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.
Since its inception 15 years ago in Melbourne, Laneway Festival has grown into one of the largest and most significant festivals in Australia. What initially began as a boutique festival has become a robust mass-appeal summer staple to rival large scale festivals like Groovin the Moo and Falls Festival. This year’s lineup inches a little closer than ever to the mainstream-indie milieu of those festivals, with locals Gang of Youths and Courtney Barnett headlining.
The festival’s undercard is as genre-diverse as ever; rap has a strong presence through Baker Boy, Masego, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie and more, while bands like Camp Cope, Parquet Courts and Middle Kids hew closer to the Laneway of old. The international cohort is significant as usual, with plenty of artists making the trip from the US and UK for the festival. The most curious thing about Laneway’s 2019 lineup isn’t necessarily what it boasts, but what it lacks; compared to previous years (and other festivals over the 2018/19 season) Laneway’s representation of non-male and non-white artists lags. Let’s break down the numbers.
Performer-By-Performer Gender Diversity Breakdown
It’s always nice to start with the raw, hard numbers: 49 musicians are on the Australian Laneway tour this year, and 12 of them are women. 37 are men. That gives a ratio of 24.5% women, 75.5% men on this year’s lineup. While that’s a slight bump up from last year’s lineup––in 2017 Laneway booked 16.5% women, 83.5% men––it’s still only a quarter of the lineup with female representation. That being said, the low 20s is pretty much par for the course in terms of female representation this season; compare this to Falls Festival (20.8% female) and Listen Out (26.6% female) and this number is pretty standard. Still, we shouldn’t be justifying a lineup that’s not representative because it’s par for the course; this just makes it clear that there’s work to be done.
Artist-By-Artist Gender Diversity Breakdown
On an artist by artist front, Laneway 2019 boasts 18 all-male groups or male solo artists, nine all-female groups or female solo artists, and one mixed group (Middle Kids). This gives the festival roughly 35.7% artists featuring at least one woman, and 64.3% all-male or male solo artists. Compared to Laneway’s own numbers, this isn’t a great stat––2018’s lineup featured 44% artists with at least one woman, as did the year before. We should all be pushing for greater representation in the industry, so seeing a slip like this is disheartening. Compared to other summer festivals, too, Laneway falters: Listen Out and Falls Festival both managed to reach near-parity on their artist-by-artist breakdowns, with both festivals landing somewhere around the 47% mark. It’s a disappointing slip, but hopefully local-only artists and an Unearthed comp winner bring this number up a little.
Performer-By-Performer Cultural Diversity Breakdown
On a cultural diversity level, Laneway has exceeded expectations greatly. Last year, only 14% of the lineup was comprised of people of colour; this year, just over a quarter of the lineup is PoC. A lot of that is local artists, too––three members of Gang of Youths, one of the festival’s headliners, are PoC, while Baker Boy, Kian and Charlie Collins are locals too. Laneway’s 26.5% PoC metric is pretty good, and sits right between Listen Out (36% PoC) and Falls (17% PoC) in terms of percentage. I saw some ~online discourse~ about how Laneway didn’t book enough local artists of colour this year, but that discredits the fact that Gang of Youths––not only one of the smartest, most transgressive bands in the country, but also one comprised of some highly vocal and visible people of colour––are the damn headliners of this thing. That’s an absolutely huge deal, and I think to ignore that would kinda miss the point.
Artist-By-Artist Cultural Diversity Breakdown
On an Artist-By-Artist level, Laneway is doing pretty well in the cultural diversity stakes. 39.3% of Laneway’s 2019 lineup features PoC, which is a far higher figure than Falls, which has 30% PoC-featuring artists (although it’s still lower than both Listen Out and FOMO). Regardless, 40% is a huge amount of non-white artists.
What Does It All Mean?
The fact that Laneway’s gender representation has taken a hit from previous years probably isn’t a coincidence; as the festival has become more and more commercially minded, representation numbers have dropped to align with the festivals it competes against. That being said, there’s a silver lining: Laneway’s one of the best mixed-genre festivals when it comes to PoC representation, and has taken a huge step up from last year in that respect. Having Gang of Youths headline such a major national festival is basically nothing short of historic, and that’s something to be celebrated.
Best efforts were made to account for all genders represented within the Laneway 2019 lineup.
Shaad D'Souza is Noisey's Australian editor. Follow him on Twitter.