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Diversity In Music Festivals Is Improving, But We Still Have A Long Way To Go

We hit up Good Things music festival to chat to artists about their thoughts on this hot-button issue.

With festival season upon us, there's bound to be a heated discussion -- as there is every year -- centred around the gender and cultural disparity we continue to see among music festivals both locally and internationally.

10 daily spoke to artists Ecca Vandal, Northlane, Tonight Alive and Waax ahead of their performances at Good Things Festival at Parramatta Park to get an artist's insight to the all-important question, have Australian music festivals improved when it comes to creating more diverse line-ups?

"In terms of diversity in festivals we’ve started to see some progress -- but we have a long way to go," Ecca Vandal, who is South African born with to Sri Lankan parents, told 10 daily.

"It’s definitely front of mind for some festival bookers, but some don’t seem to pay any attention for it and just book bands they wanna see, which is cool, but in order to really shift the paradigm and see change we actually have to actively seek bands that have female leads and people of colour," she continued, adding, "We need to see them right at the top of the festival bill, so I think we do have some work to do in Australia.”

It's not to say that the situation hasn't improved in the last few years, in fact, many artists noted that they had seen vast improvements when it came to variety in lineups -- but there's still a long way to go.

It was a sentiment echoed not only by other female artists, but also all-male bands, such as Sydney-based rockers Northlane.

“I think as the world moves forward and with these things being talked about more and more, female-fronted bands and artists a getting more time, which is great to see," vocalist Marcus Bridge said.

"Maybe there aren’t as many female-fronted bands in this style of music or whatever -- but it’s really important to seek these voices out and make sure they’re being heard. It’s slowly getting there but there’s still a lot more to go. The fact that it’s being discussed and the landscape is slowly changing is awesome, though,” Bridge added.

Another interesting viewpoint on the matter came from Tonight Alive's Jake Hardy and Cameron Adler -- who have worked alongside female lead Jenna McDougall since the band's formation in 2008 and emphatically believe that change is already happening among the festival scene.

“Back in the first Warped Tour we were definitely one of the only female-fronted bands on the bill, but this year there were definitely a few more," Jake told 10 daily, adding, "There’s a definitely a resurgence of female artists -- like, here at Good Things alone you’ve got Ecca Vandal, BABYMETAL and Waax."

He continued, "In terms of change, it’s happened pretty quickly -- though it mightn't seem like it. Just looking over the last five years you can definitely see there’s been progress.”

Bandmate Cameron added that one difference they'd noticed was that with more female-led acts joining the mix in recent years, people are no longer immediately comparing Tonight Alive to other bands with female vocalists that aren't stylistically similar to theirs, simply because they both had female leads.

“We used to get compared to a lot of other female-fronted bands, which was annoying," he said.  "It was hard for us to feel like an individual, but it doesn’t feel like that now with more and more female-led bands coming through. The comparison is definitely not as much of a problem as it was a few years ago," he added.

Waax members Maz DeVita and Chris Antolak agreed that the industry heavyweights were beginning to acknowledge the issue, with Maz explaining, “I think there’s definitely room for change. People are definitely more aware and considering marginalised communities more. Being in the industry for about six years, things are definitely changing, but there’s definitely more to fight for. We’re all in it together.”

Guitarist Chris added that the onus is also on artists banding together to support one another -- not just festival bookers.

“Bands can do their part too -- when they’re touring and putting bands on, just being conscious of diversifying those that come on and play with them, it’s the least you can do an artist. I’m stoked that it's already happening, but more still needs to happen.”

While this year's lineup Good Things Festival saw a significant amount of female-led/mixed heavy music acts such as BABYMETAL, Waax, Ecca Vandal, Tonight Alive, Make Them Suffer and The Smith Street Band take the stage to packed crowds -- there's still a staggering gap when it comes to male vs female/mixed acts among the festival circuit as a whole.

All you have to do is check Instagram account @LineUpsWithoutMales -- which edits festival bills to highlight the inclusion of female acts -- to see how troubling the issue really is.

According to a comprehensive investigative piece by Pilerats, which looked into representation issues in the Aussie festival circuit, on average, male artists represent a staggering 68% of lineups, while all-female acts make up just 23% (mixed acts on average cover 9% of festival bills).

Image: pilerats.com

It's not just female artists who are getting the short end of the stick -- people of colour are also left out of the mix when it comes to being recognised in the music scene, with an average of just 16% of Australian music festival acts being non-white performers.

Image: pilerats.com

Hopefully, the fact that the issue is becoming more openly discussed due to today's climate signifies that change is imminent -- no matter how incremental it may seem.

Image: Getty