Why Are Sticky Fingers Playing Two New Zealand Festivals?
Public campaigning around the band's abuse allegations stopped Dylan Frost & co. from headlining festivals in Australia. But can #MeToo cross borders?
In spite of public campaigns and widespread negativity from parts of the music community, Sticky Fingers are still headlining festivals. Last month, the highly controversial Sydney five-piece were announced as headliners for three festivals in New Zealand next January: both the Mount Maunganui and Nelson editions of Bay Dreams festival, and Raglan’s Soundsplash Festival. After a large-scale public boycott of the band’s headline booking at Newcastle’s THIS THAT festival, it seemed that it would be hard for Sticky Fingers to continue booking shows. In New Zealand, though, things seem to have remained the same.
Early next year, Sticky Fingers will take the stage at some of the country’s biggest ‘family-friendly’-style festivals, in council owned, rate-payer bankrolled venues. It’s a blow to anyone who thought that time might have been up for Sticky Fingers, and raises questions about how festival bookers should work with artists accused of abuse.
The past few years have been tumultuous for the band and their detractors, to say the least. After lead singer Dylan Frost was accused of racially abusing and threatening two Indigenous musicians in 2016, Sticky Fingers took a year-long hiatus to deal with “internal issues”, and Frost’s alcohol addiction. Slightly over a year later, the band re-emerged to headline Sydney’s Bad Friday festival, only to find that the small section of the community who protested them when they went on hiatus had swelled in light of the #MeToo and #meNOmore movements.
Many artists and commentators, including Camp Cope, Miss Blanks, and LISTEN, publicly criticised the band following their return for shrugging off allegations of abuse and violence in an interview with triple j’s Tom Tilley by saying “boys will be boys” and that “shit happens”. Around a month later, Frost was accused of harassment by model Alexandra Tanygina, who said that Frost drunkenly called her a “floozy” and a “bitch” and said that he hated transgender activists.
The band denied the allegation in a statement, but Tanygina’s account was merely the latest allegation in a series of incidents that have followed Frost for the past few years. Since their founding,Sticky Fingers have dealt with a drunk-driving offence where Frost blew over five times the legal limit; an incident where he was arrested for dangerous behaviour at a festival; a Wagga show where he and his bandmates were “abusive” to venue staff and trashed equipment; and inter-band arguments that ended in drunken, bloody fisticuffs.
In June, the band was announced as headliner for Newcastle’s THIS THAT festival, a decision which was criticised by many, including THIS THAT musician Godlands and Change.Org’s Sally Rugg. After a public campaign directed at both THIS THAT’s booking team and Newcastle City Council––partial sponsors of the festival––Sticky Fingers and THIS THAT jointly announced that Sticky Fingers would withdraw from the lineup, with the band once again criticising those who had been writing “one-sided stories” about them.
THIS THAT marked the first time that public appeal had resulted in Sticky Fingers being booted off a lineup. Much of the public’s focus was aimed at Newcastle City Council, arguing that state funds should not be used to book a band accused of abuse. Based on the intense response to Sticky Fingers’ booking on THIS THAT, it seemed unlikely that the band would be able to play festivals ever again without scrutiny or boycotts.
Contrastingly, public discourse around Sticky Fingers’ booking on Bay Dreams and Soundsplash has been minimal; it seems that, by and large, the general festival-going populous is willing to ignore any allegations of abuse. It’s almost surprising, considering the country’s track record with artists considered “dangerous”––lest we forget that Tyler, the Creator was banned from entering New Zealand because his lyrics were deemed violent.
Complicating the matter is the fact that Bay Dreams, like THIS THAT, is partially owned by local government––in Bay Dreams’ case, Tauranga City Council, which confirmed to VICE/Noisey that Bay Dreams is one-third owned by Bay Venues Ltd, a council-owned and operated enterprise. Earlier this year, Auckland mayor Phil Goff cancelled far-right events at council venues - a controversial precedent of Council intervention in which acts they’re prepared to host. But it seems Tauranga City Council has no qualms about hosting abuse-accused performers. In a single-line response to Noisey’s request for comment, Tauranga mayor Greg Brownless wrote, “I won’t be getting involved in such matters unless laws of NZ are broken.” It’s an interesting response, considering Tauranga City Council initially put funds into Bay Dreams because it was worried that New Year’s celebrations on Mount Maunganui were getting too unsafe.
The promoters of Soundsplash and Bay Dreams––Pato Entertainment and Audiology book both festivals––also seem disinterested in entertaining any Sticky Fingers naysayers. “Pato has had a long and deeply respectful relationship with Sticky Fingers who have deep and strong connections with New Zealand - especially because lead singer Dylan is of Maori heritage and the fan base in New Zealand runs deep,” a spokesperson for Pato Entertainment wrote in a statement.
“There is a broader issue here though, and that is we do not believe any decision should be made based on allegations. It’s easy enough to throw rocks – let’s see some facts to support these allegations and make decisions based on facts. Our whole society was based on a principal [sic] that someone is innocent until proven guilty and this should apply in the age of social media too.”
“Sticky Fingers have assured us categorically that there is no basis in fact to these allegations. We are committed to creating festivals that are safe spaces and that allow anyone of any background or belief to have a great time. ...We have promoted the band for the past 4 years and never had any issues.”
While the promoters of Soundsplash and Bay Dreams feel that booking decisions shouldn’t be made based on allegations, Laneway Festival Auckland co-promoter Mark Kneebone suggests that festivals can’t exist in a bubble, and have to accept that booking decisions will affect the community on multiple levels. For a festival like Bay Dreams, which is council-owned, the safety of the community has to be put first. “In situations like this, [Bay Dreams] are supposed to show leadership,” says Kneebone via email, “But instead you have the promoters defending a guy who described his last episode of [alleged] assault as ‘boys will be boys’.”
Kneebone’s comments align with views held by feminist advocates in the broader music industry. “Standing by victims is crucial if we want to create a culture in which they actually feel safe to come forward,” LISTEN coordinator and Huntly frontperson Elly Scrine told Noisey earlier this year. “Experiencing the trauma of harassment or assault should never have to be layered with the trauma of having your experiences questioned.”
“Promoting festivals is an incredibly difficult job, and comes with numerous challenges and pressures,” says Kneebone. “The Bay Dreams team have commendably moved on from the issues at their previous Gisborne BayWatch festival to build the largest New Years Eve festival in NZ, but the whole industry is responsible for creating events that leave their communities in a better place than when they arrived.”
The problem with Bay Dreams and Soundsplash’s response, Kneebone says, is that the promoters are leaning on their friendship with Sticky Fingers when making their judgement about the allegations against the band. “There is no conversation and no debate,” says Kneebone. “I don’t think anyone can say that is a positive thing.”
Noisey has approached Sticky Fingers multiple times for comment on the allegations against them. They have declined.
Shaad D'Souza is Noisey's Australian editor. Follow him on Twitter.