Festival lineup announcement season is usually the most exciting time of the year for we audiophiles: it’s an excuse to start making epic plans with each other while at work or in class, and a reason for those of us with four seasons to keep going despite the fact that snow has lost its novelty and turned into cigarette-encrusted highway sludge. This year, however, felt different. Maybe I’m an angry feminist killjoy, but with a POTUS who thinks he can grab women by their genitals, I was really looking forward to rediscovering a more magical and just world of peace, love, and dance music during my usual summer festival circuit. As each announcement dropped from Electric Forest to Coachella to Mysteryland USA, I couldn’t help but keep screaming at my various screens: where are all the women?! If I based my knowledge of music on festival lineups, I might actually believe there’s a global shortage of female DJs producing music nowadays.
Mysteryland -- the world’s longest-running nomadic electronic dance music, arts, and culture festival -- is set to return to Bethel Woods, the site of the original Woodstock ‘69 nestled in the foothills of New York’s Catskills, for the fourth installment of its stateside edition June 9, 10, and 11. It stands out as the one East Coast camping festival of its kind where I had been able to spend a relatively decent amount of time dancing to women artists in recent years, so I held my breath in hopes that its 2017 lineup would not disappoint. Past lineups included DJ Theresa, Heidi, Maya Jane Coles, Nicole Moudaber, Ida Engberg, Nora En Pure, REZZ, Mija, Akki, Anna Morgan, Jubilee, Nervo, and Anna Lunoe, so it’s not like my dream of a more equitable lineup in terms of gender is irrational.
When the festival’s lineup finally dropped back in February, it appeared at first glance to be as awesome as ever: G-Eazy, LCD Soundsystem, and Major Lazer headline alongside Porter Robinson, Run the Jewels, Big Gigantic, Die Antwoord, and RL Grime, with support from Anna Lunoe, Snails, Illenium, Mount Kimbie, DJ Sliink, Flight Facilities, the Desert Hearts Crew, and countless other artists spanning the spectrum of dance music.
However, once the initial excitement of dancing to some of my faves on those holy grounds wore off, it became painfully clear that the patriarchy that gets me down in “real life” will continue to stress me out on this summer’s myriad dancefloors beneath the electric sky.
Of the over-100 acts announced so far, only seven include women.
Two of these seven acts consist of both male-identifying and female-identifying artists: Die Antwoord, featuring Yolandi Visser, and XYLO, one-half of which is Paige Duddy. The other five are Analog Soul, Octo Octa, Elohim, Jessica Stanell, and Anna Lunoe.
For the math nerds out there, let’s crunch the numbers real quick: 113 acts have been announced; seven include women; five are women-only. That means about 6% of the lineup includes women in some capacity, while only 4% of the lineup features women acts.
While Analog Soul consists of identical twins Jacky Sommer and DatKat -- the only black women on the lineup -- the duo does not necessarily earn the festival double social justice points. By the same token: while Octo Octa, nee Maya Bouldry-Morrison, is openly transgender and part of Brooklyn’s feminist DJ collective Discwoman, she could ride in on a unicorn and still not make up for the fact that the festival’s lineup as it stands favors cisgender heterosexual (also: white) males over everyone else in the scene.
Hearing from black and brown artists, artists of different ethnicities and backgrounds, artists from around the world, and artists who might not always get the same “air time” as some bigger names is important. However, cultivating diversity in almost every way imaginable is not enough if women artists continue to be “pics or it didn’t happen.” No lineup will ever be truly next-level epic without including an equal number of female artists, and that means all women: trans women, genderqueer women, and nonbinary people who are significantly female-identified.
Obviously, this problem is not unique to Mysteryland USA. Look at Camp Bisco, for example. Bisco’s first phase lineup for their 2017 return to the waterpark in the woods of Montage Mountain is pretty awesome at first: Bassnectar and Desert Dwellers in one weekend sounds like a dream. But of the 56 acts announced thus far, it’s pretty disturbing that only three -- Tokimonsta, Maddy O’Neal, and CloZee -- are women. That translates to only 5% of the 3-day festival’s lineup. Four bands on the lineup include women, but the inclusion of a few mixed-gender bands hardly does anything for gender equality: besides Zoe Jakes of Beats Antique, we’re talking about one or two vocalists in several 9-piece powerfunk and nu-disco bands.
Calling-out gender inequity at dance music festivals isn’t a new discussion by any means. And in the case of an event like Mysteryland USA, it’s not a hopeless quest. During a press conference held at the festival’s inaugural stateside edition, organizers expressed that their mission from the get-go has been about cultivating truly diverse, safe spaces in which *all* dance music enthusiasts can be themselves. Achievement of that ethos, however, relies upon giving female artists equal attention to male artists. Here’s hoping their phase two lineup -- and the future of dance music festivals -- is more female.
Wednesday 8th March 2017 is #InternationalWomensDay