Image for Activist Group LISTEN Responds To Criticism After Calling Into Question Bluesfest’s First 2019 Lineup

Activist Group LISTEN Responds To Criticism After Calling Into Question Bluesfest’s First 2019 Lineup

Written by Tom Williams on August 7, 2018

Activist collective LISTEN has released a statement responding to criticism it has received since critiquing Bluesfest’s male-dominated first lineup announcement for 2019, which included four acts featuring female artists.

Last week, LISTEN criticised Bluesfest for replicating what it described as “an atrocious history of male dominated lineups” in Australia, to which the festival replied by defending its history of booking diverse acts.

Bluesfest Director Peter Noble has since compared lineup critics to Nazis and called for an apology from LISTEN, but the group has today responded to Noble and their other critics.

In a statement, LISTEN said its issue “is not with [Bluesfest] itself, nor the women who have already been booked to play”, but with “the message repeatedly sent by Australian festivals that women and non binary artists, especially those who are Indigenous and artists of colour, do not deserve to be announced first”.

“In response to Bluesfest’s description of LISTEN as a ‘classic single interest group’, we would like to point the organisers in the direction of our website, our last four years of action, and the many areas of the music industry in which LISTEN is involved,” the group said.

“Reducing LISTEN’s work to a single post on our Facebook page undermines the thousands of volunteer hours over the past four years that women, gender non-conforming and LGBTQIA+ people have given to this organisation, across many events and endeavours.”

Discussing the “dismissive comments and accusations” the collective sometimes receives when criticising a major festival, LISTEN said “it is clear that those commenting have not engaged with LISTEN before”.

“We invite these commenters to attend our events, listen to the artists and speakers we showcase, and meaningfully engage in conversation and action,” the group said.

LISTEN also described Peter Noble’s comparison between LISTEN and “Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton’s rants against the Melbourne Sudanese population” as “abhorrent”.

“Positioning themselves as victims through this wildly inappropriate analogy illustrates their sheer blindness to power dynamics and how structural oppression is currently playing out in this country,” the group said.

“The institutional power held by one of the biggest music festivals in the country is not comparable in any way to that of a grassroots organisation. Using one of the most vulnerable communities in Australia who are systematically and racially targeted as a comparison for their lineup being critiqued is unacceptable.”

LISTEN also said it agrees with comments that “the underrepresentation of women and gender diverse people is a systemic problem in the music industry”.

“This makes it all the more important that these conversations take place and are depicted accurately in the wider music media,” it said.

“Bluesfest is a festival that carries great economic and cultural weight within Australia and needs to shoulder the attendant responsibilities, rather than holding themselves above reproach or criticism.”

You can read LISTEN’s statement in full below, and find out more about the group via its website.

Earlier this week, Bluesfest’s Peter Noble posted a Facebook comment directed at LISTEN, telling the organisation, “I do hope you learn to choose your targets better in future. Or maybe even admit, you screwed up here, and offer an apology.”

Bluesfest’s 30th anniversary festival will take place at Byron Bay’s Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm in April 2019.

LISTEN Statement (07/08/18)

Our critique took issue with the Bluesfest 2019 first lineup announcement that platforms predominantly men, and no women of colour.

First announcements indicate who a festival believes has significant value; they set the tone of a festival and draw the bulk of ticket sales. There has been plenty of discussion in the last few years about Australia’s music diversity problem, and why lineup announcements should prioritise diversity. Central to LISTEN’s values is the idea that the music industry is not a meritocracy, and that there are systemic inequalities preventing equal access and participation.

LISTEN saw Bluesfest’s first announcement as a missed opportunity to demonstrate they are engaged in these conversations, and to showcase the great many artists who are deserving of a headline spot, in a first announcement.

LISTEN has made no comment about previous Bluesfest lineups that include women, queer and POC artists. Our issue is not with the festival itself, nor the women who have already been booked to play. Our issue is with the message repeatedly sent by Australian festivals that women and non binary artists, especially those who are Indigenous and artists of colour, do not deserve to be announced first.

In response to Bluesfest’s description of LISTEN as a ‘classic single interest group’, we would like to point the organisers in the direction of our website, our last four years of action, and the many areas of the music industry in which LISTEN is involved.

We often use our social media pages to give an additional platform to other activist groups. Two-thirds of our Bluesfest post’s images were taken from Instagram page @LineupsWithoutMales.

Media pages like @LineupsWithoutMales and @LineupsWithoutWhites are visually powerful and spark crucial commentary, which should not be underestimated.

However, reducing LISTEN’s work to a single post on our Facebook page undermines the thousands of volunteer hours over the past four years that women, gender non-conforming and LGBTQIA+ people have given to this organisation, across many events and endeavours.

When we identify an issue with a major festival online and are met with dismissive comments and accusations, it is clear that those commenting have not engaged with LISTEN before. We invite these commenters to attend our events, listen to the artists and speakers we showcase, and meaningfully engage in conversation and action.

We want to particularly emphasise how abhorrent we find Bluesfest’s official comments likening our critique to the vilification of the South Sudanese community in government and media. Positioning themselves as victims through this wildly inappropriate analogy illustrates their sheer blindness to power dynamics and how structural oppression is currently playing out in this country. The institutional power held by one of the biggest music festivals in the country is not comparable in any way to that of a grassroots organisation. Using one of the most vulnerable communities in Australia who are systematically and racially targeted as a comparison for their lineup being critiqued is unacceptable.

LISTEN is a grassroots, entirely volunteer-run not-for-profit organisation. Led by a collective of individuals heavily involved in the Naarm (Melbourne) music community, our interests are reflected in the wide range of projects that LISTEN run and are involved in, including live music events, panels, workshops, a conference and an offshoot record label.

LISTEN advocates for women, queer and gender diverse artists, and other under-represented groups in the music industry. LISTEN is invested in dismantling the multiple structures that prevent these artists from being seen and equally valued in the music industry, and highlighting the ways forces like racism, transphobia and ableism shape artists’ and audiences’ safety and inclusion. In 2018, LISTEN has built databases of women and gender non-conforming individuals working in the music industry. LISTEN has successfully lobbied and written a policy document for a taskforce against sexual harassment and assault in music venues, which is now government-funded and implemented across Victoria.

We agree with comments that the underrepresentation of women and gender diverse people is a systemic problem in the music industry. This makes it all the more important that these conversations take place and are depicted accurately in the wider music media. Bluesfest is a festival that carries great economic and cultural weight within Australia and needs to shoulder the attendant responsibilities, rather than holding themselves above reproach or criticism.

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