CN: This article will discuss accusations of sexual harassment, and harassment of underage women.
Video Game Culture on the internet is a curious and often frustrating place. As the fastest growing medium of the last several decades, video games have gone very quickly from a “silly thing for kids” to a serious art form, including works like Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us. As video games have grown up, so has the music behind them, and the video game music scene is a place that combines the incredible energy of independent music with the storytelling and passion of gamers. Classic games like Megaman have inspired countless bands, and modern adventures like Undertale are topping the virtual charts. At PAX every year, we get to see an amazing concert featuring bands like The Protomen, Bit Brigade and the Returners, and there are whole festivals like Magfest that have sprung up across the country to celebrate this new culture. In San Jose, California, a show called Rockage has been running for several years, with its newest edition this weekend at three separate venues. Unfortunately, there has been a shadow that has fallen over the event, that comes back to its founder, Eric Fanali. Years of accusations against Fanali are beginning to pile up, leaving many who were eager to celebrate a weekend of music and video games feeling obligated, morally, to stay away.
On the surface, Rockage looks like an event that most geeks – especially those of us who love video game music – would love to experience. The show is running for two days in three different venues, including the AFK Gamer Lounge, one of our favorite hangouts in the Bay Area. The band line-up includes stars from all over the country, including Bit Brigade, Super Soul Bros and Kirby’s Dream Band. The weekend will also be full of gaming celebrations, including tournaments and panels. Rockage is the brainchild of local promoter Eric Fanali, the owner of Grand Fanali Presents. Fanali has been known in the Bay Area (and across the country) for years for putting on all ages shows with a wide variety of artists. He’s forged relationships with bands from all over the country who come and play his events. Unfortunately, over his years of running shows, a number of accusations against him have come to light that make it difficult to stomach attending even an event like Rockage.
I first discovered the accusations against Eric Fanali through the Facebook post of a band called Curious Quail. Curious Quail is a local group that had been intimately involved with Rockage since 2012, helping Eric and his team with the day to day organization of the show as well as performing there every year. This year is the first year they’ve decided not to attend in any way. Here is the statement they made:
Hey everyone – Mike here.
Soooo we keep getting asked about Rockage and I think it’s important we make a statement to clear up any confusion about our involvement this year since it’s been a huge part of this band’s history.
The short answer is that we are absolutely NOT involved. We took the allegations of sexual assault, unwanted advances and sexual harassment on the part of the man who runs the festival VERY seriously and severed all business / personal ties with him when they came to light last year.
Several of us in the band considered him a personal friend prior to the allegations and were REALLY fucking disturbed to find out that he had been mistreating members of our community. We want it made clear that Curious Quail stands with victims and those who have been marginalized, abused, taken advantage of, isolated, or hushed into obscurity for things that were done TO them.
We support a music community in which people of all genders and ages can feel safe going to see live music. We want FUCKING NOTHING to do with anyone who hurts women, teenagers, trans folk, or anyone else.
Also – if you’ve experienced anything like this yourself there are some incredible organizations out there advocating for you with resources available – check out Speak Your Silence, 1in6, Inc. and the Joyful Heart Foundation.
Considering I was literally about to buy my tickets to the event, that was a bit of a shock. So I did a little bit of digging, and I found a blog called Boycott Fanali. It’s actually the second Google result when you Google Eric Fanali’s name, and you don’t have to spend long on the site to understand what it’s about. Eric Fanali has been accused, consistently and repeatedly, of using his position and influence as a promoter of shows in the Bay Area to prey on women at his shows – including underage women. The stories are numerous and, frankly, horrifying. You should read them for yourself – it’s not my place to speak for these women. The accusations run from unwanted attention at shows and online, to one underage concertgoer who he tried to convince to perform oral sex on him in a car, before telling them to call him when they turned eighteen.
He apparently sent them a Facebook message on the morning of their eighteenth birthday.
“At a certain point it just became common knowledge,” one of the organizers of Boycott Fanali told me, “My friends and I had been…avoiding his shows for a long time before we ever started the blog. There had been a lot of times when people had gotten together to discuss it, but not any action had been taken.” The problem was, there was no documentation. They decided to create the blog as a place for women to share their stories and make sure people knew what they were getting into when attending a Grand Fanali show.
The blog was launched last year. At the time, many people brushed the stories off as made up, until they began to pile up. Finally, Eric Fanali addressed the accusations, saying that he had launched an investigation and found no wrong doing.
To make that perfectly clear, he said that he had investigated himself and found that he had done nothing wrong. “He never spoke to anyone involved with the blog, or anyone who had written one of the posts on it,” the organizers assured me.
When I began asking around for information on Rockage specifically, I was informed that action had been taken and Eric Fanali was no longer running the show. That would have been great news for my conscience, and my desire to go see some awesome bands this weekend. So I reached out to the current head of the show, Davain Martinez, who took over Rockage last year. In a deeply personal post announcing his new position, he described how he had walked into a previous Rockage event and been handed tournament organizer duties on a Smash Bros. tournament. For a young man just starting out, Rockage was an incredible opportunity for him and a place that he has always felt was a home.
Davain is also deeply grateful to Eric Fanali, who gave him his big break in the promoting business. When I reached out to him, he gave me the following statement:
RockageSJ currently is run and coordinated by myself, Davain Martinez. As many are aware, I jumped into the head position of RockageSJ at the beginning of 2016, taking the place of the creator Eric Fanali. As of today, Eric acts as a consultant for booking bands and venue scouting.
Concerning the website that you have linked in a previous email, RockageSJ recognizes that it exists and the allegations that come from the victims that have spoken out about Eric and his past actions. This issue was brought to my teams attention mid-2014 and from that time we have looked into whether it was best to have him on our team. After review of prior events and speaking with Eric and the victims that would give us the time of day, RockageSJ determined that he is not a danger to our events but instead of having him officially on the RockageSJ team, we decided to have work as a consultant strictly for booking bands and venue scouting. Although Eric’s current work helps Rockage run, he is not an authority on final decisions or how the event operates. After the review, my team decided that moving forward we would be looking over our policies and intact any practices necessary to make sure that our staff treats all Rockage attendees, guests, performers, vendors, and volunteers with respect and a professional attitude no matter what the circumstance. Rockage is meant to be a safe place for people of all ages and types.
This is a noble sentiment, and after speaking in depth with Martinez, I believe that he’s sincere. But the question still remains: is Eric Fanali involved? I asked Davain if any money from Rockage ticket sales went to its former director, and he assured me that no one had ever collected a paycheck from a Rockage event. Other sources close to the event that I spoke to confirmed that fact. Still, based on the statement above, Eric Fanali is clearly very much a part of the Rockage shows this weekend and will likely be in attendance.
With a situation like this, it’s always easy to believe the man who is a luminary in a community, especially if that man is successful, friendly, or your personal mentor. It shouldn’t take a pile up of accusations in order for us to believe the victims, but it often does. And while there have been consequences for Eric Fanali – in addition to losing his directorship of Rockage, a source told us that a major geek music festival pulled out of a plan to buy Rockage in part because of these accusations – he is still involved and will likely be present at these shows. Even without his name on the sign, women may still feel unsafe to attend a celebration of geek culture and video game music if he is present.
That’s truly a shame, because with so many new faces coming to geek culture every day, an event like Rockage is a perfect place to celebrate their new found family. A show like this should be a safe space, where geeks of all ages, genders, sexual orientations and races should be able to be themselves without having to worry about awfulness of the outside world. But we’ve seen, again and again, places that should be our sanctuaries become private nightmares. From the largest events, like Comic-Con and PAX, to smaller, local shows, it’s important that everyone feels safe. Period.
I’m sad that I won’t get the chance to see Rockage this year, or possibly ever. But in the years to come, hopefully it can live up to its promise. And if not, hopefully something else can rise to take its place.