“It’s another man telling us we can’t fill up the room,” Camp Cope sing on their track “The Opener”. For women in the music industry, this experience is all too common. Massive festivals like Splendour in the Grass and Falls Festival consistently deliver male dominated lineups, and sexual harassment at these events has become a significant risk for women. In the wake of the #metoo campaign, and the explosion of accusations in Hollywood, the Australian music industry is at a defining point in it’s treatment of women. With women being systematically disadvantaged in the industry, it’s up to us to create our own opportunities and amplify our own voices. Female led collectives such as Sad Grrrls Club and Electric Lady are needed now more than ever to disrupt the status quo for women in music.
Someone who knows all about disrupting the status quo is musician and creator of Sad Grrrls Club, Rachel Maria Cox. This collective of women and gender diverse musicians For Rachel, creating opportunities for under-represented people in the industry is key to the success of their events.
“The main aim for me when I’m curating the festival are these three core values I have which are safety, inclusivity and diversity,” Rachel said about Sad Grrrls Fest, the collective’s flagship event.
It’s no secret that the voices of women in the industry are sorely underrepresented. According to the University of Sydney’s Skipping a Beat report, female musicians consistently earn less then men, are often outnumbered by men in festival lineups, and frequently receive less airplay on Australian radio. With the rise of the #metoo movement, and more locally the #menomore initiative, the discussion can no longer be simply about the consequences of sexism in the industry, but must tackle head on the cause for this gender disparity, and that is the systematic sexism and harassment in the workplace.
“A big thing that’s getting talked about now, especially with #menomore, is that feeling of actually being safe at a show and feeling safe at a venue, as someone who’s there in attendance feeling like it’s a place to be yourself. You’re not going to get groped or assaulted in the pit. As an artist, you’re not going to be disrespected or treated as a second grade musician because of your gender. So it’s creating a sense of safety for people who may otherwise not go to gigs for reasons like that.”
For many women, sexual harassment and at times assault are common place in gigs and festivals. The recent arrest of a man at Falls Festival for sexual assault is a step in the right direction, but often reporting offenders is difficult in a highly crowded environment such as a music festival. One woman taking a stand against this “dickhead culture” at gigs and festivals is Holly Rankin (a.k.a Jack River), whose group Electric Lady are putting safety to the forefront of their gigs.
“Creating a culture and voice for your event through social media and being really specific and repetitive about your own event culture is so important. We found with Electric Lady, because we spent months in the lead up to the first event creating a culture of respect and inclusivity, we didn’t have any dickheads at the event, and people were so fucking happy.”
Electric Lady World is a “platform to amplify the strength of women in music, politics, science, sport and beyond”. The movement started as an all-female band night, and evolved to include a range of different industries through their interviews with groundbreaking women. The idea for Electric Lady came to Holly during the first whisperings of the movement we see today.
“In 2016 we had the women’s marches, and this feeling was brewing within industries everywhere. I thought ‘what can I do in my industry to change things?'”
So why exactly are women and trans led projects so important to changing the status quo? The main reason is visibility. It’s difficult to succeed in a business that’s overwhelmingly occupied my men, not only as musicians, but in management roles as well.
“When it comes to the industry level, the biggest thing is the number of women and trans/queer/non binary women who have to work 10 times harder for 10 times longer to be respected at the same level as their male peers,” says Rachel.
“I think that’s why the gender divide carries through, because it’s such a hard slog to reach a level where you are respected in the industry. It’s exhausting to constantly feel like you have to prove yourself to the people around you. It’s so exhausting that it impedes upon your ability to be creative.”
“I would love women to feel absolutely comfortable to be themselves, and when you empower someone to be themselves, they will change the world,” says Holly.
“Theres a long way to go for women in the music industry to feel like that. There are so many amazing women working in the Australian music industry, we’re all working together and we’re all conscious of how much work we need to do to make sure every young boy and girl that comes up through our industry is supported and can see themselves in those high positions. Hopefully within the next 5 to 10 years we will see women heading up labels and we’ll see great, real music from real people.”
The unfortunate truth is that all female festivals are needed to promote this visibility. Often, small festivals will have all male lineups, and bigger festivals will book only male headliners, saving female fronted acts for the earlier slots and smaller stages. For the future of the music industry to truly include women and trans people, inclusivity needs to become second nature. For Electric Lady and Sad Grrrls Club, the ultimate goal is to not have to put on all female and trans shows.
“I would love to see musicians respected in their own right,” says Rachel.
“Right now the conversation is very loud about making gender diverse lineups, and that is so important. I would like to get to the point where we don’t have to have that conversation anymore, where that is just the default. Where we don’t just let the Weinstein momentum die down, we actually realise what behaviour is or isn’t acceptable at shows and I’d like to see the creation of a music industry where people don’t have to worry about their safety, they don’t have to worry about being respected and they can just get on with making really good music.”