If you don’t know the name Johnny ‘Itch’ Fox let us give you a small introduction. Itch is the frontman of once-punk band The King Blues, he is also a producer, a spoken word artist, a domestic abuser and a sexual predator.
At Boomtown Fair 2016 on 13th August, The King Blues played on the Devil Kicks Dancehall stage. For those of you reading that haven’t been to Boomtown, this stage is the ‘punk’ stage, it’s well established and has always boasted a popular line up. However, this stage is not without it’s issues. On either side of the stage are two large cut-out women, smiling in their underwear literally decorating the stage. For us this perpetuates a punk culture that expects women to be silent and complimentary rather than on the stage playing music themselves. It is also really conflicts with the antifascist flags brandished around the tent. On top of this, the 2016 line up had less than five women featured, and even less people of colour. This is no longer acceptable in a progressive and political punk scene. As usual, punk comes from the voices of men, with their political anthems shouted on behalf of minority groups that have no voice themselves. So this is the back drop to The King Blues forty five minute set. When we saw the line up (like so many other festivals this year) we were hugely disappointed to see TKB included on this stage. This year there has been very public call-outs of Itch by survivors of his abuse and women who have encountered his toxic behaviour. There is an entire blog dedicated to survivor stories, powerful statements have been made by prominent DIY feminist bands about his predatory and manipulative advances. Itch has not gone through any kind of accountability process and has never publicly acknowledged any wrong-doing.
When we saw that they were playing at Boomtown and because we knew that we would be there, we decided to take action. At the start of the set, ten of us gathered at the back of the tent, some of us chose to black block to retain our identities. We then hoisted a banner which said ITCH: STOP YOUR ABUSE OF WOMEN and a smaller banner saying CALL IT OUT and we began to make our way through the crowd, our allies assisted by clearing a path to the front barrier. We elbowed our way in, dropped the banner over the barrier and stood staring at Itch as they played their first song. Like a true performer, it almost didn’t phase him. He eyed us only for a moment and continued, though his manner changed slightly and we could tell he was uncomfortable. His (new) band mates were less composed and actively looked at our banner in shock and confusion. (These bandmates were rustled up quickly after TKB reformed at the beginning of the year and within months two of it’s original members left and were maliciously take down by Itch in a seething interview for Rocksound.) They clearly had no idea how deceptive Itch really is.
We kept our position for a few minutes before a security guard came and tried to snatch the banner from us, in the process he injured the hand of one of our group (later she found out out that he had broken her finger). He was not successful, but then the actual tour manager for TKB snatched it from us and ran off with it. We were angry then, surely we had the right to protest? We weren’t hurting anyone with our canvas banner were we? Other than some male pride. Luckily, after posing for pictures with it like it was funny, we managed to steal back our banner and we took a step back from the barrier into the area designated for the mosh pit. We stood here and held it above our heads, turning to face the crowd so they could see exactly what was going on. This was nerve-racking as we received threats and abuse from fans, most notably young men who again tried to take the banner from us. We held our ground, thanks to our friends and allies who formed a barrier around us. Some people in the crowd came to speak with us, some out of frustration, demanding to know what the hell we were doing whereas a few actually joined us after hearing what we had to say. Some people left the tent entirely whilst one fan looked like his world had crashed around him and he stared up at Itch with confusion and upset. It was interesting to see how a crowd (definitely not the usual crowd for the Devil Kicks) were so angry about our protest, they were swearing in our faces and trying to constantly push into us. It really struck us that this culture of victim blaming is violent and hostile. Some fans refused outright to believe us, saying that we were just starting trouble. To those people, NO ONE puts themselves in those kinds of positions for fun. They do it because they fundamentally believe it is wrong to stay silent. So we stayed, alternating the banner to face the crowd and then the stage. It was important for us to stay as long as possible. We had previously agreed that we would only leave if security threatened to kick us out of the festival. After 40 minutes and with two songs left, they did make us leave. The security guard spoke to us and told us that we were causing an obstruction and asked us to leave quietly, if we refused they would kick us out of the festival. We left, keeping the banners lifted as we left the tent. The security guard followed us and voiced his unease about the situation, agreeing that we had the right to protest but that he also had a job to do. We do not agree with these authorities that abuse their positions, exercise unfair restrictions and cause physical harm but we did not want to leave the festival.
In many ways the action was successful, it disrupted the set and made an impact on the crowd. A friendly source informed us that post-set, the band were very quiet and uneasy. For us, we felt proud that we had taken action in an unlikely and difficult space. We had made an impact, whether positive or negative, people around the festival were starting to talk and by the end of the weekend our action was well known. For a few weeks after we searched the internet looking for any reference to it, but we haven’t found any yet. This is what has prompted us to write this statement. We don’t want to be named, this a collective effort, supporting an intersectional anarcho-feminist agenda that is very much needed in spaces supposedly antifascist. We also want to show support for victims and survivors who’s voices are silenced by those with power and influence. We want to continue to publicly protest these offences. We want to add our fuel to the fire.
Itch is just one of many many problematic men that dominate all types of music and art spaces. Men who abuse their positions, take advantage of young women and ultimately abuse and manipulate to get what they want. They want power and control and as long as there is a culture of victim blaming and apologists, men like Itch will continue to get away with their vile actions. With a multitude of ignorant fans protecting him, Itch will always have something to hide behind. Supporting TKB, even for nostalgia is the same as supporting an unsafe society in which systematic oppression thrives. Our antifascism demands equality, the right to call out abuse and take action against oppression of any kind. We want those who abuse to be held accountable for their choices.
Itch: you do not represent us, your politics are a lie, you will be exposed and you will be held accountable.
Image taken by Sara Bowrey