The debate surrounding the issue of female representation in Australian music continues to rage. This time, the senior booker for Aussie bush doof Strawberry Fields has responded to critics after the event’s first round lineup featured no female acts.
The issue was brought to the forefront of Australia’s local industry dialogue last week after some, including triple j alumni KLP and Nina Las Vegas, criticised the organisers of Spilt Milk festival for booking just one female amongst its lineup of 16 acts.
Responding to Strawberry’s all-male lineup, Facebook user Kate Pern took to the event’s official page to write, “Cool all-male lineup so far bros.” Pern accompanied her post with an image of the Strawberry Fields logo donning a fedora.
Pern’s post racked up more than 350 likes and numerous comments, with many echoing her sentiment. “So far so absolutely not good enough, Strawberry Fields,” one user wrote, prompting a response from Strawberry brass who quoted their senior booker, a female.
“When we were booking the first round this year we looked [at] a bunch of major female talent – in the end all of them were either unavailable, outside our budget, or not the best musical fit given what else we had confirmed,” the statement read.
“When we were looking at those acts though, the inspiration wasn’t their gender, it was their music. That’s what I find really interesting about this debate, I mean, I’m female and I’m not about to discriminate against my own gender but is this really about gender or about music?”
“Behind the scenes putting together the bill each year takes months and months, and there are so many factors that go into it, and so often we don’t get our first choices, but as soon as we start trying to focus on how many men there are versus women, aren’t we losing sight of the point?”
“I think it’s great that people are finally vibing more on female talent, and there a lot more out there these days, but as soon as we start acting like we need to fill a gender quota, the music comes second.”
Booker Tara Benney then took to her personal Facebook account to elaborate on her previous statement, recounting her 10-year history in electronic music, during which she’s encountered misogyny, like artists she’s booked assuming “I’m ‘some dude’s girlfriend'”.
“So am I surprised that there are people here that are concerned about gender balance in the music industry? No way,” she continues. “What I have a serious problem with is the immediate accusation that we deliberately ignored females ‘because it’s too hard’ to do otherwise, or that we deliberately booked only men.”
“What’s our selection process in choosing acts? Pretty simple. We like their music, they are available and interested to play at the festival, and we can afford to make that happen on their terms.”
“It would be nice if booking a line-up was as simple as emailing everyone you wanted to be on it, them saying ‘Hells Yeah!’ and then jumping on a plane. The reality, is just a touch different,” Benney adds, describing the laborious lineup process.
“We spend months working well beyond your average working week exploring options, enquiring, pursuing, negotiating, adjusting offers and to be completely blunt being rejected much of the time. The competition to book acts in this country is beyond fierce, and there are many factors that can quash a desire to book someone.”
“Physical distance from the rest of the world, the fact that many acts either don’t want to make such a long trip or will do so only once a year, the fact that it will often only be viable if you can organise a national tour which is obviously dependent on venues and promoters in other cities…”
“The truth is that GENDER BIAS PLAYED ABSOLUTELY NO PART in the decisions made. When I picked it, I was using all the means available to us to try and share music I enjoy with others. To apologize for that is to disregard the hard work and honest passion that myself and others put into every single day.”
As Tone Deaf noted last week, in order to see more female acts on Australian music festival lineups, or indeed lineups anywhere in the world, the onus must not only be on organisers but on we the punters as well. Support plays a huge role.
That said, ultimately the power to turn opening acts into headliners lies with promoters and bookers and one can be almost certain there’s plenty of up-and-coming female acts in Australia who would kill for an opportunity to appear at Strawberry Fields.