Gender representation in heavy music has been a topic of much discussion over the last year.
Here at DBU we’re constantly looking for ways to ensure women and non-males receive the platforms they deserve to thrive and, as massive fans of pop punk, emo, and all things alternative, this topic is especially close to our hearts.
This weekend in Sydney, some of the best in pop punk and heavy music will touch down at UsFest, a new festival dedicated to celebrating diversity and fostering community within the scene.
To celebrate, we got Emmy Mack of RedHook and Mikaila Delgado of Yours Truly to interview each other, diving deep into the topic of gender representation in heavy music.
PART 1: EMMY TO MIKAILA
Emmy: Which singer/s did you pretend to be in the mirror when you were growing up? Who inspired you most as a vocalist?
Mikaila: I grew up loving Amy Lee and Hayley Williams so I definitely sang a lot of their songs in the mirror! But I had a big appreciation for women like Whitney Houston and the classic divas from back in the day!
Emmy: Gender equality in the music industry is obviously still very much a work in progress. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been mistaken for a “band girlfriend” or “groupie” when I’ve been on tour. Have you ever had an experience like this and if so, how did you deal with it?
Mikaila: People assuming you’re there for something other than actually being in the band is more common than I’d like to admit! This actually happened to me a couple of months ago when I was asked: “soooo which ones your boyfriend?” But I guess you just gotta be honest and most of the time people are apologetic, it’s just a stereotype that’s been drilled into people’s heads for years… you know? But the more people see women like us, they may think more next time!
RedHook – ‘Turn Up The Stereotype’
Emmy: Do you think things are slowly starting to shift in a more positive direction when it comes to gender equality? Is there anything, in particular, you’d like to see change over the next few years?
Mikaila: I definitely think there is a positive shift happening at the moment! Especially in the Australian scene there is such a conscious effort of bringing women to the front and diversity with lineups with more non-male members! I think UsFest is a great step forward and I’d love to see festivals and shows have inclusivity similar to this one! I’m hoping we won’t have to make an effort one day, but it will be the norm.
Emmy: I’m so obsessed with your recent single ‘Circles’ & feel so privileged to have been a part of the music video – it was such a beautiful vibe on set! Can you tell us a bit about the message behind that song?
Mikaila: Oh thank you! Thank you for being a part of it too! The boys and I really respect you, so we wanted you to be a part of it for sure! It was so nice to be around such inspiring women all day, I had so many eye-opening conversations about being a woman that day. The song is an open letter to someone who doesn’t want to accept this change or refuses that women or non-males should be equal or given a chance. I wrote it when I was feeling that way, I wanted to empower myself and anyone who heard it.
RedHook – ‘Paralysed’
Emmy: Your new EP ‘Afterglow’ is coming out on April 12. Which song off the record is the most special to you and why?
Mikaila: I’m SO excited!! We’re not far out from the release now and I’m just keen for everyone else to hear the songs! I’m really proud of ‘I Can’t Feel’. That song was about my personal struggles and to have it out now and see how many people have connected with it has made it so much more special than I imagined.
PART 2: MIKAILA TO EMMY
Mikaila: I remember hearing about UsFest early on when you were coming up with the concept of it! I love that you’ve been able to turn this into a reality and I’m so grateful to be a part of it, so thank you! Why were you so determined to create this festival and what does it mean to you?
Emmy: Thank you guys so much for being a part of it, we’re so stoked to have you!! I guess I just felt a bit sick of all the negativity that the gender diversity conversation was dredging up.
I think the scrutiny of bigger festival lineups has played an important role in keeping the conversation at the forefront of the industry’s collective mind but I also think it’s incredibly unhelpful and counterintuitive to point the finger at the promoters of these huge rock, punk and metal festivals and be like “Fuck you for not booking a 50/50 lineup!” you know? Not only is it unrealistic, it also counteracts promoting any kind of understanding of the actual problem.
That top-tier talent pool is where the diversity is sorely lacking, there just aren’t enough non-male musicians at that level in the heavier genres. Beyonce, Florence + The Machine or Lorde could headline Splendour In The Grass easy, but which female artist could headline Download? I don’t think there is one, not yet.
Even Paramore were sixth billed on the lineup for Soundwave in 2013. It’s a different, more complicated conversation when you’re talking about heavy music festivals as opposed to more mainstream ones because our genre has been so overwhelmingly male dominated throughout history.
Anyway, I guess I just got sick of people complaining about it but not really doing anything about it, so I decided to do something about it! With UsFest, I wanted to help create meaningful change from the grassroots, to start kind of normalising diversity by bringing everyone together to celebrate it.
I wanted to change this incredibly divisive, negative conversation into a positive one and hopefully help support a new generation of incredibly talented artists on their path to becoming the festival headliners of tomorrow 🙂
Yours Truly – ‘I Can’t Feel’
Mikaila: You guys have such a blended sound, it’s like this mix of different genres like rock and rap… In particular, your vocal style is very unique with how you use this blend.
Rap being such a male-dominated genre also; what made you appreciate it and want to incorporate it into your music? Was there anyone in particular that inspired you?
Emmy: Honestly it kind of happened by accident! When the band was still in its embryonic stages, we decided to record a Rage Against The Machine cover just for shits n’ giggles (we’ll actually be releasing that later this year so stay tuned!) and I found it SO freeing and fun to channel my inner Zack de la Rocha and just unleash all my aggression in that way, focusing solely on delivery without having to worry about fucking up the pitch haha.
So shortly after, when we were writing our latest single ‘Paralysed’ (which fyi was one of the first songs RedHook ever wrote) and we needed vocals for the heavy bridge, I just channeled some of that same RATM flavour and it worked pretty well!
And from there I’ve just been trying to experiment with lots of different flows and styles and really immerse myself in more hip-hop music.
I wish I could say I grew up listening to East Coast rap or something like that but I don’t have anywhere near that kind of cred. I’m honestly vanilla AF, my introduction to rap came from noughties nu metal bands like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park haha. I’ve done a few collabs with Kerser though, do I get points for that?
I also just realised all of these artists I’ve mentioned are dudes! I should shoutout Nicki Minaj – I don’t stan everything she does but her verse on Kanye West’s ‘Monster’ is straight fire, so badass.
Sorry, that turned into an essay haha!
Yours Truly – ‘Circles’
Mikaila: It’s interesting you spoke about being called a “band girlfriend” in your questions because unfortunately, it happens! How do you feel being a female in a band and what do you do when you’re having a bad experience?
Emmy: I generally just try to laugh it off at the time, but then I stew over it and start second-guessing myself about whether I should have reacted differently and start twisting my brain into knots. I also have this thing where I feel really guilty and bad about myself if I don’t know how to do something or explain something to do with the technical set-up.
Like, if a sound person asks me a question about Craig’s amp and I don’t know the answer, I’ll just beat myself up really hard about it because I feel like I’m being the dumb girl stereotype and letting the team down. I’m not sure if it’s normal to feel that way!
Mikaila: I’m really interested in what the meaning behind ‘Turn Up The Stereotype’ is?
Emmy: Haha well I was pretty pissed off when I wrote that song. It’s just kind of like a sarcastic “fuck you” anthem to the kind of people who are nice to your face and then talk shit behind your back and get enjoyment out of seeing you fail. Unfortunately, I think we’ve all probably encountered someone like that, especially in the music industry.
That song was basically me just sending a message to those people, like “Look in the mirror – do you realise that you’re just being a dull, sad, cliche bully stereotype trying to bring other people down to make yourself feel better about your own failures? Fuck off” lol.
“Turn Up The Stereotype” basically just translates to “Keep talking shit and see where it gets you.”
Mikaila: As a woman working in multiple areas of the music industry, what have you learned and what do you hope to see in the future?
Emmy: I guess the biggest thing I’ve learned is that, regardless of gender, if we all lift each other up, everybody wins. I think the future is bright, positive changes are happening, there’s so much innovation going on in rock music again too — much of it in our own backyard and much of it by non-male artists — it’s exciting.
Yes, there’s still inequality, there’s still gender-based discrimination that happens at both the micro and macro level, there are still way too many instances of female artists getting judged based on their appearance over their music. That’s not going to be obliterated overnight, but hopefully, it will someday. I think we’re on the way.
UsFest 2019 Lineup
Tickets on sale now
Eat Your Heart Out DJs
Between You and Me
The Dead Love
The Last Martyr
Down For Tomorrow
Big Music Bandits
Saturday, 6th April
Oxford Art Factory, Sydney