By The Beast
Women take to Instagram to say musician Nick Koenig abused them emotionally and in bed.
By The Beast
By The Beast
By The Beast
The story started with a single Instagram post: an anonymous screenshot, reminiscent of a bathroom stall confession, in which a woman described her encounter with a “manipulative” man and warned of other women with similar experiences. A short caption provided the only context—that the post was not about some nobody, but a sought-after music producer and DJ named Nick Koenig.
Koenig, also known by the stage name Hot Sugar, is a 33-year-old darling of the indie music scene. He has collaborated with artists like The Roots and Das Racist, and provided the score for two seasons of Broad City. Vice’s Noisey fawns over him, and a 2015 feature-length documentary heralded him as a “modern day Mozart.”
But Koenig has also been dogged by rumors about his treatment of women—rumors that have formed a kind of open secret in parts of the music world, until this month.
Ten days ago, the Instagram account @realhotsugar took the whisper network public. At first glance, it may have looked like a typical “hate account”—a budding genre in which teenagers post embarrassing photos, screenshots, and comments about a single person. But the allegations on this account were much more serious.
Within days, the account amassed what appeared to be dozens of accusations from different women, alleging everything from inappropriate messages to sexual assault. It also published screenshots of Koenig’s more off-color tweets and tagged music magazines to get their attention.
Koenig, who has not been charged with any crimes, called the abuse accusations “false and malicious” in a statement on his own Instagram.
“While I may not have always been the most considerate boyfriend or partner in the past, all of my relations have been consensual and with people of legal age,” he wrote. “Promoting lies and hatred is dangerous, please do not participate.”
But the damage was already done. Two indie labels—Ninja Tune from the U.K. and Ghost Ramp from California—announced they were dropping Koenig’s music from their catalogs. The allegations eventually made their way to prominent figures like actress Rose McGowan, a #MeToo catalyst who had collaborated with Koenig in the past.
McGowan reposted some of the accusations on her own Instagram account, along with Koenig’s denial. “For those that are unaware, Nick and I have collaborated before and have also casually hung out,” she wrote. “Friend or not I cannot be complicit. Neither should his fans.”
In a less than a week, thanks to a single Instagram account, the narrative around Koenig had gone from one of a sensitive artist who toed the line between edgy and unacceptable to one of a repeat abuser who allegedly used his status to seduce and mistreat young women.
It was a story that Kathryn Beckwith had been trying to tell for a long time.
Beckwith, better known by her stage name Kitty, left her small Florida hometown for New York City in 2012 to pursue a music career. Just 19 at the time, Beckwith moved in with Koenig, then 27, whom she had met at a party and started dating months earlier. At that point, she said, she was exhilarated by the new relationship and starstruck by Koenig’s success and famous entourage.
But in the ensuing months, Beckwith told The Daily Beast, the relationship grew dark. She said Koenig tightly controlled her social life, limiting which parties she could go to and who she could talk with. Beckwith said that when she associated with people he didn’t like—especially other male artists—he would become angry and post disparagingly about her on social media.
In the bedroom, she alleged, he was even more controlling. He wanted to choke her and hit her during sex, she said. If she tried to resist, he would shush her and insist that she liked it. In one instance, Beckwith said, he held her down during anal sex while she protested and cried. Afterward, she said, “He laughed about it. That was my first clue something was wrong.”
Several other times, Beckwith said, Koenig choked her until she passed out.
“Eventually it would get to the point where I would pass out and I wouldn’t know what was going on anymore, and he would just beat me until I woke up,” she told The Daily Beast.
Beckwith’s brother, who was in high school at the time, told The Daily Beast he noticed bruises on his sister’s arms and legs when she visited home. He saw her drop unhealthy amounts of weight and become a quieter, more reserved version of the bubbly Kitty he knew. It wasn’t until after she and Koenig broke up that she told him her full story, her brother said.
Koenig’s attorney, Andrew Brettler, denied that Koenig controlled who Beckwith could see or where she could socialize and said she never complained about it during the relationship. In addition, he said, “all sexual relations between Mr. Koenig and Kitty were safe and consensual.” He claimed that she often asked Koenig to choke her.
“Kitty often bragged to friends about this aspect of her relationship with Mr. Koenig,” Brettler said. “Mr. Koenig never violently throttled her or caused her to pass out to the point that she needed to be awakened. Mr. Koenig absolutely denies ever striking Kitty,” Brettler added.
Koenig’s team also provided emails Kitty wrote to the musician after the breakup, in which she professed her love for him and promised to give him “all of [her] heart.” She apologized for being intimate with other men and for other actions she described as “attention-seeking,” writing, “I've been half-assedly searching for validation because you make me feel like a terrible person that doesn’t deserve anything at all.”
Beckwith told The Daily Beast it took her years of counseling and distance from the relationship to come to terms with the alleged abuse. She attempted to go public several years later, in a tweet mentioning Koenig by name, but says she quickly received a cease-and-desist letter from his attorney. When her husband, Sam Ray, tried to tweet about the allegations earlier this year, Koenig sued him for $100,000 for libel and slander. The parties settled for an undisclosed amount and Ray later tweeted: “I do not know Hot Sugar personally, and should not have made such statements. I have since removed them.”
So, Beckwith said, she resigned herself to staying silent. She posted occasionally on social media about an unnamed ex-partner and, more quietly, counseled other women with similar concerns. She figured this was how the situation would continue, until she opened Instagram last week.
The @realhotsugar account appeared Nov. 9 on Instagram, at the hands of one of Koenig’s former partners. The woman agreed to speak with The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity, for fear of retaliation.
The creator said she had a difficult breakup with Koenig but did not allege any physical abuse. She emphasized that her actions were not motivated by revenge but by a desire to help other women. She created the account after hearing more serious allegations from some of Koenig’s other partners, she said—partners like Alice Winter.
Winter, a New York bartender and artist who uses they/them pronouns, first met Koenig through Tumblr in 2015. A compliment about his music led to an invitation for drinks, and later, back to his apartment.
Winter said Koenig was upset at being refused sex that first night, and texted later to say he couldn’t continue their friendship without it. Conflicted, Winter decided to enter a physical relationship with Koenig that lasted on and off for several years.
“He was just a very, very forceful person,” Winter told The Daily Beast, adding that Koenig would often choke them, grab their wrists, and restrain them—even when told no. Winter said the interactions left bruises that would last for days.
“Even when I would say something hurt, he wouldn’t stop doing it,” Winter told The Daily Beast. “Sometimes it would be worse and more painful.”
Text messages provided by Koenig’s attorney showed the musician ended the relationship in 2015, after Winter confronted him about sleeping with someone else. But the pair ran into each other at a show last year, text messages show, and decided to go back to his place.
After sex, Winter said, they noticed that Koenig had recorded the encounter on his phone—something he had done with consent in the past, but not this time. When Winter asked Koenig to delete the footage, he allegedly pushed back. The disagreement escalated into a screaming fight, which Winter began live-streaming on Facebook. Screenshots of the since-deleted Facebook post show several friends expressing concern and asking if Winter is safe.
Koenig’s lawyer said he never filmed Winter without consent. “The two enjoyed taking iPhone videos together during sex,” he said.
The lawyer also said Koenig never “caused any bruises.” The musician, through his representatives, contended that it was Winter who became aggressive that night last year, to the point that he left his own apartment in fear with a bleeding scratch on his wrist from Winter’s nails. He also said Winter posted on social media about seeking revenge and repeatedly made wild and untrue claims about his treatment of past partners.
Recordings from that night provided to The Daily Beast show Winter repeatedly confronting the musician with claims about abusing other women, which he denied to Winter. One of those women told The Daily Beast that Koenig had never abused her, while another expressed concern about the way he treated her.
Winter said the confrontation was meant to elicit an apology from Koenig but ended in frustration.
“There are certain things that he’s ruined for me, because I feel really traumatized by things that he’s done and I just can’t enjoy them anymore,” Winter said. “It’s just really hurtful to have someone tell you that these things that affected your life so negatively didn’t happen.”
The morning after the live-streamed confrontation, texts provided by Koenig’s camp show, Winter apologized and invited him to go get a smoothie. In fact, several of the women with whom The Daily Beast spoke said they continued to engage with Koenig after the alleged abuse began. Winter and Beckwith both said they were drawn to his star power and charisma even as they felt violated—something experts say is not uncommon in abusive relationships but makes reporting more difficult.
Other women said they didn’t speak up at the time because they felt their allegations were not serious enough. The Daily Beast spoke with six contributors to the @realhotsugar account, both on the record and on background. None of them have contacted police about Koenig, and not all of them made allegations of non-consensual contact.
But a common thread emerged among them: The women said Koenig would use social media to contact women—usually fans, usually at least five years his junior—and invite them to his apartment or hotel room. Once there, he would quickly initiate rough sex without asking permission. The women said they left in the morning confused, not knowing how to reconcile their excitement at having slept with a celebrity with the unshakable feeling that they had been violated.
“I was just really confused about what had happened because I had no one else to talk to about it,” one of the women told The Daily Beast. “Knowing the people that he interacts with, knowing his friend group, I thought maybe he was a safe person. I thought of if he really was this terrible person, one of them would have spoken up.’”
Amalia Soto, an artist better known by her stage name Molly Soda, released her own statement about her past relationship with Koenig after the allegations surfaced. While she said Koenig had not physically or sexually abused her, she added that there was “no doubt in [her] mind” that the allegations against him were true. Her own relationship with him was “toxic,” she wrote, for reasons that she had written off as her fault in her younger years.
Moreover, she wrote, Koenig had a pattern of targeting younger women and making sure they didn’t know about each other. She said he would dismiss other women he’d slept with as “crazy fans” or claim they had forced themselves on him in an effort to discredit them.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Soto elaborated, saying she thought the Instagram account had allowed many of these women to see a pattern they previously didn’t know existed. When the Instagram page finally connected them, she said, “I think things started making a lot of sense.”
Last year, in the midst of the #MeToo movement, Koenig posted on Twitter saying he had been reflecting on his own behavior. He did not cop to any allegations of physical or emotional abuse, but instead apologized for “ghosting” people after one-night stands and not taking some relationships “as seriously as I should’ve.”
“Pop culture and society normalizes the idea of musicians receiving sexual attention from fans but I have never really considered what an abuse of power it is to take advantage of that,” he wrote.
But one woman told The Daily Beast that Koenig’s aggressive behavior started long before he was running around with the likes of Lil Peep and Big Baby Gandhi, or winning Grammy nods for his “associative music” made from recordings of a rat’s heartbeat or the crackle of Pop Rocks.
The woman, who asked to be identified only as Catherine, attended high school with Koenig in the moneyed precincts of Princeton, New Jersey, in the early 2000s. She didn’t know him well—he was a year older and ran with a more popular crowd—but was excited when he approached her at a party in the winter of her sophomore year.
During the party, Catherine says, Koenig led her into a private side room and pulled the door closed. He started kissing her and she reciprocated, she said, until he started groping her breasts. Catherine said she told Koenig to slow down but he persisted, pulling the top of her v-neck sweater down so far that her breasts popped out.
When she tried to protest, Catherine said, it only made Koenig grow more aggressive. He pinned her against a wall and once again pulled her shirt down, she said, only stopping when a fellow party-goer accidentally walked in on them. He backed away, embarrassed, and she went back into the party.
Koenig’s attorney said in an email that his client recalls the encounter was “entirely consensual” and that he stopped touching her chest when she asked.
Catherine said she tried to forget the encounter and ignore the rumors about Koenig “getting some” that weekend. She’d put the incident largely out of her mind until earlier this year, when Christine Blasey Ford testified about allegedly being assaulted at a similar high school party by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
The testimony brought the memories rushing back, Catherine said. She finally told her parents about the encounter and identified her alleged assailant by name. Her father confirmed to The Daily Beast that she had revealed the incident to him at the time, naming the aggressor as Nick Koenig.
Catherine said she researched Koenig at the time and wasn’t surprised to find he’d made it big. (“I went, ‘Of course this guy became a success in the music business. Of course he did,’” she said.) What did surprise her—and more than that, made her angry—was when she saw the allegations on the @realhotsugar account a few weeks later.
“It made me furious all over again,” she said. “My first, knee-jerk reaction was, ‘If you had said something, this wouldn’t have happened.’”
So Catherine decided to end her silence. She reached out to the Instagram account and submitted her own allegation, highlighting the year of the incident, which likely predated the other allegations by at least a decade.
Speaking with The Daily Beast in the aftermath, Catherine acknowledged that this was an indelicate way of lodging a complaint. She worried that the Instagram account would be seen as the work of vengeful exes, or worse, as “mob rule.” Other such attempts at formalizing a whisper network, such as last year’s “Shitty Media Men” list, have ended in lawsuits against the contributors.
But in a system ill-equipped to handle nuanced, complex cases like this, Catherine said, she really didn’t see another option.
“Honestly, this is the only way we can see any sort of justice,” she said. “This is the only recourse we have, is to share stories amongst each other and try to keep each other safe.”
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