Sexual Abuse & The Entertainment Industry: Billy Kenny, Bassnectar & Others

Sexual Abuse Billy Kenny
Author : Daisy Magana
July 23, 2020

Sexual Abuse & The Entertainment Industry: Billy Kenny, Bassnectar & Others

DJs and producers Billy Kenny and Bassnectar (Lorin Ashton), despite playing on opposite spectrums of electronic music, share something in common, and it’s not just the letter “B” in their names. Both have been hit with serious sexual accusations coming from a long string of accusers, all of which are highlighting a troubling pattern of sexual abuse and rape. No court actions have been taken at this point, but these aren’t isolated incidents in the world of electronic music. They join a string of male electronic music artists known for inappropriate behavior. The sexual allegations against Billy Kenny and Bassnectar bring to light not only the music industry’s prevalent issues of sexual abuse and sexism but also the perils of stardom.

Read Next: Demanding Accountability, #ForTheMusic Tackles Sexual Abuse

Sexual Abuse Accusations Against Billy Kenny Via Veronica Weibs Twitter Post (image above)

In the Era of #MeToo

Sexual violence survivors, far more often women than men (1 out of 6 women experience sexual violence in her lifetime compared to men, 1 out of 71), have to prove themselves as victims rather than holding the perpetrator accountable. The MeToo Movement appears to be moving the needle and creating a culture where fans withdraw public support of an artist due to inappropriate behavior. #MeToo first appeared in 2006 across social media, and the two words are undeniably simple yet powerful. They serve to publicize allegations of sex crimes committed by powerful and/or prominent men. The hashtag caught national attention in 2017 when sexual abuse allegations surfaced against then film producer and entertainment powerhouse Harvey Weinstein. This sparked a movement and realization that survivors aren’t alone. If it happens once it most likely has happened again and again, and lo-and-behold, when one story surfaces, it can oftentimes give other survivors the strength to come forward thus highlighting a pattern of abuse at the hands of the abuser.

Hollywood Feels the Heat

For those asking, “Why did they wait so long to say anything?” or saying, “They must have been asking for it” you need to understand one thing: asking a sexual assault survivor to re-tell their experience (over and over again) can be very painful. There are negative psychological, emotional, and physical effects causing trauma even years after the abuse has happened. Reliving the past doesn’t help with the healing process, so most victims don’t report cases knowing that the law already challenges them.

Survivors’ stories deserve belief, not questioning.

Rape is the least reported and convicted crime in the United States, primarily because victims fear they won’t be believed. Think about it, someone reporting a stolen car can probably recount the story or share facts easier than sharing details of a sexual violation. Already facing disbelief coupled with artists’ “clout,” victims feel intimidated.

Are the systems that serve as society’s foundation antiquated? Does “the burden of proof” need a reexamination? “Innocent until proven guilty” implies one of the parties is lying. It’s a lot to bear for the victims to present evidence of their struggles, especially when it’s against someone’s celebrity status and the power they hold as a result of this. If you want to look at a perfect example of how this can play out just examine the abuse history of socialite Jeffrey Epstein. His criminal behavior went unchecked for years despite overwhelming evidence of his criminal and abhorrent abuse.

Read Next: The Music Business Has a Gender Problem and This Is What Everyone in the Industry Can Do About It

Money Talks

Despite Epstein facing several rape allegations, the court only charged him for six accounts of minor sex trafficking but then entered a plea deal with the federal government. The multi-millionaire was sentenced to 18 months in prison–a slap on the wrist. He barely served 13 months in custody with extensive work release, evidence that justice doesn’t always serve the people. What’s legal isn’t always right, and what’s right isn’t always legal. Rethinking the “reasonable belief” in rape might encourage women to speak up and hold men accountable for their actions. While the question remains “what’s a middle ground?” it’s clear that sexual violence cases can’t be tried as other criminal offenses (drug or alcohol-related, theft, etc.).

According to a Justice Department analysis of violent crime in 2016, nearly 80 percent of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported. The victims’ silence, a result of fear that comes several forms (including artist retaliation, industry blacklisted, public shaming, labeling, etc.), perpetuates the behavior. Also, silence from peers, crews and other industry members further creates a culture of acceptance. It sets a norm of “it’s okay because it’s So and So” The people who do deserve questioning are the transgressors who overstep and violate someone’s humanity. What was in it for them? What happened in their life that pushed them to feel they could overpower and degrade another human life? Given that most cases of sexual violence occur against women, why do men think it’s okay to (ab)use their power, manipulate and force themselves on unsuspecting women?

Ego, Narcissism, Misogyny, Fame

The sexual abuse allegations against Billy Kenny and Bassnectar prompted a social media response from both, but each artist handled the situation differently. Billy Kenny didn’t deny one instance of inappropriate behavior, while Bassnectar denied any wrongdoing. Since Billy Kenny’s initial response, several other accusations have surfaced and he has deactivated all social media channels. Billy Kenny going off the grid also coincided with U.K. artist Will Clarke addressing one of the accusations against the former fellow Dirtybird member.

In his social media post, screenshot for which you can see below, Clarke discussed the incident relating to one of Billy Kenny’s show in March of 2017, when he played alongside BB Mars. This is the same night we posted a screenshot of at the top of this article which Veronica Weibs originally shared via social media,  explaining how Billy Kenny had raped her friend, BB Mars. Clarke’s post revealed that the woman Billy Kenny had raped in 2017 was Will Clarke’s girlfriend at the time. He was unaware of the incident’s details until the accusations against Kenny started surfacing.

Will Clarke Responds to Sexual Accusation against Billy Kenny

Will Clarke Responds to Sexual Accusation against Billy Kenny (partial statement above)

Rather than positively influencing those around them, these artists end up manipulating them. Several cases have surfaced against Bassnectar via the Instagram account “Evidence Against Bassnectar.” The posts highlight his grooming tendencies, ephebophilia and other sexual abuse. Billy Kenny accepted blame of lewd conduct at one of his shows saying his behavior was “unacceptable and inconsistent with who I am today” but went hush when accused of rape and didn’t address any of the other allegations levied against him. Where is the full accountability from both of these men?

Read An open letter to Lorin Ashton (Bassnectar) from Mimi Page: A call for true accountability, responsibility, and healing action on behalf of the music industry.

In both instances, the artists only addressed the violations because they were either publicly shamed or pulled from an event. Is the notion then that “it’s okay until you’re caught?” Why does an artist have to get publicly outed to start the road to redemption? A pattern of behavior isn’t developed overnight nor is it changed rapidly. A conscious choice is made in both regards: you either do or do not.

These artists have one thing in common: status. Their status feeds their power, and that in turn feeds their ego.

Sexual abuse Billy Kenny & Bassnectar Respond

Sexual Abuse Allegations: Billy Kenny (left) and Bassnectar’s (right) Responses

The ego is a projection of yourself. An idea of who you are, but not actual reality. It’s your sense of self-esteem or self-importance. There are plenty of unhealthy habits plaguing the electronic music community, but safety—on all levels—has always been of the utmost importance.  Creating a safe space is what the electronic music scene is and should always be all about. So if human rights and inclusivity are a central value to its community, why is it so hard to uphold them? Money, fame and power are a trifecta that feeds the ego. An overfed ego can create an imbalance: selfishness and self-centered desires.

(Re)Examining Power Dynamics

This is the cautionary tale of fame being the worst kind of drug. Fame begets power, but how does an artist get power? It’s when their music is not only listened to but widely accepted and widely sought out. This opens doors to limitless opportunities, with artists suddenly realizing they’re at the top of a mountain—however big or small the mountain, mountain nonetheless. Those around them start listening to them, doing what they want and enabling their behavior. And herein lies the problem: having people at your beck and call. Feeling invincible like nothing and no one can touch you; no matter what you say or do. So, what compels artists to bend their power in a negative direction? At what point do they lose sight of what “gave” them “power” in the first place?

Somewhere deep inside music is at the root of who these artists are in the electronic music community and industry. It’s also why they are there in the first place.

Ego Isn’t Bad, It’s How It’s Used That Matters

No one is perfect and everyone has an ego; however, what varies is the extent to which ego influences daily behavior. Sexual assault is about power and control. It’s power dynamics. Billy Kenny, Bassnectar and the countless other male artists have failed to tame their ego. Letting it take the driver’s seat. They’ve become addicted to the thought of who they are. Those around them have enabled them (knowingly or unknowingly) creating a false sense of reality. They may be the kings of their castles but every reign has an end.

Read Next: Over 250 Organizations Pledge To Address Gender Imbalance In The Music Industry

As a female artist who has endured the gender inequality in this industry, I am used to putting my head down and tolerating inappropriate jokes and conversations with men as long as it never escalated to a place where I felt unsafe.

Mimi Page, frequent Bassnectar collaborator

Many women in the music industry, or other industries for that matter, can probably identify with Mimi Page’s Open Letter to Bassnectar. In it, she addresses the years of abuse she endured, naive to the fact at the time when it was actually occurring. She cites gaslighting episodes throughout their professional relationship, also uncovering how she is the artist behind one of Bassnectar’s most notable songs, “Butterfly.” Mimi not only sang the vocals but wrote and produced the song that she got a $3,000 buyout for, while Bassnectar kept 100% of the royalties and most of the recognition. This is just one of the many instances where Bassnectar (ab)used his platform and popularity for creative manipulation.

Like so many others, I put you on a pedestal and looked up to you before I experienced your darkness. Even when I experienced your darkness, it was like I was under a spell.

Bassnectar’s Creative Manipulation as Mimi Page Explains

In most cases (8 out of 10), sexual abuse perpetrators are someone known to the victim, and someone they hold some kind of trust in. Mimi mentions how she spoke with a few of Bassnectar’s victims and they shared how he would stash thousands of dollars in their purses after their encounters, an action that left them confused. The victims silently accepted this act as “okay” because he was someone they trusted and looked up to. Mimi goes onto say how she wishes she hadn’t let him define her worth, inviting reparation on his behalf to her and his countless other victims.

A Call to Do Better

This isn’t just about Billy Kenny or Bassnectar, or about waiting for a “successful” person to “slip up.”  It’s about awareness of self and others. It’s about the interconnectivity of life and establishing healthy relationships with one another. This is about the music ecosystem creating these personas. It’s about the artists themselves, their managers, agents, the bookers and promoters, publicists, media, their fans, etc. Why has the industry permitted degrading behavior to persist? How have they gotten away with it? Why is it only after survivors speak up do they feel the consequences of their actions?

Disclaimer: The artist Sage Armstrong has clarified he didn’t personally know Billy Kenny nor was aware of the sexual abuse Billy Kenny was causing 

Labels drop abusers once they’re outed, artists disassociate from them, festivals remove them from their lineups, managers and agents drop them, etc. But, are you going to say that no one ever knew of their behavior? Artists are constantly surrounded by people, on stage, in the green room, at the afters, at the after afters. When did it become okay to look the other way? How come no one put these artists in check? Let’s take a look at the agents, managers and fellow artists who shared lineups, stages and green rooms with them. Or the promoters who booked them in countless cities. How is it possible that no one ever witnessed the abusive behavior?

When Silence Hurts

As news of Billy Kenny’s abuse surfaced so did online chatter about him. Several comments on social media from industry professionals who had hosted him implied that “it was bound to come out.” They had noticed his lewd and inappropriate actions in the past. Why was it never reported? Why was he allowed to keep releasing music on big labels and touring several countries, unchecked, free to abuse more women?

How many know and hear stories or rumors, but choose to stay silent? “Not my monkey, not my circus?” Yes, reputation is everything. And yes, defamation and slander are a thing. However, if you start hearing multiple accounts, do you really think all of those are lies? At what point do you decide that these reports merit looking into and a serious discussion? Further, if you see an artist behaving inappropriately even once in a green room, isn’t it right to stand up and say something and to make sure the behavior is appropriately addressed? While it’s important to be sensitive to survivors’ stories, can you still not take action without directly publicizing their stories?

This article is a call for everyone to do better. It’s about rising up to do the right thing and not just when it’s convenient or a movement. This means holding one another accountable. It’s one of the basic principles of electronic music. The right thing isn’t always the easiest, simplest or fastest thing to do, but it certainly is the most courageous. Doing the right thing is what ultimately you’d want to be done to you.

Read Next: Support Service Against Sexual Harassment in the Electronic Music Industry Launched

So, What’s Next?

What about their fans and the music they adore from these questionable characters. Can you separate the art from the artist? The answer must be “no.” Would you knowingly and willingly shop at a business that uses child labor to profit? Or jeopardizes human life? Hopefully, the answer is no. So why would you give means to an artist who is disrespecting human life? There are plenty of artists out there who are good human beings, creating great music just waiting for you to discover them. It’s the fans and other industry members who give artists “power,” and it can be stripped away at any second.

The trend of music fans glorifying artists and refusing to believe overwhelming evidence that their favorite DJ or producer has sexually harassed women, or even raped them, needs to stop. It was seen with Bassnectar for years, and it persists now despite the overwhelming evidence of his behavior. This is something that needs to end, as it only perpetuates and justifies the abuse.

Increasing Accountability Within the Music Industry

Promoters and bookers, do better. Listen to the conversations happening outside of the clubs and festivals, and stop looking at people as dollar signs. Artists, regardless of gender and sexuality, you must hold one another accountable. The responsibility doesn’t only fall on those creating platforms for artists to showcase their abilities. Fans are the ears tuning in and supporting artists. The power is in the wallet of music fans. If money moves the world then they can help dictate who gets playtime.

It’s time to realize the power you, as a fan, have. Don’t shrug these things off. Demand more from your favorite artists, not just behind the decks but as human beings with whom you share this earth. Yes, people can change. Sure everyone deserves second chances, but first, they need some serious time to remedy their unethical behavior and take the necessary steps to truly enact those needed changes.

Society is less tolerant of unscrupulous behavior. While it can’t erase and eradicate this behavior, it’s time to rise up to the challenge, hold each other accountable and do better. The adage of “three strikes and you’re out” is no longer proving true in modern-day. It’s more like “one strike, and you’re out.”

Resources & Organizations Committed to Supporting Victims & Survivors of Sexual Violence

  • RAINN: The nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.
  • Center for Disease Control & Prevention: Violence Prevention – Sexual Violence
  • National Sexual Violence Resource Center: Provide leadership in preventing and responding to sexual violence through collaboration, sharing and creating resources and promoting research.
  • ResilienceAn independent, not-for-profit organization based in Chicago dedicated to the healing and empowerment of sexual assault survivors.
  • Victim Connect: A referral helpline where crime victims can learn about their rights and options confidentially and compassionately.