Originally written and published in Music Week – September 2014.
Bullying can be defined in many different ways. The UK currently has no legal definition of bullying, while some U.S. states have laws against it. Bullying consists of four basic types of abuse – emotional (sometimes called relational), verbal, physical and cyber. It typically involves subtle methods of coercion such as intimidation.
Fortunately most people are protected from being bullied at work because in civilised society we recognise it as wrong. We know that it can affect different people in different ways. For instance what one person may shrug off as nothing could deeply hurt another persons feelings. A vulnerable group especially susceptible to the effects of bullying are those who suffer from depression or other mental health illnesses.
I’ve never spoken about this publicly before but I feel it’s pertinent to add context to this weeks events. Since I was 16 I’ve struggled with depression. In my early twenties I was prescribed medication to try to manage my mental health. At many times during my adulthood I’ve battled with the overwhelming urge to take my own life. As recently as a few years ago I felt in control enough to stop taking anti depressants daily, which for most people who suffer from depression is both a huge risk, and a huge milestone. As I write this I’m not really sure how realistic it is to think that I’ll be able to continue to do so, at least for a while. In part that’s because depression is a very dynamic illness and impossible to predict, and in part because of the torrent of personal abuse I’ve been subjected to this week by so called professionals.
I’m not going to regurgitate the full details, other than to say Time Out Magazine London started off by publicly calling me a Gnome and a Hobbit in a completely unprovoked and unexpected attack on my physicality and when given a chance to justify it instead of doing so made some further insulting comments about my hair. Then Noisey a subsidiary of Vice Magazine (a publication I actually love for it’s normally brilliant editorial which abhors the sort of behaviour Noisey took part in) ran a piece basically backing up the notion that I was a hobbit with the invention of a “Hobbit Jar” (a jar that they put a pound in everytime they referred to me as a hobbit) and threw some more derogatory terms about my physicality in for good measure. Finally Jim, the producer of XFM Manchester’s Breakfast Show chipped in to call me a marauding Orc. (I had to google the definition of an Orc but basically like a Hobbit but a bit more repulsive).
There are some important points to consider here. In my very early twenties (better part of a decade ago) when the music industry welcomed my band with open arms, it immediately taught me and encouraged me to have a go at other bands. I won’t name names but there were people in our team who actively incentivised me to have a pop. I now understand that was because it’s a very effective way of getting press coverage. I wish I’d been just a bit more mature or just a bit more savvy and seen it for what it was, because it’s not the way I was brought up. Suffice to say you have to go back quite a long way to find an example of me personally attacking somebody for their physicality. I think probably the Horrors hair in 2006? Juvenile and regrettable. Their latest album is on in my car permanently and I regret being so stupid on a weekly basis. I might as well take this opportunity to apologise to them wholeheartedly.
Being led astray I may well have been, but ultimately you’re accountable for your own actions. Except you’re not, not in the music industry. If Producer Jim from XFM had said the same thing to an XFM employee he might well be disciplined for bullying. But there is no accountability for these people when they’re speaking about individuals for whom those safeguards don’t exist. It’s open season on anybody who dares to put their head above ground whilst not confirming to a preconception of stereotypical good looks. In short, if you’re short, or different in any way, expect to be made fun of, and when you try to defend yourself (because there’s no boss to discipline anyone or defend you) expect to be ridiculed some more.
Being thick skinned comes with the territory of being in any creative industry. Not everyone is going to like what you create. I can deal with that. When I read a piece which constructively dismantles my music and explains why subjectively they think it’s rubbish, I usually make some mental notes and use it as pointers on how to improve. When you read a less intelligent review it’s slightly more frustrating but ultimately we create music and put it out there for people to review and comment on. Because of that, bad reviews don’t really hurt. They actually help sometimes.
When people who are supposed to be professionals attack things you didn’t create, that you have no control over, that are part of your body or your physicality in general, it hurts. I don’t care how thick skinned you are it hurts. When you add depression into the mix too the results can be devastating.
Some of the so called professionals who partake in this do so because they don’t think about it and they’re ignorant. The ones at the Vice subsidiary probably knew though and that’s why they chose to not put their names to the piece.
Just because they’re a journalist and I’m a musician doesn’t make it any different to cyber bullying between teenagers in chat rooms or on social media. The results are just as devastating, the actions just as juvenile and spiteful.
I’ve loved music since I was an innocent toddler. I begged for a violin when I was three. The constant bullying and lack of safeguards and protection against it in the music industry though make me want to run away from making music back to the world where I lugged TV’s around a warehouse, because at least there I was protected.
We’re halfway through making an album which I’m incredibly proud of. Our tour is selling exceptionally well in a difficult climate for our genre and yet all I want to do is leave music for the sake of my mental wellbeing because of a few bully’s, but also because of an entire industry’s complete unwillingness to challenge the behaviour of those people and hold them to account. The sad thing is, whether you like my music or not I can’t be the only one. How many musicians will we drive away by failing to recognise and deal with this abhorrent behaviour?
I’m undecided what to do. I adore music. I adore our fans. But nobody should be driven to the lows that this industry allows professionals to drive musicians to. Sadly I don’t expect anything to change, I don’t expect anyone to apologise, I expect few will understand, but writing this has at least been cathartic.
I appreciate the support from fans and some friends. Most say ignore the idiots and carry on doing what you love. It’s very easy to say ignore the haters until it’s your face on the hobbit jar, and your name on the prescription.
I hope this makes at least one person think again before they insult somebody who they’ve totally forgotten is a fellow human being, no matter how weird or different they look.