PWR BTTM Will Not Play Austin

Queer punk duo faces erasure in light of sexual assault allegations

In less than a week queer indie darling duo PWR BTTM went from the next big thing in music – all music, not just subculture queer music – to being all but deleted from the industry’s existence.

Displaying the power of social media, last Thursday a Reddit conversation (stemming from a post on a closed Facebook group) accusing lead singer Ben Hopkins of sexual assault went viral. The dam was broken and from it poured allegation after allegation. Liv Bruce (the duo’s other half) quickly posted to Facebook that this was the “first” either of them had heard of the allegations. However, an interview on Jezebel alleges a survivor reached out to Bruce shortly after Hopkins raped her, further weakened fans' trust of the group.

PWR BTTM playing Hole in the Wall at SXSW 2017 (Photo by Sarah Wassel)

PWR BTTM’s second album was released the day following the explosion. They had a national tour kicking off this summer (they were scheduled to play a sold-out show at Barracuda on June 6). That tour has been canceled and refunds are being processed. Polyvinyl has dropped them from its roster. Both albums have been wiped from the majority of streaming services, and their YouTube videos are going dark.

Of course, there are numerous sources already talking about this. Some are reminding us queers deserve better. Some also believe that because PWR BTTM was queer and preached for safe spaces and trans rights and fuck Trump, it’s their “profound hypocrisy” that sets this situation apart from “other sexual assault allegations within the music industry,” as Sasha Geffen wrote on Pitchfork. Or, as Spin put it, “there was no separation between the art and the artist, making the band, as it stands now, completely untenable.”

To a large degree, I agree with Geffen. I believe queers are good at self-policing our spaces – though I’ve known a few predators to pass through our communities. But, I don’t believe it’s all right (not to imply Geffen does either) to give a “pass” to straight-passing artists who don’t actively speak out against rape culture or trans- and homophobia. To say Jared Leto, R. Kelly, and David Bowie didn’t get dropped like a hot iron because they had never fought against rape culture and power abuse is wrong and replaces the blame on queers.

Yes, to learn that one half of PWR BTTM very likely raped and assaulted multiple people feels like an extra slap in the face to their fans (to me) – an ultimate betrayal. And maybe record labels and managers are smart – they know PWR BTTM had a large LGBTQ following and were worried they’d make zero dollars supporting them. But, I live in Texas. A state that repeatedly tells us our queer money and our queer needs (like wanting to adopt a kid, get married, or just go pee) don’t matter and don’t speak that loudly. I’ll be shocked if these companies are just “doing the right thing” when so many famous – or near famous – straight white men continue on to glory after rape allegations are thrown their way. Just look at this year’s Best Actor Casey Affleck, who was also accused of inappropriate sexual behavior by two women (to be fair, no one has said the word rape, but he did climb nearly naked into bed with a female co-worker and proposition her).

What Hopkins did was entirely worthy of this fallout, but please don’t tell me PWR BTTM has been all but erased from the music world in a week’s time because queer voices matter and because queers wouldn’t have any of it. We may have removed them from our spaces, but something much bigger erased them. I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that PWR BTTM had a decent number of straight fans to earn their “next big thing” label. In our sad reality, the punk rock duo was an easier act to disappear than their white cishet male counterparts. Just as Nate Parker (a “next big thing” black filmmaker) and his Sundance favorite, The Birth of a Nation, vanished from Oscar talks – and seemingly Hollywood – as soon as his history of sexual assault resurfaced. Affleck’s tainted history came to light at the the same time. He got the Oscar.

In our sad reality, the punk rock duo was an easier act to disappear than their white cishet male counterparts.

After six days of silence, both Hopkins and Bruce released individual statements and a joint one as PWR BTTM on Thursday, May 18. Bruce admitted they discussed the allegations with the girl from the Jezebel article in February. "I wanted to discuss with Ben the issues she had raised," wrote Bruce. "But I quickly realized that doing so would inevitably reveal her identity. I did not know how to proceed nor did I know where to seek advice about how to move forward." Bruce also confessed to sharing the information with Hopkins once the allegations went public last week.

Hopkins simultaneously tried to express their innocence and supposed support for their alleged victim. "I fully embrace and respect this individual’s right to speak out in any manner or forum they choose [...] I have tried to understand her experience of our interactions. It would be antithetical to my values to attack, blame, or shame someone who is using the power of call-out culture to name their experience and hold others accountable, even when – or especially if – the individual they seek to hold accountable is me. I fully appreciate that someone’s views about the dynamics of intimate interactions can change and are not always apparent in the moment. While I am open to understanding this person’s perspective, I strongly contest the account put forth in Jezebel. I am firmly committed to consent, to communication, and to mutual expression of sexual interest. The accusations in Jezebel directly conflict with my experience, as it is not my practice to engage in sexual contact without protection, without discussing the issue with my partner, or to engage in the other conduct alleged in the Jezebel article. That being said, in keeping with my commitment to my principles, I believe it is my responsibility to be accountable to this individual’s perspective and to honor it accordingly."

As an advocate of ending rape culture and eliminating sexual assault, I want to clap at fans and the industry's dismissal of PWR BTTM – because rapists should face consequences for violating another person’s body. In 2017, we should be able to hold everyone, even artists, accountable for sexual assault. But what about Roman Polański, Woody Allen, Mel Gibson, Sean Connery, Dr. Luke, Affleck, Leto. Our president. Again, I ask you – would PWR BTTM still be kicking off their tour if they weren’t queer?

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Pwr Bttm
SXSW Music Live: NPR Music Presents Pwr Bttm, Lizzo
SXSW Music Live: NPR Music Presents Pwr Bttm, Lizzo
Punk and pop-hop for outsiders

Libby Webster, March 16, 2017

More by Sarah Marloff
Gay Place
Gay Place
Long live the long weekend

May 25, 2018

CodeNEXT Wrecks Austin
CodeNEXT Wrecks Austin
Or did Austin wreck CodeNEXT?

May 25, 2018


Pwr Bttm, gay rights, trans rights, rape culture

AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2018

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle