The golden age of the Riot Grrrl movement saw artists like Carrie Brownstein, Kim Gordon and PJ Harvey move audiences with their distinctly feminine take on abrasive, emotionally charged brands of indie punk rock. It was loud, emotionally charged ‘guitar music’ for all, made by women. Whether it was Gordon’s iconic plea for girls to be liberated from “male, white, corporate oppression”, Brownstein’s rally cries in the hooks of Dig Me Out, or Harvey’s fearsome androgynous persona, these women initiated a shift in rock music’s notorious boys club — it was no longer acceptable to settle for a lack of diversity in voices in alternative music.
In 2017, large sectors of the music industry are yet to receive the memo. Last year, Australia’s largest heavy music event, Unify Gathering, unveiled a line-up of 27 acts — only three featured female artists. When angered fans took to social media to criticise the organisers’ shortcomings, they were met with patronising industry jargon and non-apologies. Fans weren’t asking for female representation on the basis of gender — they wanted female artists on the bill because they’re amazing musicians.
That’s exactly what Electric Lady Festival is seeking to present. Featuring buzz-worthy talent like Alex Lahey, Bec Sandridge and Ali Barter, Electric Lady is a night of exceptional alternative rock music. And it just so happens that all the talent are women.
“Women in alternative rock music struggle to break into the iconic echelon that’s dominated by men,” says Bec Callander, lead guitarist of the band Rackett which features on the Electric Lady line-up. Playing a distinct brand of experimental pop punk, Rackett are quickly carving their own niche within Sydney’s local scene; one that is at times saturated by generic Warped Tour hopefuls and landfill indie worshippers.
“We are trying to make alternative music, and that’s the struggle. Women don’t dominate those ‘iconic’ echelons within alternative music — it’s been carved out by males in this genre.”
When discussing the lack of women on festival line-ups and stacked bills, Callander sang the praises of Electric Lady festival.
“Yes, this is the elephant in the room, but ultimately you will be experiencing a fantastic night of entertainment,” she says. “It just happens to be brought to you by all women.”
Electric Lady was founded by Holly Rankin, who performs under the name Jack River. Her vision for the festival — to “strengthen networks between high achieving women” — is a message that Callander believes “broadcasts a message of equality that we hope will translate across all industries”.
The Australian music industry is seeing a grassroots movement in support of women in alternative rock music. Spearheading the movement is Melbourne’s Camp Cope, who worked directly with Laneway Festival to establish a safety hotline to ensure punters were provided with a support network if instances of assault were to occur. Re-appropriating Kathleen Hanna’s iconic ‘Girl’s To The Front’ movement, Camp Cope are ushering in a new understanding of the importance of representation amongst members of Australia’s alternative scene.
Sydney’s Tonight Alive have established the #FirstStep initiative, where female and gender-diverse acts put themselves forward for fans to vote them into a support slot on Tonight Alive’s upcoming national tour.
“It creates an exclusive opportunity for women, and that’s a positive,” Callander says of the competition.
With Australia’s leading youth voice, Triple J, still overwhelmingly favouring male artists — in 2016, 61 per cent of songs played on Triple J were by all-male bands or male solo artists, and 71 per cent of feature albums were from all male acts — Electric Lady festival is a positive and refreshing change in alternative music.
“Our society is demanding equality,” says Callander. This demand has been simultaneously met with eye rolls and action within the wider music industry. Even though some shifts have been made, efforts to ensure all voices are equally represented and celebrated on our stages, airwaves and feeds are still few and far between. The cathartic and deeply intimate nature of alternative music does not discriminate though, and has served as a draw card for all — electric ladies will keep on plugging in.