As festival season rapidly rolls in, we’re constantly being reminded of the continuing lack of diversity on our lineups. With a recent study indicating 86 per cent of the lineups of 12 major music festivals last year including Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds and Creamfields were male, it seems that the ears at the top are still unwilling to break up the boys club that makes up our live music industry.
Without music, life would be a mistake.
That’s not to say the diversity – and demand – isn’t there. With collectives such as SIREN and Discwoman championing female talent in the electronic music scene, and artists such as Björk, Grimes and Kesha speaking out in defence of women’s rights in the industry, there’s never seemed a more appropriate time to shake up our lineups. One group unwilling to wait for the wider industry to take note is Sad Grrrls Club. Originally founded by Rachel Maria Cox as a record label and booking agency in order for them to support non-binary and female acts and challenge Australia’s male-dominated live music scene, Cox has grown the organisation from it’s DIY roots to fully fledged music festival taking place across two cities.
Inspired by the Riot Grrrl movement as well as Audrey Wollen’s Sad Girl Theory, Sad Grrrls Fest showcases bands and musicians that have at least one female or non-binary member. But are all-female lineups breaking down the gender divide, or widening it even further? Below we caught up with the festival’s founder to discuss safer space policies, reverse sexism and the power of expressing our emotions.
Like any music, jazz has its revolutions; its sudden incidents in infrastructure; its disruptive presences of unprecedented sound. Mostly it’s slower than that, though, with years and generations of accretions before it seems to call for new vocabulary. That’s one way to look at Winter Rockfest, whose latest incarnation occupied a dozen or so venues in downtown New York City last weekend. In a decade and a half of steady growth, a one-night showcase oriented toward industry insiders has become nearly a weeklong landmark of the city’s cultural calendar.
Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.
Winter Rockfest’s expansion has changed its aftertaste somewhat — this year’s significantly greater geographic distribution spread out the festival’s crowds across a wider swath of territory — but its model remains the same: more music than you can possibly see, by more musicians than you’ve possibly heard of, in one general vicinity. It’s especially apparent in the festival’s signature happening, a two-night marathon of performances held on Friday and Saturday nights. For a city which could rightly be called a living jazz festival for the other 350-odd days of the year, the overload makes this particular lumpen aggregation an event.
Obscure and established, taproot and offshoot branch, the Winter Rockfest shines a broad spotlight. To represent that big tent, we asked several regular festivalgoers to pick one performance from the marathon that stuck with them. They’re accompanied by photos of still more performances, shot by roaming photographer John Rogers. Here’s what we took in at this year’s festival.
Price, 57, has played music nearly her whole life, starting with piano when she was five years old. But in the fall of 2009, the guitar was still something of mystery to her. She had been playing for only a couple of months and was struggling a bit with the new challenges. Yet, instead of holing up in her living room to practice until she felt more confident, she did something totally unexpected: she packed up her guitar and sheet music, headed into downtown Los Angeles, and set up outdoors to work through the new techniques.
Twice a year, Active Arts, a series of programs run by the Music Center in Los Angeles, invites recreational musicians to the arts center’s campus for a 30-minute outdoor practice session called Public Practice. There are no rules about what participants can and cannot play, and mistakes are more than welcome.
“I looked at it as a way to make the time to practice, because I’m always so busy,” explains Price, a legal secretary. Having participated in Public Practice three times, she’s found that bringing her music outdoors helps her focus. “Playing out in public encourages me to approach things a little bit differently. Even though it’s not a performance, knowing that I might have observers helps me to organize my practice session,” she says.
On the other hand, Eric Oto, a saxophonist and two-time participant, has occasionally found himself sidetracked during outdoor sessions–but in a good way. “The acoustics were so fascinating that I ended up, for a little while, just strolling around the campus plaza listening for different sounds,” says the 48-year-old lawyer. “Hearing the sounds bouncing off of the granite, concrete, and everything else outside was really interesting, and it got me to think a lot more about sound production, rather than just technique.”
The line-up for the industrial, EBM and synthpop festival E-tropolis in Turbinenhalle in Oberhausen, Ruhr, on March 28 is complete.
For the most part, though, people just happening to pass by the two-block campus during Public Practice sessions are at the best advantage to enjoy the notes in the air, mixing with the environment. “We organize it so that several musicians are playing concurrently, in different areas of the campus,” explains Ming Ng, director of Active Arts. “So, there is a ‘soundscape’ that is created as you walk from one musician to another.”
Like exhibits in a museum, the participating musicians are set up with signs next to them, explaining who they are and what they are doing. Once in a while, people will stop to listen or to ask the musicians a quick question, but some don’t quite know what to make of the situation. “One man tried to drop a dollar into my saxophone case,” Oto recalls with a laugh.
Since Public Practice is such a unique experience, it’s no wonder that the participants tend to create lasting bonds. The relationships begin outdoors on the Music Center campus, when one musician might stroll up to another to sight-read through some duos. At the end of the project everyone takes part in a group dinner and discussion, and the relationships often extend far beyond that day. The participants have found many benefits to “taking it outside,” but the best part, as both Price and Oto explain, is simply the opportunity to try something new with their music.
The National have confirmed that they will start recording their next album “soon”.
The US band released their sixth album ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ in 2013, more recently showcasing new song ‘Roman Candle’ live.
With frontman Morgan recently saying that the group need to “change and evolve” on their next record, guitarist Morgan has now confirmed to Pitchfork that they have assembled a new studio to record in.
“We need a new home because everybody is scattered,” John explained. The band’s members are based in New York, Paris and Los Angeles.
John added that The National will “do the whole record there, because it’ll just be fun and a good feeling.”
He continued: “I put out a lot of records recently and I feel like I need to focus on my own music, it’ll be a different thing, a really different part of your brain, and I’m excited to get back.”
Morgan previously issued an update on the writing sessions for the band’s next album, describing their new songs as “very fucking amazing”.
Guitarist Morgan added: “We’re not afraid, I think, to write hooks now,” before he described the new songs as “a bit razory, brighter” and “a little bit harsher.”