Girls to the Front

 

For young people in Canberra, the ability to enjoy a night out is intrinsically linked to the availability of venues that provide a safe, inclusive and representative space. Sexist or homophobic behavior, a dance floor dominated by sweaty boys with wandering hands and a range of other factors lead many young people to jump into an uber and call it a night. However, Canberra’s dance music industry has begun to challenge this dominant culture, with a female driven brand of club culture rooted in promoting women, non-binary and queer* talent, as well as fostering inclusive spaces.

To discuss this shift in the Canberra scene I sat down with three talented women who are incredibly influential in the Canberra music industry. I was lucky enough to chat to Megan Bones, a DJ who also works as the entertaining and marketing manager of Mr. Wolf and is the founder of queer* party night Gay Cliché; Sophie McNamara, who has worked in social media, marketing and event coordinating capacities for Mr. Wolf, Spilt Milk and the upcoming Wind It Up festival; and Genie Stuart, a talented DJ who at only 18 is already a prominent face in the Canberra scene.

It’s been over 20 years since Kathleen Hanna and the Riot Grrrl movement called for girls to ‘come to the front’ and reclaim the space in music that had been dominated by men. Writer Julia Downes argues that ‘gendered power structures are entrenched in the popular music industry, so it is much harder for women to become credible, authentic and legitimate cultural creators.’ Reflecting on this idea, I asked all three women whether they thought Canberra has in the past been a ‘boys’ club’, and whether this dynamic was changing.

Megan noted that when she started doing gigs in Canberra, she was the only female DJ that she knew of. ‘The Canberra scene has made a huge amount of progress in the past few years’ she said, noting that this shift was spearheaded by ‘a massive injection of quality female DJs into the scene.’

The music industry’s tendency to overlook quality female talent, and to give preference to male artists, is something that the women I talked to would like to see as a thing of the past. Genie noted that ‘when I did my first gig it was Too Many DJs [an event run by Art Not Apart festival], and I was one of two female DJs in a line-up of 25 DJs. That was my first introduction to the industry.’ All three agreed that they’d like to see more women, non-binary, and queer* people given space and time by the industry, and to have talent recognised for the value of the talent. Megan commented: ‘If I get asked to DJ for the sake of adding a “female DJ” to the line-up, I’ll say no straight away.’

This refusal to have female talent tokenised for the sake of filling out a ratio is one she has brought to her work at Mr. Wolf, where the priority is placed on nurturing enthusiastic female artists, as well as bringing on board talented women behind the scenes in promotions, marketing and event managing roles. One of the main factors behind taking on her fulltime role at Wolf, Megan said, was to be in a position to help make real changes in the Canberra scene. ‘I’m so lucky’, she said, ‘to be working in a team with two supportive and forward thinking men, Richard McPherson and Jack Ryan.’

One of the most important tools women have in breaking through a boy’s culture is the support of other women. Sophie noted that two of her biggest mentors are Megan from Mr. Wolf, and Rubi Tuesday from Spilt Milk. She explained that ‘whilst numbers-wise there are many more men involved in the industry, I’ve been guided by women who have held a lot of weight in the scene.’ In nurturing and supporting other female talent, women can break through internalised misogyny and create a massive presence in the industry. Genie emphasises that being supported by strong women has been incredibly important. It was through this guidance that as a young DJ Genie was able to hone her skills.

As well as promoting and celebrating diverse talent, venues are recognising the importance of a safe and positive space for all people to be free from discrimination. Megan discussed that this shift has been incorporated by a multi-pronged approach. An important aspect of this has been encouraging clubs like Mr. Wolf to take on a program of education for staff to deal with sexual harassment, and harassment towards queer* patrons. With this approach taken on board, Mr. Wolf has marketed itself to the community as a place that is inclusive – an attitude championed in the motto ‘no racism, no sexism, no homophobia, no transphobia, no violence’. This is a progressive policy for club culture that sets a precedent for venues across Australia. ‘I shared it in [the online feminist space] “It’s Not for You”’ Sophie told me, ‘and I had so many girls telling me how amazing they thought this policy was, and how they wished that other venues [in Sydney] would adopt something similar.’ Judging by this reception, there is unmistakably a demand for positive and inclusive places, and where there is a demand made by pundits, promoters will respond.

So where can we move in the future to see representative equality for women, non-binary, and queer* people partying and performing in clubs? Genie says she’d like to see promoters give talented women better time slots, not always just as the opening acts but as headliners. Megan highlights the nuance of the field – that it is essentially a business decision and promoters will source acts that are demanded by pundits, and if the talent pool is a male dominated field then this will be reflected by clubs. There is a definite appetite amongst the youth crowd for representation, Sophie tells me, as could be seen in the social media push made by many young people for artists such as queer* Icon Honey Dijon to play at Spilt Milk Festival, which shows a huge progression from the scene years ago. Young people are becoming aware, and realising that they have power as consumers to dictate what they want to see happening in the industry. Consumers are demanding a safe and tolerant space to celebrate a diverse range of talent, and the industry in Canberra is listening and responding.