Culture

Female Musicians, Publicists Come Forward To Accuse Heathcliff Berru Of Sexual Misconduct

CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos/ThinkProgress

Amber Coffman, of the band Dirty Projectors, sent out a series of tweets on Monday night accusing a prominent music publicist of sexual harassment and misconduct: Heathcliff Berru, founder of Life or Death PR and Management.

Life or Death boasts an impressive roster of clients — D’Angelo, Odd Future, and Of Montreal among them — but Coffman’s tweets sparked an onslaught of allegations against Berru from other women in the music industry. Many came forward to support Coffman and to share similar stories of their own.

Less than a day after Coffman’s tweets came out, Life or Death announced that Berru was stepping down as CEO. In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, the organization wrote that “Life or Death has a zero tolerance policy for the type of conduct alleged in today’s on-line postings. We take these allegations very seriously. The men and women who make up this company do not, and will not, condone or tolerate any conduct described in the on-line postings… We are taking measures to ensure that the alleged behavior did not, and will not, make its way into company operations or impact our commitment to promoting art and assisting our clients.”

The statement also expressed gratitude to Berru “for all the work he’s done to date and his creative vision at the company. We appreciate and support his decision to step down as CEO of Life Or Death.”

At first, Coffman detailed how a “very popular music publicist” groped her, but she did not share his name:

Later that night, she identified Berru as her assailant.

Coffman said she told her band’s label, Domino Records, about Berru’s misconduct, and they have since stopped working with him. By the morning, allegations from other women in the music industry came pouring in. Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino tweeted her support at Coffman, saying that she “was too freaked out to ever say anything” and that Berru is “not a good person on any level.”

Beth Martinez, music publicist at Danger Village PR, tweeted about her own experiences of being harassed by Berru, saying that “he repeatedly put his hand down my shirt while driving me home after I told him to stop many times” and “also I’m fairly certain I’ve been roofied by him or members of his crew on more than one occasion.” She told people about the incident at the time, she said, but “no one cared.” As she put it, “I was an active alcoholic at the time so was an easy target and living in Shame kept me silent.”

Martinez also issued a statement to The Fader. “Every woman I know has multiple stories of harassment and/or sexual assault,” she wrote. “The stories you are hearing about Cliff today are not the exception.”

The allegations against Berru are making headlines as pop star Kesha is fighting to extricate herself from her contract with Sony so she is not forced to work with mega-producer Dr. Luke, a man she alleges drugged and raped her, in addition to making her sign unfair, exploitative contracts for over a decade. Meanwhile, last summer, Pitchfork senior editor Jessica Hopper asked her female followers on Twitter to share “your 1st brush (in music industry, journalism, scene) w/ idea that you didn’t ‘count.'” Among the hundreds of replies were personal stories of sexual harassment and assault, compounded by indifference and non-responses from witnesses and management. As one woman put it, “Complaints about groping met with shrugs from venue staff, other bands. “Let the pros do their job, sweetie” in the photo pit.”

More accounts of Berru’s misconduct continued to roll in on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning. Musician Roxy Lange told Brooklyn Magazine that Berru sexually assaulted her in 2007. “He kept trying to force me to give him a blowjob in a cab and wouldn’t stop pushing my head into his lap forcefully, with his pants unzipped and penis out in the open. After I got out of the cab, he followed me up 3 flights of stairs and forced his way into my apartment, attempting to force himself on me but he was luckily too drunk and coked up to get hard so he gave up. He then pissed himself and fell asleep in my bed while I laid there.”

Yasmine Kittles, of the band Tearist, tweeted that, in 2009, Berru “grabbed my ass and then held me down onto my couch as he unzipped his pants &forced my hand on his dick.” (She later told ThinkProgress that the incident actually occurred in 2011.) “I told our ‘manager’ at the time who said ‘we are going to have to get over that arent we’ if I cared about my band.” She didn’t speak out because she was “scared- of the backlash, seeming like a victim, of defending myself & having to relive it.”

Producer and musician Alec Koone, who records as Balam Acab, tweeted that, in 2012 when he was only 19 years old, he fired Berru as a manager “for constantly trying to fuck the vocalist i was touring with/lure her to his hotel room.”

Judy Silverman of Motormouth Media also came out in support of Coffman and Berru’s other accusers, writing on Twitter that she’d known about Coffman’s story for three years. She called out those who “knew he was a creep” but “you still hired him and you still supported him. some of you still worked for him,” along with a few of Life or Death’s other clients, essentially saying: Your move, guys.

About eight hours later, Killer Mike tweeted “Life or death is no more and cliff will be dealing with his drug and alcohol issues.” His follow-up tweets suggest that Life or Death knew this was coming — or at least, had some contingency plan in place in the event Berru left the shop — as he wrote, “I’m glad The employees (former) of life or death had a plan ready for clients and we chug along without Cliff but with hope that he grows Into the best version of himself we all know is there. My best wishes again to Amber and all the women involved. Your bravery is Admirable.”

Life or Death represents a host of prominent acts — a list that did include the band Wavves, until Tuesday afternoon, when it appears Wavves decided to seek new representation:

Speedy Ortiz guitarist Sadie Dupuis tweeted that her band would also be dropping Life or Death: “wishing best to folks who worked there. they seem nauseated. but doesn’t feel personally ok to work w a company built by an attempted rapist,” she wrote. “1 in 4 women experience sexual assault. chances are scarily high that someone you work with, directly or not, contributed to that statistic. there’s no way to vet every person on earth but best u can do is listen to + believe women. act accordingly to hold people accountable.”

DIIV and Kelela have also left Life or Death.

On Wednesday, Berru released a statement, via Billboard. “There have been several reports about my alleged inappropriate behavior which deserve a response,” it began:

I am deeply sorry for those who I have offended by my actions and how I have made certain women feel. If I crossed the line of decency or respectfulness in situations when I was drunk and under the influence, there is no excuse of course. To be clear, while my conduct may have been inappropriate, I have never drugged anyone or engaged in that type of behavior. Nevertheless, I do not want to be the type of person who would let drugs or alcohol take command of his life and compromise how he treats people. Yet I have been this person and it’s time to put a stop to all of this.

He went on to describe his years-long “losing battle against drugs and alcohol” and stress that the allegations are not a reflection on Life or Death or its staff.

Coffman, for her part, was unimpressed with his statement. “Love that Heathcliff’s initial statement uses ‘alleged,'” she wrote. “He knows damned well what he did. That’s what I call a half assed apology.”

UPDATE JAN 20, 2016 2:44 PM

According to The Fader, D'Angelo has left Life or Death PR.

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