The female factor in Australian music. Episode 3: Music fans’ perspective

We are all music fans to a certain extent.

Some of us might be more immersed in the subject, keeping up-to-date with the latest trends, weekly releases and industry news in general. Others might just have the radio or streaming service on in the background whilst going about their lives.

I humbly count myself into the investigative group – hence, this “writing gig” of mine. But I also believe in the simple truth that “sharing is caring”, especially when it comes to information. So this week, I turned to a few women I know to find out about their thoughts and experiences related to the Australian music business.

When prepping this post, I was interested in getting various perspectives and approaches. That’s why the four females I engaged represent slightly different demographics. I asked them to only concentrate on Australian acts with at least one female-identifying/non-binary artist.

And before I’ll leave this space to them, I have to say one thing: I completely underestimated what I would receive in return.

What started as a humble contribution request turned into an amazing lesson on “girl power” in the Australian music business. Not only did I get heaps of interesting points of view, but the girls shared their music-related and sometimes very intimate memories, too. That was totally unexpected, and I’m very grateful for it.

A new playlist full of song suggestions by artists I’d never even heard of before is another precious takeaway. It will definitely keep me busy for weeks to come.

So, without further ado, I’ll let Diana, Ana, Jenny and Wendy speak, hoping that you’ll find some inspiration in their stories as well.


DIANA

I met Diana whilst volunteering for Amnesty International in Melbourne a few years ago. She was working with the Pop Culture Network at the time. From the very beginning, I was struck by what a passionate and dynamic personality she is. A true activist, Diana advocates for very different causes, from LGBTQIA+ rights to oceans’ protection efforts. Interestingly, her music preferences lean towards heavier genres of music where female representation is significantly less visible.

When I was a teenager my dream was to be in a band, but I’ve just realised that all my role models were male artists – because I didn’t see any Aus female punk, rock or metal bands exist within the genre I listened to, let alone one that reflected my image as an Australian-born, first generation child of immigrants – yikes!

If you could hang out with any act, who would that be?

The band Tonight Alive (pop-punk/alt-rock band from Sydney, fronted by a female, Jenna McDougall). They seem super chill and rad, and despite all the years in the scene and making it overseas, they don’t seem like they have let the fame get to their heads or egos.

Which album has accompanied important events in your life?

‘The Other Side’ album by Tonight Alive. Helped me through my angsty and confused years of being a lost young adult thrown into the adult world with no idea about anything I was doing or wanted to do in life. 

Can you reveal your “guilty pleasure” that even your best mates don’t know about?

One of my guilty pleasures is secretly (not so secretly) loving it when a song by The Veronicas comes on my shuffle or at a party/gathering.

Is there a song that has evolved with you?

I loved “Untouched” by The Veronicas as a child, then thought I was ‘too cool’ for them in my teens and only listened to music that fell within the pop-punk or post-hardcore genres, and now I have come full circle and will rock out to The Veronicas if I hear them again.

What’s your go-to karaoke song?

Untouched” by The Veronicas haha.

What’s a song you initially didn’t know was by an Aussie female artist?

MANY of the songs Sia has helped write for other musicians  – e.g. “Diamonds” by Rihanna, “Flashlight” by Jessie J, etc. The list goes on.

Which artist has the most intriguing voice?

Tones and I’s voice is lovely. I heard this anecdote on the radio or online about how Americans thought her voice in “Dance Monkey” was edited, and they all flipped out when they realised that was her real voice.

What music was played a lot in your home when you were young?

My dad liked Tina Arena, so we heard a bit of her growing up.  I also put a lot of Delta Goodrem and Nikki Webster on during my early years of Primary School haha.

What song brings back special memories?

Not a good memory but “Complexes” by Tonight Alive always reminds of when I was seeing someone who was only around when it convenienced him; made me feel pretty worthless and invisible etc. The lyrics and Jenna’s tone of voice perfectly describes how I was feeling in that situation. I can listen to the song now and sing along and enjoy it because it’s a great song, but it will always bring me back to that dark place in that shitty situation.

Have you noticed any factors that put women in Aussie music at a disadvantage?

I’m glad you asked this question because, as I was answering these questions, I realised that the music that I listen to (rock/pop punk/hardcore) barely has any female artists in it. I struggled to answer a lot of these questions because very little Australian female artists in the heavier scene that I listen to came to mind. 

It seems like it’s A LOT harder for female musicians in the heavy scene to not only be taken seriously within the music industry, but also by a lot of fans of the genre who have become so accustomed to male vocalists and bands. 

When I was a teenager my dream was to be in a band, but I’ve just realised that all my role models were male artists – because I didn’t see any Aus female punk, rock or metal bands exist within the genre I listened to, let alone one that reflected my image as an Australian-born, first generation child of immigrants – yikes!

Can you think of lyrics that stand out on their own as an inspirational quote?

“Cause it was the heaviest rain I ever felt on my skin

It was the heaviest place that I have ever been in

As the walls crashed down I felt it slip away

‘Cause I went to hell and back just to be where I am today.” 

“Hell and Back” by Tonight Alive

What do you consider the best collaboration of all time?

If thinking about one with an Aus female artist, then Parkway Drive’s “A Deathless Song” feat. Jenna McDougall (from Tonight Alive) comes to mind. Incredible collab between two icons in the Australian heavy music/rock scene.


ANA

Ana is Mexican but has been living in Australia for nearly 5 years now. Our paths crossed at one of the Melbourne colleges where we were both studying social media marketing. I guess she’s made better use of that knowledge – she’s now a curious travel blogger with her own “The Wander Chic” podcast. And in her free time, she continues to explore Melbourne and the world.

I hadn’t noticed until these questions that I hardly know many Aussie female bands or singers, that makes me think that the industry must be tough on them.”

Who’s an artist you initially didn’t know was Australian?

Natalie Imbruglia!!! Did not see that one coming!

Which album brings back good memories?

Natalie Imbruglia ‘Left Of The Middle’ CD reminds me of the times when I was a kid and thought I wanted to be a fashion designer. I would spend all my afternoons locked up in my room drawing outfits while listening to this CD.

What song has accompanied important events in your life?

There was a moment in my life that the song “Settle” by Vera Blue really spoke to me… between being a migrant and some heartache, this song seemed to express a lot of emotions.

If your friend from overseas wanted to get to know Aussie music in a nutshell, what 3 acts would you introduce them to first?

In general, meaning not necessarily my favourites, I guess Helen Reddy, Tash Sultana and Kylie Minogue. The classic, the “indie” and the pop queen.

Can you reveal your “guilty pleasure” that even your best mates don’t know about?

Regret nothing! Hahaha kidding, maybe “Love at First Sight” by Kylie Minogue.

Which act has the most creative stage image?

The Bombay Royale – they have super fun gigs, amazing choreographies, costumes, voice, videos, everything.

Which artist has the most intriguing voice?

Tanya George has an amazing voice and cool lyrics. Also, Julia Stone and Vera Blue.

What’s your go-to karaoke song?

“Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia hahaha

Is there a song that has evolved with you?

Tash Sultana, “Notion”. I like the song, but sometimes Tash Sultana’s songs seem too much of the same all of them… Sometimes I get bored, and sometimes I listen to them again and like them again… And so on.

What music event featuring female acts would you recommend?

I would recommend going around Melbourne and taking the time to listen to local bands and singers basking in the streets, I saw Tanya George many times that way and got to know her music, love it now! Also, local bands at the pubs, not very well-known but Eliza Mithen and the Mansplainers is amazing, they just released an EP available on Spotify, have a listen!

Have you noticed any factors that put women in Aussie music at a disadvantage?

Yes, I hadn’t noticed until these questions that I hardly know many Aussie female bands or singers, that makes me think that the industry must be tough on them to produce.

What do you consider the best collaboration of all time?

Definitely Sia on Zero 7’s ‘The Garden’. LOVE it!


JENNY

A fellow music blogger, Jenny is based in Brisbane. On her page Araminta’s Attic, she focuses on the “live and local” Australian and New Zealand artists. She found me some time ago and asked if she could write about my humble blogging venture. Naturally, I said yes. So I thought it would be cool to return the favour and ask about her expert opinion on the topic.

Just get out to some gigs where the bands have female leads and support them all the way. Network, talk to friends, share on social media, buy their music – you know how it goes.

What album do you currently have on repeat?

Canberra band Sally Chicane’s album ‘Internal Monologue’. Just a really good, hard hitting listen.

What song brings back good memories?

“Physical” by Olivia Newton-John – it was just a time when life was so simple and of course the tracks were all memorable and easy to sing along with.

Who’s got the most creative stage image?

Right now there’s not much I’ve seen but back in the day Kylie Minogue had some big sets and creative images for fans to enjoy.

What’s the rowdiest/most bad-ass act in Oz?

Spiderbait hands down. Don’t underestimate the power of Janet English.

Who’s on your road trip playlist?

Fiona O’Shea (Sunshine Coast, QLD), Start Your Own Cult (Sydney), RinRin (Perth) – just like to mix it up between genres.

If you could hang out with any act, who would that be? 

Melbourne’s Riff Raiders. Jenni Powell is the lead singer, and she’s got a lot of infectious energy and is dynamite on stage.

What’s a song that you initially didn’t know was by an Aussie female artist?

Waaayyyyy back in the 80’s – Eurogliders, “Heaven (Must Be There)”.

Is there an Aboriginal artist that has shown you a part of the Australian culture you weren’t aware of?

Not that I can recall… I think our Aboriginal artists are undervalued and understated, so we don’t get much exposure to them, female or not.

What’s the best gig you’ve ever experienced? 

Spiderbait – Janet English still has the goods!!

If you could revive an act, who would that be?

Divinyls – Chrissy Amphlett… Powerful and unique performer, Australian Icon in her own right.

What’s the most romantic song ever?

“I Touch Myself”, Divinyls… no wait – define romantic!

What’s your go-to happy or consolation song?

Accidentally Kelly Street” by Frente! – the beat always picks me up, and it’s an easy song to sing along with.

What song has accompanied important events in your life?

“Chains” by Tina Arena, a very toxic relationship which I didn’t want to let go of but had to, it just told the story of where the relationship was at.

If your friend from overseas wanted to get to know Aussie music in a nutshell, what 3 acts would you introduce them to first?

Divinyls (if they were still here), Renée Geyer and Kate Ceberano.

Have you noticed any factors that put women in Aussie music at a disadvantage?

Ohhhhh…Only everything!! Things are changing and improving with more recognition and opportunities BUT it’s just going to be too slow and too late for some.

What music event featuring female acts would you recommend?

I think just get out to some gigs where the bands have female leads and support them all the way. Network, talk to friends, share on social media, buy their music – you know how it goes.


WENDY

I found Wendy through a local radio that has a segment on Aussie music called “The 7th continent”. Hailing from the state of Victoria in Oz, she now resides in Wrocław, Poland. Wendy’s one of the founding members of “Spoko Polish” – an institution with two objectives. It’s a school that teaches the Slavic language unconventionally and also a community helping foreigners settle in the country. Even though she’s spent a considerable amount of time overseas, she stays on top of the developments in independent Aussie music.

Masculinity is really hailed in Australian culture and this is reflected in the music scene. It’s a total men’s world and boy’s club – from the venue owners, bookers, managers, sound guys and people who get the most stage time. Line-ups on the big festivals have similarly been male-skewed.

If you could hang out with any act, who would that be?

Stella Donnelly – with her cute style and clever witty lyrics about stuff that really matters, I’m almost sure she must be fun to hang out with!

Name an Aboriginal artist that has shown you a part of the Australian culture you weren’t aware of.

Racerage is a Blak non-binary queer rap artist. A friend recommended them to me last year. I was blown away by the power of their lyrics and performance. They are giving voice to complex intersectional issues such as race, decolonisation, feminism and queerness. This is the music Australia needs more of!

Which album has accompanied important events in your life?

Oh Pep!’s first album ‘Stadium Cake’. The songwriters Liv Hally and Pepi Emmerichs are dear friends of mine, since long before their musical career took off. Liv and I shared a house together in our student days in Fitzroy North, and I was a merch girl at countless numbers of their gigs. Their leaving Melbourne to pursue their music in the US coincided with my own departure; in my case a travel project to reach Europe without flights, which eventually brought me to Poland, where I’m now based. I remember I was in Russia’s Altai Mountains when I heard the track “Tea, Milk & Honey” for the first time on their EP “Living”. I was moved, as the memories of places and friends I was so far away from flooded back to me. The full album became the soundtrack to an intense visit I had back to Australia in 2018. I remember driving the long back roads between Melbourne and my hometown in Gippsland, singing the songs and feeling a new power and wisdom in the lyrics. The album has a host of themes: trusting yourself, learning how to set your boundaries and dealing with being far from home and family – all of which were on point for me at that point in my life.

Which act is totally underestimated?

June Jones! June’s bravely honest lyrics that talk about mental health, gender, shame, her experiences as a transwoman and the emotional rollercoaster that accompany these things. From her work with the band Two Steps on the Water through to her solo career, June’s vulnerability is breath-taking. She reminds me that we’re not alone in life’s struggles. 

If you could revive an act, who would that be?

The band Mangelwurzel. This was an amazing Melbourne band – high energy, musically dynamic and clever, catchy lyrics that stick in your head long after hearing. And generally, wacky, fun style. Their film clips such as “Everybody’s Friend” continue to be a fave of mine. I would love to see them in concert again! However, the singer Cosima’s distinctive voice can now appear as frontwoman of the new project Jaala – well worth a listen!

What album brings back good memories?

Courtney Barnett’s first album The Double EP: “A Sea of Split Peas”. It is truly somewhat of a soundtrack to the year 2014 in Melbourne. Particularly the track “Avant Gardener” reminds me of those hot days in which the sun beats and burns your skin, you feel the whole city is melting, and you sleep with a wet towel on your body. This song also followed me beyond Melbourne on my trip up the east coast – reminds me of reaching my friends in Wollongong. I recall a bunch of us being packed in the car and pumping this song really loudly with the windows down – I felt happy and totally free.

Can you think of lyrics that stand out on their own as an inspirational quote?

But once you learn how to say ‘no’

You have to practice every day”

“Wanting” by Oh Pep!

It’s certainly very true for me, that setting my boundaries is a skill I continually need to practice.

What music did you have on repeat in 2020?

The gorgeous band Parsnip stole my heart last year – their album ‘When The Tree Bears Fruit’ was my go-to pick me up last year. I am a sucker for their sweet 60s semi-surfy rock and catchy lyrics. Their opening line “Happiness is happening, only when you’re not looking” on the track “Soft Spot” is genius.

Can you reveal your “guilty pleasures” that even your best mates don’t know about?

The folk fem power hit “Well Enough Alone” by The Maes, the lolly pop sweet pop “Diary” by Ro and Mia Dyson’s “When the moment comes” for secretly getting psyched about something big 😉

What music was played a lot in your home when you were young?

The Waifs, Kasey Chambers and Tiffany Eckhardt. In fact, Mum took us to my first music festival in the Dandenong Ranges to see these acts live – I have some memory of the performances, I reckon I was about 7-8 years old. The Waifs’ ‘Up All Night’ was played a lot on our family holidays.

If your friend from overseas wanted to get to know Aussie music in a nutshell, which 3 acts would you introduce them to first?

  1. Sampa The Great – for musicality and message
  2. Belly Savalas – because this large, multi-instrumental band of very talented people, radiating the vibe that they’re all great mates, is the quintessential feeling of Melbourne bands for me. 
  3. Huntly – electro pop for thinking people

Is there a song that has evolved with you?

Jen Cloher’s “Regional Echo”. I thought this song was just a lot of cliché, Australian nostalgia the first time I heard it… Then… Well… I guess I caught the nostalgia haha! I think I can say the same for the Cloher’s whole self-titled album. On first listen, I didn’t think much of it. However, my opinion really changed with time. Particularly, the first 4 tracks, I think are beautiful and moving in their simplicity. It’s very interesting listening to her music being far from Australia, because I do feel somehow, she’s a very Australian artist. I think it’s the music I turn to when I feel homesick. 

Have you noticed any factors that put women in Aussie music at a disadvantage?

It’s a total men’s world and boy’s club – from the venue owners, bookers, managers, sound guys and people who get the most stage time. Masculinity is really hailed in Australian culture and this is reflected in the music scene. The radio station Triple J, which has a huge influence on which acts “make it” in Australia, has been criticised in recent years for lack of concern about gender balance in what makes it to air. Line-ups on the big festivals have similarly been male-skewed. 

Who’s your absolute role model in the Aussie music industry?

Georgia “Georgia Maq” McDonald of Camp Cope. Not only am I a huge fan of Camp Cope’s beautifully, honest songwriting, I absolutely admire how Georgia and the other girls have called out the patriarchy rife in Australia’s music industry on numerous occasions and sexual harassment of women in live music venues. I believe their approach is paving the way for the next generation of female artists, who will hopefully have an easier road!


Regardless of how big of a music fan you – reading this post – are, this pandemic has shown us all how important it is in our lives.

Hopefully, you find yourself in a part of the world that is slowly getting back to some sort of “regular life”. In which case – look out for the acts that my four contributors mentioned above – maybe they’ll be performing close to where you are soon. And if not, stay safe and feel free to check out the below playlist, based on their suggestions. I definitely can’t wait to give it another listen.

A BIG SHOUT-OUT TO DIANA, ANA, JENNY AND WENDY FOR YOUR COMMITMENT TO THIS LITTLE PROJECT OF MINE!


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Check out other posts where I asked Aussie music fans for their contribution:

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