Earlier this year the Female: Pressure network of musicians and artists released a series of statistics on the proportion of female artists appearing across European and North American experimental electronic music festivals. Some failed to have any women on the bill, some as few as one or two. The statistics were widely covered (including in this magazine), and sparked discussion on various channels. Despite the fact that some statistics were inaccurate, even with corrections the results still showed up an enormous imbalance.
Buoyed by the media coverage, Susanne Kirchmayr (aka Electric Indigo) and the network (which includes around 1300 artists) decided to stage a festival. A mailout asking for suggestions produced a list of over 200 female artists, and now the inaugural Perspectives festival will run 12–13 September at About Blank in Berlin, with 11 DJs and 15 musicians on the bill, including Islaja and Gudrun Gut, plus panel discussions and introductory workshops for aspiring female musicians.
Kirchmayr claims that the festival is not meant to be making a political statement: "We are a network – a kind of swarm of people," she says. "We are not a group of people who are political activists. Our main agenda is to make art. What we really want to do is to create and to make art under positive conditions, and the festival is one way to create these conditions."
The aim is to present a showcase of the Female: Pressure network, which will buoy young or aspiring female artists: "As more female artists are present in media and get recognition by the audience and the public, the more female newcomers you will have," says Kirchmayr, "so that's our aim – to give motivation to young women, to start and create."
Gudrun Gut sees the showcase as key to addressing some of the issues that result in low representation of female musicians in live contexts. "I play all these international festivals," she says, "and I'm mostly the only woman. And I think it is so fucking boring."
"There are a lot of women, but they don't get the chance to play," she continues "and if you don't get the chance to play, you won't get any better."
Programming a festival based solely around female artists risks ghettoisation – separating female acts off from their male peers doesn't do anything to redress gender imbalance. The issue of how many men to book began as an ideological discussion, but ultimately became pragmatic: with limited space on the line up, it seemed a compromise to give a slot to a male performer when there's a network of 1300 female artists wanting to be involved.
Also, forcing the issue risks encouraging positive discrimination – women being chosen for reasons of gender rather than skill. But Kirchmayr believes positive discrimination as a necessary evil, and points out that society hasn't reached a state where equality exists, a social reality that extends to the electronic music community. "Electronic music is not a different planet," she says, "so we deal with issues that the whole society deals with.
"We're in a kind of transitional phase. I would love to say that gender doesn't matter, and that we don't have to think about this question which is sometimes really annoying. But for now, it's a good thing, and I don't think any artist at a serious festival gets booked only because she's a woman – it's always about the effort and the artistic potential that person has."
"It's not equal in the so-called modern music scene," says Gut. "Music is a very important thing in our lives, so why should it be dominated by men? I don't get it. It's really important to have an equal female voice, even if they're saying the same thing, I still like to hear it."
In reaction to Female: Pressure's statistics, some festival organisers said that it was harder to find and book female artists of a high enough profile, simply because there are fewer of them. Gut rubbishes these claims, and says that festival bookers should be looking harder. But now Female: Pressure is booking its own festival, have they run into similar problems, in particular when thinking abut booking notable enough names to sell tickets? Kirchmayr says no, and that bigger acts like Grimes were avoided, partly because the festival is meant to be a showcase, partly for budget restrictions, and partly because of numbers – About Blank couldn't fit an enormous name. "My personal opinion was that we don't need big acts," says Kirchmayr. "We are great artists already and we have great creative potential. In Berlin we draw a lot of people, so that wont be a problem."
Gut has a different take on the imbalance: "If festivals get money from government bodies, I pay my taxes. Women pay the same taxes as men, so if it's a government funded thing, you should have a quota – you should reflect the population."
Perspectives Festival takes place at Berlin's About Blank 12–13 September.