PWR BTTM’s ascent was remarkable. The group – hinging on two gender queer musicians, Ben Hopkins and Liv Bruce – released debut album ‘Ugly Cherries’ back in 2015, a freewheeling piece of pop-edged punk that dealt explicitly with matters of gender and sexuality in an empowering and highly creative way.
Live, the band were a literal riot of glitter, taking their vibrant, exuberant, inspiring statement across North America and Europe. It was a message of overwhelming positivity, with both members taking time to ensure that shows became a safe place for fans.
All of this made the events of the past few days incredibly difficult for fans to process. On the closed Facebook group DIY Chicago earier in the week poster Kitty Cordero-Kolin wrote a statement, calling Ben Hopkins “a known sexual predator”.
The statement was screen-shotted, and swiftly appeared on social media. PWR BTTM responded by posting a statement of their own, arguing that “the allegations come as a surprise”. Then – in a move that feels entirely wrong-sighted and wholly bizarre – the pair then launched an email account through which “a survivor or someone working directly with a survivor can discuss the allegations being expressed on social media”.
It’s an action that has, in many ways, simply accelerated their fall. In attempting to re-assert control over the situation PWR BTTM have cut the ground out from under their own feet. Touring members have quit, with live musician Cameron West writing on Facebook: “From my understanding, these accusations were in fact levied via e-mail months ago, but were left unshared with other members of the band, including myself.”
Support bands Tancred and Iji both both removed themselves from upcoming bills. The statement from main support T-Rextasy was perhaps the most searing, with the group writing: “We made a mistake supporting this band. We put our career above the safety of fans who have trusted us and supported us and there's no way for us to remedy that.”
Jezebel reported harrowing testimony from someone claiming to be a survivor of Ben’s abuse, and this report seemed to contradict the band’s own statement that these allegations were “a surprise”. Salty Artist MGMT parted company with the band, before record label Polyvinyl released a statement explaining that they would “cease to make and distribute PWR BTTM’s music” in line with their “core principle that everyone deserves to be treated with fairness and respect”.
A statement from Polyvinyl pic.twitter.com/DogS97pp0o— Polyvinyl Record Co. (@Polyvinyl) May 13, 2017
Amid the enormous shock of this news many on social media have noted that PWR BTTM’s implosion has been much more swift and thorough than any cis band. It’s easy to understand this frustration – after all, Cabbage have gone from being accused of sexual assault to playing shows for progressive causes, while Ten Walls career still flickers in the ashes despite his appalling, hateful, unforgivable actions.
But this observation loses sight of the community around the band, one devoted to conjuring the world as it should be, not as it is. PWR BTTM should be held not to higher standards, but to the standards of behaviour we all deserve, and should accept as fundamental. It’s not right that some cis bands are able to continue their careers in spite of abhorrent behaviour – however it would be equally wrong for PWR BTTM to somehow be absolved of consequence in some way simply to mirror the everyday injustices that plague so much of the music industry.
Ultimately, what lingers most prominently in the mind after absorbing all these harrowing statements, the separations from management company and label, and the feelings of shocked fans on social media is the heavy weight of sadness.
Sadness for the experiences of the survivors of abuse. Sadness for those around the band, who have worked tirelessly on their behalf only for their efforts to dissolve into nothing. The sadness of watching something so outwardly positive collapsing in on itself in such a complete, total fashion. The sadness of having what felt like such a warm, inviting, and colourful space concreted over in little more than 48 hours.
There’s still hope, though. What made PWR BTTM shows feel like such an event was the actions of fans – a loose-knit coalition of the LGBQT community and their allies, a bunch of vagabonds, dreamers, outsiders, and freaks working together to create a glitter-storm of creativity. It’s important that this remains.
Try seeking out The Spook School, who deserve to sell so many more records than they currently do. Maybe check out Queen Zee & The Sasstones, a band who blend gender fuckery with a savage Scouse wit. Queer is invincible – and PWR BTTM, ultimately, aren’t.
- - -
PWR BTTM have completely cancelled their upcoming tour, and their music has been pulled from Apple Music and iTunes.