The women who brought down Burger Records
In July, So Cal indie label Burger Records shut down, after female fans and musicians accused some of its bands of sexual misconduct. These are their stories.
by certain members.Redd was not alone in posting the harrowing stories of others. A number of other anonymously run accounts cropped up, includingempowerment.la, which supports victims of abuse in the region’s music scene.Scanning the stories on these accounts is like navigating a landmine of trauma, sorrow and bravery. Chunks of text pop at the reader: “Gaslighting and manipulating me,” “he ignored any and all physical signs of me trying to escape,” “choked her near the point of unconsciousness,” “I was too scared to report it,” “I blacked out and woke up in a studio naked and was bleeding and felt sore.”
The Burger Records store in Fullerton.(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)On July 21, Burger co-founder Lee Rickard stepped down from his role as label president and divested all interest in the label.The label issued a statement that read in part that it was “deeply sorry for the role Burger has played in perpetuating a culture of toxic masculinity.”
AdvertisementFive days after Redd’s first Lured_By_Burger_Records post, Burger folded completely, taking with it the operation’s entire digital footprint. Bohrman capped his announcement of the company’s dissolution to a Pitchfork reporter with a Porky Pig GIF: “That’s all folks.” headtopics.com
Except it wasn’t. Not for the young women who had their lives turned upside down by the predation they say they experienced as naïve teenagers idolizing their rock gods. And not for the legions of girls and women of all ages suddenly confronting feelings about how all of this seemed eerily similar to their own experiences in the underground music scene, Burger-related or not.
“A recipe for disaster”Sexual abuse has long been part and parcel of the anything-goes, predominantly masculine rock ‘n’ roll ethos cultivated by the musical culture, the bands that populate it and the labels that traffic in it, say many of the women interviewed for this story by The Times.
Exploitation by male musicians is often met with widespread acceptance from a scene that supports sexual fetishization of women as passive vehicles for male pleasure. The abuses endemic to Burger Records, they say, are representative of the problem but far from unique.
Indeed, the sexual conquest of young women by older rock stars is often celebrated, says Michelle Butler, a psychologist who serves as executive director and co-founder of Polaris, a residential treatment center for teens. (Butler’s husband is also a music producer.) headtopics.com
“Many of these revered rock gods absolutely committed statutory rape. We all know it, it’s been well-documented, and somehow it’s been written off as part of the groupie culture,” Butler says. “So you take somebody who is like the David Bowie of their little scene, and you take somebody who is impressionable and maybe a little lost, and it’s a recipe for disaster.”
In film and television production, some safeguards have been erected in recent years to protect vulnerable artists including the use of intimacy coordinators on set and new channels for reporting abuse. The music scene, by comparison, says one young female musician with experience in TV, is a “dumpster fire” when it comes to protecting female musicians. Fans in clubs, other women say, are simply on their own.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)Emily Langland began going to shows at the Smell, a cavernous, graffiti-laden, all-ages club housed in an old concrete storefront in downtown L.A.’s Historic Core, when she was in high school.Langland soon met a number of older fans on the scene, and made the trek to another beloved all-ages venue, the Glass House in Pomona, to see Atlanta-based garage band Black Lips, which headlined Burgerama two years in a row. Burger also reissued four of the band’s albums on cassette.
AdvertisementLangland, then 17, was invited backstage by the opening band, and a few days later the singer of that band invited her to a house party in Echo Park.It was there in 2011 that she met Cole Alexander, the guitarist for Black Lips, who recognized her from the show in Pomona. headtopics.com
Alexander, who was 29 at the time, soon began texting sexually inappropriate messages to Langland, she claims. She says he would text that he fantasized about her and that he liked being with submissive girls because he enjoyed holding the power in his relationships.
In one text that Langland shared with The Times, Alexander wrote that he wanted to try to have sex with her, using a more vulgar phrase.“I like young people but that’s tabboo [sic]. But I don’t completely know why. I’m 29.”Langland says she was a little put off by his advances, but that she still counted herself a fan of his music.
“I went along with the things he was sending me,” she says. “But I would try to change the conversation.”Langland and Alexander eventually had a sexual relationship when he was 30 and she was 18.Alexander, when reached, declined to comment for the story. But in recent texts Langland shared with The Times, Alexander wrote that he thought what happened between them was appropriate.
“You know I would never prey on anyone,” he wrote.AdvertisementLangland disagrees.“The only thing I’m trying to get out of this is accountability from him,” Langland said. “I’m not trying to cancel him.”Taylor Kourkos was 16 when she became involved in a sexual relationship with the 21-year-old singer of the Burger-affiliated band Audacity.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)Taylor Kourkos loved Burger bands and began going to all-ages shows when she was 16.At the record shop, she says she was regularly invited into the back room and offered beer, alcohol and weed. Older guys from bands hung out there and Kourkos says they showered her with compliments.
Kourkos got into a band called Audacity, which released a 7" record and a cassette through Burger. After posting photos she took at a show, the band’s lead singer, Matt Schmalfeld, flirted with her on social media.Kourkos had to make a music video for her high school history class and asked Schmalfeld if he would be in it. To her surprise, he said yes. After that, they developed a closer relationship that she alleges soon turned sexual. Kourkos was 16, Schmalfeld was 21.
Kourkos says that Schmalfeld gave her alcohol, free tickets and backstage access. She says he made comments about how well-developed and mature she was for her age and told her they had to keep their relationship a secret.“He told me that the band would break up, that he would go to jail and lose his job,” Kourkos says.
Their relationship continued for a year. They would meet and hook up, and Schmalfeld would avoid being seen with Kourkos in public, she says.Advertisement“Eventually he got a girlfriend and I was completely forgotten,” Kourkos says.A friend of Kourkos, who used to go to Burger shows with her and took pictures of the bands, said in a telephone interview with The Times that Kourkos told him about her relationship with Schmalfeld at the time.
Schmalfeld declined to comment for this article.When Kourkos was backstage at shows, she says there were usually other teenage girls. She says the guys in bands would offer them alcohol and drugs.“There would be teenage girls passed out or freaking out on drugs at the shows, and they were always somehow being comforted by these older men, and not by their friends,” Kourkos says. “It was a very dangerous environment.”
One fan remembered hearing the men who frequented Burger shows referring to young fans as “Prosti-tots.”“They were literally luring children backstage, at the shop, to their homes, and in their cars,” says Kourkos.Charlotte Froom, formerly of The Like, alleges that she was sexually assaulted when she was 22. “In hindsight, it took me a lot of time to understand it wasn’t my fault.”
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)Charlotte Froom, 34, was once the bassist of the L.A.-based, Geffen-signed, all-female band The Like, and is now making music under the name Spiders & Hearts, which is signed to popular indie label Narnack Records.
When she was 22, Froom alleges she was sexually assaulted by Darren Rademaker, the vocalist and guitarist of L.A.-based psych-pop band The Tyde, which released a cassette titled “Darren 4” through Burger Records in 2016, and played several Burgerama festivals before that.
AdvertisementFroom says the incident happened after Rademaker drove her home from Little Joy, an Echo Park dive bar popular with musicians and artists in the area. The friends she came to the bar with had left and she found herself alone with Rademaker.
“I don’t know how many drinks I had, because he kept putting drinks in front of me,” Froom recalls. “My glass was never empty.”When they got to her neighborhood, he wouldn’t let her out of the car in front of her apartment; instead, Froom says, he continued to drive around for almost 45 minutes until he could find street parking.
“I kept saying, ‘You said you’d drop me off, please drop me off,’ and he wouldn’t let me out of the car, and then he forced himself into my apartment,” Froom says.Once he was inside he said they should have a nightcap. Froom says she was so drunk that she poured one, and after that she alleges that Rademaker raped her while she came in and out of consciousness.
Earlier in the evening, Froom said, “I was saying no to everything,” recalling how she repeatedly had asked Rademaker to drop her off and to leave. But by the end of the night, she said, she was too intoxicated to consent. “I didn’t feel I had any control of the situation.”
“I was just like a dead body,” she said. “There was fight, flight or freeze, and I was frozen.”Rademaker, she says, was married at the time, and Froom knew his wife, which only added to her anxiety and sense of shame afterward. It was that shame, she says, that kept her from filing a police report or otherwise going public with her experience.
Rademaker did not respond to multiple requests for comment.“In hindsight, it took me a lot of time to understand it wasn’t my fault,” Froom says. “I was too ashamed to tell my therapist because I was like, ‘I put myself in this position.’”Advertisement
Froom eventually did tell her therapist who confirmed her story to The Times, as did her ex-husband, whom Froom told after they were married.Froom’s story mirrors stories told by other women who at first blamed themselves for the sexual abuse inflicted by men they trusted, dated or otherwise befriended.
“It’s all controlled by men”The community of outcasts that comprise much of the DIY/underground music scene, say the women and girls who belonged to it, presents itself as liberal and inclusive, but it often betrays those who need it and trust it the most.
“They think they’re progressive because they’re artists, but it’s all controlled by men,” says music fan and artist Amanda Martin, who was heavily involved in the So Cal music scene from 2003 to 2015. She recalls experiencing various forms of harassment and emotional abuse. “They get to choose who plays the shows and which girl gets to be in a band. It’s easy for them to maintain power.”
Women who play music in the scene know all too well the challenges of making art in testosterone-driven environments where they have to constantly be on the look-out for situations that could quickly become risky, says May McDonough, 35, who now works as a film composer, but fronted the garage-punk band The May Company.
McDonough had music released on Burger compilations and played many shows with Burger bands. She recalls that men in the bands would say sexually derogatory things about women in front of her and that one band even encouraged female fans to physically fight in order to determine who would be taken home by the band that night.
“It’s already a ubiquitous part of our society,” McDonough says of sexual abuse and assault. “And then you get down to this myopic rock ‘n’ roll culture. If you’re a rock ‘n’ roller, if you’re creative, whatever impulse you have is supposed to be indulged.”
McDonough remembers an instance where she fell asleep alongside friends on the floor of the house where she was staying. When she woke, a man was spooning her with his hands down her pants. She said “no” three times, enough that she feared the situation could turn violent.
“I just wanted to be friends with other musicians,” says McDonough. “We were three girls in a band, hoping to be a part of a community, and the feedback was, ‘You will always be seen as this sexual component, and don’t complain about it, because this is how things are.’”
For her part, Casey Redd is heartened by the sisterhood and support she found after creating Lured_By_Burger_Records, and she hopes this reckoning will lead to lasting change in the scene. She’s still in shock that a once-thriving label — a label that used to play such a large role in her life — completely unraveled in less than a week, thanks to an Instagram page that gave voice to scores of women who had remained silent for too long.
“I wasn’t expecting that at all, for them to just completely remove all presence from the internet,” Redd says. “I still haven’t been able to process it.AdvertisementRedd stopped posting to the account at the end of July, writing that she needed an extended period of rest and recovery.Read more: Los Angeles Times »
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Shame on you ! At least one of these stories is wildly inaccurate. This is one-sided and biased reporting. Where is the accountability for reporting unsubstantiated allegations!? destroy everything you touch. This made me so angered. I was lucky enough to meet a handful of musicians after a traumatic assault and they helped me heal and have faith in the future and in good guys. I still consider it one of the best times of my life. That this came after is really distressing.
Why was Trump banned?