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Weekly updates

Melbourne is a swarm of people, groups and stories. It’s a smooshed culture which sort of resembles discount New York but somehow everything is more expensive. It’s also known for its rich history of rock and punk artists, both those who rode the freight train of success and those who steamrolled through the underground. Unfortunately, these scenes do not reflect the rich diversity of Melbourne in 2017. This issue was shoved to the foreground earlier this year when Sydney Morning Herald interviewed Melbourne three-piece, Wet Lips. “These organisations are run by white, middle-class men who are barely competent, grown-up babies,” said singer/guitarist Grace Kindellan. “They succeed off the work of women and gender-nonconforming people, who often volunteer their services.”

These days we want art to be free, expressive, representative, and inclusive. But to see one of the city’s most promising acts publicly slam a toxic status-quo was eye-opening. If people who aren’t cis, straight, white, and male can’t feel safe in an expansive and creative environment—a la the local music community—then where can they feel safe?

TRANSGENRE and Wetfest, the latter curated by Wet Lips, grow every year while labels such as LISTEN and Hysterical push diverse rosters and eclectic styles. But if you’re still wondering whether Melbourne’s music scene is inclusive enough, there’s a consensus: it’s not. We spoke to some of Melbourne’s most exciting young artists to get a snapshot of how bygone politics continue to plague this music community.

01. Suss Cunts

Nina: None of the scenes are inclusive. People are still putting on line-ups and not realising how non-diverse and non-representative they are until they get called out about it. It’s a no-brainer; we live in a society where the voices that are prioritised and given the most space are not female, trans, or people of colour. It’s not just sexism, it’s a structural powerplay that’s been in place for a very, very long time. But people are now less-willing to put up with it. There are some incredible people doing some pretty important work now, that means there’s a greater community to support each other and build-up each other. But it does feel like a fucking uphill struggle. It’s a long way from fixed.

Photography by Anne-Maree Shelton

02. Hexdebt

Isobel: I never used to go to gigs unless I was with friends. I didn’t feel welcome. I also didn’t know how to get in there. I thought the only way was to make music because that’s all I’ve ever done. I still feel a bit different from everyone else. Sometimes I want to wear crazy Indian makeup and be all me. But then I wonder if I’m even supposed to be there.

Agnes: These conversations need to happen on and off-stage as well. But they can’t if you’ve got a whole line-up of King Gizzard-y dudes. Some gigs I play with my other band is a very different vibe. There’s no implicit understanding of diversity and safety.

Aife: Wetfest and similar things are a retaliation with being fed up with constantly going to these shows and being pushed out of the way, and having to mosh because that’s the only way you can be there.

Photography by Louis Rocketeer

03. Shrimpwitch

Georgi: A lot of what defines me going out to see gigs is asking, “Will there be nice people there? Is there going to be a good support network of peers?” I don’t go to gigs with all-male line-ups anymore. It’s not safe. You’re always going to be pushed and shoved, thrown in a mosh pit, beer spilling, sexual harassment, [or] tit squeeze.

Kim: There’s so many more femme and gender non-conforming bands now. Two women playing punk music seemed like a novelty when we first started. Whereas it isn’t anymore because there’s so many more diverse bands who’ve sprung up in the last few years.

Georgi: You will get more respect if you book more diverse line-ups. It can be awkward, but you’ve just got to fucking do it. You’re not tokenising. It has to be done. You’ve got to give everyone an opportunity.

Photography by Kurt Eckhardt

04. No Sister

Tiarney: There have been certain gigs where you feel they’re not as inclusive as they could have been, or people have a problem with the bands playing. But at the same time it can be very tokenistic.

Siahn: The people booking should be informed by good politics without necessarily wanting to see things which put people in a box and ends up segregating people even more. It also comes down to a lot of common sense. Don’t be a dick. Don’t heckle people. It’s very simple.

Mino: I don’t see the scene as being either inclusive or not inclusive enough. It’s more inclusive compared to certain aspects of the past. But that doesn’t mean we should tick off a box. It could always be more inclusive. There’s no limits as to how inclusive something can be.

05. Wet Lips

Grace: It’s absolutely not inclusive. You still can’t go to a gig without being sexually assaulted.

Jenny: People have to carve out spaces to feel safe. And even then, sexual assault still occurs and people are made to feel uncomfortable. At Wetfest II someone grabbed my arse. You cannot fucking escape it. If there’s people within positions of power in the music industry then they can abuse it, especially if they’re a cis white man. Disappointingly, they fucking do all the time.

Grace: It’s a common narrative that progress happens gradually. But it doesn’t. It happens when people take risks, lose respect, and are yelled at. People like Evelyn Morris, June Jones, and HABITS are working so hard to carve out spaces where people feel safe. Those things are incredible and they’re making so much progress.

Georgia: We can’t fix everything. But we can speak up and make more people aware of the situation.

Photography by Kimberly Thompson

06. Beloved Elk

Amy: We were always the opening band on all-male line-ups. But it happened recently and it made us feel disgusting. There was a warehouse launch and there was a girl doing all the leg work, which is common in this scene. She told the organisers there weren’t any women playing the launch. Whenever people try to book us, we say we won’t open. That’s what I told the organisers, so they put us in the middle. If I didn’t speak up I don’t know where we would’ve been on the line-up.

Tina: I’ve been challenged by seeing the different dynamics between being a female musician and going to gigs and having a different response from men. I’ve questioned it but it hasn’t hit me in an emotional way. I love the underground scene so much that I find no use to branch out and fight my way through. I’m just focused on what I love and that’s music.

Photography by Lauren Thom