Blog: Welcome to the Carnival
Oh, the irony.
Within the last few weeks, record buyers may have treated themselves to the re-issue of Bikini Kill's self-titled EP on the band's new indie record label. A primal blast of garage punk 1992-style, the release also features 'Carnival', a more tuneful few minutes of candy-pop inspired by the "seedy underbelly of the carnival" where "16 year old girls give carnies head for free rides and hits of pot." Rather than a critique of honest, downhome circus folks, it's a song alluding to the backstage antics of a supposedly 'alternative' rock band just as prone to excess as their 1970s counterparts famously were. How relevant it seems.
Spend some time online over the last 36 hours and learn little has changed in 20 years. Men still avail themselves of the opportunities that arise and young women earn self-esteem and kudos based on who they bed. One thing has changed: we have gossip sites and internet trails to feed the rumour mills - and where tittle-tattle can sit in plain sight alongside accusations of serious criminal activity for years without anyone apparently noticing.
This weird world of online groupie-dom, where new girlfriends are rated, their physical characteristics commented upon and where being demeaned and humiliated is a matter of course. Participants on these forums are almost exclusively female; it's not the Grrrl empowerment Bikini Kill and their ilk aspired to, instead it's a depressing and 'seedy underbelly' where strange perceptions of fame and success play out and where possession of little bits of 'knowledge' or 'insider info' are valued above anything else. At a time in popular music when female artists are enjoying unprecedented levels of critical and popular success (when Alice Glass walks out into the crowd it's in a supportive and encouraging context; a generation previous and women still took their dignity and, to a certain extent, their life into their own hands by crossing into the pit) elements of fandom, it seems, are still stuck in a time-warp of old-fashioned exploitation and ever on the cusp of potential scandal.
Social media gives artists a whole new platform to interact, literally, with fans. It's a world where old Twitter messages about planned strip sessions on Skype are archived for posterity, and where asides about the alleged age of those involved circulate on message boards and fan sites. This doesn't seem to dissuade some from seeking to engage with the acts involved and even when more serious - and strangely prescient - accusations surface, nothing gets in the way of yet another trophy fuck. Start 'em young too. Nothing gets a laugh more than those 'Fuck Me [popstar]' banners that get sneaked into the enormodomes. She wants it - it's there in letters two foot high.
If your sexually explicit photographs are 'accidentally' shared on more than one occasion, bringing with them a notoriety and shining an unwelcome light on your bandmates, it's difficult to imagine a scenario where these issues are never discussed within the band, with management and with the record label. Wider ongoing enquiries into allegations of historical sexual abuse and inappropriate behaviour suggest a culture of knowledge accompanied by one of inaction at best, fear or indifference at worst. Is this what happens within the music industry too? Who dares kill the goose that lays the golden egg?
Real, courtroom justice will unfold at its own pace, yet any hint that the music industry still seeks to protect its own, or is willing to turn a blind eye to the behaviours of those who make the music that pays the wages, will drive a very big stake into the heart of a business that often treats fans with a barely disguised contempt. The next few weeks may well prove to be a turning point.