Interview: Sad Grrrls Fest 2016

With a lineup boasting the likes of Jess Ribeiro, Jaala and Camp Cope, Sad Grrrls Fest is one of many upcoming Melbourne-based events that makes me miss my home town. Along with its Sydney sister, the one-day music festival is proud to consist entirely of acts with at least one non-male performer. I spoke with Sad Grrrls Club manager and founder Rachel Maria Cox about their vision in putting it all together.

How did Sad Grrrls Club (and Sad Grrrls Fest) get started?

Sad Grrrls Club started as a joke between me and a few friends, that we were going to do a few shows with our female and NB friends because we were sick of the ‘boys club’ mentality we came across in some areas of music. I decided to start putting together a few shows and planned to make a mini-tour, which turned into a bigger tour the more people I discovered wanted to get involved. There so many acts in Sydney that Sad Grrrls Fest was the next logical step to involve everyone. After last year, I decided to make a few revisions to the model, and that’s how we get to where we are now- two festivals in Melbourne and Sydney with predominantly local talent.

Why do you think that major music festivals can still get away with including less than 50% – sometimes zero – non-male performers?
The line that is almost always trotted out is that festival promoters are looking for talent and popularity over gender. Personally, I don’t buy that because if you are putting on an all male, or almost entirely all male line up, and then say you booked based on talent, you are saying that you don’t think non-male musicians are talented. I think in certain genres where there is a stronger ‘bro culture’ – Heavy music, hip hop, EDM etc. – promoters get away with predominantly male line ups because there aren’t as many high profile women and transgender performers in those genres. In my opinion though, that just puts the onus on bookers more to make sure they attempt to include up and coming bands with gender diverse members because that is how we see meaningful, long term change. I made the point in a conversation with friends not long ago with regards to UNIFY gathering, that while there may not be too many bands with women or NB people in them that are say, Alexisonfire level prominent, bands like High Tension or Outright would not only have fit on that line up really well, but also could have easily brought in as many people as a band like Justice For The Damned. I think promoters need to actively seek out bands that challenge the status quo if they are committed to changing it. A lot of people don’t want to admit that music has a sexism problem either because they then have to acknowledge that they might be complicit in it.

What are other barriers that non-male performers face in the Australian music industry? And how is Sad Grrrls Club working to help overcome them?
I like to think that there are external and internal barriers to being a non-male musician. External barriers are things like lack of opportunities for non-male musicians, sexist comments, sexual harassment and assault, being told ‘girls aren’t good drummers’ (yes this is something I have actually been told before), things like that. These then get internalised by women and trans people and that becomes an internal barrier: you start doubting yourself as a musician, apologising for being emotional, things like that. You also then work ten times harder just to get past all those barriers, so it can be really exhausting.
I think the way I want Sad Grrrls Club to help is to provide opportunities for non-male musicians, as well as proving that it is possible to put on line ups with gender diversity that are still commercially and creatively viable. I want to make Sad Grrrls Club an option for musicians at any level of their career too – from playing a first show or recording the first set of demos all the way to putting out full length albums or tours. I always try and come back to the core principles of Inclusivity, Safety and Diversity when it comes to creating opportunities and helping to overcome barriers.

You’re a musician yourself, and you’ll be performing at Sad Grrrls Fest. How does it feel to be a part of such a stunning lineup, and to have been responsible for gathering all these talented artists?
I’m actually only playing in Melbourne this year (I played in Sydney last year) because there were so many acts I wanted to put on there ended up not being room for me. I also discovered last year that committing to playing at both festivals would be too much stress to handle while trying to keep everything running smoothly at the same time. I am so excited to be playing alongside such an incredible line up though, and to have such a great line up of artists in Sydney as well. I am really hoping I get to see at least part of everyone’s set – Sad Grrrls Fest is basically my dream line up so if I weren’t playing/organising it I would definitely be there to watch anyway.

If you could add one dream act to the Sad Grrrls Fest bill next year, who would it be?

I would love to be able to get some international acts – Cat Power, Waxahatchee, Hinds or Best Coast would all be incredible. Locally though it would be super fun to get Banoffee, Kate Miller-Heidke, Waax or Sampa The Great – all those acts were on my list for this year but unfortunately didn’t work out so it would be great to get some/all of those.
My absolute dream is to get an Operator Please reunion show for Sad Grrrls Fest next year but I’m sad to say I don’t think that is very likely.

Sad Grrrls Fest is at the Reverence Hotel on October 1st.
Find out more and grab your ticket here.

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