After seeing a lack of female performers on the bill for music festival after music festival like The George Street Festival, Confederation Hill, Random Sound, and Salmon Fest … seeing a fifth festival in a row follow suit broke the camel’s back.
When Harbourage announced their lineup of all male-fronted bands, they became the target of discontent that sparked the formation of SPAAT, who quickly formed a spin-off festival, HERbourage (an all female-fronted lineup), which they pulled off the very same night.
And so began the first initiative of SPAAT: to use art and activism to push their mandate, which is not of expecting tokenism (including female performers more in arts festivals simply for the sake of including female performers) but of re-wiring the brains of the subconsciously sexist.
To affect change in the world requires education. Having a community group holding media, festivals, and organizations accountable for their actions can only help, and SPAAT’s Facebook group is pure of intent: they’re aiming to give a voice to issues in St. John’s as they pertain to marginalized demographics.
A quick peek at the group’s threads and it’s clear they’re already empowering themselves. To quote local artist and cultural advocate Mary MacDonald,
“I think [Harbourage’s organizers] think we’re saying that women should be included just so there are women and we want a balance. That’s not it. We want to see the good work that female musicians are producing. It’s about GOOD WORK being recognized … it is extremely difficult for women to be recognized.”
Contrary to the opinion of some, feminism isn’t about shouting blindly for equality; it’s moreso about shouting when and where equality clearly failed to exist, so that equality will come to exist where it currently doesn’t. Like modern day local music festivals. It wasn’t that long ago Patsy Cline had to shout at her husband and haters, “I’m not a terrible mother for wanting a career in performing.”
Shouting might make people uncomfortable, but waiting until a fifth festival in the same season snubbed female performers was not unreasonable timing. While I believe none of these festival’s organizers were maliciously snubbing women, it’s almost worse that it was an unintentional oversight, five times. It means musical diversity on stage (gender included) wasn’t even considered.
Thanks to some online raging and rioting, and Lorne Loder taking it on the chin for the sins of music promoters across the province, we have all learned from their oversight, and show promoters are certainly less likely to upset SPAAT moving forward. People are quick to turn on a thing in this province, and bad press can sink a festival. It’s safe to say, thanks to this week, we’ll be seeing more women in music festivals.
So, while Spaat serves as a place for people to therapeutically vent rage and feel empowered upon seeing they’re not alone in it, it’s already become more than that: a vehicle for social change. Already, it’s a place for dialogue and action to coalesce between people feeling slighted in the same ways.
SPAAT currently exists for the marginalized to come together, but as an open group, it can certainly double as a place that reasons with its opposition — because the people they’re calling out are certainly reading. So it’s providing a great place to have them see the error of their ways. A calm, convincing, well-articulated conversation has more power than an atom bomb to change a person’s way of thinking.
Ask Martin Luther King, who affected change through well-articulated speeches to alter the way a time-period thought. Screaming fuck you wouldn’t have worked as effectively, he’d have been written off as an angry black man, the way too many people write female discontent off as angry feminism.
Now, let’s pause for a second to check out Lady Lamb and the Beekeeper – I’ve heard well over 100 new albums in 2015, and few are as innovatively combining as many genres as this. Stick around for the bridge, and tell me they wouldn’t be wicked live:[wpdevart_youtube]IbXX-Wn0HdE[/wpdevart_youtube]
Every Friday on the Overcast, we post “Singled Out: The Top 5 Songs Added to Overcast Radio This Week,” and the goal is exhibiting 5 new songs from every genre and gender, with the idea being to please a variety of tastes. It’s not about inclusion, but discoverability, and that requires exposing all genres and genders.
In defense of Harbourage stating, essentially, “booking bands isn’t as easy as asking for who you want,” they aren’t wrong – it’s a miracle to find one band in your price range with an opening in their schedule, and if you do, their management is likely going to ask who else is on the bill before they say yes.
But another comment from a thread in SPAAT came from Andrea Vincent of local festival Lawnya Vawnya, who wrote about how sexism-quashing in the music industry will require some supportive action from music promoters.
“If promoters are not giving these bands a chance to play (intentionally or not), then where DOES it start? OF COURSE it is our responsibility as promoters. If we get more women on stage who are making great music, more young girls will stick with it. If more young girls stick with it because promoters are giving their peers a chance, then poof. Part of that gross cycle gets broken.”
And how about the local acts at these festivals? Confederation Hill and Harbourage had zero. One of them could’ve been local?
HERbourage included the debut of a new supergroup, Punchtable, fronted by Sarah Blackmore with the likes of Megan Harnum (Scrambled Meggz) and Greg Hewlett (Boathaus) involved. They’d have drawn a crowd from anyone paying attention to the local music scene. The fact they hauled HERbourage off so fast is proof of all the talent locally that festivals can tap into.
It’s important to remember these days that we’re not always talking about representational inequality anymore, so comments I’ve overheard like “whatever, my boss is a woman, equality is here,” don’t understand the plight. We’re combating the worst form of sexism these days: the subconsciously sexist.
I’m talking about the guy who laughs about the number of women his roommate is cycling through his bedroom, but frowns on the women leaving his bedroom. My own awakening of this phenomenon came to me about 5 years ago, when I was jurying a music award. 4 of the 5 jurors were male, given the at-the-time lack of young women in media; a whole other issue.
The conversation about shortlisted artists was strictly about the music … until we got to talking about the female-fronted band on the list. Suddenly, my colleagues were talking about “babe factor” and how hot she is when she performs. And I wanted to shout at them for considering that a musical pro.
These were good guys – they didn’t mean any harm or to be derogatory, but what else can you call it? She’d written songs just as good as the guys had, but the conversation about her had become, “Her boyfriend is such a lucky guy,” which reduced her from songwriter to sexy woman.
Ever since that night, I’ve noticed that kind of subconscious sexism in the world. Keep an eye out for it in yourself, as I have been doing since, and I’m not ashamed to say I’ve caught myself a few times, and learned from it and grew. I’ve cut the words “Bitch” and “Girl” from my vocabulary, not because I think they’re derogatory, or mean them to be, but because enough women have told me they find them derogatory.
What galls me these days is people saying “sexism doesn’t exist anymore.” It does. When I wrote a piece called “The Real Take Away Message from the News about Jian Ghomeshi,” I received threats of physical violence for “siding with women.” A surprising number of women wrote scornful comments.
And when I wrote “Why I’ll Walk the Slut Walk,” a few women accused me of “using Slut Walk to get in some chick’s pants.” I had a girlfriend at the time, thanks. Such dismissal of the feminist plight only proves apathy still exists for it.
So join the discussion by searching SPAAT on Facebook, and keep an eye on the conversations happening in SPAAT. A good person is a well-rounded person, and the passion in these threads can shape you like a chisel and hammer. If you’re open to it.
In addition to future house shows like HERbourage, SPAAT is planning to put out a series of zines that give marginalized people a space to express themselves. They’ll choose a topic for a zine, invite people to submit to it, and then put it together as a collective.
The first zine coincided with HERbourage so its topic was Women and Music – their experiences of being in bands, playing live music, and generally existing in a male-dominated scene. They have a lot of exciting ideas brewing, and we’ll bring them to your attention as they come to fruition.
Here’s another hot jam off a female’s 2015 album. It’s called “Sprinter” by Torres[wpdevart_youtube]H6SIw30IOt8[/wpdevart_youtube]