The panel discussion was written up by Monica Tan for The Guardian.
The panel was really thought provoking and luckily I remembered to record it. A transcript is below.
The Great Imbalance
From festival line-ups to radio playlists, music prizes, venue bookings and ‘Record of The Year’ listicles – music curation takes many forms. We know women musicians are under-represented across all these forms. They are also under-represented as those making the decisions: as radio hosts, music writers, label heads, bookers and board members. In this panel we’ll avoid chicken-or-egg debates or giving the same old myths another airing.
Let the stats speak for themselves – there’s a great imbalance in music. How can we level it out? What works? What doesn’t? What are some first steps that individual influencers can take? Industry players? Co-presented by LISTEN, we bring together musicians, journalists,
Kate Hennessy – KH
Evelyn Morris – EM
Evelyn Morris formed Pikelet in 2007 and has released three full-length albums, all of which have received great critical acclaim. In addition to touring the USA and Europe, Pikelet has appeared at several festivals – including Golden Plains, Melbourne International Arts Festival and Mofo – and has supported a wide range of international artists such as Sufjan Stevens, Goldfrapp, Devendra Banhart, and more.
Hannah Fox – HF
Hannah Fox has been a Creative Producer, Designer and Curator for a number of Festivals all around the world, across the last 15 years. Her work has crossed over between design and programming, artist management and art direction. Working in partnership with music curator Tom Supple, their key focus is now collaborating with Creative Director, Leigh Carmichael, on delivering the creative ambitions of MONA Museum’s winter festival, Dark Mofo, in Hobart.
Laura Snapes – LS
Laura is a contributing editor at Pitchfork,writing and editing across the site and the print,Review. She is also a freelance writer for Uncut,NME, TheGuardian, The Observer and The Financial Times, among others.
Adam Lewis – AL
Adam Lewis is a Sydney-based music booker. For the past two years he has been Festival Programmer for SecretGarden Festival, a boutique camping festival outside of Sydney. Outside of the festival, he oversees entertainment for over twentyvenues as Entertainment Manager for Solotel, and is a board member of FBi Radio.He’s also hosted various radio programs for FBi, thrown gigs and parties in venues around Sydney, and can often be found writing and playing DJ sets.
Julia Wilson – JW
Every year BIGSOUND invites 100+ national and international speakers to share their expertise and talents. Speakers come from all areas of the industry including record labels, publishing companies, booking agents, music media, artist management, legal firms, festivals, studios, industry associations and more.
Danni Zuvela – DZ
Danni Zuvela is theArtistic Director, along with Joel Stern, of LiquidArchitecture – an organisation for artists working with sound. LAinvestigates the sounds themselves but also the ideas communicated about, and the meaning of, sound. Their program stages encounters and creates spaces for sonic experience, critical reflection on sonority, and systems of sonic affect. To do this, theyhost provocative and engaging experiences at the intersection of contemporaryart and experimental music, supporting artists to produce performances and concerts, exhibitions, talks, reading groups,workshops and recordings in art spaces, music venues and other sites
KH: The way I thought I’d begin today’s session is a bit unorthodox because it said in the blurb we weren’t going to give all those old myths another airing, but in fact we are. We’re going to do just that for a while.
So, I wrote an article this year for the Guardian about the lack of women, or the gender imbalance between men and women on festival line-ups. I wasn’t the first person to write that article. There have been a lot of them over the years. So, what I spent time doing was trawling all of the threads and all of the comments and basically, most of those comments are written by people who are really pissed off that you even raised the issue in the first place. But even then, there’s billions of comments. I noticed that most of them can be boiled down to four key things or objections or myths or statements.
So, what we’re going to do now is quickly air those and I’m going to throw them at some of our panel members here and we’re going to see what they say. So, that’s how we’re starting. The first one (and this a really common one you’ll all recognise) is there are less women making music, which means less women on festival stages. So, there are less women picking up guitars, there’s less women in bands. It’s the proportional representation argument. Julia, what would you say to that?
JW: Well, I would disagree with that obviously because I sign a lot of female artists and I can’t quite comprehend where that comes from, apart from maybe the lack of support that female artists receive.
JW: But I don’t believe that’s the case whatsoever. To the point where I was creating a compilation and it just happened to evolve into a predominantly female mixtape purely because that was the music that I was finding and enjoying. It wasn’t an intentional thing. It was just a natural progression, so that’s, to me, offensive and annoying. It’s just plainly untrue as well because they are there, you just have to find them. This is a whole other Australian thing.
KH: It is a really common one we hear, isn’t it? That there’s not as many women out there but hopefully we’ve put that one to bed now. So, the next one you hear all the time is that festivals need to make money. It’s a really big financial risk. Show me a woman that draws the crowds and sure, I’ll put her on the bills. You hear that one a lot, especially from the major commercial music festivals. And I thought we’d see what Hannah Fox thinks about it.
HF: I find it quite difficult to talk about this issue without talking about gender imbalance in the music industry generally. It’s not really just down to music festivals or labels or any particular area and going into sexism since the beginning of time, but I’ll try and stay on track. I think really what we’re referring to when we hear those comments about music as business and the perceived lack of female headliners to support all that kind of business really relates to big, large-scale, commercial music festivals.
Essentially, they are big business. It’s no longer something that symbolises counterculture. They’re massive companies who need to return a profit to their shareholders. They are aligned with major corporations and brands. They’re essentially in the business of selling access to youth culture. It’s difficult because not only are they often the biggest culprits at the most extreme levels of gender imbalance happening in music line-ups, but they’re also the least likely to change for ideological reasons. Awareness is not really enough when it comes to those organisations. They’re commercially driven and that’s why they’ll change if they change.
They’re also the biggest influences, they’re seen as the model of success. They’re the big guy and the little guys look to them for how to do it. I think my kneejerk reaction to that is we’ll just reject them. They’re just horrible shitfights full of idiots in fluoro singlets taking selfies in front of the bands we don’t even know the name of. Just reject them, that’s my personal take. They are on the other side of the coin, they’re big part of the chain. They’re a big part of the picture and they do have a huge economic impact to artists. Those kind of offers can anchor a tour, they can pay for a record, they can really put a career on the map.
KH: They’re also really popular for young people.
HF: That’s right. They can be a real game-changer. Arguably, playing Coachella, or Brochella as you put it earlier on (what’s the Glastonbury one going to be?), can be as important for public perception of an artist as winning an award. Completely doing away with them is probably not realistic just because I say so. And also, they’re a bit of a necessary evil. So, no, I don’t think it’s a myth that festivals need to make money, but yes, I do think it’s a myth that dramatically increasing the numbers of female artists would somehow massively financially undermine them. I just don’t believe that’s true.
KH: That leads really well into the next one, which we are hoping Evelyn is going to take on. These are kind of linked. It’s difficult because these things I’m reading out are jingoistic, they’re sort of like “STOP THE BOATS.” And the response to “Stop the boats” isn’t three words. That’s really difficult and that’s what I’m asking you guys to do, so I know it’s tough. It’s almost like the criticisms are really bitey as we saw, but the answer isn’t so simple. So I just wanted to put that out there.
But, the next one: there’s a perception absolutely out there that having or programming a lot of women or even just women on your line-up is somehow risky and you’re a bit of a legend for doing it because you’re somehow taking a risk. So, Evelyn Morris is going to talk to that one.
EM: I think that does tie in nicely to the financial aspect because if it is a risk, perhaps it can be a selling point. Perhaps you can market yourself as being a responsible provider of culture that’s representative and that can be something that draws more people to your festival. Audiences are fairly equally male/female and diverse in terms of gender. It’s not really a case that it’s lots of dudes going to festivals. It’s really evenly split, so I don’t think marketing towards women is a risky move at all. I just think it’s ridiculous, I don’t want to spend too much time on it. It’s silly.
KH: Are we done on that one then? Can we all agree that if someone says that to you next time, that it’s a risk, that it’s not. OK, so we’re done.
EM: It’s also perpetuating a misogynist perspective, creating this idea that women’s music is less than and not as valuable and doesn’t communicate as well to people. It’s a perpetuation of a misogynist quality.
KH: Like it’s some sort of charity project.
KH: Yeah, that sucks. The next one is something that’s not so much a myth, but it’s something you see a lot from pissed off guys on the threads. It’s very sullen and that one is: “Well, if you don’t fucking like it, boycott the festival. Don’t come, go make your own festival.” We hear that a lot. What we would say to that one, Danni?
DZ: I read that and I felt my blood pressure going up. You do hear it all the time, don’t you? I think it’s really great to label it as a ‘sullen’ conversation closer and like, “thanks, dude, for the hospital pass.” Who wants to have a conversation after something like that? But there are lots of great ways you can respond to that one. One of the best ways I’ve seen is actually from the comments thread from Kate’s essay in the Guardian. She’s being very modest, it’s a really great essay and it’s had a bazillion reads and a bunch of comments. She’s very brave for reading through them. If you do check it out, it’s called ‘Where music festival stages are stacked in favour of men, it’s bad news for everyone’. It’s a really good read.
But, one of the comments to precisely that kind of sullen conversation closer — “don’t like it, don’t go” — was some young woman wrote in saying this sounds a lot like you’re defending a boys only space and avoiding having to make any efforts to change anything at all out of laziness and/or being unable or not wanting to see it from the point of view of the other half of the population because you are privileged in this situation as you probably are in most situations and want to keep it that way. Why shouldn’t women be welcomed and accommodated into the rock music space?
And what’s so great about that response is it kind of does it all in the one response and we can boil that down further the way Kate has boiled down the objections to the four myths and can boil that one down to this comment is coming from a place of laziness, which is in itself probably overdetermined by privilege. So,what we should try to do instead to counter that is to welcome women into the rock music space so that we can create a space for them within something that everybody, both genders, wants to join.
KH: Yeah, that’s our “Stop our boats”. Good one, thank you. They’re the main four. That’s given you a bit of grounding the next time you’re reading those comments and you’re thinking in your head, “Is this right? Is this true? Are these real things?” So, anyway, we haven’t heard yet from Laura, who came all the way from the UK to be here today.
So, we’re going to begin with her. A bit of a prelude: Laura is a music writer, a woman music writer, although she wouldn’t want me to say that at the beginning — she’s just a music writer. Just to bring it back to Australia for a second to place this: I did an informal count with a publicist called Karen Conrad, who’s also involved in LISTEN, of the Australian music media on her mailing list. She’s been in it for a long time; she’s got a really exhaustive mailing list of music writers and editors in Australia. And that indicates currently about 80% of the major reviewers and feature writers in Australia are men, leaving about 20% as women and this includes street press, papers, the lot.
So, it’s not great. Women as music editors are even scarcer. While there are notable exceptions, so there are some music editors who are women, often their editor-in-chief or their managing editor or their publisher is a guy. Just to establish what it’s like in Australia.
Laura, you’re from the UK and you’ve had a great career that’s progressed into quite senior roles in the music media. I want to hear a little bit about what it’s like in the UK, but first, to go to something quite topical. Earlier this year you ran a story about Mark Kozelek. I don’t know if you guys heard about this. So, Mark Kozelek is the guy from Sun Kil Moon, and this story went viral because basically went happened, and correct me if I’m wrong Laura, is Laura requested a face-to-face interview with Mark which he refused. He then sent a fairly unusually abusive email then when Laura went to speak to other people who knew Mark to flesh out her feature article, he took that very badly, found out about it, and unbeknownst to Laura, at a gig at the Barbican in London, which is a really big venue, he sang a song about her and I’m going to read from that now. This is on stage. “Laura Snapes totally wants to fuck me. Get in line, bitch. Laura Snapes totally wants to have my babies.” The most shocking thing for me — and I’m sorry to bring it up straight away, Laura — about this is that people cheered and applauded. Was that shocking for you too, Laura?
LS: I guess in a way, but in the context of the gig when someone pulls a stunt like that on stage, I think it is a pretty normal way for people to behave because they don’t know what the context is or what the joke is or what exactly he’s sending up. So I wouldn’t probably blame the audience. I’ve heard the audio, I forget what the audio sounds like. But my friend who told me about it straight after the gig, he was like, it was quite a lot of nervous laughter.
That’s not what really surprises me about it most. The thing that surprised me about it most is that once I wrote that piece for the Guardian, people thought I deserved it because they thought I’d been stalking him because I tried to talk to his associates but that’s just what you do when you’re trying to write a good profile. You talk to people. It wasn’t like I was ringing up his poor, old mum being like, “oi, so, right, tell me about those Scrabble games you played with your son.” It was like bringing up his collaborators, and people who’d worked with him in the past. A lot of them were very happy to participate, a couple of them said no but that was fine. I wasn’t digging, like “tell me what an awful man this guy is.” It was just like, “what do you like about his work? Why do you think he’s seen this resurgence? What’s he like as a collaborator?” Very open journalistic things.
KH: Totally orthodox music journalism.
KH: So, how did you feel about what happened?
LS: Well, being labelled a stalker, that was repeated again and again throughout the comments under that Guardian piece and I kept looking at what people were saying about it on Twitter and stuff. That was pretty irritating because there’s no way you can convince them otherwise. In general about what happened, he had been one of my favourite musicians since I was about 17. Not that I think he owes me a single thing, but I’d never written a bad thing about him.
I must have reviewed half a dozen of his billion boring live albums and said nice things about them because I thought he was a funny guy and the best part about those live albums is the banter in between where he could be quite funny without being abusive. It was kind of galling, it was just infuriating. But when I wrote the piece I tried really hard to make sure that it didn’t come across upset or angry and I still treated him work with the respect that I would have if he had cooperated and we’d had a nice interview. I wanted to kill him with grace.
KH: You basically just said what happened and then moved to the profile you were researching. It was very professionally managed. But, as a music writer, was this incident with Mark, was that a total anomaly or have you faced sexism?
LS: From bands, pretty much nothing ever before. I used to work at NME, and there were the NME Awards, and once I got a bit felt up, that was pretty disgusting. And once on the phone in a phone interview, this guy was like “I’ve got your number, I’m going to ring you.” I was like, “If you do it, I’ll to tell your manager. Don’t do that.” But otherwise, not from bands really.
KH: We’ve painted the picture of what it’s like here in Australia and I’m a music writer and I can absolutely tell you it’s a boys club. Is it like that in the UK? What’s the lay of the land?
LS: A lot of senior editors in newspapers or editors of music magazines, they are mostly men. In terms of actual writers, there’s an enormous amount of female representation. I’d say all of the good young music journalists in the UK are women, there are no good young male ones.
KH: Tweet that. Why are they better? Why are they good?
LS: They’re not trying to retread the same, old script or trying to puff themselves up as mini-Lester Bangs. The amount of emails I get from young men who are like, “yeah, I’ve decided to pursue a gonzo style” and it’s like “good luck with that.”
KH: Is there male gonzo and female gonzo though?
LS: I think women just have a good sense not to rehash that. I don’t know why it is. It’s just there’s a lot of very poor young male music writers in the UK and all of the exciting young ones are women.
KH:I love that. That’s excellent. That gives us hope. Thank you. Hopefully, we’ll get back to you a little bit later in the panel as well but we have to keep trotting along here. So, Adam, you book Secret Garden Festival and this year’s line-up, the festival in February, had around one third of acts led by women with more women amid other bands too. So, Adam apparently did the impossible according to the comments.
You’ve also mentioned, Adam, as the booker of this festival, you didn’t make a concerted effort. So, how did it happen?
AL: It’s funny when you ask me about this because I felt to a degree like I was reverse engineering the ethos behind the festival and I think it’s definitely something it was a way of creating an open, and a diverse, and an interesting environment. With Secret Garden Festival, my real approach and my real passion is to try and just bring a kind of diversity of experience, both in terms of background and actually what happens on the stages and in the audience in the festival.
A real mix of genre, of approach and just really give people a sense of discovery to it. And so, for me just booking along those lines and with my own personal taste in music and what I want to share with people, inevitably it just had this diversity of experience. Now, there’s times booking a festival where you look at a stage and you say, OK, this is definitely a bro-y afternoon run and we want to mix this up a little bit. This doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Secret Garden has such an incredible team from Clare Downes, our festival director, and full of really engaging and passionate and really visionary men and women.
KH: So, you’re saying it happened as a result of open-minded programming in terms of the experience you wanted to offer the people coming to the festival, but it also happened because you’ve got a diverse organisation? Is that what you’re saying?
AL: Exactly right. Just in terms of what we want to achieve and also just the place that it comes from, having diversity and not having a monoculture in the ranks, it is reflected in the crowd and on the stages. I think Secret Garden as a festival is really well set-up from its origins to be able to facilitate that kind of experience. We’ve never had hard discussions around a table saying, “oh, we need to work on our representation.”
KH: Like a quota or something like that?
AL: Exactly right.
KH: So, how do you feel about quotas? I know you didn’t need them, but if you were advising other festivals that weren’t quite having the success you had, could quotas be something that would work?
AL: I think they can. I’m cautious with them, just making it on a very arbitrary basis from my point of view as a booker. I think you really want to be passionate about what you’re booking and it needs to work within that context. Certainly festivals that are well-established and that have been around for a long time – they might need to take time to make the wheels turn. They certainly have to work very actively and very mindfully at cultivating an atmosphere where that can happen. P
art of that is in what they put on stages, but part of that is also who they get overseeing all elements of the festival. There was the discussion earlier about the economic arguments and things like that to change culture. Because people go to see a handful of acts a lot of the time and then get exposed to a lot more, I think, festivals really do have this responsibility as cultural leaders within the music industry to steer that and Laneway this year is a fantastic example of that. They didn’t go out with a press release and say, “this year we’re featuring a lot of women on our stages” and turn it into a hook or selling point or a novelty. They just exercised it and the crowd were on board with it because over the years they’ve cultivated an environment where that can happen.
KH: It’s kind of like festivals want to own their influence when it suits them but not when it doesn’t.
AL : Exactly right.
KH: Ev, did you want to chip in there?
EM: I was just wondering if perhaps because Secret Garden is a charity. It’s a charity first of all, it’s not so much a capitalist endeavour, I wonder if that has …
AL: I think it does in a couple of ways. I was thinking about this just before we started. The festival started seven or eight years ago. Our director Clare Downes started it in support of somebody in her life, a woman that had meningococcal and basically need to raise a lot of money just to survive basically. The foundation of the festival was women helping women and it’s spiralled out from there and turned into a 5000 capacity festival. We support a range of charities.
So, I think that sense of those origins and the sense of generosity and support behind it definitely filters through. And the other token of that is we announced our lineup after we sell out, which I think is a really important difference to a lot of other festivals and does, I’ll admit, really give us a massive luxury in terms of our ability to steer that conversation in that direction.
KH: And it’s something more and more festivals, many successful festivals like we have in Australia, are increasingly able to do. Now we’re going to move on because we’ve got a few people to get through. Staying on the thread of festivals for a while, Hannah, you obviously have a really deep and ongoing involvement in Dark Mofo festival. We love it in Australia, don’t we? And you’ve been curating events for years. Now, are you leading by example too? Do you have a lot of women in your lineups?
HF: I think it’s varied from program to program. I think certainly when I sit down with Tom, my business partner, to start out on the very beginnings of a program, we absolutely consider gender and diversity and bringing a rich, deep experience with as many difference voices as possible. Looking at the previous programs as I did when I was preparing for this, there were some that were really balanced and there were some that really weren’t. I have to look at why that is.
KH: Do you think balance is important? Do you think it’s actually —?
KH: OK, why?
HF: From a cultural perspective more than anything, women’s voices are important and they need to be heard. For there to be this one-dimensional story being told, it’s a kind of half-truth or a half-baked creative vision.
KH: So, it’s not complete?
HF: No, your role as a festival, as Adam was saying, is to try and bring this diversity of worldviews so that hopefully you can impact and broaden the worldviews of others. That’s really to me the point, particularly if you’re operating on an international scale.
KH: You’ve had some challenges with that though, haven’t you? Because you’ve got quite a specialist, niche curation approach. Tell us about your challenges too.
HF: Programming women in say, black metal can be challenging or particular genre briefs that we get, sometimes they’re just really broad and vague. Working with Lee Carmichael at Dark Mofo, we might get a brief that says ‘I want music that evokes the sound of a storm’. Suddenly, gender and all those things, all those little amazing little lists that you start with, just go out the window. You just start thinking about the Dirty Three or whatever.
KH: What about the whole thing that we also hear as a bit of a defence, “oh, I asked a woman and she said no, so I asked another woman and she wasn’t available.” Is that a real thing? Do you sometimes just get to the end of your list?
HF: Sure, that can be part of the process, but I think for me, hearing this conversation come up again and again, particularly in recent times, in the last couple of years, and LISTEN have been very instrumental in having that conversation ongoing out there, has made me really think about it more. The process is starting out with say 100 names and you’ve got this vision, this idea and as you go through all of your logistical, financial and artistic constraints, you’ll cross out 95 of them and the 5 that are left are not necessarily representative of this beautiful picture that you started with. What I’ve tried to do since thinking about it and considering it more deeply is really thinking about that at every juncture of the process, that good intentions aren’t enough. Most people in this room have good intentions about this stuff. You really actually have to bring some focus to achieve it in the final results.
KH: It’s about the outcome, not the process to get there.
HF: Yeah. That process can go across a three-year period, so it’s very easy to lose track of your initial threads and what you were setting out to do.
KH: So sorry to cut you off. We’ll get back to everyone hopefully towards the end. Thank you.
Speaking of people who’ve really tackled this issue as well, Danni, you’re co-director of Liquid Architecture, so you operate in the area of sound art and experimental music forms, which, face it, that has a pretty dire reputation in terms of women being involved. And I’m going to quote here from a review I once wrote for one of those shows, which was “poh-faced guys in hoodies squinting down at MacBooks.” So, Danni recognised this, she’s got eyes and she saw that Liquid Architecture, which is a very well-known and respected festival was becoming or had become a total dudefest, so she took the pretty radical step of upending it and programming a really solid component. It’s more than a component, really, called Feminist Methodology.
Before we hear from Danni about that, I just want to read, because I love this, I just want to read the description for one of these Feminist Methodology events. The event is called Rapture: “Rapture feeds on the intensity of women’s experience under white patriarchy. Using the conditions that perpetuate domination to enable us to collectively imagine the sounds of its dismantling.” Which I just think is fucking fantastic. It’s a really different way to talk about this stuff, right? So, tell us about Feminist Methodology.
DZ: Thank you. That night was rapturous. In fact, Evelyn played and did a really amazing performance on that night. We had two nights into a four-month long, four-night program at the moment, so where it really came from is a distillation of a lot of the ideas you’ve heard here on the panel today. Yes, experimental music is really dude-y, but we don’t have to just accept that and especially once you have a diverse organisation and we’re an organisation where one of the two artistic directors is a woman — that makes it a lot easier to say, we’re the ones to do something about it and if we’ve got this opportunity to put together programs then we can start from a place of not just acknowledging that imbalance but trying to do something really practical about it.
So, we called the series ‘What would a feminist methodology sound like?’ We gave that as a proposition to the artists and they’ve all responded in their different kinds of ways. Like I said, it’s four different nights and we pack as many acts as we can on the night so that we can hear as many different women’s voices as possible. We had some big discussions while we were programming it, of course, as it gets bigger and you’ve got more artists on the bill and you start thinking, “oh, but who have we not included? We can’t include everybody. Who do we exclude?”
KH: It was a bit controversial, wasn’t it, you taking this step? What happened?
DZ: Yes, I probably shouldn’t say this, but we actually did originally program two men into the show. That was because we hadn’t thought of it as an all women show, we thought of it as a show investigating the sound of feminism. Melbourne, where I work, is a city that likes to think it’s really intellectual and has a great engagement with feminism. There are plenty of guys who will happily tell you they’re feminist, it’s not seen as an embarrassing thing. The two male artists that we programmed, one of them was quite a senior artist, and another was an artist who’s very much associated with a lot of radical activity around particularly the Sydney Biennale boycott. Initially, that made sense because it was all part of what we thought would be quite a critical investigation and mix up what the idea of a feminist could be. As we went on, it started to feel really wrong. It felt really wrong because I had talked to a lot of women artists, including women like Evelyn. Not just like her, actually her. Who are running women’s music organisations and they talked to me about how for every man you include the program, that’s a space that could’ve been occupied by a woman. Isn’t it more powerful to have an all women show?
EM: It can be confusing, can’t it, to know what to do?
DZ: It was really confusing because I found myself in this really weird position of trying to argue that the men weren’t tokenistically included and that no, he’s not a token man because there is another man in the program. Look, there are at least two whole men in our program!
KH: Did those men stay in the program?
DZ: They were asked really politely if they would be part of a future iteration of the show.
KH: And they took that OK?
DZ: No … not really.
KH: I think what this really demonstrates and also the stuff you were talking about, Hannah, we don’t have any silver bullets. No one really knows exactly what to do about this. Sometimes we even feel like we’re doing the wrong thing even though we really care and we’re really engaged in making this better. You don’t always feel like you know exactly what the answer is. You have to just keep trying and keep experimenting and making mistakes and learning things like what you learned, which was that spot could’ve been filled by a woman. You learn, right?
EM: I want to say something about this particular festival as well, this particular series of shows. It brought a work out of me that I never would’ve done anywhere else as well. And sometimes when you’re curating based around a methodology or an ideology or an intention, you’ve got a communication going on with your curating and we talked a bit about that in the lead-up to it. I think it really changed the atmosphere of the show, and it changed the content completely as well. And it brought this really brave work out of me that was really hard to do.
I think that there’s something to be said for that idea that of course, you don’t want to go out and say, “oh, yeah, my festival is putting on all women and it’s amazing and I’m amazing for doing that.” But I do think carving out a space that is female or just gender diverse is productive. It changes the work, it changes the conversation and it can be a really important step.
KH: And creates new and amazing works. Evelyn, we had a chat recently and you were talking about how you went to Melbourne Film Festival and you saw heaps of films. And that was a bit of an epiphany for you in terms of what you saw to be the curation process for a film festival like that. Can you talk us through what you learned from that?
EM: While I was at the MIFF, I saw so many different films and a lot of them were about political situations in various other countries that I knew very little about and I learned a fair bit. It introduced me to a different history of feminism that I hadn’t seen before in one of the films called She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry. It’s really great, I recommend it. Almost every film I went to, I was like, wow, they’re really communicating something to me with this choice. They’ve chosen all of these films because they want to cover a lot of ground and they seemed to be carrying this responsibility. If you’re going to put on a film festival in Australia, you have to address the fact that there needs to be a lot of films about refugee experiences. There needs to be a lot of films about feminism. There needs to be a lot of films about people of colour, not just white people. They really took that on.
KH: So, socially aware?
EM: Yeah, it was weird that a film festival does that so naturally, but music just completely ignores that approach.
KH: Just absolves itself of that approach…
EM: And I was wondering why that was. I don’t have an answer, but I thought it was a really interesting question.
KH: I think it’s really pertinent. We expect that from our international film festivals. We expect that diversity. It’s better for the diversity. But for some reason, we don’t expect that of our music festivals.
EM: Yeah, it’s a much more rich experience obviously seeing a broad range of experiences. If you just see a bunch of films about people who are just like you, it’s pretty boring. I don’t know why that isn’t the same with music. I’d love to see “world music” be called just music and included. It doesn’t make sense to me that it’s so segregated in so many ways.
KH: OK, excellent. We’re going to move on to Julia because we haven’t really heard much from you yet. Julia, you are the founder of record label Rice Is Nice. You founded that in 2008?
JW: Yes, that’s right.
KH: OK. So, what proportion of your roster is women on the label?
JW: There’s 16 artists and ten of them are either female-led or have a female in the band. Again, I think it’s just been obviously something that’s fiercely important to me to support other women and Australian women as well. I must have been subconsciously going after that, but at the same time, I had the understanding, like “just do it”. If you want to be good at anything, you just put your head down, do it. Don’t have to talk about being a female. Don’t go in saying “I’m a female and I’ve got a record label, or I’m a female writer”. Just do it, don’t even acknowledge that.
But then I got to a point where I had a conversation with my friend, who said, “we are a minority and there are other women out there that maybe don’t have the same amount of confidence that you or I do or we do.” Half the people here that are in their bedrooms maybe trying to play but they’re not sharing with anybody and that needs to be acknowledged. I think I just struggle with this so much because it’s like, I don’t want to acknowledge it but at the same time, I understand that it’s really important to acknowledge it. Then you do, and then you get slammed.
KH: It’s two schools of thought. The tape you put out, the all women tape. Tell us about that.
JW: It’s just a cassette I created because I’m making mixtapes ‘cause I want to sign every band that I hear and I can’t because I have no money. So, I’ve just decided to put these compilations together so I can try and support it and then if we make any money from it, we give the money to charity. The second one I did, it was purely female. I don’t even want to say female because there are people that don’t relate to being female or male. I’m really cautious and I tried not to say female, but it got to a point where people were writing “all girl mixtape”. It just got really complicated. “All female mixtape” and I was like, yeah, well, it is, and that’s fine to me, but I feel like I might be upsetting somebody by talking about it in that way. But, that tape is awesome. All of those bands are incredible. They’re incredible artists and it’s not because they’re female. It was just because I kept finding all these great female musicians and I was like, this is just coincidence. That’s not a lie. There are so many artists.
KH: In terms of wanting to sign a lot of women and having a lot of women as part of Rice is Nice, did you have any challenges you came up against?
KH: Or was it smooth sailing?
JW: Yep. That’s the other say, obstacles and things like that, it’s like I haven’t really come across that many. I have found this band and they’re amazing and they’re doing incredible stuff. Thankfully, they have the ambition and confidence to do it. But I do think there should be more females. I’m searching now for more female content. I’m sure there are a lot of artists. I also don’t want to totally not sign male acts. I just want equality. I want to do male and female. I don’t want any of my male artists to now think, “Oh, Jules doesn’t want to put out any of my records.” Because that’s not the case at all. It’s like, just trying to find this balance or, just a general notion of support for artists. That’s what I want to do.
KH: That’s great. We’re glad you’re out there, Julia. Just really quickly back to Evelyn because obviously today is co-presented by LISTEN. I’m not sure if everyone here knows what LISTEN is and does. Sorry it’s late in the picture to get to this, but, Ev, can you just tell us what LISTEN is doing in relation to this topic?
EM: We’re an organisation that is documenting women and LGBTQI people’s experience of music and we’re also creating discourse around music, so things that need to be talked about can be talked about in the space that we create online. We’re also doing conferences and things like that so we can talk about it IRL.
KH: What we’re really talking about today is such pragmatic stuff. Do you sometimes feel like what LISTEN’s doing in terms of documenting is a bit abstract or do you really feel like it’s helping?
EM: I think ultimately any approach to unpicking patriarchy is going to have a certain level of “abstract” in it because we don’t know what we’re doing. We’re trying to shoot for something that doesn’t exist yet and we’re trying to create something outside of the structure.
KH: If it did exist, what would it look like?
EM: Well, that’s a good question. I don’t know. We certainly wouldn’t be having a panel asking why there aren’t more women on festivals to begin with. It’s unfathomable to me that we’re still doing this in 2015.
KH: Yeah, it’s a bit of a worry too that it’s just another fad issue and it’ll slide away again because that does happen.
EM: Probably, I probably won’t let that happen.
KH: Good, good.
EM: I don’t know what it’ll look like, but I do know I want to be able to speak about being feminist and not have that be an issue for anyone. I want to be able to say that I’m a proud female artist or not say that if I don’t want to. Not have to have all these questions around our experience. I don’t want all this extra noise. We all have so much extra noise because of the fact that we are in a minority position. If that’s the case for women, white women, it’s got to be worse for people of colour and people who are gender diverse, which is a far more difficult path to traverse through music as well.
KH: It feels like a big waste of time and energy sometimes.
EM: It is, and it would just be nice to just be able to get to the business of doing music. So, that’s why LISTEN exists. It’s just to make it so that we can air all that shit, get it out of the way and have it not be part of our everyday narrative.
KH: OK. I did want to leave some time for questions and we’ve got about 10 or 15 minutes. Before we do that, and I hope you’ve all got something to ask, but before we do that, I wanted to end things on a really pithy, pragmatic note, so at least you walk out of here with one thing stuck in your head. To that end, I asked the panelists to just give a tip related to the field they work in and the stuff they’ve talked out. What would they recommend to other people here who want to make a difference? I can’t believe I just used that cliché, but anyway. We’ll just go in order, I guess. Hannah?
HF: Mainly what I said before about considering this issue beyond your initial intention and that good intentions sometimes are not enough and you really actually have to think about it and create awareness about it on a day-to-day basis. The other thing is that I’m personally not someone who talks a lot online, I’m quite quiet on the internet. I have found it really helpful to actually just discuss this stuff with my colleagues, with my friends and with musicians particularly and I think that’s probably an area that doesn’t get enough airing on the industry side of actually talking to artists and finding out what their experience is like and where they’re finding blockages and how you can help.
KH: LISTEN is very helpful in that regard. I found it a great environment just to talk about some of this confusing stuff and ask the questions you’re too scared to ask, but ask other feminists who care. It’s a really nourishing environment to do that, so get involved. So, Danni?
DZ: I want to mangle a quote by Audre Lorde, who is an amazing feminist woman and we had a reading of her text, “The Uses of the Erotic” which you can easily track down online. That is to say, “We should use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house and build another one … with a stage and some speakers.” If you’re a festival director, you should go out there and be proactive and book more women and more diversity. If you’re an audience, you should give people feedback about what you enjoy about that. And those two things together are how we would build that house with the speakers and the stage and the skate ramp and whatever else we want to have there. We will only do it if we work from the inside. Inside out.
KH: Excellent. Ev?
EM: I would like to invite everybody to come to the LISTEN conference. It’s on the Oct 31 and Nov 1 in Melbourne in Northcote Town Hall. I have some brochures about it if you’d like one. That’s my tangible advice, engage with LISTEN, get involved and we have actually got another panel at 3:45pm called “Ask a Feminist (A Stupid Question)” so that we can get to more of the nitty gritty of these feminist issues. I’m going to leave you with that, just get involved with us or your local female group.
KH: Excellent. Adam?
AL: I think all of us, whether we’re writers or bookers or just fans who are sharing songs with other people online and things like that, we all play a symbiotic part in what culture goes out and what representation there is and things like that. I would say, regardless of what you do, just always chase new experiences, new perspectives and try to approach it outside of the status quo and what can often be a very ingrained, instruction monoculture. If everybody does that, whether it’s the music that you’re supporting financially, whether you’re the music you’re supporting by writing about it and booking it and all of that, if you can separate yourself from that existing and quite structured and quite narrow view of what is important music or popular music, I think that’s how these things break down. I think that’s important, whether you’re a fan or whether you’re at the top of the biggest festival in the world.
KH: It’s so true, and there’s riches to be found when you look, hey?
AL: Yeah, it’s so satisfying.
KH: Yeah, yeah. Excellent. Laura?
LS: In terms of festivals, and anything where you’re responsible for booking stuff that’s being presented to the public, I would say never categorise. If you are aiming to book a lot of women, never categorise it as “we booked a lot of women”. After the thing that started the whole festival debate — are there enough women at festivals — was a version of the Reading/Leeds poster with all the male acts blanked out. And I remember straight after that, a British festival called Bestival put out a poster which was like, “Look at all the women we’ve booked! Woo, aren’t we amazing?” And it’s like, what do you want, a medal? It’s basic common decency. So, don’t highlight it, highlighting only ghettoises it.
If you just let something pass through, if your 50 greatest guitarists of all time list contains two men, then that just normalises the idea that women are worthy of inclusion in this thing, it doesn’t separate them out from it. And then as for writers, any young women who want to get into music writing, just don’t go into it thinking, “I’m a young female music journalist”. You are just a music journalist and refuse to let anybody categorise yourself that way. If you’re ever offered opportunities that you can’t take, be sure to pass them along or recommend people in your position or other less privileged writers, just to make sure you’re always using your position to lift people up.
KH: So, you mean another woman music writer?
LS: Yeah, or anybody from a minority.
KH: I think nourishing younger people starting out in music writing, especially women, is so important because you tend to find that women music writers start at the same rate as men, but they drop out. But the men don’t. This is something I’ve noticed. Let’s stop them dropping out, that’s my tip. Julia?
JW: I don’t really know. I just think that being supportive is being incredibly important and not so aggressive, I think that’s important too. So, yeah, I don’t really know.
KH: You’ve offered lots of tips already. So, questions?
Q1: Hi, I’m Jane. I program a conference called EMC, the Electronic Music Conference. A very consistent challenge I’m facing right now is that there’s no shortage of very confident, capable, efficient and amazing women in this industry. There is an issue with confidence, of them actually being comfortable in a public speaking situation and I’ve lost count of how many times incredible women have actually declined the invitation because they’re afraid to do this. I wondered, is that because women are so used to helping out behind the scenes? Is that an issue that we can come together as a group to help crowdfund something that actually empowers someone with some tools and training to speak?
KH: Did everyone hear the question?
EM: So, yeah, the question was that one of the issues at EMC is that a lot of women feel like they’re not confident enough to speak on a panel. Is that right?
Q1: Pretty much, yeah.
EM: And how do we address that? The term we’ve been using for it is the confidence gap. It’s something worth acknowledging. It does actually really need to be something that you deal with on a person-to-person basis. That’s part of the reason LISTEN exists as well, is that we want to have a place where people can talk about that stuff. One of the panels we’re going to have at our conference is called “Nervous Systems” where we talk about overcoming the nerves and the feeling of inferiority that sometimes can go along with being in a minority. I think it is a matter of conversation, one-on-one, trying to get through that stuff. I also think there’s certain festivals I’ve been part of and certain events I’ve been part of where there is a little extra support for a lot of those artists that feel a bit more nervous and that’s a valid thing to do. You don’t want to make someone feel they’re like a baby, and you’re taking care of them, but you definitely want to address any concerns they’ve got ongoingly.
KH: Sometimes, you don’t need to do it for very long. Even a panel like this, once you’ve done one, you’re good to go. You can do the next 20. You can do the next few years. It’s just that initial stage for a lot of people. You had a question?
Q2: Yeah, it’s a bit of a strange question. Have you noticed and what do you think about the ways that women are put out there in that they have to be sexy and attractive to be on stage, to be musicians, to have that particular kind of face, or that sexualised image? I think there’s a real imbalance there with how women are expected to be seen versus how men are expected to be seen. Men can wear jeans and a T-shirt.
KH: Did everyone hear the question back there? So, essentially, she was asking about how women have to be seen as totally gorgeous to have the confidence to go on stage, and they’re sexualised, objectified. And your question was …
Q2: Is that true? Am I perceiving that or have you noticed that?
KH: OK, is that true? Who wants to take that one on?
EM: I’m just going to quickly extend that to beyond just appearance — behaviour as well. Mena are allowed to be leery, drunken, insane people and women are really singled out when that happens.
Q2: On stage?
EM: Yeah, quite often. I think it is a problem, I’ve noticed it. But, I also think getting around the idea of sexualisation is difficult as well because some people have a lot of agency in that. I’ll let some other people speak though.
KH: Anyone else?
HF: I guess really that exists in a very clear way in the more mainstream, commercial end of the market where if men had to be sexy but not too sexy, humble and more talented than Prince to be commercially viable, there’d be a fucking lot less of them.
KH: Yeah, there’s less points of cancellation. That’s such a good question, it kind of needs a whole panel. Anyone else?
Q3: How much of a problem is ageism? I feel like we see a lot of young women in music journalism and as musicians. It’s nice to be the ingénue, the fuckdoll in the band, but I feel like we’re not seeing women in their 30s and 40s as much. Do you think there’s the idea of an expiry date, and if you’re no longer hot, you don’t fit in anymore?
KH: I think that’s a thing fairly broadly. Female visibility above a certain age is incredibly poor and it’s not just in the arts, it’s in everything — politics, newsreaders. Who wants to talk about how we can solve that problem right now?
JW: It’s a huge concern for me. I think about it and I think about how I’m going to age-proof and sex-proof. I’m going to become redundant not just necessarily because I’m female, it’s just age and trying to be involved in contemporary things. That’s just a fact of life. But, I definitely think about it. What am I going to do? Am I going to try and build something and have staff and have younger staff so this thing can keep going and stay relevant? It’s a terrifying thing.
KH: Laura, you’re a music writer obviously. Do you ever fear that music writing is something for young people who are going to shows five times a week — maybe this is just me — and once you get over the point in your life where that’s viable or desirable, how do you feel like you’re going to operate?
LS: I think there is definitely a way you can operate as a journalist without going to shows every single night. I still go to a lot. But I do find that more women are told than men, “Oh, there will probably be a point where you’ll probably won’t want to write about this anymore. Maybe you want to write about some other stuff because you’ll get bored of this one day.” And it’s like, well, John Pill didn’t and he died just before he was 70. My editors at Uncut are men in their mid-40s. There’s no reason to assume that suddenly this thing that’s captivated you for most of your life so far is suddenly going to lose its appeal. I’m sure it does for some people, but I want to keep doing this until I’m dead.
KH: Excellent. Anyone else?
EM: I think it ties into the question of appearance for a lot of women. Older women are not seen as beautiful in our culture and it’s a shitty thing. I don’t know how you get around it. I think it’s a shitty thing, that’s all I got to say.
KH: We’ve probably got time for more one question.
Q4: My name’s Emma. I started my own music website last year because we were sick of answering to this guy who wasn’t doing any work. We’ve tried to encourage lots of features about women in music and things like that and every time we do it, we get so many comments from guys being like ‘This isn’t true, what are you talking about? There’s hundreds of women in music.” How do you get past that exhaustion when you’re like, I’m so exhausted from having to deal with that all the time? Putting yourself out there and trying to encourage other writers as well with our staff writers and contributors writing these amazing features and then getting totally torn down by these people.
KH: We’ve probably just got time for one person to bite that one off. Maybe just repeat the question.
LS: The question was about how do you deal with the constant bombardment of discouraging comments. When I was younger, I used to get a lot of disgusting stuff online. There’s no clear methodology of how to get past it. There just comes a point where you decide, I’m not going to let this affect me anymore. You just have to put it into this perspective and be like, this is a smelly, little worm in his mum’s basement leaving these comments. I’m out there, thriving, and I’m doing really good, really positive work. Look at the positive comments. You can turn them off, you don’t actually have to be accountable to people in that way and leave that space open. I don’t know if you ever go on the website Rookie. It’s an amazing site for teen girls, they have an amazing comments section. It’s very clear the guidelines for behaviour set out there. The community over there is really great and really supportive. You can turn it off, you can moderate it a little bit to encourage that kind of debate.
EM: I think also share the workload a little bit. With LISTEN, we’ve got a rotating roster of people that work in the organisation and when we get exhausted, we hand it over and we take a break. You will always get pushed back with certain issues, so it is important to just preserve your sustainable practice.
KH: OK, that’s it. That’s all we’ve got time for. Just to remind you, the Ask A Feminist is at 3:45pm today. Come along to that. Thanks!