Trigger warning: mentions of physical and psychological abuse, sexual violence and domestic violence throughout.
When I saw Octavian live in 2019 for the first time in Birmingham, the crowd was packed to the rafters. The venue, I thought, would be far too small for both his rippling, electric personality and dense crowd of strikingly young people, mainly men.
“He’s been slept on for years,” said the guy next to us in the crowd. “This tour will make him huge,” shouted his friend, adding, “he’s going to be featured in an LV campaign by Virgil Abloh.” The crowd heaved forward in a reflexive spasm when Octavian finally walked onstage lithely and without looking up. He did not react to the crowd, averting his eyes from under a dark cap as he stood at a 45º angle away from the stage, posthumously dedicating the album SPACEMAN to his late mother. Not long afterwards, a remix of his song ‘Bet’, featuring Skepta, gained him an extensive loyal following.
Recent evidence alleges the most serious acts of domestic violence at the hands of Octavian, but we’re yet to see any affirmative action, any real consequences. The belief that he snapped – provoked – and acted in a way totally incompatible with his otherwise sound nature is an alarming yet popular suggestion that has been circulating social media in the musician’s defence. In reality, it has been revealed that Octavian had been both physically and psychologically abusing his ex-girlfriend – musician Emo Baby, real name Hana – for two years by the point I first saw him in concert.
The attitude that a man would not abuse a woman because he has a mother, or even a sister, has to stop.
This fact is so important for his fans to know now, as I believe he cut a totally unrecognisable character on that night when I first saw him in comparison to this current moment. He seemed a melancholic yet proud and graceful figure that evening. Resilient, even. I believed his heartfelt dedication to his mother – you could hear the lump rise in his gravelly throat as he professed his love for her and talked of the grief he had experienced since she died.
In reality, Octavian was setting himself up as someone to be believed. Someone who could never lay his hands on a woman, because he had a mother that he so loved. Hana claims that everyone around him – from his fellow Essie Gang members, to his management, record label and PR agency – all knew that she was being abused and, in particular, that his drug habit made him violent. Suddenly, and with total clarity, I believe that what happened the night I saw him live was grooming. He was conditioning his fans into thinking it would be inconceivable for him to ever lay his hands on a woman. And we all fell for it, because he already had.
Male-perpetrated violence and harassment against women in the music industry is not an isolated incident. It moves on, time and time again, without tackling the deeply disturbing systemic, institutionalised misogyny and misogynoir that it irrefutably perpetuates.
The attitude that a man would not abuse a woman because he has a mother, or even a sister, has to stop. By the rules of science and basic intellect, every abuser has a mother. Every rapist has a mother, too, and it does not correlate that you would undoubtedly respect a woman enough not to hit her because you at one point were birthed out of a vagina. Additionally, male-perpetrated violence and harassment against women in the music industry is not an isolated incident. From the downfall of Radar Radio, from Solo 45 to Jackmaster, Wiley to Devilman (who rapped about the graphic ‘fantasy’ of stabbing a woman to death) – an industry dominated by men seems fairly willing to forget about these apparently isolated incidents. It moves on, time and time again, without tackling the deeply disturbing systemic, institutionalised misogyny and misogynoir that it irrefutably perpetuates.
Supporters need to ask themselves, does a woman deserve to be physically overpowered and punched in the stomach, after having an abortion you coerced her into having, because she ‘provoked’ you into to doing so? Is that what equal rights looks like to you?
Perhaps the most insulting aspect of this whole drama is the way in which Octavian has addressed the allegations through gaslighting. Irregardless of the lasting psychological trauma he has caused Hana, he has not only retracted and refuted the claims (after initially admitting to having physically abused her), he has now turned this issue around on his ex.
In a flailing attempt at damage control, he has taken pains to paint her as if she is the abuser for outing him and ruining his music career – perpetuating the twisted notion that women get clout from outing their abusers. Most vilely, perhaps, he suggested that she has orchestrated and fabricated the mounting evidence against him (a video of him attacking her whilst she screams for him to stop, photographic evidence of blunt trauma injuries, witness testimonies and screenshots that allude to his sustained psychological abuse) as part of a revenge plot – all because he dumped her.
As if you could imagine a more disdainful, contemptuous way to treat someone you were in a romantic relationship with for four years. Even today, people who support Octavian are attacking and tormenting his ex online; she has moved away from the UK and is having to file police reports from abroad for her own safety. Supporters need to ask themselves, does a woman deserve to be physically overpowered and punched in the stomach, after having an abortion you coerced her into having, because she ‘provoked’ you into to doing so? Is that what equal rights looks like to you? Feminism, even?
We need to ask some serious questions of an industry that chooses to protect the reputation of a violent, abusive narcissist over the welfare of a young woman.
Contrary to what the TL may suggest, Octavian’s downfall is not the fall from grace we have been led to believe. It is the culmination of learnt behaviours – arguably developed, perpetuated and even encouraged by the industry he is in and the people he surrounds himself with. People do not act in a vacuum – their behaviours have context. In the same respect, we watched Surviving R Kelly and collectively thought, how did we allow him to do that to so many young girls? Who around him aided, abetted and enabled the abuse, and what are the consequences?
The correlation here remains simple enough: if you allow your boys for moving in the same way, do not expect people to forgive you when they find out you were a party to it. Hana has claimed that Octavian’s management attempted to make her sign an NDA for £20,000 when she threatened to go public the first time. We need to ask some serious questions of an industry that chooses to protect the reputation of a violent, abusive narcissist over the welfare of a young woman. We forget that Octavian should not only lose his career for this: he should go to prison. Uncomfortable conversations need to be had in some circles. It starts with small behaviours, and it is no longer acceptable for us to be ideologically opposed to domestic violence and abuse – we need to root it out and be actively against it.
Izzie is an editor at Aurelia. She is 24, a Literature graduate and Mancunian native. She is fiercely passionate about political and journalistic transparency, protecting public services and is pursuing a postgraduate degree in law. @izziejo_r