Behringer, one of the biggest names in synthesizers and music gear, is facing backlash after a tasteless publicity stunt attacking a popular journalist inspired fans to angrily denounce the company and even smash its products.
On Monday, Behringer posted—and quickly deleted—what it now claims was a “parody” video for a fake musical product called the “KIRN Cork Sniffer,” named after Peter Kirn, founder of the long-running music blog Create Digital Music and one of the company’s biggest critics.
The bizarre video features a CG render of the fake synthesizer, which instead of knobs features wine corks labeled “cat piss” and “smelly,” as well as a crude caricature of Kirn that many have interpreted as anti-semitic, a description the company denies. (Kirn himself is not Jewish, but the image closely resembles a well-known anti-semitic meme)
Speaking with Motherboard, Kirn said he found the entire ordeal “surreal.”
“The whole sequence of events worried me,” Kirn told Motherboard. “It's really not about being thick-skinned. If a joke doesn't make sense, then you have to assume it may be intended as a threat and try to respond accordingly.”
Needless to say, the attack didn’t go over well with various online communities of musicians, synth enthusiasts, and gearheads.
“The fact this went from design to publication in a big corporation (i.e., not an outburst in the moment) is just insane to me,” wrote one user on the /r/synthesizers subreddit. On Twitter, another user posted a video of himself spilling wine on his Behringer synth and smashing it with a hammer.
“Everything else aside, it's not even funny. Which makes it cringe-inducing how much effort they went to,” another Reddit user wrote.
In the music world, Behringer is known for selling products at lower price points by copying the designs of competitors, and more recently it has started making cheap clones of classic synthesizers like the legendary Roland TB-303. The company touts itself as a kind of populist counterpoint to the often-expensive and elitist synthesizer world. But in many online communities, the brand is synonymous with cheaply made gear and knock-off synths. (As one Twitter user pointed out, even the Cork Sniffer parody itself seems to be a copy of another joke product.)
As a result, the company and its controversial founder, Uli Behringer, have become extremely outspoken and defensive of their products. Behringer has described the company’s critics as “haters,” and even attempted to sue a group of anonymous users on the (unfortunately named) music production forum Gearslutz.
As for what prompted Behringer's attack on Kirn, it's not entirely clear—but the stunt was apparently the result of months of planning. Kirn first entered Behringer’s crosshairs in 2018, after reporting on the lawsuit—among many other Behringer-related controversies.
On Tuesday, Behringer offered Kirn and others “offended” by the video a half-baked apology, which has since been inexplicably deleted from the company’s Facebook page.
"What was meant as pure satire by our marketing department, has clearly offended some people and looking at the video, I could understand why,” Uli Behringer wrote in the now-deleted post. “However, in no way did the team ever intend to make any connection to semitism [sic], as some people have alleged. We unreservedly apologize to Peter and anyone who felt offended."
Behringer did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.
The company’s mea culpa doesn’t acknowledge why so many people were angry—that a large company and its marketing department thought that it would be fair game to clap-back on a journalist who has written critically about their products.
Kirn told Motherboard he is “beyond grateful” for the community support. But he emphasized that he never needed an apology, and looks forward to putting the bizarre incident behind him.
“Music making and creating new tools for music are really what I'm passionate about. I'm glad to get back to those,” Kirn said. “And people who are on a limited budget for gear—I'm right there with you, which is why I've been writing about inexpensive and free and open and DIY tools. Honestly, they're the most fun.”