#MeToo vs indie music

Discredited sexual-misconduct allegations can still ruin careers. Just ask Pinegrove.

Shaun Cammack

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American indie band Pinegrove has finally released its first album since #MeToo mania sent frontman Evan Stephens Hall’s career into a 12-month coma in 2017.

But, although the sexual-misconduct allegations and accusation of ‘sexual coercion’ levelled against Hall, made in connection to a brief relationship he had with a member of his road crew, have been thoroughly discredited, many in the media can’t let it go. ‘The indie band must prove that it has atoned’, writes a reviewer for the New Yorker. But how can someone atone for something they haven’t done? This absolutist cancel-culture doesn’t bode well for the arts or, indeed, justice.

The indie music scene isn’t exactly a predatory frat house. In fact, it tends to be on the frontline of cultural progressivism. From my time attending shows in basements and venues across Chicago, I’ve met non-binary drummers and vegan bassists. And it seems as though every other lead singer is at least bi-curious. The point here is that indie folks are particularly sensitive to #MeToo issues. And it seems this sensitivity has turned into a beast of its own.

I interviewed an up-and-coming indie-scene musician, who, due to the current climate, understandably chose to remain anonymous. ‘It seems like anything negative now becomes just an all-out attack’, he told me. ‘There’s not much room for grey areas.’ The cancel-culture sentiment is pretty prevalent, he says, and there’s palpable anxiety about it. Bands who associate with Pinegrove, for example, are apparently subject to blowback and potential cancellation of their own. ‘People still very much have Pinegrove cancelled in their mind.’

He laments this reality, saying that we should not equate minor misunderstandings with apocalyptic sex-crimes. And although he’s optimistic that the outrage lives mostly in the Twittersphere, he acknowledged that any accusation levelled against him would likely crush his blossoming career. ‘If the grassroots community won’t support you, then you don’t really have a platform to stand on.’

To be clear, if an artist does something truly reprehensible, then the consumer, label or fanbase is well within their rights to disassociate from that person. There are certainly some instances that necessitate a #MeToo response – like in the case of Harvey Weinstein, for example. But for that kind of sanction to remain effective, it must be reserved for when it is actually warranted, not levelled against innocent indie bands. Besides, awkward sexual encounters and relationship troubles are pretty recurrent themes in indie music, and we can’t go crying wolf over every rejected pass portrayed in a chorus.

And what more could Hall possibly do to atone, anyway? For his bogus accusation, he publicly acknowledged his ‘privilege’, shelved an album, cancelled a tour and went silent for a year. Clearly, many in the #MeToo mob don’t even consider redemption – it is scorched-earth social justice or nothing. The possibility of atonement is a false carrot, and they’re only interested in swinging the cancellation stick.

This mentality of cancel-culture absolutism does a serious disservice to the scene itself. Consider for a moment the presently unthinkable 1970s British punk trend of wearing Nazi regalia as a rebellious statement – they weren’t racists or bigots, just punks. Today, according to my indie insider, the pendulum has swung far to the other side. So what, then, is on the other side of rebellion? Conformity. #MeToo mania and cancel culture are mechanisms for promulgating such conformity, whether it comes from other bands, one’s audience, or the New Yorker. Conformity, it need not be said, does no favours for the arts.

If people keep walking on eggshells and pandering to the Twittermob, Hall will not be the last victim. I hope the pendulum starts swinging back, and people begin to stand up to baseless accusations and overreactions. But in the current climate, this would take a rebel. Perhaps the indie scene needs to revive its long forgotten inner punk.

Shaun Cammack is a graduate student at the University of Chicago and a contributor to Young Voices. Follow him at: @shaunjcammack

Picture by: Will Fisher, published under a creative-commons licence.

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Ellen Whitaker

12th February 2020 at 8:54 pm

I can vaguely remember being young, and I remember that, if I got involved with a boy (especially if I was physically involved with him), and I found out that he didn’t feel as strongly about me, as I did about him, then my emotional reaction was outrage: I felt like he should be locked up, or at least punished in some really unpleasant way. I did realize that I couldn’t really have him locked up for rejecting me, or just for not loving me, and I had to accept that. Well, times have changed.

Jerry Colonna

12th February 2020 at 12:23 pm

“Perhaps the indie scene needs to revive its long forgotten inner punk.”

What? Knifing your girlfriend to death in the Chelsea Hotel? That’s what a punk did, right?

Indie, cock rock for people who prefer coke to sex.

Elizabeth Frank

12th February 2020 at 2:34 pm

Nice

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12th February 2020 at 11:36 am

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Ian MacArthur

12th February 2020 at 11:24 am

The indie scene is overwhelmingly populated with soy boy bedwetters. There’s no ‘inner punk’ to be rediscovered.

Jim Lawrie

12th February 2020 at 10:52 am

“There are certainly some instances that necessitate a #MeToo response “. Wrong. Allegations of a crime should be reported to the police and left to them and the courts to resolve. #MeToo can never be right, far less necessary, because it eschews evidence and procedure by assuming guilt.

Jim Lawrie

12th February 2020 at 10:40 am

Much of this is driven by no marks who seek to destroy the achievements of those they envy, and who think that puts them on a par with, or above, the objects of their envy. It has its roots in the leftist ideal that smashing societies and destroying capitalism is an achievement.

Music looms large as a target for #MeToo because despite equal opportunity, it is male bands and singers who are most in demand and successful, and that brings out the hatred in these women. Equality of outcome cannot be engineered in the music business.

BTW Mr Cammack, how is it “culturally progressive” to be non binary, vegan, bi-curious? Blabbing this in public about oneself is just attention seeking and virtue signalling.

In Negative

12th February 2020 at 9:49 am

I blame Fugazi.

And Kathleen Hannah.

Ven Oods

12th February 2020 at 8:23 am

“I hope the pendulum starts swinging back..”
That’s not likely to happen until the idiots who form the pendulum (Twitterati) grow up and make lives for themselves. Might be much too late for the indie bands, though.

Melissa Jackson

12th February 2020 at 7:51 am

I am fondly reminded of the short lived and hilarious “Metalgate” where some absolute idiots in my own sub-culture started yelling that metal was too male dominated and we needed a safe space for women within extreme metal.

This effort was doomed to failure because almost every woman in that sphere, me included, like it the way it is. And let me tell you, male black metal fans are absolutely not going to change because you tell them to.

It’s all just so much bleh. Attempts by people who are not fans to ruin things they don’t enjoy anyway.

Once upon a time Tipper Gore was at least proclaiming she was just against good music. Today the censors dress up in your clothes then tell you they are a real fan who just hates everything about the scene.

In Negative

12th February 2020 at 10:03 am

Are Machinehead still woke?

Has anyone forgiven Phil Anselmo yet for his white power outburst? Never thought this would touch metal, but the Ballad of Dwight Fry and Only Women Bleed were conspicuous by their absence when I last saw Alice Cooper – and what’s the point of Alice Cooper’s stage show without The Ballad of Dwight Fry and Only Women Bleed?

Ven Oods

13th February 2020 at 11:33 am

At Vince’s advance age, what’s the point of the Alice Cooper show anyway? I loved that he was reported to play golf with Bob Hope back in the day. Edgy!

Brian Lee

13th February 2020 at 6:49 pm

He’s a born again christian and a republican, so he joined the ranks he seemingly sang against anyway, he cancelled himself out. No point in him continuing or mentioning his name.

In Negative

14th February 2020 at 11:04 pm

@Ven & Brian
Philistines!

The 8 year old me would kick your asses for such heresies!

brent mckeon

12th February 2020 at 5:37 am

Take Twitter to court, make them defend the horrible things that go on and are said on their site.

Jim Lawrie

12th February 2020 at 10:46 am

Then what? Take the Forestry Commission to court for providing the wood for the pulp for the paper for the printers?
Or for providing the raw materials for all that ghastly IKEA furniture that everyone is trying to give away on freecycle because they cannot bear to dump it and thus admit its worth and their taste.

Ven Oods

13th February 2020 at 11:35 am

Or take the Forestry Commission to court for trees that fall on the heads of folk who go for walks during hurricane winds. Perhaps Newton’s really to blame, but, sadly, beyond being called to account.

Jim Lawrie

17th February 2020 at 12:34 pm

Fortunately Ven the dolts who walk in the wind in the woods are likely to be the culprits who shop at IKEa so I would encourage them.

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