Sad Grrrls Fest comes to Melbourne!3 May 2016
Sad Grrrls Fest, Australia’s largest female-fronted music festival, released the lineups for their Sydney and Melbourne festivals yesterday. The festivals will take place in the first two weeks of October and require all bands featured to have at least one non-male member. Headliners Jaala, Camp Cope and Jess Ribiero in Melbourne and La Pie, Coda Conduct and Twin Caverns in Sydney make up just part of the incredibly diverse lineups that boast over 50 female and non-binary musicians. Organised by DIY record label and booking agency Sad Grrrls Club, the festival is showcasing local talent in a way that aims to be inclusive of all genders, sexual orientations, races and religions. The festival aims to promote gender diversity in the Australian music scene, and to make women and non-binary people feel comfortable both on stage and in the audience at music festivals. Farrago spoke to the festival’s founder and manager Rachel Maria Cox about women and non-binary people in the music industry, and the barriers they have to overcome.
Why did you decide to launch Sad Grrrls Fest and what is the festival all about?
Sad Grrrls Fest was launched last year. It started off as my own small plan and it just snowballed. The original idea was to just do a tour with myself and Ess-Em in 2015 and play with all our awesome female and non-binary friends who were also making music. It just grew from there and when more people started to hear about it in Sydney we realised it needed to be a bigger show. So that turned into Sad Grrrls Fest 2015, which was a two-day festival in Sydney. When I looked at developing the event further for 2016, I decided it would be better to try and pool resources and pull off both a one-day festival in Melbourne and a one-day festival in Sydney, which would showcase predominantly local artists in each city. It’s all about showing people there is all this amazing talent from female & non-binary musicians right on their doorstep, that music doesn’t just have to be a bunch of dudes, and about encouraging everyone to promote safety, inclusivity and respect at live music events.
What do you think are some of the barriers facing young women trying to break into the music industry and how do we overcome them?
I think there are two main kinds of barriers that end up combining to prevent more women from getting into music as a career. The external barriers are things like genuine sexism and discrimination in the industry, risk and fear of sexual harassment, just the general culture that can invalidate non-male musicians. The fact is that it’s very tiring to work in an industry if you’re constantly being belittled, patronised, or downright ignored, because you have to work a lot harder than your male colleagues. This is a particular issue not just with musicians but with sound technicians and audio engineering, and I’ve heard a lot of anecdotes time and time again that all boil down to this.
The internal barriers are things like lack of confidence. There have been so many studies that show women in the workplace apologise more, are less likely to move up into higher-paid positions, and have difficulty negotiating higher rates of pay for themselves even if they feel they deserve it. This happens a lot in music too – so many female musicians I know preface asking for anything with an apology, even I am guilty of this, even when it is something they have every right to ask for, like getting paid! And instead of just telling women “stop apologising so much” and “stand up for yourself”, a better thing to do is ask: “Why do we feel the need to act this way?” I think this comes back in the end to the external and cultural perceptions of female musicians. For instance, I noticed that when I was organising the Sad Grrrls Fest I prefaced a lot of requests for confirmation with “Sorry to bother you”, and upon reflection I realised I do this because I don’t want to seem bossy or like a nag. But my male employers frequently ask for things without apologising first, so why should I?
At the end of the day it comes down to a few simple steps to start to overcome the barriers and that’s supporting and encouraging women & non-binary musicians, paying them for their work, and for men especially, taking us seriously.
A lot of female artists and all-girl bands have come out of Melbourne in the past few years like Camp Cope, Mangelwurtzel and Empat Lima. Do you think the Melbourne music scene is accommodating for female musicians?
As someone who lives in Sydney and Newcastle, there’s certainly an element of the grass looking greener on the other side over in Melbourne. I think Melbourne has this really incredible live music scene in general that seems to have a lot of all-female and gender diverse bands coming out of it recently. There are also groups like LISTEN that are doing amazing work to promote gender diversity. I think there is still a long way to go everywhere and Melbourne is not exempt from some of the problems the country (and world) has with gender diversity in music, but it definitely seems to be that there is a lot of positive change happening in Melbourne and a lot of really significant talent is coming out of it.
As seen with pop musician Kesha’s lawsuit earlier this year, young women are often put in situations where they’re working with older men in positions of power in the music industry. Do you think young women in music are more vulnerable because of their gender?
Yes, definitely. Certainly with most labels, recording studios, A&R departments, booking agencies, industry boards, like the ARIA board, and other industry businesses, the majority of people in senior positions in these businesses are male. So you do get female musicians coming into these places and working under male direction. This doesn’t necessarily mean of course that all of these men in positions of power are going to deliberately abuse that power as we saw in Dr Luke’s case, but there is certainly the potential for young women to try and please these men in higher positions in order to further their career rather than standing up for themselves as an artist, which could mean changing their look, their sound, their lyrics. So while I hope that instances of abuse between male producers or label execs and young female musicians are very rare, it does make sense that younger women would try and impress men in positions of authority to try and further their careers.
I think sexual assault and harassment in the music scene is a huge topic though. It’s so commonplace at shows that it honestly makes me sick sometimes and I think that young women are definitely more vulnerable to that sort of behaviour too, where it’s not necessarily coming from men in positions of power over them but it is coming from male musicians.
Apart from gender, how did you incorporate diversity into the lineup for Sad Grrrls Fest?
One of the things that I tried to do is incorporate as many different non-male voices as possible for the event. So when it comes to gender diversity I want to make sure that women, trans women and non-binary people are all included as much as possible. This year I also actively sought out performers from different cultural backgrounds and also performers with disabilities although in the case of the Melbourne festival, a number of clashes and other factors meant that this was not realised nearly as much as I would have liked, but I am very aware that the event should have far more cultural diversity than it does this year.
There’s a mix of genres, ages and career stages in this festival though so I think there is a varied and diverse mix of voices and experiences. Hopefully people agree.
Women’s music is underrepresented on radio and in festival lineups across Australia. Why do you think women only make up 26 per cent of Australian music festival lineups?
I think it’s all got to do with those external and internal barriers I mentioned before. Fewer women and non-binary people are pursuing music as a career to start with, and then fewer still stick it out because it’s not the easiest industry to be in, and so it all trickles down until you’re left with not a lot of women at those higher levels. I actually did the math, and while an average of 26 per cent of acts at festivals are either solo women or bands with at least one woman in them, it’s actually more like 15 per cent of total performers who are women.
I also think, especially with independent music listeners, there is a tendency to take women’s music less seriously than men’s. I’ve noticed a lot of people getting up in arms the last few days about how Beyoncé and Taylor Swift don’t belong on Triple J because they’re pop artists, and I also noticed that no one brought that up when it was Macklemore, or Mark Ronson, or Kendrick Lamar, or Calvin Harris. And sure, maybe you feel that Triple J should focus on independent artists rather than commercial acts, but it also happened last year when it became commonplace to see someone complaining about Courtney Barnett winning a bucketload of awards, but not Tame Impala.
The lineup for Sad Grrrls Fest was released on Monday. Who are you most excited about and would you recommend keeping an eye out for at the festival?
Obviously Camp Cope have had a massive year and are only going to keep getting bigger with a lot more in the works between now and Sad Grrrls Fest. I’m very excited to have Simona Castricum, who is one of my idols in the way she has claimed her gender identity and personal history with mental illness in her music. Claws & Organs and Dark Fair are also definitely bands to go and listen to if you haven’t already, and Dogood is still relatively new but has made some waves with her first three singles already. Honestly, I can’t wait to see everyone. My favourite thing about Sad Grrrls Fest is I get to put on my dream lineup!