Change the Record, Change the Conversation: Addressing (again) a lack of females on Australian festivals

It’s like a broken record at this point. Another festival announces its first lineup and a severe lack of female artists are represented and celebrated. I took to Twitter to vent my frustration – with many industry friends mutually outraged – and I was surprised when someone I know (who is involved in said festival) decided to send me some messages via Facebook attempting to justify the situation.

These messages included arguments like the number of females working behind the scenes, the fact that they hired two female interns, the booker’s history of gender-diverse lineups on weekly acoustic shows, the booker’s apparent lack of awareness of the talent emerging around the country and, my favourite, that if more women were determined enough to run their own festivals this particular booker would love to support them.

Condescension aside, there is so much wrong with this situation, so much that is frightening and disappointing about these attitudes. It feels as if the proclaimed gender diversity behind the scenes was more accidental than deliberate, as one might assume that someone so interested in a gender diverse team would be equally pushing a gender diverse public lineup – which is clearly not the case. Might I also add, that I am constantly inspired and astounded by all the brilliant female and gender nonconforming individuals that do work behind the scenes across Australia’s music industry.

Most startling was the concept of a lack of female artists that hold a candle to those males announced on this lineup. Shall I quickly bring attention to the likes of Kučka, Mallrat, Montaigne, E^ST, Lupa J, KLP and Nina Las Vegas (I could go on for a very long time). Any one of these ladies would slot beautifully into this festival. Many individuals assume my frustration over this as purely selfish – that I work with predominantly female artists and therefore the only reason I care is because it closes off opportunities for my artists. While this is certainly not the case, why should it even matter? The supreme pool of female talent across Australia is competition enough for a full festival lineup, let alone the four or five slots seemingly allocated to women on many of these lineups. We need to support women in music, we need to encourage that talent, and just enjoying/playing/promoting these ladies is not enough.

Don’t just book female artists because they’re female. Don’t just book females as a novelty. This would be a mistake. Respect that these women are talented, interesting and bright lights shining for younger women interested in creating music. Give them a platform, be aware of your lineups as you are booking them. If there is a heavy imbalance either way, be proactive in adjusting it. There’s no lack of brilliant artists to allow one to do so without compromising the strength of one’s lineup.

I have challenged this festival to do something to right this wrong and have a largely female second announcement. While I highly doubt this will occur, I will surely be keeping a keen eye on what they do next.