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It's 2020 — why are we still seeing lineups with such poor diversity?

14 August 2020 | 1:39 pm | Emma Jones

In a post-COVID era, we are presented with an opportunity to rebuild our music scene to be better for everyone. But it feels like we're missing the chance.

On July 31st, Rabbits Eat Lettuce announced their 2020 lineup. Containing a 60+ act line up that is overwhelmingly male and white shows that even despite global reckonings, and sustained pressure for years to end endemic sexism and racism, the level of ignorance to both is still high in the Australian music industry.

This is an event with a really great mission. They believe ”that festivals can be a powerful catalyst for self-development, healing and social change.” Their event is about "Freedom, Love & Dance Music." They push their audience to “open your heart, develop your mind, move your body.” How are these ideals congruent with a lineup that doesn't even hit 10% of women and gender nonconforming people in 2020? It's even more shocking how tone deaf this lineup is given the time we all now find ourselves in. We have global movements against sexism. We have our own industry grappling with predators. We have the #BlackLivesMatter protests calling for systemic change and resulting in a global music industry “blackout” campaign calling for an embracing of diversity, in which the promoters of this event were welcome participants. Rabbits Eat Lettuce’s own contribution to the online debate around social change included the text "listening and learning".

Every single year the discussion in regards to having more diverse line ups ignites. As an industry we clearly need more “listening and learning". If we are able to follow global movements closely enough to recognise the need to say something, then it is incumbent on us to make change in our own backyard. Apparently we’re happy to post woke statements on Instagram for the likes, but not enough to book more artists of colour or more women or GNC people: actions that will actually bring about the change we purport to want to see.


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Thankfully, the message has gotten through to at least one artist on the bill with Human Movement doing the work and announcing his withdrawal from the line up after deciding the "whack" imbalance didn't sit right with him. However, it's beyond infuriating that it takes a white man saying something women, members of the LGBTQI+ community and people of colour have repeatedly, consistently and loudly said for years for anyone to hear. Entire Instagram accounts exist with the sole mission of calling out this imbalance and discrimination. The concept of having a more diverse lineup is not new, nor is it difficult to understand, which makes it all the more hurtful, infuriating and devastating to see the message quite simply wilfully ignored by this festival.

Of course, as with every time criticism like this is made, there will be those saying "there just weren't any available! I’m sure it will be better next year! We believe in the music, not the quotas!" This is exactly what the festival has said today in response to Human Movement's withdrawal in the comment section of his Facebook post. Citing that they don't receive as many offers from agents for female artists as they do male artists, and referring to two specific offers they made to book Peggy Gou and Maya Jane Coles, as well as saying they repeatedly book female artists who are "killing it" seems to be missing the point completely. If agents do not have female artists on their roster to book, that’s a conversation we need to have. If artists are not available, that’s a conversation we need to have. If it’s difficult to find female artists or people of colour, why not try putting the call out on Instagram or Facebook. Try using these platforms for something more than slacktivism. Use them to connect with communities. Use them to have the tough conversations our industry needs. While the onus needs to be on all faces of the industry to improve in this area, for the festival to not only ridicule Human Movement's decision, but to also say it's simply too hard and that they book "on talent, music and energy," is just not good enough anymore.

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Every so often, the phrase that we all need to "do better" is used to when calling for changes such as this. The problem with saying we need to "do better" is that it has become an empty platitude. It means absolutely nothing to those who actually need it to be meaningful. Sexism exists all around us, as does racism, and both have the perfect breeding ground in the music industry. In July, Music Junkee wrote a brilliant piece asking if the Australian #MeToo movement that looked set to finally take off would last, but in light of this festival announcement, the concern is that this moment is another wasted opportunity. In 2017 and 2018, Pilerats collated statistics on festival diversity, and came to the conclusion that while there is more work to be done, Australian festivals were improving when it came to diversity and greater representation. For a lineup of this nature to be announced two years later shows just how much work remains.

Dance music originates from marginalised communities. It’s origins are with black people, with the LGBTQI+ community, and with all those who needed community and liberation that only music can bring. Festivals such as Rabbits Eat Lettuce need to understand the brand damage that comes with ignoring those that dare to exist outside the straight, white EDM audience catered to with their lineup. It's all the confirmation marginalised people and minorities need in order to realise that no matter how loud the movement is, how far reaching it is, how widespread or how real it appears to be, the people (usually straight white men) in power are even quicker to move on from the issue than they were scrambling to be on board.

It’s a massive thing to run a festival in the time of COVID and a tough business decision to make the event go ahead in the first place, but 2020 makes this programming even more abhorrent. The world has changed. We need promoters with the will to make live music happen. We need people who refuse to lie down in the face of hardship and for that, the Rabbits Eat Lettuce team should be commended. But we need the RIGHT decisions and the RIGHT events. We need the team behind Rabbits Eat Lettuce to be the leaders they can be. We have a unique opportunity as an industry and a community in being able to rebuild a broken culture for a new era. Lineups like this are not part of the new era dawning. They are the death rattle of the last era that 2020 should have put to rest.

Words by Emma Jones

Image via Rabbits Eat Lettuce Facebook