Allegations towards Win Butler nonetheless linger over Arcade Fireplace’s hometown scene : NPR


Hair blows across the face of a woman as a silhouette of Win Butler's profile overlaps. Montréal's Biosphere burns in the background; the 1976 tragedy has been used in Arcade Fire imagery.
Hair blows across the face of a woman as a silhouette of Win Butler's profile overlaps. Montréal's Biosphere burns in the background; the 1976 tragedy has been used in Arcade Fire imagery.

“I normally write,” Élise Jetté laughs. “It is onerous to talk about a really emotional topic like this one.”

The freelance music journalist had at all times been a fan of Arcade Fireplace. Extra than simply certainly one of her favourite bands, Arcade Fireplace outlined her profession. The band that made her a music journalist. As a younger pupil at Université de Sherbrooke, she had gone to a few exhibits, back-to-back, earlier than the discharge of The Suburbs, the band’s Grammy-winning document.

“Being at their present on the time had the identical power as being at church in entrance of a priest,” Jetté says. “We had been all there, in entrance of them, glorifying them. They had been… I do not wish to say gods… however they had been so extremely revered and beloved!”

Since forming in 2001, Arcade Fireplace had been one of many brightest gems in Montréal’s musical crown. Led by Win Butler, an American who grew up in Texas, and Régine Chassagne, a Francophone Québécoise with Haitian roots, the band symbolizes the truth for a lot of Montréalais and Montréalaises: Residing in a metropolis that mixes French and English in each side of its being. A metropolis the place folks come to seek out themselves by chilly winters and scorching summers, by language obstacles which are erased in gatherings. Residing in a metropolis that prides itself on its cultural scene and largely its music, whether or not it’s produced in French or English. For the final twenty years, Arcade Fireplace has been probably the most seen export of that scene.

However because the finish of August, the Montréal music scene has needed to reckon with sexual abuse allegations towards Butler. To cite Pitchfork‘s stunning investigative piece, three ladies alleged “sexual interactions with Butler that they got here to really feel had been inappropriate given the gaps in age, energy dynamics, and context wherein they occurred.” The story additionally alleged that Butler sexually assaulted a fourth particular person, who’s gender-fluid, “twice in 2015, once they had been 21 and he was 34.”

In a response, communicated by New York-based disaster public relations professional Risa Heller, Butler acknowledged the sexual interactions, however claimed they had been consensual:

“Whereas these relationships had been all consensual, I’m very sorry to anybody who I’ve damage with my conduct,” Butler wrote. “As I look to the long run, I’m persevering with to study from my errors and dealing onerous to turn into a greater particular person, somebody my son will be happy with. […] I am sorry I wasn’t extra conscious and tuned in to the impact I’ve on folks — I f***** up, and whereas not an excuse, I’ll proceed to look ahead and heal what will be healed, and study from previous experiences.”

In November, a fifth girl got here ahead to allege an “ongoing abusive relationship.”

Whereas many shops reported the information instantly and had intensive protection within the days following, the response in Canada appeared delayed. This wasn’t the primary time somebody from the Canadian music scene had been accused of sexual harassment and doubtless would not be the final. Nevertheless, this case felt particularly dire. Butler is a star who each enabled and troubled the expansion of a scene that has been acknowledged globally for its inventive expertise. He represented one thing greater than only a beloved hometown artist — he is a global star who helped earn the Montréal scene a world popularity.

Jetté’s story may very well be the story of many different folks residing in Montréal. Everyone who lives within the metropolis has a narrative in regards to the band. However because the allegations got here to mild, Arcade Fireplace has turn into a synonym for one thing darker, one thing even the folks evolving round them could not see coming. This time round, the query lingered: How and why did this occur?

In Québec, ‘we glorify them.’

Olivier Lalande is not any stranger to the Montréal music scene. Earlier than working as an internet content material editor, he was a music journalist and one of many first to interview Arcade Fireplace earlier than its massive break.

“Round this time, in 2003, there was already a cult round them within the underground scene,” Lalande says. “I used to be a contract music journalist in command of the music part of Nightlife and I used to spend time on a discussion board known as Montréal Reveals. This discussion board is the place it began. Each time Arcade Fireplace would carry out, folks would go nuts. I used to be curious.”

After the discharge of its first album, Funeral, in 2004, the band shortly gained consideration from mainstream media the world over. The next 12 months, David Carr, one of the outstanding popular culture columnists in the USA, profiled Montréal for his New York Occasions column. Carr described the town because the breeding floor for a inventive, out-of-the-ordinary music scene: “Being the most important vacation spot [for music] in a area nearly ensures an inflow of musically inclined, disaffected younger folks to each play in and take heed to bands. Unhealthy climate helps, as a result of it retains songwriters inside and bands rehearsing. And maybe most significantly, a nascent musical scene requires a number of low cost actual property for musicians and their followers to hang around and play in.”

Carr’s article, for probably the most half, existed due to Arcade Fireplace’s newfound glory on the worldwide scene. Within the almost twenty years since, the band’s launched six albums complete, carried out on Saturday Evening Reside 5 occasions and toured internationally. In 2011, The Suburbs gained the Polaris Music Prize in addition to album of the 12 months for each the Juno Awards and the 53rd Grammy Awards.

“If you’d stroll round Montréal and noticed members of Arcade Fireplace on the road, you’d really feel extraordinarily particular,” Jetté says. “, we [Québécois and Québécoise people] have this reference to our artists. There’s cultural belonging. As quickly as somebody who comes from our dwelling shines overseas, we go loopy. We have finished it with Céline Dion, and we have finished it with Xavier Dolan. We have finished it with many artists. Our Québec TV sequence are translated into many languages. A number of Québec tradition is discovered elsewhere as a result of it’s distinct from Canada. It has a colour; it has a specific taste. After we succeed globally, it makes us exponentially proud, right here in Québec.”

Jetté’s phrases are echoed by Lalande, who confirms the godlike state of artists within the French-speaking province. Lalande mentions how albums are introduced within the province: As a substitute of a sortir (“launch”), artists offrir (“providing”), as in the event that they had been gifting us their expertise quite than releasing their work.

“Take a look at any selection present in Québec,” Lalande explains. “Each time there is a widespread artist who’s a visitor, it seems like … Christ has come again to ship us from our sins. I do know I am exaggerating, however there’s a whole lot of this. We glorify them.”

The heavy, spiritual lingo is not any mistake: French-Canadian Catholic historical past looms massive in Québec, however that language has, over time, come to explain cultural merchandise, too. This underlines a much bigger situation: the systematic glorification of artists and their perceived infallible conduct by the eyes of followers, making it simpler for them to be abusive towards those that love them unconditionally.

A tradition of silence lets abusers run free.

Maryse Bernard, often called Maryze, a younger up-and-coming artist from the Montréal scene, explains how disappointing the allegations had been when she learn the information: “It is disheartening, particularly for individuals who noticed Arcade Fireplace as a really fun-loving, optimistic neighborhood. As a result of then it is, like, ‘Oh, even the great ones right here have tales that come out.’ So that you marvel form of like, who within the scene are you able to belief?”

In Montréal, artists assist and mentor one another with the intention to export their skills outdoors of the town.

“Montréal was at all times this type of cultural mecca of Canada,” Bernard says. “I feel there was this type of fable of Montréal, particularly within the heyday of Arcade Fireplace, of that scene that was very artsy and free and welcoming and, you realize, open to all folks. A metropolis the place you can be your self regardless of how freaky your artwork was. It was a spot to discover creativity.”

To most people who spoke for this text, the accusations towards Win Butler got here as a shock. The band was recognized for taking a stand on social points, most notably by supporting initiatives in Haiti. Régine Chassagne, the band’s lead singer and Butler’s spouse, co-founded KANPE, a company that brings assist to underserved rural communities in Haiti.

“They had been very a lot concerned within the Montréal neighborhood,” provides Bernard. “They had been the form of artists that, you realize, smaller artists would hang around with. And in some methods, that is nice if they may supply types of mentorship, as a result of many younger artists need assistance and be reassured that they need not soar by all these hoops to be on this trade. You are able to do what feels good for you. But it surely’s when massive artists [like Arcade Fire] take that [relationship] to their benefit that this stuff [like abuse] are taking place.”

Bernard says a tradition of silence exists within the Canadian scene, the place abused folks determine to remain silent to protect their careers. As if there’s a basic understanding that this stuff will occur in somebody’s profession.

“It is simply this bizarre unwritten rule that [abuse] is simply gonna occur, that you will have to cope with this if you wish to get in,” Bernard says. “You are going to need to cope with a specific amount of it. Some folks will deal with you badly, particularly in the event you’re beginning out and you do not wish to rock the boat.”

Bernard mentions that artists have been speaking extra and denouncing sexual abuse within the music scene extra, however there’s nonetheless a stage of concern that careers might be tarnished or that they will not be taken critically. This silence lets abusers roam free within the scene with out obvious penalties.

“We see them at a panel or a pageant, and so they’re similar to hanging round. I am like, ‘How many individuals is that this making uncomfortable? How many individuals know that it is a unhealthy person who we must be cautious round? And that should not actually have entry to the neighborhood anymore? And so they’re nonetheless simply right here, like nothing?’ ” Bernard notes.

Brave and resilient, Bernard is not a stranger to all of this. She herself has suffered abuse within the trade by somebody she’s not but prepared to call. “I am nonetheless afraid to name out my abusers inside the music trade, you realize, and for what? I do really feel that I am ready the place I might be believed and that I might be taken critically, however I am nonetheless petrified of the repercussions. I even hear myself, you realize, like metering my phrases and calculating some responses as a result of I do not wish to, like, I do not wish to put myself in an unsafe place.”

‘With Arcade Fireplace, it was like questioning one thing that was larger than us.’

When the Pitchfork story was printed on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022 — coincidentally, at the beginning of election season in Québec — Canadian media took the weekend to report the information. La Presse, a significant Québécois information supply, launched a brief report on the allegations that night and the CBC ran a narrative the following day on TV. After Pitchfork‘s follow-up that includes a fifth allegation, just one main Canadian media outlet (TVA and Journal de Montréal by QMI Press Company, all three entities owned by Québécor, a media conglomerate) featured the story in French. With scant protection on the allegations, penalties had been virtually nonexistent, which solely provides to the tradition of silence within the music trade.

“We noticed the CBC fail to have an online-accessible story about Butler till, like, a day or two after the investigation broke,” explains Toronto-based popular culture critic Jill Krajewski. “Our nationwide broadcaster did not run a TV story [until Sunday night], and the truth that the [La Presse] story broke at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night within the Québec market makes it not accessible for everybody.”

Québécois individuals are protecting of their distinctive cultural exports. Lalande explains how this cultural satisfaction has an influence on journalism, totally on reporting cultural affairs.

“A tradition journalist, reporter or columnist can’t deliver up a public determine’s darkish aspect in simply any circumstance,” says Lalande. “First, most media would not even contemplate that to be their job. Second, fact-checking takes a sure editorial construction that I do not suppose most shops have. It is onerous information, it’s the job of an investigative journalist, not an arts one. It’s not seen as their function.”

Whereas this assertion brings up the problem of reporting on allegations of abuse within the music trade, it additionally exhibits the dearth of weight these tales pull in main media. However for Élise Jetté, the explanation for the dearth of protection might need stemmed from one thing else — a type of mourning course of.

“Sure, it took time for everybody to react,” Jetté says. “All of us wanted to soak up the stunning information. As a lot for the actual followers because the native media. We needed to take a minute, sit down and digest it to have the ability to touch upon it.”

Jetté remembers one other second in Québec’s music historical past: the #MeToo allegations of summer season 2020. A outstanding Québécois label, Dare to Care Data, was thrown into disarray after sexual abuse allegations towards certainly one of its artists, Bernard Adamus, had been delivered to mild. The pinnacle of the label, Eli Bissonnette, resigned after being accused of defending Adamus for the previous 10 years, figuring out that the artist had behaved in problematic methods towards his followers. However they weren’t the one ones. Greater than a dozen folks from the music trade had been outed, together with David Desrosiers, who left Easy Plan consequently.

Whereas public response to those allegations was swift, these towards Butler raised an existential query.

“With Arcade Fireplace, it was like questioning one thing that was larger than us,” Jetté, who writes for a number of Montréal-based shops, says. “It was as in the event you had been asking everybody to kill their darlings. We began questioning: How did this occur? Why did we not see something? It makes me query my skilled roots and my private attachment to music.”

When information broke, the younger journalist took a step again to judge what was taking place and the way she felt in regards to the story. She mentions at all times believing victims, whether or not they appear reliable or not; believing them and providing them help, quite than questioning them. Her feminist beliefs are higher than her love for Arcade Fireplace. As a lot as she beloved the music, she got here to a painful realization.

“Lastly, I made a decision that Arcade Fireplace wasn’t worthy of my admiration anymore.”

The one strategy to change the trade is thru schooling and secure areas.

“What upset me a lot is once I learn the article, I used to be like ‘Oh, [Win Butler] used the Pop vs. Jocks occasion to prey on this younger girl who was barely 18 or no matter. , that was form of f***** up!”

Daniel Seligman’s voice is thick with anger and disappointment. The Artistic Director of POP Montréal, a large annual not-for-profit cultural occasion that showcases rising and impartial expertise from Montréal and the world over, felt betrayed. Not solely was 2016 the final 12 months of POP Montréal working with Arcade Fireplace for Pop vs. Jocks, a pleasant charity basketball sport between indie artists from main bands, however the entire expertise left a nasty style in his mouth. Based on the Pitchfork investigation, Stella (a pseudonym), certainly one of Butler’s alleged victims, was contacted by the singer after taking footage on the occasion.

“[Butler] had a sample,” says Seligman. “He took benefit of them and the pageant! For me, that was s*****, as a result of we had been attempting to boost cash for an area charity. That was really the final time we labored with the band. That complete expertise was really form of onerous. We had been working actually onerous and we form of felt barely taken benefit of. He wasn’t very good to work with; he was barely abusive. After which after studying that article, I used to be greatly surprised.”

For Seligman, the one strategy to change the trade is thru schooling and creating secure areas wherein folks is not going to be subjected to inappropriate behaviors.

“I feel it is vital simply to have an outward show of insurance policies which are barely symbolic. It exhibits the folks taking part [in your events] that the group is attempting to do one thing that retains us safer. I feel that it is very important have your insurance policies up in your web site, ensuring you might be listening to folks, followers and different artists who’ve points.”

Jill Krajewski and Maryse Bernard additionally point out that whisper networks — that’s, networks of individuals sharing details about sexual abusers — have emerged throughout the nation. Olivier Lalande remembers a a lot completely different local weather within the aughts. Rumors of questionable conduct had been widespread, however did not increase eyebrows. Some artists had been even upfront about it.

“With out being conscious of the abuse,” Lalande says, “I bear in mind being at events, listening to artists making nasty jokes in regards to the ladies they slept with on tour, whereas they had been really in relationships with folks I knew. […] You’d wish to query their conduct, however the reply was at all times the identical: ‘He’s an artist. We won’t actually perceive what he’s going by…’ I observed this lots.”

However for Bernard, one other side of the Pitchfork article that received her consideration was the younger age of the victims. One thing she will relate to from her personal expertise in her late teenagers and early 20s with older folks within the Canadian scene.

“A number of these experiences occur to youthful individuals who have not had sufficient life experiences,” says Bernard. “It isn’t like they do not know that sure issues aren’t okay, however they have not discovered, but, some behaviors are literally unhealthy and should be known as out. If individuals are telling you that is simply how it’s, you are extra inclined to consider them. If you’re youthful, it is simpler to make the most of youthful, bright-eyed artists [or fans].”

However whilst members of the trade need change, an invisible pressure stays.

Tales of abuse within the music trade prompted Sarah Armiento to start out Sizzling Tramp Data, a women-only label, in response to the inappropriate conduct she skilled within the music trade.

“After I was in Toronto, I received unsolicited footage from males, folks I labored with, and different varieties of experiences,” says Armiento. “That is what made me wish to begin an organization like Sizzling Tramp. After I learn issues like this taking place, it makes me bear in mind why I began my label.”

Armiento fully understands why ladies would wish to work completely with different ladies within the music trade, who can perceive and help one another. She tries to make them really feel secure inside her label and their work. And she or he is not the one one. After Dare to Care’s turmoil, Béatrice Martin (aka Cœur de pirate), one of many label’s main successes, bought and renamed the label Bravo Musique, vowing to vary issues within the trade. In an interview for, she stated, “A number of stuff was swept below the rug or no one did something about it. I need folks to return to me and say, ‘That is taking place,’ and I need to have the ability to do one thing about it. It is about respect and decency. Our work extends all over the place: It extends to how we behave like artists and elsewhere. It wasn’t clear to everybody the place work began and ended, and now it is clearer. In order that’s good. Boundaries are vital.”

However, whilst members of the trade wish to transfer ahead and alter, it looks as if an invisible pressure retains on bringing controversies of its personal. Arcade Fireplace continued its North American tour, although Feist and Beck dropped off as openers. On Sept. 19, 2022 — simply three weeks after the primary wave of accusations towards Butler — Montréal artist Pierre Kwenders, ended his acceptance speech for the Polaris Music Prize by thanking Butler and Arcade Fireplace for his or her contribution to his album. Though one radio host at Radio-Canada requested Kwenders in regards to the speech and another actors within the trade talked about the incident in tweets, the second went virtually unnoticed.

“That already tells you the issue with Canada’s music trade having a tradition of silence,” Jill Krajewski says. “Individuals made a deliberate selection to not name it out. […] Why did [Pierre Kwenders] deliver up somebody accused of sexual assault in a widespread investigation? Had been they genuinely grateful for his or her contribution to their album? That is one factor. However the data [about Arcade Fire and Win Butler] has modified. And it wasn’t applicable to be praising somebody accused of sexual assault, definitely not on the platform of Polaris being streamed reside on CBC Music, a public-funded media. That was very distasteful.”

“If this occurred three weeks after the allegations, how can the Canadian followers count on the scene to go ahead and alter?” Élise Jetté provides. She wonders if artists aren’t in a position to study from the errors of others as a result of they really feel protected by the trade. “They are not afraid of dropping their profession. I am vigilant about what is going on within the trade. However they need to get petrified of dropping one thing! We have to scare them. They should be petrified of getting caught.”

Nevertheless, acclaim has continued unabated. WE, Arcade Fireplace’s most up-to-date album, was nominated for finest various music album by the Grammys. The band completed the North American leg of its tour in Montréal to a sold-out crowd. On Jan. 31, the Juno Awards, introduced by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, introduced Arcade Fireplace’s nomination for group of the 12 months. When the CBC requested for remark in regards to the nomination, CARAS responded: “We have a look at Arcade Fireplace’s nomination for group of the 12 months as one for your entire band. Whereas we take the allegations very critically, on this scenario, we’re additionally honoring the remainder of the band for his or her success. We hope the allegations towards Butler is not going to detract from the achievements of the opposite group members.”

As awards mount and repercussions don’t, Montréal and the Canadian music scene at massive are left with one query: With none actual penalties, will these conditions maintain recurring?

“It is a query I maintain asking myself,” ends Olivier Lalande.

Yara El-Soueidi is a millennial author, tradition journalist and columnist primarily based in Montréal, Canada, the place she covers the native cultural scene for Canadian and American media.


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