Burger Records is gone, leaving no trace aside from the destruction it has caused. The independent label based in Fullerton, California, announced its permanent closure on July 20, erasing its presence entirely on the Web. Burger’s legacy of sexual abuse and hypocrisy, on the other hand, will outlive the company as a stain on the DIY community.
The shutdown occurred after multiple bands on Burger’s catalog, as well as staff members of the label itself, were publicly accused of predatory behavior this month. Cult favorite groups including The Frights, The Buttertones, Black Lips, The Growlers, and together PANGEA were among the offenders, as women in the indie music scene took to social media to publish their experiences. Many of these women were underage, including Cherry Glazerr’s Clementine Creevy, who revealed that former bandmate Sean Redman abused her before he found fame as the bassist of the Buttertones.
“Sean Redman was 20 and I was 14 when he began a sexual relationship with me which is statutory rape,” said Creevy in a statement posted to Instagram on July 15. “Eventually, I realized I was under the power of a man who was selfish and manipulative.”
The allegations against these bands reflect a heartbreaking yet hushed history of predatory behavior in the music industry. A 2019 survey conducted by the Musician’s Union, a coalition of performers based in the U.K., reported that 48% of its roughly 31,000 members had experienced sexual misconduct while working in the industry. Of these respondents, 85% had not reported the abuse.
Burger Records’ implosion stems from its empire of deception. The company’s cutesy hand-sketched logo, impressive roster of female and queer artists, and carefree ethos reeled in fans, many of whom felt excluded from the male-dominated culture of DIY. Inexpensive all-ages festivals like the Bay Area’s Burger Boogaloo and Southern California’s Burgerama and Burger-A-Go-Go provided an opportunity for fans – many of whom bonded over their adoration for bands online – to meet in person and form friendships.
What Burger’s supporters didn’t know was that many of its prominent bands contributed to the ongoing problem of sexual and emotional abuse of girls in the DIY scene, many of whom are underage. But rather than cut ties with the perpetrators, the label stayed silent in a callous attempt to preserve, and profit from, its illusion of benevolence.
As a teenager involved in the Bay Area punk scene, I was one of many who fell for this ruse. I idolized the artists signed to Burger and dreamed of the day my own band would be lucky enough to join their lineup. I found a second home among the audience of jam-packed clubs and cheered when skinny frontmen with Telecasters denounced sexual abuse from atop a lofty stage. I trusted that the rampant misogyny of punk music, which I had experienced firsthand as a feminine-presenting person at shows, was on its way out. However, the problem was as prevalent as ever, only fueled by the compliance of those who turned a blind eye.
The hypocrisy of this performative advocacy was notably exemplified when SWMRS, a punk band who had previously put out music under Burger, released an Instagram statement July 19 condemning the abuse of women in the scene. SWMRS, who formed in the Bay Area and had been lauded for their seeming commitment to social justice, claimed that their early exposure to the DIY community “exposed [them] to feminism and community safety at a very young age.” The statement lost all validity, though, when on July 20, Regrettes frontwoman Lydia Night published her own account of being groomed and assaulted by Joey Armstrong, SWMRS’ drummer. Night alleged the abuse began when she was 16 and Armstrong was 22.
“[Armstrong] was essentially my boss,” wrote Night. “Every time we took a step sexually it was because he wanted to and made it clear by either putting his hand on my crotch, shaming me for saying I wasn’t comfortable, gas-lighting me or ignoring me when I didn’t give my consent.”
Armstrong denied any abuse on his end, but the band lost most of its fans and its credibility. Just like that, SWMRS was finished by the very culture its members claimed to promote.
On the same day Night’s allegations were published, Burger announced their total rebrand to BRGR RECS, featuring new management as well an all-female imprint called BURGRRRL. These changes were shelved after overwhelming backlash on social media and the departure of interim president Jessa Zapor-Gray. The label shut down entirely July 21, deleting its entire social media presence.
Despite its role in introducing me to DIY, I will not mourn the death of Burger Records. Even their initial plans to rebrand were an attempt to conceal their wrongdoings. Teenage girls have brought exuberance, talent, and dedication to DIY music for years as fans and musicians alike. They deserve a better scene than one dominated by Burger – a scene where artists and showgoers alike take accountability for their wrongdoings and follow concrete steps to reduce harm.
Unlike the speedy disappearance of the label itself, these changes require dedicated efforts that could take years – and need to continue until abusers in the scene are deplatformed. Silence did not save Burger Records from its destruction. Silence cannot shield perpetrators any longer.
Liv Collom is a .WAV staff member, she wrote the article. Renee Kao is .WAV’s Creative Director, she made the cover art.