorous journalism can play a vital role in helping these stories come to light, thereby alerting the public to potential predators in their midst, giving survivors a voice and a chance to reclaim their power and stimulating calls for abusers to be held accountable. It can be an effective measure in an area in which the law often falls short, but currently, electronic music publications are not equipped to sustain this sort of work nor to adequately support the people doing it, and reporting on the issue is still a reactive response to the problem.

Ultimately, our goal should be to prevent the abuse from happening in the first place. It’s going to take coordinated, industry-wide commitment and action if we genuinely want to remove this scourge from our scene and create spaces in which everyone feels safe and welcome. It will take leadership and explicit, public support from those who dominate the industry and who are least affected by the issue: straight cis men, and especially the richest and most powerful of them. In electronic music, women, non-binary and trans people are minorities. We need men to speak up on our behalf so that we might be heard, and we need to dismantle the current power structures that keep women and minorities in these unsafe, untenable positions. It’s our only hope of seeing any real and lasting change.

ANNABEL ROSS

If you or anyone you know needs support, Rebekah’s #metoo For The Music site contains a comprehensive list of resources metoo-music.com/get-help

I can be contacted securely at annabel_ross@protonmail.com

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