Women and music festivals

When it comes to representing women, it's been a bad year for music festivals. A DJ and LISTEN member calls out the latest offender, national dance and electronic festival, Listen Out.

EMA at Laneway

By Jo Eaton

Of the 17 acts announced on the line-up for Listen Out festival, only one, Alison Wonderland, is female. There was also an announcement email featuring a homophobic remark. “When done correctly and at the right place, Dance can: attract the opposite sex…

Thus far, 2015 has seen the experimental electronic festival, Unsound Adelaide fail – for the second consecutive year – to schedule any women on its original 3-day line-up, though a late cancellation saw women added to the bill. Vivid Festival didn’t do much better. Overseas, the situation is the same. Music blog, Crack In The Road, posted images of festival posters with the male bands edited out too starkly show the imbalance and this week The Guardian has presented the statistics.

LISTEN is a local collective that exists to spark and cultivate a conversation around women’s experiences in all genres of Australian music. Since its formation a year ago, the issue of women’s underrepresentation on festival line-ups has seen LISTEN’s Facebook group come alive with posts.  The group is not contained to ranting online, however. Members are lobbying for safer venue policies for female and LGBTQ staff and gig-goers, making printed publications encouraging women-centric dialogue and creating a record label devoted to promoting gender diversity in music.To address the lack of women in gig line-ups, LISTEN also organises regular ‘Listening Parties’ featuring female-identified musicians.

There are so many incredible female electronic musicians performing live these days,” says LISTEN member and Melbourne-based DJ of 7 years, Katie Pearson, AKA Whiskey Houston. “Bookers and promoters need to let go of their archaic and ill-informed concerns that booking lesser-known artists on a festival bill is going to affect ticket sales. Meredith and Splendour in the Grass are proving that a diverse line-up can still sell out a festival the day tickets go on sale.

When we at LISTEN take the time to write to festival organisers about our concerns, we are often brushed off with excuses and empty claims that they are trying to be diverse, rather than apologies and promises to do better next time.

Adelaide Festival replied to our concerns with, “We strive for a balanced program but due to scheduling & artist availability, Unsound 2015 is indeed an all-male line-up.”

Vivid also blamed scheduling difficulties (“The Opera House is not immune to scheduling conflicts.”), while one festival organiser just told us plainly that they don’t have a quota.

The promoters responsible for Listen Out, Fuzzy Australia, have yet to reply.

Regarding the insensitive remark about attracting the “opposite sex”, Melbourne musician and Girls Who Smoke Poke label head Simona Kapitolina points out that attitudes like this completely ignore the queer origins of electronic music: “House music was created in and for gay, trans, African American and Latino clubs and people!! And now that history is being erased by appropriation by white heteronormativity.

LISTEN founder, Evelyn Morris, said in response to Vivid’s line-up, “It is essential that women creating art and music are given a voice and a platform, especially considering the rise in violent crimes against women that we are seeing in the news on a daily basis. Art is a way out of that heavy burden, a path to building communities and a way of providing support. It is crucial that this be acknowledged.

We – and audiences – want music festivals that represent the true and beautiful diversity of our community. We’re sick of dude fests.

Note: this article has been edited to correct the fact that Novel are only ticket distributors for Melbourne. The previous version said ‘event promoter’. We sincerely apologise for any concern or stress this might have caused the team at Novel.