On Saturday, Dec. 5, artists OSHUN, Diet Cig, Sharkmuffin, and Mal Devisa will converge at Barnard to celebrate female-fronted bands and artists.
Gigg On, Girl Festival's lineup spans all genres—from R&B to pop punk—features DJ sets, and includes a panel with the featured artists to discuss their experiences as musicians. Spectator spoke with founder and event organizer Sydne Larsen, BC '16, about the purpose and goals of the event.
ARIA HANSEN: Could you state what the purpose of this festival is?
SYDNE LARSEN: Gigg On, Girl is an all-women music festival, and the goal is to see women on a lineup. I think that right now this space seems almost exclusionary in the fact that it's women-only—but when you look at concert lineups or festival lineups, it's usually mostly men, and if you go further, it's usually only white men, and if you go even further, it's usually only white male rock bands.
I think that genre categorization—like rock, hip-hop, R&B—can [also] lead to marginalization. Our goal is that when you see a lineup that has only men on it, that looks weird to you. Our goal is to give a space to women, a platform to be seen and heard, and we want it to be open to different genres, so we have an R&B duo as our headliner, a punk band, a pop punk band, a singer-songwriter, and electronic music because we have two DJs, which is exciting. That's also why we have the panel—to hear about what their experiences are. We want them to feel like the community understands what they're going through and start discourse about how we can make this industry more inclusive.
AH: I think that's a great cause, and I think that maybe people don't think this is an issue because it's so normalized to see mostly men on stage or in the music industry.
SL: Right! And that's my problem, because people don't blink when you say the lineup is all men, but if you say it's all women they're like, "Well, that's exclusionary! What about men?" But really, what about men?
AH: Right, I think the festival will help to normalize a female majority for lineups. What do you hope people will get out of the festival or hearing the bands talk?
SL: Gigg On, Girl is a community and not just a festival, so we're hoping that the community understands what it's like for musicians, just in general. And that's why we're teaming up with The Void Academy because that's what they do—they help artists reach their community online, through technology and also teach them how to make money. The first part of the panel is that I want the community to know what it's like to be a woman musician.
AH: Obviously, there's a huge gender imbalance in the industry, but do you think women are beginning to be or have always been vocal about their issues?
SL: I think it's tricky because it varies by genre, and it's not like women haven't been there—they have been there. Women have created things, and they've been erased. I think we've been there, and I think we're being vocal now and making sure we're not being erased. Maybe we're using technology in a way that's like, "You can't get rid of us. We're here, and we're on these platforms that democratize the system."
AH: So do you feel like the music industry is making any progress in being more gender inclusive?
SL: What I've found is that the smaller you go, the better it gets. If we're talking about venues like Terminal 5 or venues like that, they might cater more to male rock bands. But if you look at local booking companies like Top Gun Presents or AdHoc or DIY venues like Palisades, or even in the smaller venues within Webster Hall—I think they had a show last week that was Frankie Cosmos and a slew of women—the smaller you get, the better it gets. It's not weird, and you see more inclusion. The more corporate it gets, the more I see the systematic oppression.
I do a lot of research about the music industry, but I'm targeting festivals as a whole because I've seen so many articles about how horrible festivals have been at being inclusionary, so this is a good, fun way to get people to realize what's actually happening. And when you bring up producers—that's another element—or record companies, there are so many aspects of the music industry that I want to see change. I think at this point in my life, just in these last few months, I've focused on the festival circuit, but I think that everything needs to be attacked at different angles to bring down these pillars.
AH: So is it a hope that the festival will not only raise awareness but start to bring about change?
SL: It works on a lot of levels. If I talk about communities being aware, like when bookers look at shows, they think, "These are the kinds of things people want to go to," but they undermine the community and think, "Oh, they won't want to see an all-women lineup." So the community showing up for this means, "Oh, they actually are interested in women musicians. This isn't a bad thing for us to do in terms of marketing or getting our name out there."
And furthermore, the highest, highest goal of this festival is that the bookers who book Coachella, Glastonbury, Reading & Leeds, even Bacchanal—look at who you're booking. Why are you choosing these people? Why do you have fewer women headliners? Why aren't you including women? I'm saying, female-fronted, that's important—but women making music in general, that's also important, and the fact that Bacchanal has never had a woman headliner is questionable … and the fact that you're not only not booking women, but booking acts that I find either inherently or somewhat sexist in ways that might marginalize some of your listening audience.
AH: Yeah, it seems counterintuitive to ostracize a large part of your audience.
SL: Especially if you talk about the community and people who listen to music, we've always had to navigate that popular music doesn't always speak to women's experiences—sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't, and we've had to navigate the fact that in pop culture, we have to listen to music that's degrading, and we do have to know that stuff. We have to have that balance that's like, "OK, I listen to this artist even though I think some of their stuff is denigrating, or I don't agree with it, but this is what's popular." We have to exist within these multiple identities.
When I look around and I see a lot of fangirls and I see them singing back to these male bands, and they seem so happy and they're living in it—and that's not a bad thing—but I just wonder, what if you had a role model on stage who was saying something different to you? I'm not saying that these male bands are bad role models at all, but what if you had a role model who spoke to your experiences, and that's what you're listening to in the car or screaming out the top of your lungs, you feel like it defines your experiences—why don't we have those?
Gigg On, Girl Festival will take place at Barnard on Saturday, Dec. 5. The panel will run from 3 to 4 p.m., DJ sets from 4 to 5 p.m., and festival from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.