Festivals: Female Artist Phobic?

By Ian Malcolm, photography by Daniel Lim

If you take a look at the photo from this year’s Listen Out Festival that accompanies this article, you’ll notice it’s one of Australian hip hop’s fastest rising stars – Tkay Maidza. Already coined as our own Azealia Banks (although I will argue she’s already surpassed that particular artist if not in talent, definitely in attitude), Maidza was the only female artist to grace the 2014 Listen Out touring lineup. Sure, there were some local acts in each state of the female DJ variety, but for the purpose of this article we’ll just be looking at the headline artists, the ones put on the bill to try and get you to buy a ticket.

The headline touring party for Listen Out featured 15 artists, of which only one (Maidza) was female, with UK – male – duo Bondax’s live show also featuring a female vocalist. Funnily enough, Maidza wasn’t even originally announced to be joining the festival, only being added to the lineup (along with Sydney producer Kilter) following the departure of American rapper YG. While Listen Out’s lineup is definitely a lot smaller compared to larger touring festivals (and this article isn’t here to just bash that particular event), it is endemic of Australia (and the world)’s music festival culture.

The upcoming Stereosonic Festival features just over 70 international and Australian acts, of which females make up 7% (Alison Wonderland, Nina Las Vegas, Nervo, Tigerlily and Nina Kraviz), which sits at just above average for the percentage of female performers on US dance music festival bills. While it is up from just 2.5% last year (on a lineup that also featured Nina Las Vegas), it’s still a pretty paltry number, which begs the question – are female producers/DJs being ignored by festivals, or are there just none worth booking?

When you look outside of the dance realms, numbers do fair a little better. The recently announced St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival 2015 lineup has a roughly 30% ratio of female – or female-featuring acts – on the lineup (it varies from state to state). This number is actually up from last year, although it was Laneway’s 2014 female stars Lorde and HAIM who took top billing to close the festival out.

So is it just the lasting effects of sexism in the industry – which of course still run strong today as a way for female artists to gain a leg-up at the behest of credibility? (Looking at you, Miley.) Or will dance music festivals begin to follow suit with the larger, broader-genre festivals like St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival and Splendour In The Grass, and start giving more female producers and DJs a chance?

With DJing and production becoming less-and-less the boys club it has been in the past, the door is being opened wider and wider to a larger section of people. It’s really now up to the industry, the punters, and young artists themselves to stand up and be counted – it doesn’t matter what you’re packing in your pants, if you’ve got the skills to back it up there’s no reason you don’t deserve a place on any one of these festival lineups.

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Metior Magazine