Empty apologies and false platitudes: how “X Studio” keep failing to listen.

You are reading Thought Cue – a periodically published repository of thoughts on the young music bubble, made for those who consider themselves a part of it.

Last Sunday, I published a piece on the malicious, exploitative, and gatekeeping practice of Berlin’s most highly regarded Creative Studio. This article was a last resort – I spent a whole LOT of energy trying to spark the tiniest amount of reflection in conversation, but I only received aggressive gaslighting and disrespect in return. I made the conscious decision not to drop any names, but instead to make it about the severe misconduct and explain its effect on the wider industry.

It turns out that through the numerous grim incidents that occurred in the past, people could instantly recognise who I was talking about. And a lot of these, no, most of them – and we are talking about hundreds of Messages in my inboxes – were way worse than my experience. Suddenly I felt naive for thinking that my experience was a peak of their malicious behaviour. As soon as the mask fell off, a momentum evolved as people started to speak up, and grew to the point that the company began trying to make it look like they were in shock, and dissolving. Both lies. The company were in a position where they could have apologised but instead they chose to turn it into an absolute shit show, portraying themselves as the victims. Ever since people have been trying to log into my social media accounts.

I was aware of the risk of my move being put in a box with the witch hunt mentality that has been adopted by callout culture in recent years, but I had to take that risk to prioritise creating a public record of what’s ubiquitous but unspoken of in the industry. My priority was not to get anyone cancelled, hence me avoiding names, but was to get this company to listen – since the only way you can make them listen is if you put their facade at risk of crumbling. I promise you that I don’t take the slightest hint of enjoyment out of this, but quite the opposite.

This whole topic suddenly evolved into something way larger when in a self organised group chat of victims, shocking stories emerged about other global players from the top tier. I won’t ever share any of the info from these chats nor from private messages but I will be ready to leverage knowledge you don’t know I have, if you chose to keep this shit show going instead of being truthful and transparent for once.

In the following, I’m commenting on some of what has happened since publishing the last piece, plus insights from two former team members and collaborators.

Ok. A day after publishing the piece and numerous other victims speaking out, the company does what they think is expected from them. They publish a statement. In order to avoid a public discourse and traffic through comments, they do it via their Instagram story. After it being criticised, they publish it as a post, but turn their profile to private. Likely to keep people from unfollowing and to hide the discourse from people that don’t follow them already. In the statement, instead of apologising or acknowledging they were complicit all along, “four founding members” (But only three signed it with their names, hmmm, mysterious) – they distance themselves from the *one rotten apple* in their company.

“We don’t feel comfortable to continue working with people that repeatedly behave disrespectfully and harmfully towards [studio] members, friends and clients. We don’t accept this conduct, regardless if it happened with bad intention or lack of understanding.

Several problematic incidents have happened in the past with the same person. This person is a cofounder of [the studio] and therefore inseparably tied to the name and in extension everything linked to it.”

This is unacceptable. Not only are there numerous stories of their own twisted behaviour around, but they also admit to witnessing the scapegoat’s misconduct while brushing it under the carpet all along. Since the facade has begun to crumble though, they have had an epiphany and fired the one blamed person and therefore it’s all cool, right? Plus, one of the remaining founding members is the Girlfriend of the fired person. They live together. I won’t comment on that fact other than emphasising the conflict of interests at play that makes this statement seem performative.

The next statement happened via one of the other founding members’ Instagram Story. Accountability should last longer than 24 hours if you ask me. Another Oscar-worthy performance stating “I’m absolutely shocked at what happened! I want to send my sincere apologies to the author who experienced that.” – Yo – if you are so sorry, why do you not reach out? It was an absolute coincidence to stumble over a screenshot of your story. I don’t follow you. There’s more effective ways to apologize than to shout it out of your window while I’m on the other side of town.

It took another day for everyone’s scapegoat, I’ll call him S from now on, to reach out to me through another team member. He (but really not him) prepared his statement and doesn’t want to publish it before talking to me. Fair play. S sends me the draft of the statement in which several points make me extremely angry. Particularly a line, where he puts his malicious actions on a level with me shedding light on them: “I am inconsolable that my misconduct and the article has led to the dissolving of the collective and is threatening the livelihood of said members.” – No, it’s not me having a negative impact on people’s livelihoods – you had it all along. The bubble was gonna burst sooner than later. It’s a shame you lot have come this far. How dare you shuffle off the responsibility like that.

On Wednesday, S and Lukas, another representative of X Studio who kindly offered to mediate, get on a videochat with me and another Person of my trust. None of what he says in his statement has taken place. Especially not what he proclaimed – “I will listen and I want to change”. This call was a whole mess. He interrupted everyone speaking to the point where his friend who was on the line as well had to shout at him. He got back to his motive of gaslighting, by trying to overly compliment me for things, telling me how much he supports what I do, or rambling on about unrelated topics to the questions asked, always until his friend Lukas stops him.

If this would have been a conversation between just me and him I wouldn’t even have the guts to bring this next fragment of conversation up, in fear for my credibility, because it got so ridiculous. But when he was trying to express his understanding for the minorities’ struggles and sufferings, he told us about the hard past he’d had, coming back after living abroad in the US and not having money FOR A WHOLE YEAR. He started the next line of thought by saying “I don’t have privilege -” When his friend furiously interrupted him and me and my partner were just nervously laughing in disbelief..

I really don’t know why we continued the conversation at all, but I at least made clear what points in his draft statement I found unacceptable and wrong. At some point after two hours, a person peaks into the room saying “Nein, wir müssen das jetzt abschicken” (No, we gotta send it off now), in a woman’s voice – presumably his girlfriend. S quits the chat so the three of us are left discussing what just happened and what the next immediate steps are. Next thing you know, in the meantime (what must have been ten minutes at the most), the statement appears on his and the company’s web presence. Not only ignoring what we discussed but also with added lines that make him look even more like a victim. When in the comments, I and someone else expose their straight-up lying about sending me a letter via post, they get defensive and latently salty.It is quite obvious that to the founding members it’s still the priority to keep the illusion alive. I’ll again take a step back but what you’ll likely see from here is more saltiness, more empty commentary, gaslighting and more deflection from their end, instead of honestly taking the responsibility and moving on. Don’t let this company trick you into thinking they are a hip collective without hierarchy. Artists that aren’t members of the core team are the ones paying The Studio’s rent, and the ones attracting clients. Only the core members have access to the “collectives” email address. In effect, this means that the core can accumulate the high paying jobs while the rest is busy with the free or low paying assignments.

Lukas Rudig, ex member who played a significant role in “Beauty_Gan”, one of the studio’s most impactful works

“Did I experience my friends racism? No. I’m a white cis dude, I’m incapable of experiencing racism. Did I see signs of it? Very little, in hindsight. So the painful questions I keep on asking myself are: how come? How could I not see it? 

To me, there’s a huge difference between hurtful actions committed out of ignorance and claiming one’s own ignorance in order to extenuate hurtful actions. 

My cognitive dissonance happens when I give everyone who claims “I grew up on James Bond movies and I have to unlearn” the benefit of the doubt, not questioning if this might just be a thing they say to silence critics. 

Is my friends racism authentic ignorance or a villainous belief shielded from exposure by a coat of things that sound good to woke ears?

I’m not sure. However, now that I helped moderate a two-hour conversation between H and S I do know this: S’s actions are not in line with his statements. Shutting up and listening seem particularly hard to do for him and no matter how much he claims to want to that, he didn’t when he should’ve. Is this James Bond talking? Instead, I heard excuses for using racist language, and the people I call friends acknowledge that there is no excuse. 

I wish it was easier to have this conversation in public, but my ex band mates at SX Studio, who decided to dissolve and close our collective Instagram are not making this easy. We need to reopen it to comments, it’s a platform for our victims, and ducking away from the backlash is a cowardly calculated career move I do not support. Fun fact: nobody asked me about this, I learned it from Instagram. So much for your solidarity-based, democratic collective, huh?”

Neneh Opheim, collaborator on AI Projects

“There have been many times where I got phone calls from Lukas when he was pretty low and stressed out. It was very often about the amount of stress put on him by S and the manner it was done. He had a way of talking that was very abusive and it often involved statements like “you are so stupid, you can’t do anything right” or “what the fuck are you even doing?”. Every time I pointed out that this was not okay, no co-worker should ever talk to you in this fashion, Lukas would say that it was fine and that S was just going through something or he was stressed out. To me, this shows how much Lukas felt that he owed something to S based on their history. 

There was constant tension and fights between S and and his Girlfriend at the studio and this was creating such a toxic environment that Lukas stated several times that he didn’t want to be at the studio certain days. I personally watched them fight once in march and it was horrifying the way he talked to her, so I can only imagine what it would be like to witness this at your workplace. 

At the Christmas party, another founding member came up to me to greet me, for the first time. I had no idea who he was so I approached him and all I managed to say before I all of a sudden had his hand on my ass was “hey”. I slapped him so hard my hand turned red and asked him what the hell he was doing. He laughed it off and went on as if it never happened. It was very clear to me that this was not his first, nor would it be his last time doing this.”

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