Jackmaster’s return: Why we can’t continue to remove the art from the artist

By Kate Calvert

In mid-August 2018, Jackmaster, a prominent Scottish DJ and producer, ambiguously admitted to ‘behaving inappropriately’ towards staff members whilst intoxicated at Bristol’s Love Saves The Day festival three months prior. 

The Facebook post covered the formulaic checklist needed for a public apology of this nature, mentioning the necessity for major lifestyle changes and a bid to address issues in the wider industry. The festival responded, deeming the matter ‘closed’.

However, four days later Resident Advisor released an article explicitly disclosing the incident as one of sexual harassment from the DJ. A staff member, as well as Jackmaster himself, detailed their experiences in an attempt to clear up the ambiguity of the previous post. 

The post had been met with a shockingly positive reaction congratulating the DJ for admitting his wrongdoings and a disturbing number of respondents finding that they themselves could relate to having committed similar acts whilst under the influence.

One user dared to reveal the true nature of the incident and was met with an onslaught of defensive backlash, justifying his actions since he is still “one of the best in the game”.

The fallout

As a result, Jackmaster was dropped by promoters and seemed to pretty much go off grid for a year until another Facebook post arose the following May. This explained his absence as an attempt to show respect for others, the gravity of the situation, and to work on his mental and physical health.

However, as a woman who has attended a Jackmaster headlined show, this statement filled me with despondency and hopelessness for the scene; sentiment that seemed in the minority after wading through the abundance of applause for the DJ in the post’s comments section.

Rather than utilising his platform to talk about sexual assault in the industry, the post was tainted with self-victimisation, centred around childhood substance abuse that seemed to be facilitated and seemingly justified through an industry that – in his words – is built on hedonism and escapism.

Harassment whilst intoxicated

During the incident, Jackmaster was on GHB, a dangerous party drug that’s been making a comeback in recent years. Its effects include feelings of relaxation, confusion and heightened sexual arousal, the combination of which seems pretty alarming when paired with GHB’s steep dose-response relationship, which draws a fine line between euphoria and the loss of consciousness.

Since then, Jackmaster has slowly infiltrated his way back into the scene, his name appearing on more and more line-ups which, coupled  with a Vice article in December of 2019 titled ‘It Was All My Fault’, confirmed his full unadulterated return.  

Jackmaster’s money and privilege situated him in a position of power to bring about change for women in the industry. It’s hard to sympathise and believe his claims of reform when only the bare minimum of a couple of public apologies is carried through.

A year of reform

It would appear that a year seems an adequate amount of time to re-emerge from a sexual assault claim in order to keep one’s high profile career intact. But continuing to support an artist who has committed a crime of this nature, even if you do believe they have reformed, is  essentially broadcasting the message to victims of assault and to those who may go on to assault in the future, that this behaviour is tolerated and totally standard.

Within the December 2019 Vice article, Jackmaster delivers a segment recalling men approaching him and assuring him that what he did “wasn’t that bad”. Although he responds with disagreement, this reaction highlights the wider issue of normalising harassment from (predominantly) men abusing their positions of power throughout the music industry. 

Female attendees, DJs and promoters alike are targeted, not to mention the disproportionate number of BAME and LGBTQ+ victims also. Is this response reassuring to those most vulnerable to sexual assault in a club setting? Would you feel safe attending a Jackmaster set, knowing that there were people in the audience that considered sexual harassment a menial and somewhat acceptable feature of the club experience?

Removing the art from the artist

Whilst discussing Jackmaster’s return to music with my friends, his DJing abilities were frequently mentioned, especially amongst my male peers. “Yeah but he is a good DJ after all” was the phrase often delivered. Although I don’t think this was being used to excuse his actions, the mention of Jackmaster’s talent really has no place within a discussion about sexual assault, and pretty much confirms the privilege inherent to the majority of male’s experiences in night clubs.

What is most worrying is that others indeed are excusing Jackmaster’s actions because they value him as a DJ, which not only lessens the trauma experienced by victims, but allows for the continuation of unsafe spaces in clubs. Talent does not cancel out anyone’s actions.

Part of being a DJ is creating a great atmosphere for audience members, right? So, in my humble opinion, this objective should include creating a safe environment for dancers. Through this logic, ‘removing the art from the artist’ doesn’t really present any kind of argument since part of any DJ or musician’s artistry should be the creation of a dance floor free from assault. 

It’s interesting to observe how a club’s proudly pronounced ‘zero tolerance’ policy against assault seems to expire when they start to support DJ’s like Jackmaster again. After all, ‘the scene’ is a business. Jackmaster is a big name and will generate revenue despite his history. 

Rather than ‘cancelling’ artists, promoters have a responsibility to book and engage with artists who aren’t problematic, in order to change the culture of harassment engrained in the club scene. There are plenty of musicians out there without any charges against them that need to be discovered; especially within an industry dominated by white males.

The irony of the latter being that dance music finds its genesis in minority communities celebrating expression and difference, even if today’s patrons are of the straight white male variety. Jackmaster’s return to music reveals just how deeply embedded this culture runs, and how quick those in charge are to forgive abuses of power.

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