Queer punk band faces swift fallout over sexual assault allegations

PWR BTTM has been dropped by their management and is reportedly canceling all upcoming tour dates.

Liv Bruce (left) and Ben Hopkins of PWR BTTM. CREDIT: Ebru Yildiz/PWR BTTM
Liv Bruce (left) and Ben Hopkins of PWR BTTM. CREDIT: Ebru Yildiz/PWR BTTM

Ben Hopkins, one of two members of Brooklyn-based punk rock outfit PWR BTTM, was accused last week of being a “known sexual predator” who committed multiple sexual assaults, initiated “inappropriate sexual contact” without the consent of all parties, “bullying other queer artists, making unwanted advances on minors despite knowing their age,” and emotionally abusing partners in relationships.

The allegations came from Kitty Cordero-Kolin in a Facebook post, originally published within a private Facebook group, DIY Chicago. The accusation and the warning that came with it — “avoid going to their shows/boycott their music/not allow them in safe spaces” — made the social media rounds on Thursday. Cordero-Kolin asserts that all of Hopkins’ victims are queer.

Hopkins and band partner Liv Bruce, both of whom use they/them/their pronouns, responded to the allegations on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/PWRBTTMBAND/status/862723031990513665/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2Fjezebel.com%2Fajax%2Finset%2Fiframe%3Fid%3Dtwitter-862723031990513665%26autosize%3D1

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The band claims the allegations “come as a surprise,” which may be how fans feel as well. Unlike some recent high-profile alleged sexual abusers — take the Fox dream team of Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes, whose public personae align with their reported off-screen misogyny — PWR BTTM is known for performing their progressive politics. An NPR story on the duo recently called them “a Trojan horse infiltrating rock stereotypes with inclusive, campy identity politics… the objects of desire and the breakers of hearts in their lyrics exist across the gender spectrum…the world of PWR BTTM is one in which — through some combination of humor, honesty, and pop-punk hooks — queerness is mainstreamed without losing what makes it revolutionary.”

Jezebel interviewed one female accuser who said she was assaulted by Hopkins after a 2016 PWR BTTM show, someone who she believed was “an okay person… because of what they preach.” According to Jezebel, Hopkins took the woman home, where “they allegedly made sexually aggressive advances and started having sex with her without permission while also refusing to wear protection.” The woman said she woke up later to find “Hopkins trying to have sex with her again.” She told Jezebel:

“I just felt totally powerless in the situation, first due to physicality because they are so much bigger than me in size and also social status. I was trying to be okay with whatever was going on.”

The accuser says that after the assault — which she struggled to process because of a previous trauma; she was assaulted in high school and was “told it was my fault” — Hopkins kept sending her naked photos. She says Hopkins assaulted her again one month later. Only after she brought up the incident with friends did she understand that what happened was a rape, she said, and at that point she “gradually began to hear more stories about Hopkins’s predatory behavior.”

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Fallout within the music community has been surprisingly swift: The day after the band released their statement of denial, PWR BTTM was booted from the lineup of the Hopscotch Music Festival and dropped by their management. The Hopscotch Festival organizers released a statement saying in part that “this week’s allegations against Ben Hopkins of PWR BTTM are ones that we do not take lightly. It is absolutely necessary to believe and support survivors of abuse, and to take steps toward holding abusers accountable.”

Two acts, Tancred and iji, abandoned the PWR BTTM tour, both of whom made it clear they were doing so in solidarity with the accusers and to support survivors of sexual assault. (PWR BTTM released a new album days before these allegations became public.)

And on Saturday, PWR BTTM’s label Polyvinyl announced it would not only cease the sale and distribution of PWR BTTM’s music but also make donations to RAINN “to support its efforts against sexual violence” and to the Anti-Violence Project “to aid its programs against LGBTQ violence.”

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The allegations against PWR BTTM, and the relatively quick, decisive reaction of the music community that fostered the band, echoes the case of once-prominent music publicist Heathcliff Berru.

Berru had a remarkable rise in the indie scene; when he was still in his twenties, he was already doing media relations for Wu-Tang Clan and got music collective Odd Future to hire him as a publicist. But last January, Amber Coffman, of the band Dirty Projectors, sent out a series of tweets accusing Berru of sexual misconduct. By this point, Berru was the founder and CEO of Life or Death PR; his clients included Odd Future, D’Angelo, and Of Montreal. But Coffman’s tweets were followed by similar allegations from other women in the music industry who related their own experiences of being harassed and sexually assaulted by Berru. Seven women came forward in just 48 hours.

Within a day, Life or Death announced Berru would be stepping down as CEO; within two days, all remaining staffers left Life or Death. President Nick Dierl wrote on Twitter, “There will be a new venture imminently that bears no ties to Heathcliff Berru or the Life or Death name.”

In an interview from rehab last February, Berru maintained to Billboard that “my behavior was wildly inappropriate, hurtful and terrible. But I have never raped or drugged anyone. I can’t accept that.” Two months later, Yasmine Kittles of the electronic duo Tearist (who spoke with ThinkProgress at length about Berru) filed a sexual battery complaint against Berru.

As of Monday, Billboard is reporting that it appears PWR BTTM’s tour will be canceled: Though the band has yet to make a formal announcement, on Saturday, St. Louis venue Off Broadway wrote a Facebook post telling followers to expect the official word soon: “This just in: PWR BTTM is cancelling all upcoming shows until further notice. The band will be making a formal statement early next week.” The first tour date, in Montreal on May 25, has already been canceled, and PWR BTTM is no longer welcome at Michigan’s Bled Fest, which was slated to be the third date on the tour.

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Bled Fest organizers announced the “decision to remove” the band from the lineup: “We do not have any tolerance for this kind of activity, and it’s important that we act in favor of any victims, whether we know them directly or not… all past victims of abuse of any type are welcome here, and are meant to feel comfortable inside our venue. We cannot control what happens in the world, but we can control who we feature on our stages, and the allegations against PWR BTTM are such that we cannot maintain that promise and allow them to remain on our stage.”