Females in Fests: How St. John’s Spring Line-ups Stack Up

Disappointed with the lack of female artists headlining this year’s biggest festivals, I decided to see how Newfoundland & Labrador compares. On the national stage, the lack of female artists headlining huge events like Coachella and Lollapalooza calls attention to the unfaltering misogyny that permeates the music industry. Compared to 2015’s bigger line-ups (thx Pixable), where Pitchfork’s 30% female artists tops the list, Newfoundland’s spring lineup is pretty female-friendly.


26 acts featuring a female artist
45 acts

With 58% of the 45 bands playing Lawnya Vawyna, it just about doubles the female representation of this year’s biggest festivals.

When we look closer, however, discrepancies emerge. Women dominate indie/folk/pop music or, y’know, the music that features pretty girls in floral dresses and big smiles. Light-hearted and fun is how women are expected to act, and playing acoustic guitar or piano are acceptable lady instruments. I don’t mean to degrade these genres because they are full of talented women, but I can’t help but notice how easily they follow female gender norms.

Heading over to the heavy (punk/rock/metal) and electronic shows, dicks start to dominate the stage.

Musically, these scenes are very different, yet they share a certain masculine bravado. They’re both fast and loud, inciting an adrenaline rush in the crowd that provokes panoramic pushing.

While there may be a lack of support for female artists in these scenes, I’m not totally sure that’s all to blame. I think young women do feel empowered enough to overcome that bullshit and start their own bands. Still, many women aren’t choosing to amp up.

I wonder, instead, if women just aren’t comfortable getting angry yet. Are we intimidated by the idea of being loud? When women raise their voice, they are so often told to “calm down,” that they are being emotional wrecks, has it worked to shut us up?

Maybe I’m way off the mark. Maybe women just don’t like loud music. But looking around at all the women in the crowds, I have trouble believing that. Something is preventing women from buying amps, and it’s not the price.

image0064 acts with women
105 acts

East Coast Music Week, a festival highlighting bands nominated for the East Coast Music Awards, featured a fabulous 64% of acts that included women. Unfortunately, local media did not do a great job of showing this, prompting the hashtag #eastcoastmensawards, but that’s not really ECM’s fault.

Now the ECMAs have a very different process for choosing musicians, which is basically that you have to apply. A high price-tag and a stack of paperwork prevents many awesome artists from bothering, which means that most of the people playing the festival had the ego to do so.

As most of your favorite artists probably didn’t make it into the ECMA nominations, you might’ve ignored it. Newfoundland’s inferiority complex has gotten rich and has become more of a “fuck you, Canada” complex, resulting in 23 submissions from this province.

image02Including producers and sound engineers, 71% of music genres had nominated at least one act featuring a female. However, the proportion of acts with females that actually won falls to a pitiful 9/35, or 26%.

Female success was concentrated in feminine genres, like pop and roots/traditional because, again, who doesn’t love a pretty girl with an acoustic guitar? It’s ok to play music if you dress nice and wear make-up for it.

100% of the songwriter nominations were for acts including women, mostly solo artists, acknowledging there were at least enough female applicants to fill an entire genre. Inexplicably, not a single woman was nominated for solo recording of the year. I guess according to the ECMA’s, women can write songs, but they can’t play instruments.

Here, again, women wielding electric guitars were rare. The Loud category had no women, the Rock category had one.

It’s difficult to theorize about female representation in the music scene with only three points of data, but the similarities between them are striking. Feminine female artists are successful when they play feminine, female music; cute, pop beats and flowy skirts are very tasteful to the public’s and the musicians’ palate. Let the boys buy the amps, because it’s ok for them to be angry and loud. Stay within your gender norms, and you too can be Canada’s next rising star. But be sure you make your man a sandwich first because we wouldn’t want to piss anyone off now would we?

&now for a fun, female-inclusive ECMA nomination that didn’t win.

6 thoughts on “Females in Fests: How St. John’s Spring Line-ups Stack Up”

  1. Stacey Follett says:

    I noticed the same thing at the double feature. zero women
    you make some great points. Let’s get heavy!


    1. Nicole Elizabeth says:

      I actually played with the first band, Bad Plan. We are a hardcore band. That said, it would be nice to see more women getting involved in the heavier genres of music.

  2. Petunia says:

    @ Stacey Follett,

    Not all the bands were in that gallery: Bad Plan played, they have a lady presence, and they were one of the heavier bands of the night. https://secreteast.ca/2015/04/the-punk-tank-showcase-the-secret-east-double-feature-through-the-lens-of-ritche-perez/

    It wasn’t zero womyn, but the punk and rock scene certainly doesn’t have enough.

    You and Kerri are right, womyn in this city need to get heavy.

  3. Geoff says:

    Why is it a problem that women tended to fall into the Indie/Acoustic/Rock/Pop genres and not the heavier genres that share a “masculine bravado”? According to the author, if I’m not mistaken, it’s because these women believe that they are expected to fulfill gender roles and gender stereotypes, hence why the majority of the women who played at these festivals played “indie/folk/pop music or, y’know, the music that features pretty girls in floral dresses and big smiles.” And it’s this reluctance to play loud and aggressive music that makes the author wonder if it’s because women “just aren’t comfortable getting angry yet.” But lots of women were playing at the festival and lots of women watched: “Something is preventing women from buying amps [and playing so-called masculine music], and it’s not the price.”

    I have a crazy idea: maybe these women were playing indie music because they like it. In other words, maybe these women can think for themselves.

    If something is preventing women from buying amplifiers and playing heavy music then it’s their own decision-making process, their own ability as autonomous, free-thinking individuals to decide what music they want to play. Gender norms didn’t stop Joan Jett, the singer and guitarist from Heart, and Arch Enemy’s two female vocalists.

    I understand the sentiment behind the author’s words but ultimately, the author simultaneously denies the free will of these women. If they’re not playing ‘masculine’ genres then so what? Grant these women the autonomous and equal status you think they deserve and LET THEM PLAY THE MUSIC THEY WANT TO!

    1. Chrissy says:


      Stop telling other people what they should want, or that their preferences are due to some conspiracy to systematically oppress women…

      If anything, this article is treating women as if they can’t make their own decisions lol

  4. Pingback: Women Behind the Scenes: Festivals and Gender Representation – St. John's Women in Music
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