How Music Communities Can Survive Their Leaders' Alleged Misconduct
Photo courtesy of Noise Against Sexual Assault

How Music Communities Can Survive Their Leaders' Alleged Misconduct

Directors at Toronto's Wavelength concert series and Ottawa's Arboretum Music Festival have stepped aside, leading to questions about how these scenes can move forward.
July 10, 2018, 2:58pm

Years ago, while I was working with a music festival, I saw someone from the scene tweet that the festival’s safer spaces panel was hypocritical. After I offered to talk to this peer offline to learn more, he called me to pass on a story alleging that one of the festival’s organizers aggressively hit on a woman at another event. I took that call on my way to the festival site where I would almost certainly run into this organizer. It was disappointing to hear, and with a work agreement to finish, it put me in an awkward position that will be familiar to many: How could I associate with a “good” festival when there’s bad community talk about one of its leaders? The same question surfaced again following recent targeted efforts against two music community builders in Ontario.


In May, Rolf Klausener of The Acorn and Ottawa’s Arboretum Festival (where I’ve also taken on paid work in the past and Noisey has worked with prior) became the subject of a poster campaign “brought to you by Ottawa’s local women & allies who have your back” that yelled in all-caps “THIS GUY IS A BAD DATE” followed by “#STOPRAPECULTURE #METOO #TIMESUP.” The posters didn’t make specific allegations. Come June, Klausener resigned as Creative Director for Arboretum, and posted a statement on Facebook. “To the women I have affected, I am sorry for the emotional hurt I’ve caused you,” he wrote. “I have never been physically or verbally violent or engaged in non-consensual sex. However, I’m ashamed of the emotional harm I’ve caused.”

Beginning in late June, Jonathan Bunce aka Jonny Dovercourt of Toronto’s Wavelength concert series was accused of emotional abuse by former volunteer and staff member Dorice Tepley through a series of public Facebook posts. Lido Pimienta, winner of the Polaris Music Prize in 2017, further accused Bunce in a public Facebook post this month for disrespecting and failing to fairly compensate her throughout the planning of a show featuring Pimienta in 2014. There were no allegations of physical or sexual abuse. Last week, Bunce likewise stepped down from his role as Artistic Director at Wavelength.

As community-shaking as these revelations on Klausener and Bunce are, frankly, there are far more against other music community leaders through near-public whisper networks in every city with a scene. Let that sink in: every city. Learning that the leaders of spaces you’ve benefited from, found new favourite bands in, and affirmed your lifelong love of music through don’t live up to the projected togetherness and progressiveness of their own communities is fucking heartbreaking, yet it will happen again. Are the community structures they built still valid? The conflicting emotions behind this question can be distilled by a more direct, case-by-case test.


Is this:

a) an inclusive place
b) with safer space measures
c) that are transparent and evolving
d) and incorporate community input?

First, let’s make this clear: These items are non-exhaustive, but a start, and anyone’s personal choice to no longer support an organization for their own sake is valid. As much as the #MeToo movement came about as a means of organizing and supporting sexual harassment and abuse survivors, emotional abuse is likewise a form of violence that should be just as culturally reprehended. Women especially are conditioned to minimize all forms of negative treatment by men for patriarchal benefit, and emotional misconduct is no exception.

Likewise, the presence of emotional abuse and harm in a music community raises safety concerns. Venues, parties, and especially festivals tend to be packed with more alcohol, distractions, and strangers in one place than in the outside world. A study I’ve previously cited by The Ottawa Hospital found that 26 percent of sexual assault victims treated by their staff in 2013 had attended a mass gathering. With the risk of something going wrong already pronounced, it’s even more uncomfortable entering or supporting a music community whose leaders face allegations where people’s well-being have been jeopardized.

For that reason alone, a music community that doesn’t hold its leaders with misconduct allegations accountable by removing them entirely doesn’t deserve support in good conscience. No “scaling back duties” in place of defined action. No waiting for the end of an investigation. No victim blaming. A sense of safety is just as critical as physical safety, so while separating co-founders like Klausener and Bunce from their respective organizations is partly an action of optics, it does help rebuild a perception of security that can make or break someone’s decision to participate. But that’s only a step.

Pimienta made a follow-up public Facebook post after Wavelength announced that Bunce had stepped down. Their annual summer festival in Toronto, Camp Wavelength, is still going ahead in August. "END THIS FEST or at least rename the fest, change the entire ‘heads’ of the fest staff (coz they all friends with Jonny [Bunce]) - have a set fee that works for artists, pay them on time.” Pimienta raises a number of worthwhile considerations. If existing power structures that enable misconduct in music communities remain in place, fans and artists remain at actual or perceived risk of mistreatment. A process limited to cutting off one hydra head means two can grow back in its place. It’s crucial for Arboretum and Wavelength to make good on their statements about investigations within the concerned Facebook status routine, and it’s encouraging to see Arboretums’ latest update provide transparency in the process.

Communities can only survive their leaders through a transparent process that involves community input, results in a series of actionable items to promote inclusion (top-down, from diverse organizers at the table to diverse artists on the bill, please and thanks) and safer spaces, and informs every one of their ongoing progress. Groups from Project Soundcheck to The Dandelion Initiative provide festivals and venues with free—no excuses, they’re free!—education and training on methods like bystander intervention to help prevent abuse and harassment. But why wait? Music communities need to be this involved in their roadmap from day one.

Jill is on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Noisey CA.