What Did Sticky Fingers Do To Be 'Cancelled'?

25 February 2023 | 11:18 am | Staff Writer

In the wake of the controversy surrounding the band's inclusion on Bluesfest, we break down why people are angry at the band and the incidents being pointed at that led to the situation.

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Sticky Fingers are Australia's most polarising band, with a legion of fans big enough to sell out arenas along with a strong cohort of condemning their past behavior. For many, the controversy is very loud, but the nuanced explanation of why the controversy exists is not. We attempt to break down the incidents and issues fueling why some are calling for them to be 'cancelled' so you can make your own judgement on the band and their actions.

1. Dylan Frost's Behaviour At Disposessed Show

On July 28 2016, Sticky Fingers singer Dylan Frost attended a show at Red Rattler from First Nations punk act Disposessed. The gig descended into an argument between Disposessed and sections of the crowd who took umbrage at the band's discussion of Indigenous issues, telling them to play the next song. Singer Birrugan Dunn-Velasco took to Facebook after the show in a now-deleted post to call out the crowd on their behaviour. 

“"I am not a monkey to play on command and we walked off stage when the lead singer of Sticky Fingers among many others began grossly shirt fronting us yelling that we are the ones not listening,” Dunn-Velasco wrote.

Video of the incident has since emerged, which shows Frost arguing with the band. 

Sticky Fingers bandmates Seamus Coyle and Paddy Cornwall spoke to The Music about the incident shortly after to answer the allegations, denying that Frost made racist taunts, but had been disorderly at the show and claimed that Dylan had reached out to the band to privately apologise. Disposessed have not commented on the matter since and Dunn-Velasco left the band under his own controversy in 2017. 

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Dylan's explanation of the event was put in a 2018 statement: 

"On July 28, 2016 I attended a gig by punk band called Dispossessed. I was standing in a crowd that verbally interrupted the singer who was speaking about important Indigenous issues during their performance. I tried to disarm the situation by saying to the singer “I have the utmost respect.” There is video footage of this whole interaction. I am sorry members of the audience interrupted that performance which dealt with exposing the plight of Indigenous Australians. I need to make it clear that I did not hurl racial abuse at them. Rumours have been spread around suggesting that I’m racist. That is complete bullshit. I’ve never meant to upset Indigenous people within the community that night or any other time, but that is what happened and I should have taken the time to explain sooner. The whole band would never want Indigenous people in particular to think that we don’t have their backs. It’s hard to get accused of being something you’re not, particularly something you are actively against."

In 2020 band member Freddy Crabbs addressed the incident:

"I know Dylan and I know he's not that kind of person, but ultimately what was really at fault there was that as a band seeing that happen, as Disposessed were calling out Dylan... my biggest regret was that we didn't actually say enough. We didn't acknowledge that at all and it was like sweeping it under the rug. Even if Dylan didn't EXACTLY say anything racially abusive or not, we as a band with that kind of following essentially said to our Indigenous fans and Indigenous people that we don't care. It is real privelige to say that we could be accused of racism and not have to care. How easy it it to just do that? That still pains me even talking about it now and we have such deep regret about that."

2. Dylan Frost's Drunken Behaviour Towards Thelma Plum

There are plenty of accounts of what happened outside the Lady Hampshire Pub in Camperdown on December 2, 2016. What seems clear is that an altercation occurred between Dylan Frost, Thelma Plum and her then boyfriend as they clashed over Frost's behaviour at the Disposessed gig. 

"Yeah, I guess I've made other people feel intimidated by me, and witnessed me in this state," Frost admitted during the now infamous interview with triple j's Hack. The media storm around the event heightened abuse towards Thelma Plum from Sticky Fingers fans. Thelma was shocked by the abuse she received and took to Facebook to explain. 

“I knew I would cop a lot of flack, abuse and also a lot of defaming when I came out with my story - never did I think to this extent. Dylan acted like a violent prick and scared the fuck out of me, even our uber driver was terrified when he chased the car at full speed with his arm and fist as if he was going to smash the windscreen. I suppose it's a lot easier for the people in his life who idly stood by and watched his violent behaviour to blame me then to take responsibility for the part they played in enabling this behaviour."

In an interview with Deadly Podcasts in 2020, band member Freddy Crabbs described the incident from the band's perspective:

"A lot of the audience probably don't realise that we were quite good friends [with Plum] at the time [of the Disposessed incident]. She messaged me and asked 'what's going on with this' and I told her we weren't going to say anything and she was, rightfully so, quite angered by that. Soon after she saw Dylan out at a pub and she'd gone up and said he was racist. It just turned into a big shouting match then it went on the street and it was quite messy. Dylan trying to fight with [Plum's then-boyfriend] Nick and Thelma obviously feeling pretty threatened by Dylan being drunk and trying to fight her boyfriend and his general behaviour and this is where this really started, for us, shit really hitting the fan. A big part of it was not being able to talk about it and not really addressing this. It's highlighed that privelige of ours, that people [like us] who HAVEN'T experienced racism can just do that."

No formal complaint to authorities was recorded from either party over the incident.

3. Indefinite Hiatus & Addressing Mental Health

After the media storm around the Dylan's behaviour, on December 5, 2016, Sticky Fingers announced an indefinite hiatus. The statement was short and did not address any of the issues or criticisms, simply saying:

"For some time we've been dealing with some internal issues in the band. They've heightened to the point where it's not fair to anyone involved for us not to do something. We have looked for help to try to get through this and will continue to do so."

Through a Facebook post from Dylan Frost, the band further addressed the issues (without specifically mentioning specific behaviours), explaining that he had checked into a rehabilitation facility after a bipolar schizophrenia diagnosis. 

I am realising now a lot of people around me have been hurt by my behaviour and for that I am incredibly sorry. I have not sought to target individuals or groups. All people around me have been affected by my behaviour during these episodes. I have been dealing with alcohol addiction and mental health issues. Last year I was diagnosed with bipolar schizophrenia and have struggled to deal with that. This is not an excuse, but it hopefully means I can get better. To try and work through this I am seeking help and will be attending rehabilitation and therapy in the coming weeks. I am truly sorry to the people that have been affected by my behaviour. Many thanks to my friends and family for helping me through this. I hope to one day make amends for my actions.

After the post, Thelma Plum's team made a public statement:

"There was an incident between Thelma Plum and Dylan from Sticky Fingers on Friday night. It's worth mentioning that the Sticky Fingers hiatus has nothing to do with Thelma's relaying what happened and everything to do with Dylan's actions. This was always going to happen and it's a shame that Thelma has been drawn into what seems to have something that has been a long time coming. Taking responsibility for ones actions had to happen, it's up to them as a band and people to work towards a solution and Thelma won't put any more emotional labor into this. Thelma wishes Dylan the best with getting the help he needs."

4. The Comeback, Apology and Hack Interview

In April 2018, Sticky Fingers re-emerged to continue their career and appeared on Triple J's Hack program to address their past behaviour and actions. 

The band had previously addressed their return in a Facebook video from Frost, stating that he is "wholeheartedly against racism, and so is the band". He also says he does "not condone or in any way excuse violence against women, straight up, I never have and I never will. I also have to acknowledge that my alcoholic behaviour in the past has intimidated or made people feel unsafe around me, and I am truly sorry for this." While the statement eludes to the previous incidents without specifics, the video also refutes rumours on social media. "It really upsets me to know that through a series of misinterpreted accounts of events, I've now been seen as a symbol of something I detest: a racist woman-basher. I'm an asshole sometimes, but not that much of an asshole."

Following more criticism over the video, the whole band fronted Hack in an appearance many have labelled a "train wreck" The appearance only served to polarise the audience further as the band continued to skirt around specific issues and give what some critics felt were less than enthusiastic apologies. Dylan's use of the phrase "boys will be boys" when addressing violent behaviour would continue to haunt the rest of their career.

"We don't condone violence towards women, racism or any of the hearsay that's been going around the internet about the band. But we've found that, as you may have noticed, we've been silent for nearly a year on all fronts but it's become apparent to us, more than that, blatantly obvious that our silence has become deafening and that's why it's sort of time for us to speak out now," said one band member.

Dylan addressed the Dispossessed incident: "I guess I've gotten myself into situations, under the influence, where people have kind of thought these things of me but I'm not racist, you know," said Frost. "I'm wholeheartedly against it, referring back to my statement last week. It's against my nature. Yeah, I guess everything just kind of got a little bit… just got a bit… It's been interesting, to say the least. I guess, my alcoholic behaviour in the past has made people believe that I've done far worse things than I have actually done. I guess I don't want to continue this behaviour. Being sober as a band has really made me think of the bigger picture." When asked if he felt he should apologise for the incident, he said "I guess I am sorry for making people feel that way."

"I guess 10 years of being in a drunken, debaucherous rock 'n' roll band we've pissed off a few people along the way and we haven't really played by the rules at any point of our kind of ride," said another band member, when host Tom Tilley asked what the group are specifically apologetic about. "I guess we've just been drunk and debaucherous and we haven't really thought about it, but five dudes sort of rolling around the joint, half-pissed, taking the piss, it probably scared a few people but we haven't ever openly gone to target people…" he continued. 

The member continued briefly before Tilley turned the questioning back to Frost, addressing violent incidents that Frost had previously raised. 

"A lot of the accusations have been against you as an individual but you're the one who's not really talking in this interview. Can you explain to me why that is?" asked Tilley.

"I guess I'm not that good at interviews, you know," said Frost. "And in the past… violence in my past under the influence, I guess, you know, fucking boys will be boys, you know? That's not what I'm here to promote, I'm here to promote peace and love, you know what I mean?"

"What did you mean when you just said 'boys will be boys'?" pressed Tilley at the end of the comment. "Shit happens, man," responded Frost. "But aren't you saying you're sorry for what's happened?" followed Tilley.

"Yeah, I am. I am sorry."

"'Shit happens' sounds like you don't really care?" said Tilley. 

"Nah, I do care mate, I do. I just find it hard to talk about this stuff, you know?"

Talking about the time in 2020 on Deadly Podcasts, Freddy Crabbs said: "When we came back we made an extensive post about it but it felt like it wasn't getting heard. I think it's difficult because the most powerful thing in all of this is not necessarily a post. You can't just deny that you're a racist. You actually have to show in your action what you care about and demonstrate in your actions what your values are..... We were looking to go on a hiatus for a bit and get him [Frost] into rehab and get him seeking help, but what we didn't do very well at all was communicate this message because it looked like when we cited mental health that it was an excuse for racism. Our deepest regret is that we didn't say the right things. That's what we've got to look back on and say yeah, we should have been able to talk about this more and engage this."

5. The 2021 Fight

In March 2021, Sticky Fingers member Paddy Cornwall pleaded guilty to the serious charge of affray after another violent altercation between him and his bandmate Dylan Frost. The pair were reportedly ejected from a Marrickville bowling club after a "six-hour drinking session". It's believed the fight - which was allegedly sparked by lingering tension between the bandmates - saw Cornwall wrestle Frost to the ground and punch him 26 times in the head. 

Nearby witnesses broke up the fight before Cornwall began to kick and punch Frost again until emergency services arrived. Cornwall was sentenced to 18 months in jail (to be served in the community) and was ordered to abstain from alcohol and drugs during that time. 

Frost, who was also charged with affray, checked in to a rehabilitation facility once again. The band have not publicly commented on the incident and re-emerged on the international touring circuit six months later.