By Daniel Novakovic and Jennifer Reiter
Here’s where the story begins: In November 2011, Ladyfest Malmö in Sweden began tallying men and women in bands performing at the various concert venues in Malmö as well as at the major Swedish music festivals. With Malmö placed in between capital cities Stockholm and Copenhagen there was a good number of bands passing through Scandinavia. The numbers that Ladyfest found were startling and rightly so: 80-90% of performing acts were male (see an explanation of what a ‘male’ act is under ‘methodology’). Some venues even went for months when only 100% male bands played. Ladyfest’s findings were published and written about in major printed newspapers and online media. Some venues reacted helpfully and promised to do better, some put the blame on the booking agencies and some went on the extreme defense. One such person was the booker of the Emmabodafestival - traditionally an indiepop oriented festival - who was quoted in Sweden’s biggest morning newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, saying:
"Håkan Karlsson, booker at Emmabodafestivalen, is unequivocally opposed to Ladyfest’s reasoning.
- We book only good artists. No, we do not think about the handicapped and crippled or whatever. We book what we like and what suits. We are doing a party for ourselves. This does not interest us at all. Honestly, I wonder who it is who really cares. It is not our task to look at that.
So you do not agree that you, the organizers, have a responsibility?
- No, not really. I cannot influence either. I cannot book a bunch of crap and sell 300 tickets. It is a strange approach to have to the music. I really respect the equality ideal, but it isn’t something I can put into my work and I am proud that I do not [our emphasis], says Håkan Karlsson." - Dagens Nyheter, 2011-12-19
After that interview, I followed every update from Ladyfest but felt that they weren't really looking at or describing "my" indiepop scene as most of the bands and artists were of the mainstream/alternative kind. Many, including the two authors of this blog post, have looked to the indiepop scene as being more favourable to gender equality amongst musicians. Some have even spoken out about this assumed equality. In mid-July, Kip Berman of The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, was quoted in the Village Voice:
"Another aspect of indie pop that I believe allows it to have a consistent vitality is that it has the highest representation of female band members, club promoters, DJ's and festival bookers of any non-gender specific genre (riot grrl, queercore, etc.). Think about a generic list of "10 Greatest Rock Bands of the 1990s" in a mainstream magazine. It would be a list of all men, with maybe The Smashing Pumpkins' D'arcy, Tori Amos or Courtney Love as the lone exceptions. That's a list of 40 to 45 musicians, with maybe 3 being sexed female.
The hypothetical indie pop list of that era would probably have a third to one half of the bands comprised of women, and many in non-"pink collar" positions like lead singers, drummers and guitarists. indie pop still has a long ways to go towards true gender equity, but compared to what is out there in "indie rock," punk, hip hop, metal and hardcore, it has made the most progress in being gender-inclusive of any genre I can think of. The interesting part is, only mainstream pop and possibly folk comes to mind as places where female artists are represented equally to their male counterparts."- Village Voice, 2012-07-13
Kip is considering the gender of people involved in making records as well as performing, DJing and promoting. However, Ladyfest Malmö looked at and analysed who was performing on stage. Why? Because this is the picture that people often see of who is actively involved in making music. We see these performers when we go to gigs and we see them when we look at photos of shows online and in other media.These powerful snapshots provide an interesting document as to who is involved in making music.
So I decided to have a look for myself and investigate how Indietracks stacks up. I sent off an email to Ladyfest Malmö to ask how the process of tallying and analysing musicians on stage worked and asked Jennifer Colour Me Pop if she would help me as I knew she was attending Indietracks and has an interest in gender equality.
This is how we counted performers at Indietracks. The process is based on the Ladyfest Malmö method. EDITED TO ADD: A lot of people have reacted to this part. This method was chosen to be able to compare our numbers to those of Ladyfest who have counted about 6 venues a month plus festivals since November 2011. But no matter the method of band categorizing the second chart counting total of people on stage stays the same.
- A female act is an act where the majority of band members are female
- A male act is an act where the majority of band members are male
- A 50/50 act is comprised of half females and half males or equal members of males, females and trans people
Some illustrations and clarifications:
- Allo' Darlin would be categorised as a male act because there are predominantly males in the band (3 males, 1 female)
- We have counted those performers who self-identify as trans or genderqueer
- We have counted only those who performed at Indietracks 2012 (not those who play with the band on record or with the band at other gigs)
- We did not include impromptu or merch tent performances at Indietracks
To start with, we looked at band photos and read band credits on record and online to discern who may be playing in the band at Indietracks. Final numbers were confirmed by Jennifer’s eagle-eye at Indietracks and by looking at photographs taken at the festival.
- 56 acts were booked in total.
- 38 were male acts
- 7 were female acts
- 11 were 50/50-acts
The female bands were: Golden Grrrls, Liechtenstein, Robberie, Rose Melberg, September Girls, Tender Trap and The Werewandas.
The 50/50 bands were: The 10p Mixes, Bart Cummings & Pam Berry, Go Sailor, Minibar, the School, the Smittens, The Spook School, Summer Camp, The Sunbathers, Veronica Falls and Young Romance.
Of the 38 male acts, 23 have at least 1 female member, 10 of which are lead vocalists. Similarly of the 7 female acts, 4 contain at least 1 male member of which 1 is a lead vocalist.
- 226 people on stage
- 159 were male
- 64 were female
- 3 trans or genderqueer.
Having followed the reactions and comments after Ladyfest published their findings, we’d like to emphasize that we didn't conduct this analysis to put blame on anyone, in this instance the good Indietracks organizers. This discussion is not to point fingers to any individuals but rather to start a conversation about how to move toward a more equal music scene. We know the reasons more women aren’t involved as performing musicians is complex and nuanced. Hell, even my own female fronted club wouldn't be 100% female if I counted musicians involved, but something is askew when such a disproportionate amount of the people on stage are men.
Looking at the numbers it’s hard to argue that our indiepop community is approaching gender equality in terms of musicians and performers when only 64 of 226 (28.32%) of all performers at Indietracks 2012 are female. That figure might increase if we included the organisers and those who ran the workshops but we’d argue that the change in figure would not be statistically significant. Additionally, we wanted to emphasize the striking visual picture that is documented when the majority of people seen on stage are male. We were surprised and saddened by these findings. Maybe you are too (or maybe this is no surprise to you). Read on for some questions to get us all talking and moving toward gender equality in actively making, not just consuming, indiepop.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS (please respond in the comment section below)
1. What can our indiepop community do to encourage more women to take active roles as musicians in indiepop, particularly ‘lead’ roles? (e.g., lead guitarist, songwriter, arranger)
2. What can promoters, bookers, musicians and fans do about the inequality in representation of gender (sex) amongst indiepop musicians?
3. Celebrate steps towards equality! In the comments, share with us those female and trans indiepop musicians who are taking the lead into their own hands and making music.
SUGGESTED FURTHER READING AND RESOURCES
Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution (“...a rousing inspiration for a new generation of empowered rebel girls to strap on guitars and stick it to The Man.”)
Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender (particularly the introduction and the chapter ‘Women and the Electric Guitar’)
Women and Popular Music: Sexuality, Identity and Subjectivity
Willie Mae Rock Camp For Girls and the Girls Rock Camp Alliance