If Sticky Fingers ‘kick on’ without repercussions, what does that say about us?

Analysing the band's return, and what it means for the industry at large. 

As you most certainly have heard by now, Sticky Fingers have returned from hiatus following a string of allegations citing violence towards women and racism. After issuing statements first claiming internal struggles within the band, followed by admissions of mental health and substance abuse problems, Sticky Fingers took an indefinite break from making music to sort themselves out.

A year later, the band have made their comeback and not everyone is happy about it. In fact, most people are pretty pissed. Perhaps this narrative would be different if they’d come back ready to take responsibility for their actions, or issuing a sincere apology, at the very least. After all, no one is saying they don’t deserve an opportunity to atone. But instead, the band have returned with a new song, an upcoming tour and an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude, spouting the age-old “boys will be boys” rhetoric and making it clear they have learnt nothing – and that is the scariest part.

Whether or not they make good music is irrelevant. The issue at hand has nothing to do with their art, but rather their behaviour and the wider context of what accepting these types of transgressions say about us as both a society and industry. This conversation is much bigger than Sticky Fingers. We have entered a time of social change: one where musicians are no longer given free passes because of their status. Gone are the days when rock’n’roll stars were glorified for their debauchery (AKA misogyny), and simply allowing bands like Sticky Fingers to return after a hiatus, wrongdoings forgotten, is taking a massive step backwards.  

An artist is not a separate entity from their work. To simply ignore this kind of behaviour because you want to listen to their music without feeling guilty is lazy. Every time you stream Sticky Fingers’ music, buy their album, and purchase tickets to their gigs, you are essentially supporting their actions. You’re saying, “It’s okay to treat others terribly because your music excuses your actions”.

If we can’t hold musicians accountable for their actions, how can we expect to move forward? How can women and people of colour feel safe and respected in crowds if those onstage flaunt sexist and racist behaviour? As any female gig-goer knows, live music events are rampant with abuse and sexual misconduct – which is something organisers and venue owners have been cracking down on over the past few years – but if everyone is there to cheer on a group of dudes who’ve built a career despite allegations of becoming shitfaced and acting violently, how can we expect any more from each other? Patrons are expected to adhere to a standard of behaviour, so why don’t the same standards extend to those onstage?

It is important to address the mental health aspects that are prevalent in this situation. When dealing with addiction and mental health issues, things are not black and white. Frontman Dylan Frost, who is the subject of these allegations, has publicly spoken about his diagnosis of bipolar schizophrenia. Of course, mental health issues and substance abuse play strong roles in how a person behaves, but that doesn’t give that person an excuse to act violently or intimidate others. It isn’t a free pass to act any way you see fit without having to show any remorse.

Anyone listening to the band’s Hack interview last week was likely cringing while the band deflected important questions, spouted vague apologies which didn’t actually address what they were supposedly sorry about (other than for “making people feel that way”, shifting the blame onto other people’s perception of their actions, rather than the actions themselves).

“Shit happens, man” is what you say when you miss your train or drop your muffin on the sidewalk, not when discussing how you made a woman feel more scared than she has ever felt in her life. That's not hyperbole. That's paraphrasing Thelma Plum’s allegations against Frost. It's good that Sticky Fingers took some time away and worked on their issues by seeking out professional help, but they knew that if they were to come back, they’d be faced with a lot of hard questions to answer. Yet, they made their Hack interview sound like a chore -- as if they were completely disinterested in addressing any of the allegations against them.

Australia’s culture around hyper-masculinity and violence fuelled by binge drinking and substance abuse is both scary and toxic. If we allow for this type of behaviour to be swept under the rug, where do we draw the line between what is and isn’t okay? At what point do we stop allowing these people back with open arms? Let’s not be quick to forget that the band only admitted their faults in the first place after being publicly called out for their actions. What if Plum hadn’t spoken up? What if, like so many women, she felt intimidated into staying silent? Would they be sorry? Would they have taken a look at themselves and their behaviour at all?

If Sticky Fingers want a second chance, they need to earn it. Public apologies that sound like an over-rehearsed PR script and the pathetic excuse of “boys will be boys” just won’t cut it. 

Update: Sticky Fingers have responded to their Hack interview. You can read it in full below. 

If you or someone you know are dealing with mental health challenges, you can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline on 13 11 14. 

For confidential counselling and support on violence and abuse, call 1800 RESPECT