L-R: Alex Reade (Drown This City), Hanny J, AViVA.
New kid on the festival block, Halloween Hysteria have brought together some of the hardest rocking women in Aussie music for their inaugural event in Brisbane this October.
With an intense focus on sexism and gender equality in the Australian music industry, many events are actively engaged towards providing a more balanced platform for performers across the spectrum.
In speaking with three of the women who will appearing as part of Halloween Hysteria, the message that came across louder than any other was: forget about gender and let the music do the talking.
“I've always believed the best point I can prove and make is to play the best music I can and let my music do the talking,” solo singer-songwriter and Clowns bassist Hanny J says.
Sydney artist AViVA concurs. “You're either good or you're not,” AViVA states. “It doesn't matter if you're a boy or a girl – if you're sh.t you're sh.t, if you're great you're great. There's a lot of good and bad in both genders.”
For Alex Reade, frontwoman of Melbourne post-hardcore outfit Drown This City, the number of women present at Halloween Hysteria didn't factor into her thinking when she first saw the line-up.
“The thing that took my attention was all the bands and how sick it's going to be... It didn't even come to my attention there was a strong female presence because it's just normal for me,” Alex says.
“It's not what I look for. I was just looking at all the bands going 'sh.t yeah, this is insane, this is so cool', and nothing stood out as being weird or inclusive. It was just 'f... yeah, what a line-up!'”
There is no question the realms of rock, punk and metal – along with their various sub-genres and splinter cells – have traditionally been male-dominated arenas where women have struggled against entrenched discrimination on the grounds of their gender from both sides of the fence.
Hanny J offers her experiences. “I've played in the punk scene in Brisbane since I was 15 and a lot of the time that was male-dominated,” she says.
“Unfortunately, I think within the music industry there is a culture of a boys' club but I've received sexist comments from women as much as I have from men and it's kind of a given in a way.”
Yet history provides us with a long list and strong heritage of women who, quite simply, kick some serious arse when it comes to rocking out. From charismatic frontwoman like the atomic Blondie lead singer Debbie Harry or Australia's own first lady of rock Carol Lloyd, to shredders like Nita Strauss and Ana Popovic, bombastic bassists Sean Yseult and D'arcy Wretzky.
And just for the hell of it: Joan Jett, Chrissie Hynde, Bonnie Raitt, Janis Joplin, Nancy Wilson, Kim Gordon, Aretha Franklin, Patti Smith and all the way back to the first lady of rock and roll Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
The trails blazed by these pioneers are being followed by an empowered succession of modern artists, such as Hanny J, AViVA and Alex and all three are extremely proud to be part of the first Halloween Hysteria line-up.
Yet a recurring theme among them is the differentiation of 'female' vocalist, 'female-fronted' bands and so forth that brand them as somehow odd among their peers and colleagues.
“It shouldn't be about males or females, it should be that everyone is taken seriously as musicians and it shouldn't matter,” AViVA says.
“So it sucks that it is a thing but that being said I'm also super passionate and feel strong about being a woman and a strong women, and that my songs show I'm not afraid and not a back-down type of person.
“It's awesome that there are some cool chicks going to be [at Halloween Hysteria] and I'm really happy to be a part of that, hopefully making some changes, especially in the Australian music scene to make women more present and taken a lot more seriously because there's definitely an element of women not being taken seriously.”
Alex adds: “I don't like being called out as being a female vocalist. I don't consider myself a female vocalist, I don't see the difference but I think there are a lot of young girls who like having those role models and they need someone to look up to.
"So whether I want to say I'm a female vocalist or whether I want to say I'm a vocalist, who gives a f... about gender?”
Of course there is still work to be done in equalising what has been an uneven playing field skewed in favour of male participants. The inclusion of more women on the Halloween Hysteria line-up certainly constitutes a step forward, though, at the risk of editorialising, such emphasis may be misinterpreted as tokenism.
This brings up the sticky point of gender quotas at festival, which demand a certain percentage of male/ female/ LGBT+/ non-binary etc. participants in order to avoid incurring the wrath of social justice advocates.
AViVA is particularly adamant about how she feels about such quotas and how her inclusion on a line-up by virtue of her biological make-up would signify an insult to her as an artist. “I prefer it to be that I'm a kick-arse performer and an awesome songwriter, but at the same time no one is going to tell you that,” she says.
“They're not going to say 'we only put you on here because you're a woman' because that would be really rude and I would probably say 'get f...ed!'” she laughs.
The other problem arising from the conversation around gender representation in the music industry is how it has become a point of severe division among the various scenes, fracturing what was already an unsteady peace and causing a schism between male and female participants and audiences.
This is a particular problem for Hanny J, AViVA and Alex, all of who play in bands as the only female member.
As the sole frontwoman for a post-hardcore band, Alex presents an interesting perspective on the matter. “There's this idea that if you're a 'female-fronted' band or a female vocalist and the rest of your band isn't a girl, does that make you less of a strong women in the industry? That's another thing I think I've sensed,” she says.
The problem is clearly one without a simple, single answer and exists across a scale of grey.
While the urge is strong to lash out against those with uninformed, uneducated or outright ignorant views that may contradict our own, Hanny encourages a more open-minded approach. “To me it's not as easy as just going 'f... you, you should know better'; it's stepping back and realising it's entrenched in generations of people and how we've been taught to think,” Hanny says.
“I think this new generation is thinking quite differently to how it has been. It's not as easy as hating the people that have that opinion because in a way it's understandable because they're just ignorant and it's all coming from a place of ignorance and what the industry has created.”
With so many voices each bustling for airtime and to have their grievances heard, the real victim in the end is music and the fact that it's one of the few remaining things worth enjoying in a growing world of people obsessed with ruining sh.t for everyone.
Perhaps AViVA offers the most realistic observation rooted in sheer pragmatism. “I don't think it's a problem that can be solved,” she says.
“It's just an attitude that needs to be shifted and there will always be attitudes because humans just like to box things and I think that until we move past that idea it's going to make it very difficult to find an equilibrium.”
Halloween Hysteria 2018 takes place at The Jubilee Hotel (Brisbane) 27 October. The Bennies and King Parrot headline a massive 30-band bill including Hanny J, AViVA and Drown This City. Click here to purchase tickets.