It’s wild to me that one of the most talked-about shows of 2021 is one that hasn’t even been released yet: Netflix docu-soap, Byron Baes.
Recently, an alleged cast list leaked, and one of the names on that list was local musician, Billy Otto, who immediately took to Instagram to reveal that he backed the fuck out of the show and is “embarrassed to have been associated” with it.
Here, we gave the the bloke a chance to share his side of the story and he spilled a bunch of deets about the show that’s so heavily talked about, yet surrounded by so much mystery (read: controversy).
How was the show first described to you?
I was told that the show was a docu-series about interesting characters of Byron Bay. They told me, “Billy we really want to capture the soul and people of Byron, you’d be perfect; your connection to country, your love for the ocean, we love your music, your articulation around spirituality, mental health and masculinity is so beautiful. We want to take the soul of Byron and your story and bring it to the world. And this could be an amazing opportunity for you.”
I was told the show was going to look really stunning. It sounded like the show would be grounded in the heart space and that the other personalities on the show shared similar values to mine. Later on I was told that the show would be a little bit like The Hills in its set-up, and that’s where I started to get real nervous, not to mention the name Byron Baes, which only showed up in the conversation once I received a contract.
Did you initially think that maybe it was something worth pursuing?
For a second the show honestly sounded like fun! As a music producer, singer-songwriter and podcaster / speaker, I get offered to do new cool projects most weeks. To me, I always start with an open mind. And to begin with I thought, ‘Look, it’s a Netflix show, it can’t be that cheesy, right?’
I studied film and have made indie documentaries that have been screened around the world. I thought that maybe Byron Baes could be an opportunity to bring back some of my love and skills with the screen. Also, Eureka Productions and Netflix were telling me that they really wanted to use my music for the show. And so the music licensing side of things could have been nice, and the exposure with my music on that kind of platform would’ve been good exposure, also.
As a Surfrider Ambassador, motivational speaker and former Seventh Day Adventist Pastor, I genuinely care about ecological sustainability, men’s mental health, processing religious trauma. And my mindfulness practise has saved me from falling into the deepest depths of depression. Like, fuck yeah! I believed Netflix when they said, “We want to take your messaging to the world!” And this was exciting for me.
I think most artists and communicators get excited about sharing their sacred work and reflection to a wider community. But yeah, I decided later on that I truly didn’t want to compromise my heart integrity and the integrity of my art with a show that dramatically clashed with my values.
How far in the process were you when you decided it wasn’t for you?
They offered me a contract. My lawyer and I tried to do a bunch of mark-ups on the thing, and they literally didn’t change one aspect of the deal. They were also pressuring me to sign quickly. They eventually offered me an additional licensing deal so that my unpublished works would still be owned by myself and the artists I work with. I’d had a couple of chats over the phone and via Zoom, and a producer had come to check out my house.
I actually feel so so blessed to have not signed anything.
What made you decide to back out and how did you do it?
I saw their press release and read that the show was about “hot Instagrammers.” The show covering heartache, flings and drama… Spiritually, I saw that I didn’t align with the show, and the packaging of the thing looked SO fucking cheesy.
I realised the same week that there’d been no consultation with Bundjalung Elders or the long-standing Byron community. I soon realised that the whole show was going to aid the heightening of homelessness and hyper-gentrification in an already struggling community.
How did Netflix react when you backed out?
I was on tour and I stopped answering their calls. After a month of silence, I think they got the picture. I was honestly pretty upset and disappointed in the people that had lured me in and didn’t feel like I wanted to confront them. So yeah, in my mind I was happy to ghost them – like many of my Byron friends did.
Before I made my statement on Instagram, I called the team from Eureka to clear up anything from my end – but they didn’t answer my calls. I then pressed post, went for a surf at Seven Mile Beach, and then my phone exploded!
Some of the Netflix Australia crew took me out for breakfast last week, and they apologised about how I felt about everything. They told me that they were sad to see me go. I think one producer was being authentic when they told me that the producer team genuinely liked my story.
Honestly, I would’ve loved if these Netflix representatives could’ve asked me a few more questions whilst I was with them in person. I would’ve loved if they could have really listened to what I had to say on behalf of the Byron community, as I felt that they were more interested in covering their backs than really delving into the cry of the Byron Shire.
Like, NO ONE I know in Byron wants Byron Baes to go ahead. They could have approached Aunty Delta Kay and a whole host of the local Indigenous community early in the planning stages, but they didn’t. They could listen to the voices of Byron business owners the thousands of community members who signed the petition against the show, but they haven’t. I didn’t feel seen and heard, and nor does the Byron family.
What made you decide to speak out on Instagram?
I think it was the Daily Telegraph and a bunch of other media outlets that told the public that I was “rumoured” to be on the show. You could imagine a small business owner and artist like myself trembling as I saw myself connected to a show that I felt so averse to.
It was literally like a nightmare manifesting. So, to clear the chaos from my end I had to go public! I felt like it was also a moment to share what I really believe in and not just what I am against. My songs and messaging are about community, healing, finding your voice, working through trauma and journeying into consciousness. All the things that Byron Baes (at this moment in time) does not represent. I had to really proclaim my perspective on the ethos of the show and to clear the air from all sneaky rumours.
What kinds of responses have you received since sharing the post?
It’s been amazing. I thought I was going to cop a lot of hate for coming across as a “wanna be hero” or something. But all the reports from my local Byron fam have been so lovely and supportive. And the Australian media have been really strengthening to my cause. I was honestly so touched by affirmations from my music network, from fans, from people who listen to my podcast from across the world – all communicating to me their support for me and their encouragement for me to walk in my integrity.
I think Byron Baes has already re-ignited a fire within the Byron community to really protect Byron soul, which still exists and permeates. The Byron fam would LOVE to have a docu-series that truly represented the heart of the shire; its quirks, its craftsmanship, its characters, its custodianship of local eco-systems, its connection to ocean and country, the glorious long standing Indigenous culture of the Arakwal people of the Bundgalung Nation.
I plan to make a series that covers some of that ineffable goodness. From my press release a few weeks back I’ve had some attention from film companies and investors that want to back me, so this is really fucking exciting!
In such a poignant time of climate catastrophe, racial divide, governmental corruption and mental health calamity, I believe that the heart of the world is crying for content that is healing in nature, programs and art that are asking the bigger existential questions and promoting a more holistic and sustainable approach to being human. I want to be part of creating content like this. The world needs less Byron Baes and more truth-telling, more curiosity, more heart connection, and a deeper listening to Indigenous knowledge.
Had you spoken to or met any of the other cast members?
I used to live with Hannah Brauer. She’s a beautiful human being. I haven’t spoken to her since she’s been “announced” and “confirmed” to be on the show. I saw her parents at our favourite coffee shop this morning actually. I honestly just hope she’s feeling okay. I can’t even imagine the heavy feelings from some of the well meaning people that have signed their lives into this show.
Ben Gordon (Byron Bay General Store owner, Parkway Drive drummer) is a friend of mine and he called me a couple of days after everything blew up with my press release about not being on the show. He was also being interviewed and groomed to be on the show in the earlier stages. As we know, he was one of the main characters that was leading the charge with the Byron Baes protest.
He told me over the phone, “Billy, good work this week bro, thanks for taking the attention away from me.”
It was nice to talk and hang with a mate who had experienced some similar conversations with the Netflix crew and made the same decision. I know that Netflix was really desiring to have a meeting with him to try and make amends, but yeah, it is what it is.
Do you have a message for the cast?
Dear Byron Baes cast, I hope that you’re at peace. You have no hard feelings from me, and I’m always available if you need a hug, or chat. I’ve met with Netflix Australia in person, and I’m not convinced that they truly care about you, your reputation or your profile.
Is quick fame on a shallow reality show really worth potentially losing your career?
If you have the intuitive inkling and the ability to leave the show, I would say move quickly. Don’t mess with this juju. Leave the carnage while you can, and tell the public what you stand for.
Before you walk on-set with the Byron Baes crew, viscerally and reflectively consider the impact that the show is going to have on the local ecology, local business, homelessness / gentrification and the cheapening profile of a whole shire.
Will you be watching when it airs?
Fuck no, you can cut off both of my hands before I watch that show. The show brings with it a curse! Nah that was actually really harsh. Who knows, I might just have a little squiz at the first episode (like everyone else from the area I know) to see if a friend or two are on it.
One producer told me that the show was to move to forward like the Trojan Horse; getting the world in through click-baity reality TV, but then opening them up to conscious awakenings and important issues via the real and raw and beautiful voices from Byron. Would be interesting to observe how they try to pull that homeric feat off.
With love, heart and reflection, Billy x
– Leave us alone Byron Baes –
Matty Galea is the Entertainment Editor at Pedestrian who also dabbles in woo-woo stuff like astrology and crystals and has been penning horoscopes since the start of his career. He also Tweets about pop culture and astrology and posts spicy content on Instagram.