Camp Cope’s set at Falls Festival Byron Bay was bittersweet. Men and women sang along to Georgia Maq’s heart-string tugging poeticism with a parallelled ferocity to the blistering heat. Tears rolled onto sweaty cheeks and crooked smiles crept upon tired faces in the light of the life-affirming band. It was beautiful and cathartic.

Australians love underdogs, especially in music. We applaud acts who’ve slogged it out in the face of adversary and who’ve beaten unfair systems, ultimately branding them our heroes. When Camp Cope took the stage at on Monday, lead singer Georgia Maq pointed out a glaring unfairness present in the festival’s organisation. 

“When Falls was announced we made up for one-third of the women on the lineup….it was incredibly disappointing……I’m glad to see they’ve added more women but they play earlier on smaller stages and they’re paid less”

Public backlash has since been intense. Tone Deaf‘s article reporting on the scenario received an onslaught of comments referring to the band as “ungrateful” for their position on the lineup and should simply “book their own festival” rather than having a go at the powers responsible for putting them onstage.

As women in punk music, Camp Cope are ultimately, underdogs. Since their formation, they’ve earnt their position on high profile festival stages by honing their craft and creating art that resonates deeply with the public. The set was a small triumph amidst a battle that’s only just beginning – playing an early slot on a side stage at a festival is a microcosm of a wider issue within society, not an act of complacency or showcase of a classic ‘chip on your shoulder’ attitude.

After cutting their teeth individually within music scenes, releasing a debut that received widespread critical acclaim, playing the main stage at Laneway Festival, penning international record deals and touring with legendary acts, Camp Cope have a huge right to speak up on these issues without being branded as complacent. 

In their 2017 track ‘The Opener’, Georgia Maq snarls, “You worked so hard but we were ‘just lucky’. To ride those coattails into infinity, and all my success has got nothing to do with me” indicative of the gender-exclusive nature of our culture that praises those who beat the odds. Their merit is still perceived as an achievement based on using their gender as a marketing tool.

Falls organisers responded with a slightly robotic, “Whilst we have a very conscious and strong agenda to book female talent, it isn’t always available to us at that headline level. We have a long-term strategy, which is present on this year’s Falls line up, of giving opportunities to new and middle range female Australian artists, to nurture and grow the future pool of female headline options.”  Women have seldom been included within the highest echelons of rock music from its beginnings, culminating in a vicious cycle of exclusion. Would the lead singer of a male-fronted act cop the same flack for calling this issue out, or be lauded as a hero? 

Foster The People strutted across the stage basking in their pseudo-artistic swagger, delving into mismatched genres with an off-putting bravado. The crowd response was tepid until they played their 2011 hit, ‘Pumped Up Kicks’. Indie mainstays, Fleet Foxes pulled in a humble crowd on the main stage despite the rain clearing well before their time slot. Every punter had seen Dune Rats at least four other festivals this year. 

WAAX are one of the countries finest musical exports as of late. The band appeared at 12:40pm on New Years Day. Folk revivalist Julia Jacklin was scheduled at the same as Camp Cope and punk-rap stalwart Ecca Vandal copped an early afternoon position. Giving women the opportunity to fill these slots may be a risk, but supposed ‘long-term’ strategy should include heightened visibility, inspiring a greater awareness of female talent. 

The best music is often based on taking unexpected roads, experimenting with new ideas and building on old foundations – why aren’t festival organisers adapting to this mindset when booking festivals? Let’s open up to the idea of seeing smaller acts on bigger stages, allowing them the space to grow. The underdog trail is a tough slog, let’s help out where we can. 

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