Does electronic and dance music have a problem with female performers?

That was the discussion that’s been ignited by Australian producer and DJ, Anna Lunoe, in a Facebook post quoting an infographic by EDM site Thump that tallies the number of ‘women on the decks‘ at major dance music festivals in the US, finding that there’s a discernibly huge gender disparity in the number of booked artists.

But her social media question has prompted us to investigate a bigger debate, do Australian music festivals have a similar gender divide problem? And is it linked to music genre as it is with America’s EDM festivals?

First some background. Thump compared popular EDM events Ultra, EDC, Electric Zoo, Spring Awakening, Mysterland, Mutek, and Movement, looking at how many female acts featured on their bills, tracing the highest (barely 10% of an 86-strong bill for Mutek) to the lowest (a paltry 3 females out of 113, just 2.6%, at Electric Zoo – view the full results at bottom).

“This blows my mind [to be honest]. Why do you think more women dj’s are not rising to the higher levels in dance music? I know why I think it is, but Im [sic] genuinely interested what you guys think,” asks Lunoe (who you might remember for taking a stand for fellow female performers before) in her social media post. [do action=”pullquote”]Do Australian music festivals have a similar problem with gender divide? And is it linked to music genre?[/do]

“This is not an invitation for a[sic] thoughtless broad sexist comments. In fact [I’m] gonna delete any, because I genuinely want peoples honest opinions as to why half the population are getting 2% of the jobs in this industry. Its kinda crazy,” adds Lunoe. “I think there are 2 questions to ask : 1. Why are there less women trying to be dj’s. 2. Of the female djs out there, why are so few becoming successful?”

The same questions can be posed closer to home, so we looked a little further into it based on a selection of Australia’s biggest music festivals.

Taking a snapshot of major festival lineups in the last year for comparison – using a similar model to Thumps – demonstrates similarly interesting gender divides, that aren’t necessarily limited by genre. Across the board, it seems there’s a huge discrepancy between festivals and men still dominate the bill, beginning with the biggest EDM event Down Under, Stereosonic.

Last December’s edition of the national two-day touring festival featured a whopping 80-plus acts, but only two nationally-touring female acts – former Triple J House Party host Nina Las Vegas and Chicago dance trio Krewella – making for just 2.5% of the lineup.

The similarly electronic music-heavy Future Music Festival also had only a pair of female acts (Helena and Maya Jane Coles), just 4.7% of its 47 booked acts.
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It’s not just dance and electronic music that seems starved however. For instance, this year’s hard and heavy Soundwave Festival also featured just two bands with women (Nancy Vandal and Nostalghia) on a bill of over 90 bands, about 2.2%.

However, it seems the broader the genre, the better the chances of there being a fairer gender split.

This year’s Big Day Out lineup had seven bands featuring women in a bill of around 45 artists overall (about 15.5%), while Bluesfest 2014’s 25th Anniversary lineup was nearly 23% female; New Year’s Falls Festival had 18 among 76 acts (about 24%) and around a quarter of next month’s Splendour In The Grass lineup features women.

Additionally, the more ‘indie’ a festival, the lesser the gender gap, as seen in this year’s Laneway (35%) Golden Plains (25%), last year’s Meredith (28%). [do action=”pullquote-2″]However, it seems the broader the genre, the better the chances of there being a fairer gender split.[/do]

There’s obviously a lot of external factors at work and lineups totally vary from year to year, but our researched figures (which you can view in raw detail below) shows that even a broad snapshot of Australia’s music festival scene does raise some interesting trends, and in turn, the bigger conversation as to why those trends appear and what causes them.

Certain music festivals are obviously representative of genre, and from this perspective, metal, punk, electronic, and dance music alike seem to be less female-friendly, where other genres (eg. those catch-all styles of ‘indie’ and ‘alternative’) allow for a broader representation.

The numbers also show that (with the exception of Bluesfest) generally the bigger the Australian festival, the lesser the number of women on the lineup.

Just as Sydney-bred, LA-based Anna Lunoe wonders whether the gap is exclusive to a genre (electronic music) or a region (the US), Thump‘s assertion that “lineups don’t lie: dance music is still a boys club” could just as easily apply – at least by the numbers – to a much broader issue; not just an American issue, but a global one.

It’s easy to dismiss the problem by declaring that music festivals just book the best bands on the bill they can (paralleling the ‘best person for the job’ argument in the business world), after all there’s no gains from filling out a festival with female acts simply to fulfil an arbitrary quota.

But there’s no ignoring the fact there’s an incredibly diverse array of talented women – in groups, solo, young, old – across a variety of genres. So when females are leading the pack in certain genres (like, oh say, pop), why aren’t women similarly topping festival bills the world over?

It’s not the first time that the music industry has been accused of being male-dominated – both locally (by Aussie musicians and companies alike) and internationally (a wave of artists including Neko CaseIggy AzaleaLordeHaimSky Ferreira and Chvrches have all taken strong anti-misogynistic stances recently). Nor hopefully will it be the last time the issue is raised.

Women On Aussie Music Festival Lineups

Stereosonic 2013 – 2.5%
2 to 80+

Soundwave Festival 2014 – 2.2%
2 to 90+

Future Music Festival 2014 – 4.2%
2 to 47+

Big Day Out 2014 – 15.5%
7 to 45

Falls Festival 2013/14 – 23.68%
18 to 76+

Groovin The Moo 2014 – 19.35%
6 to 31+

Bluesfest 2014 – 22.7%
25 to 110

Laneway Festival 2014 – 35%
12 to 34

Meredith 2013 – 28.1%
9 to 32

Golden Plains 2014 – 25%
7 to 28

Splendour In the Grass 2014 – 25%
25 to 100+

‘Women On The Decks’

via Thump

Ultra Music Festival – 5.9%
13 to 207

EDC – 2.7%
5 to 179

Electric Zoo – 2.6%
3 to 113

Spring Awakening – 5.5%
5 to 86

Mysteryland – 3.4%
3 to 84

Mutek – 9.6%
9 to 85

Movement – 9.1%
12 to 120