Welcome to Gender Trouble, where we break down the diversity of Australia's major festival lineups. Maths is hard, and we're here to help you keep track of who's representing marginalised communities this festival season.
Things didn't go quite right for Falls Festival last year. The festival's 25th annual event featured only nine female performers on its first lineup announcement, which didn't go down too well with a portion of the music community, including Falls Festival artists Camp Cope. The band, none too happy with the fact that they comprised one third of the total women on the first announcement, aired their displeasure onstage at the festival's Byron Bay event.
A year later, Falls Festival––headlined in 2018/19 by Anderson .Paak, Vance Joy, 88Rising feat. Rich Brian and more––is attempting to commit to booking more representative lineups. This year's first announce, the festival proudly informed me, nearly has gender parity by some metrics, with 48% of acts having at least one female member. This would give Falls a much better average than many of the festivals running this year, including Splendour in the Grass and Listen Out 2018. But there's a lot more to lineup representation than that, so let's get into the nitty gritty.
Performer-By-Performer Gender Breakdown
While many people––triple j Hack, most festivals––like to use an artist-by-artist breakdown of gender representation at festivals, I personally feel that the most accurate way to measure gender parity and representation is going performer by performer. In other words, by looking at every single band member and accounting individually.
There are some reasons for this, but the main one is as follows: there is evidence that women are less likely to want to pursue careers in male-dominated industries. If communities don't see themselves, or barely see themselves, represented in something, it's likely they won't feel that there's a place for them. So even if your festival books 48% female-fronted bands, that could still mean your festival is largely male dominated, and therefore not really making a dent in that issue––which, in the end, just fuels a cycle where women don't feel like they belong in these industries.
Classic case in point: Falls Festival, while employing nearly 50% acts with at least one female member, still only has 20 female performers out of a total 96. That means just under 21% of the artist contingent is actually female, or 1/5th. This is actually a slightly lower figure than other festivals––Listen Out and Splendour both employed around 25% female performers.
There are some key reasons Falls didn't do amazingly on this front: namely, the fact that King Gizzard and Ocean Alley are both very big bands with a lot of male members. In terms of female representation, Falls leans on female solo artists, while most of its band contingent are all-male.
Compared to other lineups––Splendour would be the most appropriate comparison in terms of money and scale––this is pretty par for the course. Falls has slightly less women than Splendour, but the difference is basically negligible.
Artist-By-Artist Gender Breakdown
On the artist-by-artist front, as you know, just under 48% of Falls' lineup features at least one woman. While I prefer the above metric, artist-by-artist is still a good way to tell how a festival is going on the representation front. This year, a lot of Falls' female contingent is made up of solo artists, such as Amy Shark, Odette and Hatchie, hence the significant difference between performer-by-performer and artist-by-artist breakdowns. Falls' 47.5% female contingent is slightly stronger than Splendour's 42.6%, but marginally weaker––literally 0.1% weaker––than Listen Out's 47.6%.
This metric is pretty surface level, and not necessarily something I believe is super valuable when thinking about long-term change in the industry, but it's worth noting that this is Falls' highest gender ratio in a few years––from 2015 to 2017 they hovered somewhere around the 32% mark, according to Hack's annual gender breakdown. Even if this new, higher ratio is the result of a fear of being called out––which I suspect it is––it's still evidence that, in some contrived way, industry is listening to what audiences want on a social consciousness level, as well as on a taste level.
Performer-By-Performer Cultural Diversity Breakdown
When it comes to cultural diversity, it would appear that festivals still aren't doing incredibly well. Only 16.8% of the performers on Falls Festival are people of colour, which means a whopping 83.2% of performers are white. There is, as usual, a silver lining: many of the people of colour on the lineup are local acts, which is rare; generally, any PoC contingent on a given lineup is heavy on international rappers or DJs. It's also good to see strong representation of Aboriginal artists––something many festivals forget––through acts like Alice Skye, Tia Gostelow and Briggs. Falls' 16.8% representation isn't as good as, say, Listen Out's near-36%, but it's a hell of a lot better than Splendour's 12%. Change won't happen overnight, and the fact that Secret Sounds (Falls and Splendour's promoter) is making incremental increases in their representation is a good start.
Artist-By-Artist Cultural Diversity Breakdown
On an artist-by-artist level, too, Falls is doing a lot better than many other festivals. 15% of Falls' lineup is comprised of PoC solo artists, while an additional 15% is groups with at least one person of colour in them. Nearly a third, then, of Falls stage time will feature at least one person of colour. Compared to Splendour's 19.8%, this is a vast improvement, and while a lot lower than Listen Out's 50%, still a very high number for a non-rap focussed festival.
So, What Does It All Mean?
It might not seem like it, but the incremental increases in diversity actually kinda signal really good things for the Australian festival scene. It would have been very easy for Falls Festival, after the fallout from last year's event, to double down on their stance. But in increasing the amount of women and people of colour on their lineup, they've shown audiences and industry that one of the biggest dogs in the game is willing to push for broader representation. There's still a ways to go, but change is happening, and this lineup is proof of it.
Notes on methodology: Musicians such as Mallrat, who are solo artists but perform with a DJ, were counted as solo artists for the sake of this piece. For the purposes of this piece, 88Rising were regarded as a group. Best efforts were made to properly account for all genders represented on the Falls Festival lineup.
Shaad D'Souza is Noisey's Australia & New Zealand Editor. Follow him on Twitter.