Bigsound 2015: Part 1, The Great Imbalance

This year LISTEN was proud to co-present three panels at Brisbane music industry conference, Bigsound. Here, LISTEN editor Kate Hennessy summarises the Great Imbalance panel and LISTEN founder Evelyn Morris reflects on the conference more broadly.

This year LISTEN was proud to co-present three panels at Brisbane music industry conference, Bigsound. Here, LISTEN editor Kate Hennessy summarises the Great Imbalance panel and LISTEN founder Evelyn Morris reflects on the conference more broadly. Read part two here.

Kate: I moderated the Great Imbalance panel. We only had one hour and six panellists so it was a challenge to hear in a meaningful way from everyone, but (I hope) we did just that. Panelists were Hannah Fox (Dark Mofo), Laura Snapes (UK writer), Julia Wilson (Rice is Nice), Danni Zuvela (Liquid Architecture) and Adam Lewis (Secret Garden Festival).

To kick off, I asked four panellists to rebut one of four key themes I’d boiled down from the comments on my Guardian article in March about festival gender imbalances. This part of the panel was reported on by Monica Tan for the Guardian.

Much more ground was covered, however. Laura talked about her experience with Mark Kozalek’s on-stage verbal attack and how most of the good music writers in the UK are women. Adam demystified how the Secret Garden team booked a good balance for its sold-out festival; Hannah got to the heart of why gender balance was important to any event’s quality and the challenges she faces in making that happen in genres such as black metal.

Danni talked about the “dudefest” of experimental music and her groundbreaking “program-as-resistance”: Liquid Architecture’s ‘What Would A Feminist Methodology Sound Like?’. Evelyn talked about her observations of how film festivals curated diverse creative voices and what music festivals could learn from that. Meanwhile, Julia talked about her approach to supporting a female-heavy roster at the label she founded, Rice is Nice.

Still more ground was covered in the Q&A section. I plan to publish an edited transcript of the conversation on my website and on LISTEN in coming weeks. I’m really looking forward to being involved again, as part of LISTEN’s presence at Bigsound next year, and encouraging more men in the industry to attend the panels.

“I was disappointed to see very few (if any) of the major players in the festival booking circuit.”

Evelyn: The Great Imbalance panel was quite well-attended though given we’re talking about gender imbalances, I should note the audience was majority female. A lot of familiar faces were there too, and LISTEN supporters. To that end it felt a little like we were preaching to the converted. Most of the conversation centered on imbalanced festival bills being and I was disappointed to see very few (if any) of the major players in the festival booking circuit. If there were any there, I’d love to hear their thoughts on the issues discussed. We’re at @LISTENau on Twitter.

At industry events such as Bigsound, as it is generally in music, the formal conversations on panels are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creating and sustaining ideology and shared opinions. The real nitty gritty comes during the chats over beers when yet another indie band is keeping anyone from overhearing what is actually being said.

These whispers in ears pass around. I heard from a few sources that a couple of key festival bookers were not keen on coming to the feminist panels because “Dammit I do a really good job; I really am working hard and doing the best that I can. Why can’t they just stop being horrible?” As a response, this is as predictable as it is deeply saddening.  Partly given how similar it is to the “But he’s a really nice guy” responses to violence and sexual abuse in the music community.

I wanted to respond to these whispers but I am not the first on the list of people to catch up with at Bigsound now that I’m an annoying feminist type. Everyone has a lot of meetings, I understand. So I thought I’d clear this up publicly with the hope it would trickle back to them.

“I would like to state emphatically that I, Evelyn Morris, feminist activist and advocate, do not wish you any harm. I come in peace!”

I think some people have misunderstood the popular term from second wave feminism, ‘the personal is political’ to mean ‘the political is personal’. I would like to state emphatically that I, Evelyn Morris, feminist activist and advocate, do not wish you any harm. I come in peace! This isn’t about you personally, though criticism does sometimes land in your line of work. I am checking all the imbalances and all the stats – not only the ones related to what you do – even though it’s a bit ridiculous that it still needs doing.

At times I may hold up examples because people interpret information best when it’s presented as something tangible, rather than just statistical or theoretical. Specific examples are essential to creating discourse as it engages people’s attention and puts things in context. Please know, though, that LISTEN is thinking hard about how best to communicate this narrative. We are used to not being heard so we’re trying to be heard clearly now.

In any case, you may recognise this method of human case studies from news articles or union meetings. And perhaps that’s how to think of feminists – as unionists.  Or ombudswomen. We aren’t here to pick on you; we’re here to create the sustainable balanced playing field that all women deserve. We plan on using our position to leverage others who are marginalised too. This is a long-term activity: change of this scale doesn’t happen overnight. Especially when people resist it.

I don’t expect venues or festivals to immediately change patriarchy. It’s been this way for hundreds of years and I don’t think you are a magic wand shaped like a human. I understand that change to such rigidly self-perpetuating structures of oppression require a sustainable and continual conversation. That is what I’m attempting by running a collective that will exist beyond my own energies for this conversation. That is why when faced with a statistic that is not at the standard I want, I’ll continue to ask why until they creep to the levels they should already be at. I’ll continue to work hard, you’ll continue to work hard, and you’ll no doubt get annoyed every time I ask about these stats or provide a specific example to back them up.

Another thing that grinds my gears is when I hear “But I’m a nice guy; working as hard as I can” response. No shit. So am I. And you know how you’re copping this tiny nugget of criticism now? Try being an active public feminist. We cop criticism too and generally not in a professional manner. We also do this work for free.

Not that I would change that. The purpose of being a non-profit organisation is we are not as easily manipulated as other industry folks. So when it comes to calling it as we see it we don’t need to be cautious to ensure our economic survival. Unlike a lot of the bands who pay to perform for you and try to impress you, we don’t need you to like us. In fact if you liked us we probably wouldn’t be challenging you hard enough.