Fullerton-based Burger Records was instrumental in nurturing the SoCal garage rock scene of the last decade though its label, shop, concerts, and festivals. Now the company has shuttered amid scandal. The news follows an outpouring of allegations of sexual misconduct and “predatory” behavior, often involving underage girls, that were raised against Burger Records employees and artists the label championed.
Concerns about the Burger Records scene began to receive public attention on July 15, when Clementine Creevy, frontwoman of L.A.-based band Cherry Glazerr, publicly levied accusations of misconduct against fellow musician Sean Redman, including describing a sexual relationship she alleges began when she was 14 years old and Redman was 20. Cherry Glazerr was signed to Burger Records and performed at the Burgerama music festival the label curated annually. Redman was initially in Cherry Glazerr alongside Creevy before going on to play bass in local rock band the Buttertones.
One of the highest profile individuals to emerge from the scene, Creevy described her experience as common in the community that formed around Burger artists and crew.
“As a young teenage girl, I witnessed a culture of predatory, misogynistic, and abusive behavior towards women by Sean, some of his bandmates in the Buttertones, and other men in their circle. I want to say with no conditionality whatsoever that this is not atypical of the music scene,” Creevey wrote in a statement. “Countless women I know have had experiences like mine with male musicians and it is heartbreaking and infuriating that young girls wanting to play music or see music should ever have to endure being sexualized by older male musicians in the scene–it is disgusting and it needs to end now.”
Creevey released her statement following another accusation made against Redman by a fan who described on Instagram an incident that allegedly took place in May of this year. Redman has since left the Buttertones and their label, Innovative Leisure, has terminated its relationship with the group. He has not made a public comment about the accusations.
Over the weekend, more allegations involving individuals connected to Burger Records and its offshoots began to emerge. An Instagram account sprung up to chronicle statements from other individuals who accused staff and musicians associated with the label of a variety of misdeeds, ranging from obnoxious behavior to sexual assault.
While many of the allegations are anonymous or lacking in specific detail, many repeat a pattern where female fans and aspiring musicians, often in their early- or mid-teens, allege to have found themselves in situations with significantly older men, which describe as “predatory” and “inappropriate.” Numerous stories involve teenage girls being offered alcohol, drugs, and visits to meet with musicians they admired backstage at concerts or in a back room at the Burger Records shop, where staff and friends would gather after bands played in-store performances. Several women allege they were aggressively pursued via text and social media by men in their 20s and 30s while the women were still in middle and high school; several claim men actively solicited nude photographs of them even knowing how old they were.
Burger Records executives responded to the growing outcry on Monday, promising changes to the company’s culture and announcing the immediate departure of president and cofounder Lee Rickard, who had been named in some of the allegations. His cofounder, Sean Bohrman, was said to be moving into a “transitional role” with plans to step down once a new executive team was in place.
“Several stories have been brought to our attention about some Burger artists engaging in the grooming of underage girls for sex, relationships built on power imbalance, and the solicitation of pornography from minors,” the label posted on its now-deleted Instagram account, captured by The San Jose Mercury News. “With this in mind, we want to remind all of our artists, and inform the Burger community at large that we have a long-standing zero-tolerance policy for this sort of behavior.”
In a lengthy press statement, Burger Records described plans to rename the company BRGR RECS and to establish an imprint dedicated specifically to releasing music by women, to be named BRGRRRL (a move which quickly garnered criticism, with many on social media decrying an effort to silo the work of female creators away from the company’s primary brand).
Other efforts outlined included establishing a fund to pay for victim counseling, creating “safe spaces” for young fans attending all-ages shows, and seeking education about harassment and sexual assault. The company stated that any artists signed to the label who wished to leave due to the situation would be released from their contracts and that, going forward, artist agreements would include clauses regarding “unlawful and predatory behavior.”
The Burger Records store will cut all affiliation with the label and change its name; Burger Boogaloo festival, produced by a third-party, announced that it would sever any connection with Burger Records. Fans who had purchased tickets to Burgerama 2020, originally scheduled for March before being postponed, received email confirmations on Tuesday that the event is now considered canceled and refunds will be automatically issued.
Jessa Zapor-Gray, a music marketing executive formerly with Intervention Records, was initially tapped to serve as interim president, but on Tuesday night, she announced she would no longer be taking the job.
“When I was asked to take over in this capacity, I expected some blowback for my decision to accept but I believed that the opportunity to have a role in affecting real and lasting positive change within the Burger and indie music scenes was worth the risk,” Zapor-Gray wrote in a statement. “Upon further review, I have informed Burger Records that I no longer believe I will be able to achieve my intended goals in assuming the leadership role at Burger in the current climate.”
Now it appears that any effort to salvage the label has been abandoned entirely.
“We decided to fold the label,” co-founder Bohrman told Pitchfork on Wednesday. He told the outlet that he had already initiated the process of removing Burger Records releases from all streaming platforms. Burger Artists were never signed to formal contracts with the label, according to Bohrman, and retain the rights to reissue their music as they see fit.
Accusations against other figures in the L.A./O.C. garage rock community, appear on the Instagram devoted to alleged abuses by Burger Records bands and other, similar accounts that have sprung up, spreading beyond just the artists directly associated with Burger Records.
The Growlers, a Dana Point-based band who curate the annual Beach Goth music festival, released a statement denying a series of accusations made against members of the band, several of whom are no longer with the group.
“To our female fans in particular, know that we are committed to conducting ourselves in a way that our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters would be proud of,” lead singer Brooks Nielsen wrote earlier this week. “We ask for your patience while we look into these allegations in as thorough, professional, and unbiased manner as we are able, and make responsible decisions based on what we find out.”
Adam Wolcott Smith, a keyboardist for the Growlers since 2016, resigned from the band on Wednesday, Exclaim reports. In an Instagram post, he described himself as “not innocent in abuse” and shared a story of grappling with an incident he was involved in three years ago. He also stated that he had “no knowledge” of any accusations against other band members and “could not identify any abusive behavior due to its private nature.”
Lydia Night, frontwoman of the Regrettes, came forward with her own allegations against SWMRS drummer Joey Armstrong, son of Green Day musician Billie Joe Armstrong.
“Every time we took a step sexually it was because he wanted to and made it clear by either putting my hand on his crotch or shaming me for saying I wasn’t comfortable, gaslighting me, or ignoring me when I didn’t give my consent,” Night wrote regarding her alleged experience in her relationship with Armstrong when she was 16 and he was 22. “My goal here isn’t to ‘cancel’ anyone, but to further the conversation on the intricacies of power abuse, grooming, and manipulation that not only exists in the music industry, but in so many other industries.”
Armstrong issued a response that while he did not fully share Night’s understanding of their relationship, he supported her efforts to speak out, adding “I own my mistakes and will work hard to regain the trust that I lost.”
Music critic and journalist Jessica Hopper addressed the Burger Records closure and its implication for the music scene at large in a series of tweets on Wednesday morning.
“Yes, it’s a positive development that Burger is done [but] remember this is not just some isolated creepy scene,” she wrote. “Burger deplatforming themselves doesn’t resolve much. What does change things are scenes, venues, bands, labels, agencies creating atmosphere/environments that are inhospitable to abuse, not just saying ‘we won’t work with these bands now’ and think their part is done.”
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