This story has been updated.
Country music’s cousin festival to Coachella comes up this weekend (4-29 to 5-1) in Indio, California as the 12th Annual Stagecoach Festival will transpire on the famous polo grounds. Along with huge country music superstars such as Thomas Rhett, Luke Combs, and Carrie Underwood headlining the festival, Stagecoach also boasts many of the big names from independent country on the side stage, including Colter Wall, Molly Tuttle, Hayes Carll, and Flatland Cavalry.
Also returning to Stagecoach this year will be the well-known DJ named Diplo, who will be offering up entertainment Sunday night at the festival’s “Late Night in Palomino” to close out the event. Diplo played the same role at the 2019 Stagecoach Festival, which was the last time the event was held, and right before a rash of women came out making numerous accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior against the DJ, resulting in restraining orders and criminal investigations that somehow Diplo has skirted to keep his acceptance in polite society, while other more native country and Americana stars with significantly less serious infractions and accusations continue to be considered unacceptable, and would never be considered for the Stagecoach lineup this year or any other.
Similar to the rapper Nelly who’s had three separate women accuse him of rape and sexual assault—including one of the most serious rape allegations coming while Nelly was on tour with a country act in Florida Georgia Line—Diplo has strangely found a second home and unquestioned acceptance in country music, even receiving a extensive puff piece in The Tennessean published on Wednesday (4-27) written by Marcus K. Dowling ahead of the Stagecoach appearance, and without even a mere mention of the tumultuous moments for Diplo over the last two years that have resulted in multiple promoters avoiding booking the DJ, and some, including the Baltimore Orioles baseball team, canceling Diplo appearances.
Though many of the revelations are recent, the troubling behavior by Diplo—whose real name is Thomas Pentz—goes back much farther, and commonly involves young Black and brown women, and sometimes young women who are under the age of consent. From 2003 to 2008, Diplo dated British-born rapper M.I.A. who is of Sri Lanken descent. In 2017, M.I.A. accused the DJ of mental abuse, of trying to take credit for her career, of taking credit for songs that weren’t his, of cheating on her, and even of using an image of her as a dart board. How much of that was the embellishment of a jilted ex-lover, and how much was truth is hard to independently verify, but it was the first sign of a more troubling pattern from the famous DJ.
In October 2020, rapper Azealia Banks spoke out about Diplo, saying on her podcast, “I used to have sex with Diplo when I was 17 (Diplo was in his 30s). Diplo definitely found me on f—ing Myspace. I always give him credit for f—ing launching my career off, but yeah, I had to give him some teenage pussy to do it. He’s always been preying on young ethnic girls.”
The allegations from Azealia Banks came after a woman named Shelly Auguste came forward to accuse Diplo of numerous offenses, including rape, grooming herself and other “very young girls,” hiring a private investigator to harass her and other young women to discourage them from coming forward, and distributing revenge porn against Auguste when she did eventually come forward.
According to Auguste, she had consensual sex with Diplo on numerous occasions, but in July of 2019, claimed Diplo forcibly held her down and raped her in a Las Vegas hotel room after a performance. Auguste also said she tested positive for chlamydia after the incident, blaming Diplo. According to lawyers for Diplo who reached out to Saving Country Music, they deny the DJ gave her chlamydia, and claim Auguste later tweeted, “that pedophile did not rape me.”
After Shelly Auguste came out with her accusations, she then claims Diplo distributed revenge porn against her as retaliation. Auguste filed and received a restraining order against Diplo, but charges were never filed in the alleged rape. Diplo claimed Auguste was an obsessed fan and denied all accusations, and received his own restraining order against her.
Then in 2021, a fourth woman came forward, claiming she was raped by Diplo in 2019 after a Las Vegas performance, saying Diplo “invited her to a room, kicked out her friends, and would not let her leave until she performed oral sex,” while also filming the encounter. Diplo stanchly denied the claims, and the unnamed accuser dropped the case 10 days later. According to Dilpo’s lawyers, this fourth woman was a friend of Shelly Auguste.
It’s important to underscore that Diplo has yet to be charged with a crime, though investigations could still be open stemming from the accusations. As we sometimes see with cases of sexual abuse, victims are afraid to come forward due to the public harrassment and rebuke they can receive, and are sometimes paid off for their silence.
Diplo has a right to be considered innocent until proven guilty, but there is certainly a pattern of behavior that has emerged with at least four women coming forward accusing him of inappropriate behavior, including high profile celebrities in M.I.A. and Azealia Banks. Diplo also once tweeted out, “Low key sent my cv for r kelly sex cult membership,” after sexual accusations that for years R. Kelly was able to keep at bay were finally coming to a head. He later deleted the tweet.
None of this should necessarily preclude Diplo from being able to work and make public appearances. But the question relevant to country music is why many other major events and festivals are steering clear of Diplo after the revelations, yet the Stagecoach Festival and country music seem to be so embracing and forgiving of Diplo, similar to rapper Nelly’s cozy relationship with CMT.
The answer may be in the extensive Diplo profile published in The Tennessean, which again, makes no mention of any of the very recent accusations made by numerous women against Diplo. In the article, Marcus K. Dowling states, “…the depth and scope of Diplo’s desires to involve himself as an interloping agent of alternative-driven change [in country music] are apparent.”
Similar to Nelly, Diplo is seen as useful to political apparatchiks who’ve embedded themselves in country music media and culture. Diplo is advantageous to undermining the genre’s sonic boundaries and traditions, allowing otherwise progressive-minded individuals to overlook clear patterns of sexual abuse, while these same individuals regularly accuse country music as an industry of sexism and accepting of predatory behavior. Meanwhile, artists with much less serious accusations against them both in frequency and severity such as Ryan Adams and Stuart Baker (Unknown Hinson) would never be considered for the Stagecoach lineup, or in-depth spreads in country music’s hometown paper, The Tennessean. And despite some other festivals in 2022 being willing to book Diplo, many others continue to steer clear.
Again, Diplo has every right to work in music just as much as anyone, and to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. But the country music public also has a right to know about an entertainer who has been accused of a dozen different offenses by four different women involving inappropriate sexual behavior, including rape and the grooming of young girls, especially when this is supposedly such a big concern to the same organizations and individuals who are actively promoting the famous DJ, and his important place in country music.
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Editor’s Note: After being contacted by lawyers for Diplo, multiple clarifications have been added to this story, including the lawyer’s claim that Shelly Auguste was not underage when she was first contacted by Diplo, and that Ms. Auguste and the unnamed woman who accused Diplo of rape in Las Vegas were allegedly friends.
This story has been updated.