It's time to flip the 80/20 gender split in music festivals


Astrid Zeman

Astrix Little

Astrix Little Photo: Instagram

A few months ago, TripleJ comedian Matt Okine memorably called out the lack of female representation during his ARIA award acceptance speech for best comedy release. 

Okine said he didn't feel great about the all-male list of fellow nominees. Or the fact that there were hardly any featured female artists during the entire ARIA award ceremony. He told the audience he'd feel stupid if he didn't say something about it. So he did – and his response went viral almost instantly.

The irony, of course, was that the speech was cut from the nationwide broadcast of the ARIA awards.

Drummer Bree van Reyk, pictured in white T-shirt in the middle, founder of 'Massive Band'.

Drummer Bree van Reyk, pictured in white T-shirt in the middle, founder of 'Massive Band'. Photo: Fiona Morris

It would be nice to say this was just a one-off incident, that there are plenty of events out there where women are well-represented. But the truth, as anyone in the music industry could tell you, is that the gender skew in gigs and festivals is far from uncommon.


For instance, last year's VIVID festival had such poor representation of women that only three out of a total 50 artists showcased were female. That's a measly six per cent for a high-profile Sydney festival. The numbers speak for themselves. Women are just not well-represented in lineups.

As a musician and someone who goes to see plenty of gigs, it's frustrating to feel out of place half the time. On any given night, the male musos on stage might be singing about hanging with their mates, which makes me feel left out. Or they'd be singing about how hot some girl is, which makes me feel objectified and uncomfortable. I'd walk away at the end of the night feeling like I had just been hanging in a boys club.

Why is it so hard to find a gig where I can watch talented female musos shredding guitar or just making kickass music?

About a year ago, after sharing my frustration with Melbourne musician Evelyn Ida Morris, I began doing a head count of women versus men on stage at every gig I went to. The results were grim. As an audience, we've become depressingly used to seeing 80 per cent male artists or more on stage in major gigs and festivals.

Like Okine, I was sick of staying silent.

With the help of musician (Fabels frontwoman) Hiske Weijers, I decided to launch a project that would help flip the 80/20 gender split.The result is Earopound – a new Sydney-based women's festival which aims to challenge the diversity problem at a grassroots level.

Over two days in January, the festival will feature a line-up of female-driven electronic, ambient rock, acoustic and classical acts, including Astrix Little, Chunyin, Gail Priest,  Fabels, Imperial Broads and Bree van Reyk (of Synergy Percussion), who founded the Massive Band – a project that brought 70 women of all ages to play in the Campbelltown Arts Centre. There will also be spoken word performances featuring writers like Sarah Saleh between musical acts.

Our programming consists of 80 per cent female and LGBTQIA+ artists, putting female, intergender and transgender artists front and centre on stage – a shake-up our local music industry desperately needs.

Unsurprisingly, it's been easy to organise female talent. There are many excellent musicians out there, from all genres, who just need a space where they can perform. Hiske and I simply pooled together the list of artists from people we've performed with or seen playing live in the local Sydney scene.

Since creating this event, we've had plenty more talented musicians approaching us who were interested in performing. Getting mainstream organisers to wake up to their gender bias can be a painfully slow process. But the tide is slowly turning. And thanks to movements like the LISTEN collective, an initiative founded by Morris which supports and promotes female and LGBTQIA+ artists, more and more female and transgender artists are being heard.

It's early days yet but we hope to organise more women and transgender music events to keep the momentum going, in the hope that no one would feel uncomfortable or silenced at a gig, festival or music awards ceremony ever again.


The Earopound festival will take place on 23 Jan at Newtown Social Club and 30 Jan at the Alpha House. Find out more here

Astrid Zeman is a vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, composer and contributor to LISTEN record's debut compilation album. Follow Astrid on @astrid_zeman