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The Light and Dark Side of DJ Club Culture

todayJune 19, 2023 749 1 2

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the light and dark side of dj club culture - by sacha wall

#metoo #music #truth

In early Aug 2020, just after the first lock-down, American DJ/Producer and Subliminal Label owner Erick Morillo was arrested and charged with sexual assault and battery of fellow DJ Roger Sanchez girlfriend Kristen Knight. Then, on 1st Sep 2020, just 3 days before he was due to appear in court, Erick was found dead, we now know of a ketamine overdose.

Shortly after on 15th Sep 2020, Mixmag shared 10 harrowing accounts of rape and sexual assault allegations by Morillo, in an exclusive report by New York based journalist Annabel Ross.

These revelations not only rocked the global electronic music industry community, but they also cast a huge shadow on DJs as a whole, and the foundations of the club scene itself. Erick was what would be described as a ‘major player’ one of the biggest DJ names in global dance music history. 

Over the years there had been many stories circulating on the grapevine about erick, he was always known to be a womaniser and surrounded by a hareem of girls.  Personally, I’d had no run ins with Erick, but I had heard the rumours about his debaucherously notorious ‘Ibiza villa” and I had been told first hand, that he had financially screwed over many a producer that had released on Subliminal in its heyday.  His serious alcohol and drug abuse, including injecting Ketamine, had been openly discussed, in a one-to-one panel with Pete Tong at the International Music Summit in Ibiza 2016, they talked about his ‘demons’ and his out-of-control ego and lifestyle, he owned up to these as if they were in the past, with of course, no mention of his predatory behaviour.  Without a doubt he could put on a good show, but behind the scenes it appears nothing had changed.

I sat in the physical audience for that interview, and for another two years later. In 2018 IMS began with a Keynote from Pete Tong, after the tragic and untimely death of global EDM megastar Avicii, at just 27. In this keynote he said the DJ culture had had a wake-up call and that it needed healing. He mentioned what a relentless money-making machine it had become, and how the DJ dream could quite easily turn into your biggest nightmare.  We know this is the case for so many talented artists throughout the music industry, DJs are no different, Tim Bergling the man that created Avicii, tragically joined the fateful ’27 Club’ and is just another in a long list of artist casualties.

It’s got worse behind the scenes since then, not better.  We are now halfway through 2023 and the overall mental & physical health of the community appears to me, to be at an all-time low.  We are seeing so many of our brothers and sisters dying.  Nearly every time I open my Facebook in the last year, someone else on my timeline is gone, whether it be from suicides or drug overdoses, turbo cancers or sudden heart attacks, they are all untimely deaths.  we are losing so many, all way before their time, and although we can’t bring them back, surely we should stop to learn the lessons that their passings teach us, not just say RIP and move on with our work.

What Tong didn’t delve into, is the reality of the underworld of clubland, this dark side that’s kept behind the scenes couldn’t be seedier and more dangerous.  There’s no safeguarding in the music business, most don’t even know what safeguarding is. 

When you step out of the inner frame and look in, and talk to those on the outside; as I have been doing for the last couple of years, the perception of the DJ world, is that of a highly toxic, greedy, predatory, abuse riddled, narcissistic, dysfunctional incestuous family, one that is great at virtue signalling and talking a good game and putting on a big show, but quite clearly isn’t actually facing up to its deep dark problems.  being a strong woman in this business and talking as someone who’s been on the inside and ‘in the club’ for 23yrs, they are not wrong, it is that bad. The sexual assault and misconduct cases and allegations since Morillo, are steam rolling, Derrick May, Guy Gerber, Tim Westwood, Paul Oakenfold & EDM stars Bassnectar & Diplo have all had allegations made against them since then, and Dorothy Carvello, a former employee of Atlantic Records, has filed a complaint against the label, its parent company Warner Music Group, former Atlantic president and Universal Music Group CEO Doug Morris.

Those are the just the ones we know about that are out in the open.  All of the women coming forward have been immediately discredited and openly attacked.  The easy get out is defamation cases or to call them gold diggers, “they are just trying to extort money” they cry. That kind of response says a lot.  There’s so much hate directed at any victims coming forward.  They would have to be totally insane to think that is a good way to make money, or make their name, it’s sad to see the disrespect, the victim blaming.  I know how it feels, they have no idea the bravery it takes to stand up and speak out, the silencing is oppressive.

The music industry gatekeepers are desperate to keep the #metoo movement from reaching it.  The NDAs that so many women have had to sign just won’t shut them up forever, and they can’t keep it out of the press for long.  I believe in karma and the truth always comes out in the end, it is paramount that it does, for all concerned, and for anything to ever get better and truly create change we should all want to see. 

Over the last 20 years, the mega bucks money, the ridiculous DJ fees that the top 1% are getting, and the greed that goes with the money making machine around it, has created what I’d describe as a hysteria induced mania in many of the males in this business.  Like the coke badger monster in the film “it’s all gone Pete Tong” the endless supplies of all kinds of drugs, from coke to GB and alcohol on tap, plus the adoration and idolisation of celebrity worship, that fame and fortune brings with it, is a dangerous combination for anyone’s ego, it’s literally feeding a rape culture mentality.

Pete Tong and The Coke Badger during “It’s All Gone Pete Tong”

We are all human and have basic instinct, needs and traits, but when ones ego is continuously fed and supplied, when everything is about the money and the glory, it can turn that person into a demonic devilish force, that then thinks it can do and get away with anything.  They believe that everyone wants a piece of them “they all want it and know what they are getting” is the most shocking response I’ve heard from one well known artist, when I tentatively brought up the Morillo subject, and that was from a woman would you believe!  When trying to raise this with close industry colleagues I’ve met with serious resistance, they either trigger react and immediately shut you down, or pretend they don’t know anything, say nothing, and carry on virtue signalling, even worse, they then smear, discredit, exclude and do their best to silence you.

This is what facilitates abuse of all kinds to continue, unchecked.  Women condoning and encouraging that mentality are facilitating the abuse, just turning a blind eye enables it to continue.  The level of grooming from the top in our industry needs to be recognised, the dream they are selling is taking away an artist’s control in their music and their lives, and that’s signing your life away for the money, material things are not what makes you happy, in the words of Loleatta Holloway, “it’s the inside that counts”

Our community is in disarray and pretending it’s all ok!

I know so many people in this global family, over 30 yrs of marching about  and working in clubland, meeting all kinds of people, new and old faces everywhere. I still love it, there’s so many DJs of all kinds and creeds that have passed through my doors, all the love in my life has come from it. All my friends and even my husband and soul mate have come through my music work, so many colleagues, friends and acquaintances, I’ve seen at all kinds at all manner of parties. So many relationships, I love and care about them all.  I still love good music, I still love to party, I still love dancing and singing and meeting new people, and I still love DJs, the proper ones, the good ones, so this shroud of darkness on DJ world hurts me, and that’s why I feel so strongly that the light needs to shine on the shadows of it all.

This dark side, the bad conduct, the bullshit, the shit music and the whole fake game it’s largely become, it’s tarnishing our scene, and impacting the mental health of us all.

I’m old skool as they say, I don’t beat around the bush, I say it how it is and expect people to be decent humans.  I expect fair play, and I call a spade a spade.  So, I cannot and will not stand for, or tolerate this kind of abuse and misconduct, on myself and other women in this business and stay silent.  All our voices matter, truth matters, and all this is all giving good DJs, the music, and our overall culture and scene a really bad name, it leaves lives in tatters, people suffering, and mental health destroyed. 

Abuse of power is not that difficult to understand.  Ask anyone that’s had an unethical or tyrant boss. The saying goes “the powers gone to their head” and so when that comes to the music industry, these types are completely out of control, a shit boss doesn’t come close to the way these so-called powerful men treat artists as a cash cow commodity, they breed that mentality into the DJs and the misogynistic way they treat women continues.  They wield their power and control from their ivory tower, using it like a weapon of mass destruction, fear of being cast out if you do not comply. They seem to be unconscious as to how bad their behaviour looks, or how egotistic they appear, completely self-righteous and narcissistic in the extreme.

Everyone that follows me, or really knows me is fully aware that I’ve always been in it for the love of the music, I value the freedom it gives me and the community it brings together.  I’m no saint of course, I love to let my hair down, don’t we all, you’re never too old to have fun in my book.  I’m all about enjoying life, but the line between having a good time and abusing yourself, is a fine one, and once crossed it’s a slippery slope to a living hell.  if you let it take over you, and just keep on abusing your body, day in day out, year on year, it will eventually destroy your mind, body and spirit, one way or another, in the end.

The ego driven misogynistic, sexist, toxic, abusive, downright degrading and depraved side of the music industry has seriously tainted my own music career. I’ve worked my arse off, but having been used and abused, disrespected, and taken for granted so often by many guys in this business, it just became the norm.  I might have been let into “the boys club” but I’m only in it as long as I dare not challenge its “authority” Play by the unwritten rules of the gatekeepers and powers that be, that insist on the cut throat tactics and an “anything goes” mentality, as long as the moneys rolling in, who cares about anything else? Well, I do!

I now realise I’ve been very lucky to come out through a 23yr career without actually being physically sexually assaulted, the unethical tactics and the psychological and emotional torment of just trying to be an independent businesswoman in the heavily male dominated music business has been hard enough. Luckily I’ve always had a very firm No inside me, a NO that comes from my gut, it’s one that I learnt to keep me safe in my childhood, and it’s made my intuition super strong, it’s got me out of a good few uncomfortable situations; I learnt it when fighting with my stepfather from the age of 9, one thing I can at least thank him for I suppose…Sadly some don’t get the chance to say No, and if they do it doesn’t always work, especially if you’ve been groomed, drugged or duped, there’s no ability to consent.

Ibiza Uncovered II

I joined the dance music industry part time way back in 1995, first as a barmaid and then various guest list door jobs. I 2000 I went full time, from The Sun page 3 glamour model to ibiza club promoter, in one crazy first season working for Sundissential at Eden, in San Antonio on the white isle.  A baptism of fire into the DJ world commenced, a summer of serious madness and medical trauma, all while Sky TV following me for Ibiza Uncovered II documentary.  You can read about that crazy season here

As a 26yr old blonde buxom glamour model from Essex, I always drew all kinds of attention, good and bad.  I love meeting new people; healthy relationships are key to a good life.  Just the amount of people I’ve met over the years has taught me so much, I love listening to peoples’ stories, and it’s opened my eyes to all kinds of interesting and crazy characters. I’m a naturally open person, so I find people naturally open up to me, my gut instinct has always been my guide, but when I look back as an older wiser 49yr old woman, I graphically realise how naïve I really was then, how so many situations I got myself into could have turned out very differently.  I think my oblivion to the intentions of some allowed me to not worry. Was it always this bad and I just didn’t realise? Maybe, I’m not entirely sure.  What I can honestly say, without a shadow of a doubt, is that the last 3years has been the biggest Wake-up call of my life, on a personal, business, and spiritual level.

In 2006 I started my first company, Ideal DJs but by 2012, I was mentally exhausted, and made a conscious decision to step back from playing the ruthless DJ agent game and closed my DJ agency. At that time the outside perception of my business was pretty good, I had appeared to be doing well, the roster was growing, and I was travelling all over the world with my DJs.  The reality was that I was at my wits end and broke.  I was turning over decent number of gigs for my artists, but they easily dwindled, and the work involved was way too much for two people, but didn’t pay two decent wages, catch 22.

At the time my Ideal agency was known as a bit of a stepping-stone for DJs into the business.  I was not into babysitting big names with bigger egos, it’s a thankless task, so I didn’t aspire to representing the big name, high hitting fee earners. I enjoy the relationship side of working with artists. I love guiding them, managing and co-ordination, I’ve always loved to look after them. I’d estimate that out of the 1000’s of DJs I’ve known and worked with in some way, 98% of them have been male, there’s always been female DJs but they are vastly outnumbered.  I became a bit of an agony aunt, I’d listen, advise and give encouragement with care, keep them grounded but push them when they need it, be there for them basically, get the gigs booked in and see them shining in their happy place behind the decks, there was a lot got out of the role, that nurturing side is the natural mother in me I suppose. I do love to see people do well, happy to see them smile and to be able to know i’ve helped them in some way, encourage them to reach for the stars, believe it to make it come true I say.

However, the music business I now know is full of unethical practice at best, so being an agent sitting in the middle of sharks, rogues and thieves, trying to keep everyone happy and everything going according to plan wasn’t easy but I’ve always loved a challenge, but when my artist got the attention and started to break through, in came the fat cats as I call them, dangling their golden carrot, to entice some of them away, loosing Eats Everything as he blew up was the last straw for my agency, and although some have become some of today’s biggest dj stars, playing on the biggest stages, they seem to have gone down a slippery musical slope while hitting stardom, and their personality seems to change, and not for the better from what I see.

I’ve always hated the commercial way the music game was going then, the noise bleeding music and the greed involved. 2010 was the boom of EDM era, and it felt soulless. I didn’t want to listen to it, promote it or dance to it, so it was one of my No, thank you moments.

Ethical business is what I’ve been brought up to do.  It doesn’t make me feel good to lie, cheat, steal or hurt anyone, I can’t live with myself if I do, I’m an empath through and through.

So, after a life changing turbulent 2010, a year of huge highs and lows and my first trip to Burning Man. I came back with a newfound faith and positivity and strength for life.  I had a vision and threw myself headfirst into learning all about streaming live Radio. I started the first live and visual radio station called Ideal Clubworld on 4th July 2011, playing music I liked, with the tag line of ‘reaching out for the love of music” a year later I closed the dj agency, and concentrated on my new Radio baby.

It’s been a massive labour of love, my biggest lesson, and a real rollercoaster.  Right here right now, I can safely say that the Radio in its truest spiritual form has changed my world, it’s brought me all the best parts of my life right now and all the love that’s in it, but fuck me what a journey.

It’s where my partner in love life and music comes into this story.  Enter stage right Michael Wall, then known as DJ Walterwall, now known as Wax Worx, the DJ that asked me to be his wife.

From 2013 we’ve been in this music business together, lots has happened and the last 10years of our history is online for all to see. When we came together, I was on my arse, financially bankrupt and emotionally bereft, broken hearted and deeply scarred. He took me in his arms and made all my romantic dreams come true. Day by day, side by side ever since, we put our heart and soul into all we do, we stay true, transparent and make our world work, our partnership, our spirit and soul energy love connection gives us the balance we both need, to face the yin and yang of life, every day is an adventure, love is a beautiful thing, it is the cure, and it just keeps getting stronger every day, it’s made us able to cope with the intense adversity of the last 3years, we ride this life train together, and it makes everything easier along the way.

This walk of life together has taught us both a lot, as a man, a DJ and a husband, he’s witnessed it all, he knows the ‘bros before hoes boys club game’ and doesn’t like it or ever wanted to play it, he knows what goes on behind the scenes, and he’s been impacted by it in all kinds of ways.

At the end of 2019, after 7 years of pure devotion, dedication, grafting, and sacrifice building up his Wax Worx name, he was invited for his second gig for one of the biggest club brands in the world elrow, at their hometown venue in Barcelona.  He was asked to play on Christmas Day; the midnight set, he smashed it of course, it was a big moment and a career highlight for us both.  Then 2020 began, lock-down hit, and a major family crisis.  What has happened since then, including the tragic death of his brother on 30.10.2020, has been more than anyone should have to bear, the devastation of the system negligence and failures alone have been horrifyingly traumatic.

We’ve soldiered on, pushing for understanding, truth, and justice, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and we’ve battled hard.

So to then have to face the realisation that some of the people we’d been working with, over the last 10years and since I moved to Brighton area, would see this time as opportunity to try to take us and our business down was disappointing to say the very least

When I spoke up for myself, tried to stand up, explain what it’s like to be a woman in the music business, I was immediately shut down “Don’t pull the woman thing” was the reply, and then turn on me. Trying to talk about the #metoo movement has proved practically impossible.

I’ve tried to diplomatically broach the toxic problems with certain people happening behind the scenes, nobody wants to talk…

Mark Knight post Sep 2021

In Sep21 Mark Knight posted this on Instagram, celebrating his friend Erick, a year after he died. This post was highlighted to me by a colleague. I commented as many others did, including Friend Within and DJ mag editor Carl Loben.  However, it was only me that got into immediate trouble.

my comment on Mark Knights post

The result was a passive aggressive DM from Mark and then the next day the owner of Brighton Music Conference called me, shouting down the phone to say Toolroom were pulling out and it was all my fault, because of my comment.  They also told him not work with me any longer.  It took them 2 years but they finally had their way, as this year, for BMC23, I was not only removed from the working BMC team, that I’d given 9yrs good service to, much of it for the love of music, I was the longest standing female member on the board. Sadly none of that mattered, and I was physically banned, by text message from even attending the conference and Toolroom were back in, celebrating their birthday on the BAi360 pod!

Since then, I’ve been on the receiving end of mobbing, bullying, discrediting, and some seriously toxic workplace misconduct, it’s really not cool.  The finer details of this have been reported to the Association of Electronic Music, the private communication details cannot yet be shared here, for legal reasons. Let’s just say, that disappointed in some of my industry colleague’s behaviour just doesn’t come close, to how I feel, about what’s gone down!

That said, the universe works in strange and mysterious ways, it removes what you don’t need, and I’m glad to no longer be associated or being playing a party to it all.

It’s high time I moved on, I’m embracing my higher purpose and my path forward is clear, it’s a healing journey I’m on, not a toxic one.

One thing nobody can take away is all the things that I’ve done, over the last 10years and throughout my working life. I’m proud of what I have achieved so far, but there’s still so much more I want to do, that feels much more important. I want to make a difference, help change lives, I know love is the cure, it can heal all our souls.

To do that I need to lead from the front, tell the world my truth, share my endless stories and thoughts, speak about my experiences with no fear, don’t say them loud and clear, tell the world what we’re going to do now, don’t let anyone or anything hold me back.

istreem truth radio & TV is coming, my own ‘In-Tuition’ podcasting journey is beginning, and we’re holding a Celebration of Life party on brighton beach in two weeks on 1st july, we’re even launching a whistleblowing charity, so it’s safe to say i’m keeping busy, and my whiskers are tingling once again. 

I’m ready for action, and it’s time to reach out with love, one more time, to connect with all those seeking the light, to the loving truth tribe, the those that are doing the real talking, you know who you are and where it’s at.

Those greedy fat cats don’t own the music, we don’t have to follow that music path, and it’s just not all about the music for me anymore.  it will always be a big part of me, that will never die, but now is the time to talk, real talk, the big conversations that we need to be having, they make a difference to all our live, i want to bring all our creative community together,  whatever kind of creator you are…

That’s a teaser of what comes next, so stay tuned, stay free, stay connected, reach out to me anytime, and watch this space, you can’t keep me quite for long, anyone trying to silence me should have known me better, believe me, you ain’t seen nothing yet…

One love x

Contact: sacha@istreemradio.com

Written by: SachaIstreem

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