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In May of 2016, the breezy, indie rock troupe Real Estate announced that one of their founding members, Matt Mondanile, would be departing from the band. At the time, an official statement had implied the somewhat surprising departure was Mondanile’s decision alone, with the lead guitarist leaving to focus on his other project Ducktails. Up to that point he had worked on all of the group’s records, including 2014’s acclaimed Atlas, and was an important part of the development of their trademark hazy, easy going sound.
It seemed like a strange decision, considering that Real Estate were one of the most beloved and successful indie acts to emerge in the last 10 years. They were festival favourites and Pitchfork darlings, with almost all their albums receiving a much-coveted Best New Music Rating from the tastemakers. Ducktails have their fans but many of them would have spilled over from their devotion to the bigger act. It’s not unheard of for a member to leave a prosperous band at the height of their success (See Rostam and Vampire Weekend), but there was a nagging feeling that this excuse wasn’t telling the whole story.
And it wasn’t. Earlier this month, Real Estate revealed to Pitchfork the real reason behind the exit. In another statement they told the site that “Mondanile was fired in February 2016 when allegations of unacceptable treatment of women were brought to our attention”. After insisting that they are no longer in contact with Mondanile and urged him to get treatment, they go on to “applaud the courage of the women who came forward to make us aware so that we could address the issue head on”.
On October 16 Spin Magazine then ran a piece in which they detailed deeply troubling allegations, made by seven women, of so-called sexual misconduct against Mondanile. The alleged instances they recount reveal a pattern of disturbing behaviour that goes back at least 11 years. One woman named as Mary claims that at a show in Brooklyn the guitarist asked her to lead him to where the bathroom was and when they were alone, he forced her into a broom closet and then started to kiss her aggressively. This mirrors a story put forward by another woman in the article who asserts a similar interaction at a party in LA where he grabbed her hand as kissed her without consent. When she told him to stop and let go, he replied “What? I thought you wanted to do this, you showed me into the bathroom.”
Monandile is also accused by one woman of groping in a communal sleeping area after a night out. As he lay behind her she alleges she woke up to him grinding up against her, running his hands up and down her hips and grabbing her breasts through her shirt. Yet another woman states that in college she had to lock her door because Matt Mondanile had entered her room on two occasions, in the middle of the night and unannounced, and got into her bed and groped her while she slept. That was in 2005.
So yeah, another story in what’s becoming an all too familiar trend. On the one hand, the public airing of the long-repressed tales of abuse is starting to feel like a watershed moment but again questions arise. A case like this is further evidence that the toxic culture that protects purported predators exists as much in the less sizeable alternative scene as it does in the highest levels in the music and film industry.
In his own statement, Matt Mondanile said he was sorry even if his lawyers only described what he did as ‘less than exemplary behaviour’: “I’ve been an insensitive creep” he said. “I apologize to everyone and anyone who was affected by this”. His lawyers also take a shot at his former band mates in the final lines. “Real Estate’s band members were not protecting the victims, they were instead protecting themselves by sidestepping the controversy to protect the band’s commercial viability”. They might be half-right, but for the wrong reasons. Mondanile is lashing out for Real Esate breaking a “leaving agreement” and he’s suggesting that telling the truth at all is the issue, but it’s the timing that should raises eyebrows.
It’s hard to know just yet how much we can commend Martin Courtney and the other members of Real Estate for their actions. They say didn’t go public at the time of Mondanile’s dismissal to protect the anonymity of the those who came forward which is of course understandable, even if it may have put others in harm’s way—he was still touring with Ducktails after all. What isn’t known is how long they were aware of these allegations or why they went public about them when they did. Perhaps the Weinstein news breaking motivated them to speak either out of cynical self-preservation or because they just felt it needed to be said in solidarity with all victims.
But whatever you make of the band’s true motivations, Real Estate have probably set the gold standard for dealing with such claims when you compare to recent stories about these kinds of allegations. Which is of course a rather depressing fact as what they did should see as the bare minimum going forward. To the credit of Martin Courtney and Co., they didn’t need the Mondanile dirty laundry to be aired in the open in order to shame them into acting, which is so often the only way the voices of victims are heard, Instead, they—at some point—listened to the women who brought their troubling stories to them and made a decision that will hopefully set a precedent for the indie scene as whole.
And on the surface the scene is doing better than most industries and circles. Earlier this year we saw how quickly the careers of queer power-punkers PWR BTTM evaporated when accusations of sexual abuse were made against guitarist and lead singer Ben Hopkins. Their album Pageant was well received and their progressive image of safe space championing trans activists had them pinned by many as indie’s next zeitgeisty stars. Instead, they were virtually erased from the history books overnight. Their music was quickly taken off the likes of Apple Music, they were dropped by label Polyvinyl and a planned tour vanished into thin air. For once, a band were not being afforded the luxury of having their art separated from the artist.
In 2016, Life or Death PR & Management went out of business following a storm of allegations of sexual misconduct against the company’s founder, Heathcliff Berru. Their clients included Killer Mike, Kelela, Diiv and others. Stories about Berru were rampant before the likes of Amber Coffman spoke out about her experiences and helped bring him down.
PWR BTTM’s sudden and total excommunication might suggest a sea change. But in reality, it’s hard to say if the music world is doing any better than Hollywood. In that Spin piece, that dreaded term ‘open secret’ once again reared its head. Mondanile’s alleged behaviour was very likely known to many of those around him for some time before his dismissal. The accuser known as Mary even claimed she confided to an industry friend and acquaintance of the musician about the misconduct on the same night as the incident where he forcibly kissed her took place. But, she says, she was brushed off.
A trending phrase of the moment is that every woman knows a Weinstein. That’s certainly true, but that implies that the conversation must always be kick-started by women, expected to retread their painful experiences out in the open in order for culture to shift in any meaningful direction. If every woman knows a Weinstein then every man knows a Matt Mondanline. This isn’t someone who sees themselves as a rapist, but are consistently crossing a line, a line they might think they are – at worst – toeing. In this instance, his downfall came about when the men around him took notice, which is not to minimise the women’s decision to come forward. These are often male-dominated social circles and in those circles predatory men will always be at an advantage.
There are, without a doubt, more of his ilk working in the industry or playing in bands who use their position to prey on women. All one has to do is look at the forums or comment sections in certain music related subreddits and you’ll find rumours abound about many of the acts in the business. Granted they are ‘just rumours’ but as we saw with Weinstein, Real Estate, and PWR BTTM, it’s in these spaces where the story sits for a long time unchecked. Just recently Ariel Pink had to apologize for lewd on-stage behaviour after an attendee took to reddit to complain about the gig.
No one is suggesting that rumours should be given credence for the sake of it, but the scale of what’s there suggests the scale of the toxicity and abuse of position that appears to be present. The worrying truth is, that even if they go public victims can only hope there is another victim willing to do the same thing just to give weight to their claim. This simply has to change, it needs to happen at the same stage that the member of Real Estate took action, but their imperfect handling of the situation still suggests there is more these men in bands and in the industry can learn. The victims shouldn’t have to be the ones to teach them.