Last year, HARD Summer received a lot of flack for booking a grand total of four women. This year, the festival stepped it up, featuring 26 women out of 110 total acts. It's a promising start—the kind of move that could make you think HARD is committed to gender equality after all. Sadly, if the trailer (released yesterday) for their 2017 event is any indication, the festival still has a long way to go.
The video starts off on the right foot, with an open acknowledgment of the problem—we see a disturbingly comb-overed manager leering over his desk and eating mayo with a spoon. He receives a phone call from HARD Summer's CEO Gary Richards, AKA Destructo, who tells him, "We only had four girls at HARD Summer last year, and we know we can do better than that."
His solution? Round up a bunch of male artists—DJ Snake, Claude VonStroke, What So Not, and Party Favor—and outfit them with absurd fake breasts in order to star in a promotional video as a fictional act called GRL POWER. In a parody of sexist dance music culture, they're forced to pose in cages, doused with milk, and mocked about their appearance by directors and photographers. No women show up in the clip until six minutes in, when Anna Lunoe appears as the video director. She's followed shortly by Kittens, Cray, and Gina Turner, but their only role in the clip is basically to ask what all of us are already thinking: "Why do these guys have boobs?"
Over their ten-year history, HARD has a long tradition of off-the-wall promo videos, usually featuring industry heavyweights in goofy parodies. The 2014 edition, which included Dillon Francis and Diplo, mocked the masked DJ phenomenon by dressing up its stars in giant strawberry helmets, for example. This year, as in previous years, the festival's trailer was written and directed by a woman named Agata Alexander. In a video treatment obtained by NYLON, Alexander explains that the clip's goal is to "support equality and welcome everyone." Alexander concludes, "THE FUTURE IS FEMALE."
Alexander's video, however, is less a righteous message of empowerment than a crass embodiment of the issues it's meant to address, which is to say, it's a messy bro-fest with not a lot of visibility for women.
In an interview with Nest HQ, Alexander explains her decision to feature a cast of mostly men, noting, "I wanted men to stand up and make the point for us. Us women shout in the dark a lot of times. We need men to stand up for us as loudly as possible. And I can't imagine anything louder than a man putting on breasts and owning it so hard like these dudes did."
In theory, this is a good point—male allies are crucial to fostering a more diverse EDM culture. Yet, watching the tin-eared clip, the notion that it's meant to defend women doesn't translate in any meaningful sense. The joke fails because sexist male behavior isn't the video's primary focus. Instead, the clip leans almost entirely on the stale visual gag of straight guys looking uncomfortable with boobs. It seems more like an extension of the mid-00s Tucker Max sensibility that's reigned in EDM for a decade than a criticism of it. Futhermore, there's a sour whiff of retrograde gender politics about the whole thing; in 2017, is a man with female body parts really so inherently hilarious?
It's possible Alexander meant to use an exaggerated parody of sexist behavior to criticize a sexist society, but The Handmaid's Tale this is not. Over at NYLON, Dani Deahl cuts straight to the issue: "The players in this unfortunate video aren't here to empathize or walk in a woman's shoes," she writes. "Putting comedically large, or sagging, or pushed-up prosthetic breasts on men who are acting out a script, with other men, in a safe space, is not satirical. It's a mockery that whittles us down to our sexual parts." The clumsy script eliminates any chance for biting social commentary, and ironically doubles down on the kind of sexism it's meant to be addressing.
HARD Fest attempted to flip valid criticism into a PR stunt to save their brand's image. They ended up with a confusing mess that fails to lift the stereotype of EDM promoters as tone-deaf bros. In fact, just about the only conclusion it's really possible to draw from this trailer is that HARD Summer thinks boobs are funny. For a festival still in the process of resuscitating its chauvinist image, that punchline is two steps in the wrong direction.
Ezra Marcus is on Twitter.