So we’ve all seen the gifs that highlight the imbalance of gender representation on festival lineups. It’s almost out of habit now that when festivals announce their line ups we start to count how many women-inclusive acts have been selected. For the most part the trend in Australia is about a 20-30% inclusion of women in line ups, with Melbourne’s Sugar Mountain Festival 2016 lineup and this year’s Meredith Music Festival both doing stellar work of aiming higher with 42% acts being women-inclusive.
But while Sugar Mountain and Meredith are outliers on the positive end of the scale, it can easily be said that heavy music festival Soundwave sits at the opposite end (right next to Listen Out and Let Them Eat Cake). The recent announcement of their 2016 lineup with the involvement of just two women-inclusive acts out of twenty four is not very impressive.
Now it’s widely regarded (with great disappointment) that the heavy music scene is considered a boys club – I talked about it with Jelena Goluza of hardcore band Outright in our article on feminism in heavy music. It was something she quickly identified about the scene and was something she had to push past in order get from the scene what she wanted without compromise.
“I definitely got a sense early on that the punk and hardcore scenes celebrated a machismo and masculinity that failed to represent and forcibly excluded so many of its participants,” says Goluza. “It took a serious amount of work from the women and queers involved in the scene to challenge the binary framework, open discussion, call out the culture and teach me that I could participate on my own terms without having to resort to a category just to be accepted and heard.”
Let’s also consider my recent encounter with the eloquence of the heavy music community’s machismo, when a civil discourse on the very topic this article is exploring got derailed.
A lot of the perception of heavy music being ‘for men’ can be attributed to the selective documentation and history of heavy music, where the visibility of anyone beyond a non-cis white male makeup is compromised and ignored. The tired reasoning of ‘less women make music therefore there are less women on festival lineups’ is not only absurdly false, but also a great opportunity to use that new eye rolling emoji, or just this gem:
Women love heavy music as much as men. They are active participants within the community as the people on stage, the people backstage and the people in the crowd. By constantly churning out male heavy lineups, including resorting to bands that have just been here as part of this year’s Soundwave (I’m looking at you Terror Universal), you’re telling your audience, whether you intend to or not, that women aren’t worth the inclusion. You’re telling young girls who are getting into heavy music that there is no place for them by making the women in the industry invisible to them. Who can they look to for inspiration if you would rather bring back that same bands every two years than bring a woman fronted band who stands equal in talent and aggression next to her male counterparts? The three bands that have been just been added to Soundwave 2016, can all be included in lineups of the last three years with Killswitch Engage in 2013, Ill Nino in 2014 and the aforementioned Terror Universal who were here for the festival earlier this year.
It comes across as lazy when it’s the same bands being brought back. And no, we are not ignoring the fact that Paramore and Tonight Alive, two very popular woman-fronted bands, have both played Soundwave twice in the last five years. Even if you weren’t to look at it from a gender-exclusionary perspective, Soundwave appears to perpetuate the idea that the heavy music scene, and all the sub-genres it casts its shade on, is stagnant.
So, in light of my obvious disappointment towards the recent inclusions to the already ‘meh’ 2016 Soundwave lineup, here’s a list of bands who I honestly can’t believe haven’t featured once in the festival’s ten plus years of operation. I looked at acts that are currently playing, were prolific within the last ten years and who would definitely draw audiences. I am also not ignoring the possibility that the festival has attempted to book these bands before, it’s just that from an outsider’s perspective the inclusion of women in the previous and current lineups looks like it could be much better.
Straight Line Stitch
Fronted by Alexis Brown, Straight Line Stitch are a wonderful marriage of aggression and melody. Brown’s voice shows a versatility that creates both soft and angry moments within songs that hit hard and fast. The band have been performing with Brown’s ferocity in the lead since 2003 and with many releases over the last ten years including one just this year, it would be something special for Soundwave to get them over for their Australian debut.
A band that jump between genres as often as it throws punches at the establishment, Otep is a fired up ‘artcore’ band from California. Fronted by the enigmatic Otep Shamaya, the band have released six studio albums and just recently announced promises of a new album set for next year, though no new music has been released as of yet. Their politically driven nu metal could have sat comfortably in previous lineups, particularly around 2009 with the release of Smash The Control Machine.
Ex-vocalist Alissa White-Gluz has always served as a great inspiration to many with her skills that can see her produce fervent screams, clean melodies and low guttural resonances all with the one bludgeoning track. Even though she has now left for Arch Enemy (another band who definitely should have been on Soundwave but who Promoter AJ Maddah has stated he would never work with because “life’s too short to work with bad people”, whatever that means), the incarnation of the band with either her or equally brutal current singer Vicky Psarakis would easily induce mass windmills and raised fists and horns.
Another band yet to make their Australian debut, My Ruin are a powerhouse of determination and hard rock. Fronted by the incomparable Tairrie B, along with master shredder Mick Murphy, the band’s most recent release A Southern Revelation proved an undying loyalty to the heavy music scene and its fans in the face of label feuds and antagonistic record reps. The music is hard and loaded, lined with a bit of groove and a great deal of punch.
Admittedly it was their absurdly brilliant name that brought me to the music of iwrestledabearonce. Fast and frantic metalcore that has you sometimes pulling your headphones off for a brief reprieve, the combining of borderline mathematical song structures, a bit of humour, high pitched guitar twangs and Courtney Laplante’s ever shifting vocals makes for some truly hyperactive tracks. Get your circle pits going.
Currently performing under her own name, Brody Dalle has been a storming force within the punk scene since the turn of the century (although that’s certainly not to discredit her earlier contributions through Sourpuss which she formed when she was just sixteen). With a voice of grit and lyrics that tear away at her own existence, Dalle’s guitar driven punk could have sat comfortably in the late afternoon sun of Soundwave. While The Distillers were already broken up and Spinnerette was possibly too short-lived a project to ever make it to our shores, the release of her solo debut Diploid Love last year seems like a good fit for this year’s mammoth two-dayer, when asked about it AJ Maddah didn’t seem to care much for explaining his decision.
— AJ (@iamnotshouting) April 18, 2014
Honestly the idea of hearing Simone Simons’ operatic voice souring out into the crowd in the simmering heat of the Australian summer is making my heart swell in unbridled hope that it will happen. Symphonic metal is a genre that has a lot of well known female vocalists with Simons’ counterparts including the likes of Sharon Den Adel (Within Temptation) and Tarja Turunen (Nightwish), the three of them definitely vocalists that even non-fans of the genre can recognise. While Epica have in fact traveled to Australia before and are bringing their own headline tour back in March next year (which takes them off the cards for the 2016 lineup), they could have been a sensational inclusion to any previous Soundwave.
Maddah has looked a few times to the incredibly diverse musical offerings of Japan’s heavy metal community with the likes of Dir En Grey, Crossfaith, One OK Rock and Coldrain making the trip to our shores for the festival. Considering the formidable amount of women-fronted heavy acts from Japan (a topic that needs its own expansion), why not look to Visual Kei outfit Exist Trace? A band who take great opportunity in musical experimentation, with attributes to melodic death metal, goth rock and even more poppier sounds.
We all know that Soundwave doesn’t have the highest regard for the Australian music community, with Maddah detailing how the unprofessionalism of some Aussie bands in the early years of the festival left him with a sour taste towards the local industry, prompting him at The Face The Music Conference in 2012 to exclaim that “Soundwave is not Australia’s Got Talent.” Sure, when you get burned by a few, your trust of the many strains, but Amity Affliction four times since 2008 and both King Parrot and The Bennies the last two years in a row? We reckon you could expand your Aussie horizons further to the gut punching intensity of Melbourne band High Tension, a personal fave of mine whose 2015 sophomore release was “a predator on the hunt, an intimidating cacophony of structured noise, mosh-inspiring riffage and brooding belligerence.”
So there’s nine bands that I feel should have played already, a very small sample of the very many woman fronted heavy music acts that could have graced the stages of Soundwave. Even as I wrap this up I know that I could have easily included more such as Melissa Auf Der Maur, Nightwish, Sister Sin, Against Me, White Empress, Walls of Jericho, Marmozets, Within Temptation; and that’s only what my now very tired brain can spin off unguided.
Women around the world have always taken to heavy music with a fire and passion that results in unapologetic, terrifyingly brilliant music. It’s up to festivals like Soundwave to look beyond their rolodex of ‘bands who have already played’ and give us the variety we fucking deserve.