As Music Festivals Struggle To Represent Women, Moogfest Already Made Men The Minority
But Moogfest, a music/tech festival that takes place May 17-20 in Durham, North Carolina, has already made male performers a minority.
Moogfest brings dozens of electronic artists to play at local venues and also schedules educational daytime programming, much of it free and open to the public. Kelela is headlining and appearing for an afternoon talk. Jenny Hval will discuss what performance means to her and invite attendees to bring found sounds to a talk before her live set. Umfang, the DJ and cofounder of electronic music collective and booking agency Discwoman, will host a vinyl DJ 101 session. Norwegian duo Smerz will instruct on using melody and vocals in electronic music. Male artists like Jon Hopkins and KRS-One will be there, too. But Moogfest marks a rare lineup of fewer male than female and gender non-conforming musicians.
The festival's mix of musical performances and technical skill-sharing is a tribute to Bob Moog, an engineer whose synthesizers have shaped decades of music, from Donna Summer to Nine Inch Nails to New Order. But as the electronic music production industry Moog helped build has been called out as disastrously white, male, and straight, the stewards of his legacy - and his synthesizer company - are trying to be part of the solution. Booking an artist lineup that favors female and LGBTQ acts is one big way of doing that.
"If you look at Moogfest's lineup over the past decade, these luminaries in all facets, from Laurie Anderson to Moor Mother, embrace the legacy of Bob Moog as an inventor, humanist scientist, and musician," says Moogfest President and Owner Parag Bhandari. The festival's director of programming, Lorna-Rose Simpson, adds, "Moogfest promotes and practices inclusivity. It has always been part of who we are as a festival and who we are as a platform for our community of musicians, creators, technologists, activists and audiences alike."
Still, inclusion is a touchy subject. The simple act of prioritizing non-male talent has already been a hot button for the festival. In December, when organizers released an early lineup poster of exclusively female and LGBTQ artists, Caroline Polachek (who doesn't yet have the solo-act fame she enjoyed with her male bandmates in Chairlift) fired off an angry tweet: "I don't need a sympathy pedestal, esp from a male curator," it reads. "Take my name off this list and put me in the pit with the boys." It wasn't a male curator, additional acts were announced soon after, but Polachek did leave the festival over it. And other female performers voiced concerns that they were being used for a marketing gimmick.
As Moogfest approaches and a full, 'co-ed' schedule has been released, it's clear that women, people of color, and non-binary performers are not being ghettoized to separate stages or tokenized with marketing language. Emma Olson of Umfang and Discwoman points out that even the lineup announcement that Polachek balked at "wasn't tacky, in the way that they did it." They didn't congratulate themselves for the inclusivity or make it a selling point. "It was just like, 'Here's our first wave of announcements.' And I really like that, kind of sneaking it in, I think that's cool."
She says she's happy to do partnerships that give women and minorities exposure and her relationship with Moog feels particularly authentic and meaningful. "It's really in line with what we want to do. It's educational; it's encouraging young people to learn about something that feels guarded; it's a form of expression to learn how to use musical instruments and synthesizers."
She appreciates that the company has provided not just a platform but also equipment that would normally be prohibitively expensive for her and the artists she works alongside. Moog reached out to Discwoman, which Olson cofounded with Christine McCharren-Tran and Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson, last year to give the collective's artists like Stud1nt and DJ Haram free DFAM synthesizers (normally $679). "The easiest way for [Moog] to access a younger, more diverse market is to give people synths," she says. "And then to show other types of people using them."