The Unify 2019 lineup dropped last week on August 9th and I think it’s a solid roster, honestly. Underoath, Taking Back Sunday, Harm’s Way, Gravemind, Pagan, Trophy Eyes, Turnstile, Endless Heights, and WAAX get me super fuckin’ hyped. It’s a sonically diverse bill. Because while the ‘A Heavy Music Gathering’ banner tag is gone from the festival’s branding, one must remember that ‘heavy’ doesn’t always equal ‘good’. However, this lineup announcement came with so much more than just the usual yearly rumblings of “wah wah, X band I like isn’t playing“. With the “James Gunning” of Michael Crafter getting I Killed The Prom Queen’s exclusive nostalgia set axed due to derogatory comments the vocalist made back in 2016, the topic of gender divides in Australian music rose again. While I’m aware that Meredith festival did a great job of gender balance and that Bluesfest sadly hasn’t, we aren’t here to talk about them. We’re here to talk about Unify 2019, so let’s jump in.
First off, Michael Crafter and his absolute doozy of a comment from 2016: “end of the day a festival is about getting cunt to shows. [sic]. Not giving someone a go cause its feel sorry for women in bands week. Im sure there’s enough girls get [sic] finger banged in the tents to be happy enough about the festival“.
While I have nothing against Crafter personally, and while I’ve enjoyed some of the music he’s been a part of over the years, his first apology only came because he was called out and had to go into damage control. It’s just simply part-and-parcel for these types of situations. No matter what industry or field you’re in. The hardest part here is saying that you’ve changed and then being able to actually prove that. It’s tricky for anyone, musician or not.
“I completely understand why people are pissed off, and I am sorry and I really regret it. I want women to succeed in music, my daughter included if that’s the path she chooses. I’m massive on being positive and pushing yourself and think my life nowadays is a reflection on that.” – Michael Crafter via Twitter, August 9th.
Though I do feel that that statement wears a little thin as he pulled the “As a father” card. If said criticized comments were made before his daughter’s birth, then that maybe would’ve been understandable for his lack of perspective. As becoming a parent does change you. (Well, usually). Yet his daughter was already a couple years old when such a statement was posted. All from a man who should know better. Also, to those bringing up his other band, Confession, and their 2016 Unify set as some sort of booking hypocrisy against Unify, please be aware that his comments came months after that performance.
However, in a preemptive move to what might’ve followed as people try to dig up more dirt, Crafter came forward with a second statement. Which was commendable, openly saying: “While it’s been challenging, I’m taking it as a learning experience to reflect on my attitudes, the language I’ve used in the past, and how I want to encourage other men in the scene to reflect on our culture and how we can all work to make it better.”
Here, the frontman owned up to his past, that he should be held to better standards and admitted his role in an old forum between 2005-2009 called Broken Glass Online. A site that went from being about heavy music and soon devolved into bullying, shaming, nude image sharing, and other nasty shit, with him adding that: “If this online forum affected you I sincerely apologise for the forum even existing and wish it actually never did. We need to all be held to better standards, accept our past mistakes and apologise for this.”
As for the rest of I Killed The Prom Queen, I found it rich that people tried to smear the other four members as problematic. Other than their name – of which guitarist/co-founder Jona Weinhofen recently agreed hasn’t aged well yet won’t change it because doing so this far into a career would be ridiculous and rightfully so – their actual lyrical content isn’t sexist or misogynistic. Poor online comments made by their former frontman who was now joining them for a one-off throwback set are, but not the rest of the members, their beliefs, nor the song lyrics for that matter. Should they have been dropped because of Crafter’s old comments? I don’t know, maybe, but I know for a fact that the other members took the out Unify offered to get away from this mess, as that line-up removal decision was reached by both parties.
One question I have in all of this is what precedent does this set for Unify and other festivals? Does that mean Parkway Drive cannot play Unify again because ‘Romance Is Dead‘ (a song that was written 13 years ago for ‘Killing With A Smile‘) has the lyric, “So cry me a fucking river, bitch“? Will Taking Back Sunday get pulled because singer Adam Lazzara got a DUI back in 2015? Are Thy Art Is Murder not allowed to come back lest a witch hunt ensues because their first EP, 2008’s ‘Infinite Death‘, has a song titled ‘Whore To A Chainsaw‘? Something tells me that even though Thy Art has disowned that song and no longer perform it live won’t matter to those who’d loudly cry afoul online. It sure wasn’t an issue when Thy Art played Unify 2017, but after all of this, I think other bands may now fall under similar scrutiny.
This all went further beyond the actual band’s, however. After I Killed The Prom Queen had been removed following that Crafter controversy, one of the festival’s organizers, Luke Logemman (co-founder of Unified), also received a “James Gunn” treatment. With people – whether mad at him and the fest for dropping IKTPQ or wanting to dig the heels in while the pressure was on – dug up old Instagram posts posted on his personal account from many years ago; showing him making sexual innuendo jokes and using racial slurs. Unsurprisingly, Luke’s since put his Instagram on private and deleted his Twitter to stave off future harassment of the sort.
There was even the below tweet from June 2018 about how Luke would block any other users for criticising the incoming 2019 line-up. Looking over the original replies on that specific thread (before he shut his account down), it was clearly meant to do with the genres of the bands playing. Yet people – whether accidentally or on-purpose – skimmed over that fact as certain individuals retweeted it around as if he had only just posted it regarding the Crafter/gender issue. All the while using this to attack Luke and the festival itself harder while making his comments seem even worse than what they actually were. Though, I can’t say I’m fully surprised that this happened, given the way that social media likes to remove context most of the time. While it was still a bad tweet from Luke, one that sent out the wrong message in hindsight, it definitely wasn’t up to the egregious extent people tried to later frame it as.
Also regarding the UNIFIED Chief Creative Officer, it was humorous seeing bands like The Hard Aches chiming in on Twitter to declare that past statements of better representation from Luke/Unify don’t mean anything as literally nothing changes. When in fact, something did change. For next year’s event, the festival literally booked a larger female presence. Sure, going from just four female-featured acts in 2018 (Outright, Tonight Alive, Make Them Suffer, The Beautiful Monument) up to seven in 2019 with Dream State, Stand Atlantic, Pagan, WAXX, Yours Truly, Drown This City and Clowns isn’t a huge leap. (It’s nine now with the recent line-up update FYI). And it’s still under 20% of the overall lineup. Yet there were actual steps been taken forward. Small steps, yes, but forward motion nonetheless; something that may bode even better for future lineups too. While I do believe these kinds of changes must come from the top-down and not the bottom-up – as there’s only so much a punter, a fan or an editor/writer at an (AT BEST) mid-tier Australian music website can do – I find it interesting that that growth wasn’t even acknowledged here.
In all honesty, I feel many were expecting it’d suddenly be a 50/50 split between genders now. But that was just never going to be the case for Unify 2019. And it might not be a for a couple more years. Both for this particular event and other heavy/alternative festivals and tours too. For music – heavy or otherwise – there’s no instant band-aid fix for these kinds of gender imbalance issues. It’s gonna take some time, and we should all work to do what we can for better representation. But after this past week and a half, a conversation that’s meant to create better, positive change just became woefully diluted. It was also quite sad seeing people conflate mere annoyance at the line-up of bands sonically and the gender divides. One is a matter of personal taste, the other has far more societal weight and importance to it. Let’s not pretend they’re the same thing.
I felt a sense of deja vu when this happened and with all of these discussions occurring. As back in 2016, when the Unify 2017 line-up dropped, this same issue of off-set gender ratios came up. Yet no one wanted to speak with the bands themselves on the matter. Instead, places like your Pedestrian.TV’s just slung their shit at the other side from the safety of their own accounts. So to hell with that, I thought, and I reached out to Saviour who were playing the festival come 2017. This was what the band’s co-singer Shontay Snow sent us back at the time in 2016, a statement that I think still rings loud and true now:
“I understand there aren’t many women on the UNIFY 2017 bill, however, the massive lack of representation of women in this industry, in this genre particularly, is not a result of Unify’s lineup choices or the massive amounts of male bands out there already. It’s a result of women choosing not to represent themselves in heavy music. If you are a woman, or a man, or somewhere in between and want to be a heavy musician, just be one. I am. I am also a melancholic folk artist, whatever works for you really. Bottom line is, it really just seems that there aren’t many female musicians currently releasing heavy music. Thus the 117:2 ratio on next years lineup. Just to make things clear, I would be insulted if our band was chosen for ANY festival based on the fact that I am a female musician. However, I am very aware that Saviours appearance on this lineup has got nothing to do with my gender, it’s because we worked hard and we deserve to be there. Dicks or no dicks.”
Sadly, this whole conversation often sweeps away from the actual bands playing. Underoath and Taking Back Sunday headlining? Hell yeah! Seeing my pals in Gravemind finally added to the festival? That’s huge for them! Hand Of Mercy reforming for a one-off set? Put my ‘Last Lights‘ out, I’m fucking stoked!
Even fewer are celebrating the fact that some awesome Australian groups with female-members like Pagan, Drown This City, and WAXX are playing too. To hone in on them, Melbourne’s Drown This City grow better with each new release they drop; Pagan put out one of the best debut albums of 2018 with ‘Black Wash‘; and WAXX are smashing it lately off the back of 2017’s terrific ‘Wild & Weak‘ EP and their newest single, ‘Labrador‘.
Hell, just look at the second day’s opening band, Sydney’s Yours Truly. I had no idea who they were when I saw the line-up initially drop, so I checked them out. Their pop-punk sound isn’t my cup of tea but it’s always good to be aware of newer, upcoming artists. And hey, maybe you’ll like them if you haven’t heard of them before. Yours Truly’s Unify 2019 inclusion could be even better exposure for a rising Aussie band hopefully nailing greater opportunities moving forward. The criticisms that come with these kinds of conversations are necessary, but so should be a sense of promotion and awareness too.
Even Hellions tried to spread some love on the day of the 2019 lineup announcement for their friends and peeps, but people took it the wrong way. Just check the replies to the below post:
let’s talk about that LADY POWER on the @UNIFYgathering line up! GO OFF, sisters 🤘
— Hellions (@hellionsmusic) August 9, 2018
It’s easy to sit back and list-off which female-orientated bands should’ve been booked for Unify (or any other festival). When people bring up who should play, they often mention the same two bands: Paramore and PVRIS. Regarding the former, Paramore exists on a level that most bands are not at, regardless of their gender or genre. They’re one in a million. A band who went from being a very successful rock and pop-punk act and became even bigger off their latest two records. They’re also too big for Unify too. As for the latter, PVRIS wouldn’t be a bad fit at all. But they just wrapped up an Australian headline tour in June, and probably won’t be out here again anytime so soon. Especially as I assume their latest album cycle for their career-best ‘All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell‘ is soon coming to an end and LP #3 looms on the horizon. (I cannot wait for that new album, honestly).
Now, I love Julien Baker – ‘Turn Out The Lights‘ was my 2017 AOTY and a very special release for me emotionally and mentally speaking. Yet her solo minimal indie-folk style isn’t a good fit for this kind of festival. It’s why you also won’t see Lucy Dacus, Pheobe Bridgers or Courtney Barnett playing a festival like Unify either: they don’t fit the event’s sonic mold. While Rolo Tomassi’s ‘Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It‘ is my AOTY for 2018, they’re an underground, obscure act that many punters might not be aware of nor care for sadly. I’m all about the dreamy, 80s indie-pop of Pale Waves but they wouldn’t be booked for Unify in a million fucking years. I can’t wait to see Venom Prison live in Australia one day but I doubt that Larissa Stupar and co. would fit into a Unify lineup with the way it’s going forward – unless it was much heavier skewed. Code Orange could be an easy ring in for the fest, but something tells me they’d work better at Download. (I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re on the Australian Download roster for 2019).
Locally, High Tension are a fantastic band – this year’s ‘Purge‘ LP was such a powerful record – yet they seem to fit better Download Festival (which they hit up this year) and other events like Dark Mofo (which they also performed). I have a lot of respect and fondness for Tired Lion, Press Club, and West Thebarton but those groups seem to excel better at your Falls Festivals or your Splendour’s. Sure, with Unify’s stronger pop-punk leanings, it’d be quite easy to see Eat Your Heart Out, Stateside and Terra hitting those ranks in the future too. And in the local heavy realm, it’s also plausible to see Adelaide’s Falcifer or Melbourne’s Caged Existence play such stages as well. (Update: Falcifer have actually been added to the lineup for 2019. NOICE!)
There’s so much talent in the non-male musical realm, but there’s just not yet a female band in the heavy music sphere to rival the Parkway’s, the Amity’s, or the Northlane’s. But there will be such a headliner one day. I know there will be.
I know very few reading will want to see the words ‘festival’ and ‘AJ Maddah’ together after the demise of Soundwave. Yet the former Soundwave head-honcho made a few good points recently about tours, festivals, quotas, and promoters. I’ve grabbed three main points from his Twitter responses with Ten Daily’s Josh Butler for the below, collected quote:
“1/3 The Festival business is brutal. Expensive events with very fine margins. Even the smallest band doing a half hour set is phenomenal cost. With a 15 min changeover that’s 45 minutes of festival time (security, crew, dressing room, rider, etc).
2/3 Therefore it is crucial to make every artist count for attracting increasingly difficult-to-please crowds. At the end of the day, the promoters’ responsibility is to the ticket buying customer. Book the best line-up you can afford based on demand from the public.
3/3 No promoter purposely wants to have a non-diverse line-up. It would be boring. If the right act is available based on talent, drawcard & profile, which also adds diversity then they are always prioritised. Always.”
At the end of the day, it does come down to timing, schedules, budget, and availability. Also, just because a band is simply asked to play doesn’t mean that they will play. Like it or not, it’s about the right choice for the band’s playing and for the promoters getting what they feel are the “right” acts secured. And we don’t even know which artists Unify asked to play for 2019’s installment, so one could only speculate. However, I certainly feel we’re reaching a point where promoters are going to have to release the information on which artists they’ve tried to book, just so they can keep the online mobs off their backs in the case of backlash.
A big record for Australian music this year and the discussions of gender divides was Camp Cope’s ‘How To Make Friends & Socialise‘. While I enjoyed the album and while it raises important conversations about sexism in the industry, I found it very curious that the same high level of conversation, promotion and love wasn’t shown for War On Women’s feminist-hardcore-rager ‘Capture The Flag‘, Outright’s short but solid ‘Holler‘ 7″, nor Svalbard’s moving and poignant post-metal/melodic hardcore epic ‘It’s Hard To Have Hope‘. All 2018 releases that touch upon sexism, consent, violence against women, rape culture, how dangerous values are instilled in boys and girls about gender norms and roles early on, and so much more. They’re also great musical releases too!
Yet you won’t find half as many reviews or features on these three as other artists, and I think this is down to two things. One: a lot of music listeners just consume what’s put in from them by Spotify, YouTube, and places like Triple J; not digging deeper beyond those sources. And two: while this will probably sound quite silly, I do think there is a kind of classism that pervades from other genres into more alternative, heavier realms. Like a hardcore or metal band isn’t or shouldn’t be offered the same level of love or depth as an indie-rock band – even if they’re speaking about the same kinds of issues. They are sometimes looked down upon in a way, and that’s kinda fucked up.
Outside criticism is valid, of course, but there should also be a strong focus on internal scene thoughts as well. As such, Outright’s Jelena Goluza, who played Unify this year, posted about her anger at the promoters choice of bands and the lack of further female diversity on next year’s lineup. Please read the vocalist’s full comments below about her band’s set and her work on the side with organizers as I do think they’re worthy of mention, as is a listen to that band’s newest 7″ as well:
“We played Unify 2018 on the grounds that things would be different. That we would make things different, just like our heavy music community has always aspired to do. Others boycott (which is great!) but we wanted to try working together, collaborating, building bridges and accountability. This is what we do. I worked so bloody hard with some of the organizers to make this happen. We agreed to play if they enabled a space and promotion for Girls Rock! to do their important work and expand their positive impact so we can undo the bullshit that crushes us and help the industry change for the better. We talked about security policies, representation and cultural development. I spent hours not only reviewing and offering multiple rewrites for their public statement but also consulting and educating them on why this was so important and how they can do better. Why their words had to be backed up with action. Why their fragile feelings weren’t relevant in this issue. I recruited and coordinated volunteers that gave up all their time to be part of something good. I spoke on the festival’s behalf to the press about what we were trying to achieve. I gave everything on that stage and attached my band (my pride and joy) to its name.
I worked. For free. In the extremely rare and precious spare time I have. Out of love and hope and out of a sense of responsibility to all the non-men like me in the crowd, deserving and desperate to see their peers on stage, to belong and to be respected. But enabling and protecting the influence of misogynistic artists and their crimes is not acceptable. Refusing accountability and dialogue for your poor decisions is not acceptable. Taking advantage of me, my goodwill, my tireless effort and my now crushed sense of hope and faith is not acceptable.
I’m sorry to anyone I have let down by wanting something more. But I’m not giving up on you.”
Amongst the many Twitter threads about this topic, there was also the odd comment throwing shade at Ocean Grove’s inclusion. (A UNFD band is playing the label’s festival? Stop the presses). Namely because after their set at Download Festival Melbourne earlier this year, bassist/co-vocalist Dale Tanner made some rather ignorant comments to Music Feeds about how if bands with female members just make good art, then they’ll get recognized and thus deserve to play such festivals. Which is dumb, as this isn’t a “meritocracy” and as those changes do need to come from the top-down, not the bottom-up, as I said earlier.
But during the social media shitstorm of that particular thread, Dale was actually very forthcoming in his regret at such comments of that “meritocracy”. He was genuinely looking to hear from the other side and listen to those who took umbrage with what he’d said, and thus grow from it. With Dale himself hoping to learn more about these matters and cure his own ignorance in the process. Yet in this Unify 2019 case, his honest and mature goodwill from bettering oneself was totally forgotten about in an instant from those going all in on his band and the wider festival; looking for any “in” to attack them.
“I just believe that if it’s a good band, then they deserve to play. Regardless of what gender they are, what colour they are, what beliefs they have.” (@oceangrovemelb discuss gender diversity on music festival lineups, filmed at @DownloadFestAU) pic.twitter.com/EesQHcVlJA
— Music Feeds (@musicfeeds) March 24, 2018
These conversations are important to have, of course. But we sometimes get caught up in the heat of it all that there’s seldom an admission of the great work that women already do in the Australian music industry. Look at the many women doing some great work in PR here, from Sammie Anschau (Beehive), Genna Alexopoulos (Super Duper), Janine Morcos (Dallas Does PR), Amy Simmons (Unified), Rebecca Reato (Deathproof), to name just a few. Look at what many great women in music media do, like what my peer and friend Kel Burch over at Depth Mag does with her awesome and insightful Women In Music features. Or just look at the terrific bands featuring female talent locally and internationally, many of whom I’ve listed and linked to throughout this whole article.
More can always be done, yes, but the music scene is slowly but surely moving away from these tough-guy ideals and into something better and less toxic. It’s far from perfect now, but it will one day get out of that out-dated phase eventually. However, after how messy this last week has gotten, these progressions can sometimes lose focus. I mean, in a world where outrage at a fuckin’ downloadable Steel Panther TonePrint preset called the “Pussy Melter” willed said tone into being an actual guitar pedal, maybe we should think harder about which hills we want to die on.
Lastly, I agree with what Don’t Bore Us/Tone Deaf writer, Bianca Davino, said on Twitter recently about Unify. That the people who put forth the biggest ire about Unify are the ones who don’t go (people like Georgia Maq would never attend Unify nor perform at it, despite how vocal they are about it), and that there’s also bigger fish to fry when it comes to positive representation of women in society. More so than just yelling at a music festival online. That’s absolutely not to say that we shouldn’t criticise promoters or festival lineups – we should. Just that it’s not the be-all, end-all of the cause; that there’s heftier work to be done in the grand scheme of things for equal rights and gender balances. Times where employing online bullying tactics won’t help the causes so many people agree upon and all wish to see succeed.
I think it’s really cool and fair that most people criticising UNIFY Gathering right now aren’t the festival’s target audience whatsoever + would never attend an event like that
— bianca davino (@biancccadavino) August 9, 2018
I think we should start taking aim at schools who force girls into playing “feminine” instruments like the Flute, and just societal views that are 1000s years old that pacify women (thus their creative output) not a festival that’s booked an epic lineup 🙃
— bianca davino (@biancccadavino) August 9, 2018
That’s where I’m at with all of this. Please, let’s have a discussion about this topic, and I do mean that. Comment below if you’re a site user, send us a message on our socials, or email me directly, and let’s have a chat. Thank you for reading as always.
And hey, if you do want to go to Unify Gathering 2019, here’s a ticket link. See the updated line-up below: