By LUCY STOCKTON
The door swings and shuts with mute thumps, behind the hum of voices. People collect in groups, waiting, hands marked in Sharpie with Venus symbols. Old friends gather; strangers bump into each other in the intimate basement. Meanwhile, the bands’ soundchecks echo off the flaking paint and brick walls. Microphones vibrate, there’s tinkering with wires and volume knobs and finally a soft, murmuring is heard from the stage, “thank you to Fanclub Collective who brought us out tonight…” The crowd shifts with anticipation for an event which — although most people might not realize it — is quite radical: a concert with a totally female-fronted line-up.
Fanclub Collective is a student organization at Cornell that brings visual artists to campus and books concerts in the DIY music scene. DIY — or “Do It Yourself” — music has been around since the 1970s; primarily characterized by rock sub-genres (punk, experimental, grunge, metal, indie etc.) in combination with a strong self-sufficient ethic. Today, DIY, as defined by Fanclub, also includes new genres of hip-hop, rap, pop, brass bands and more. DIY concerts are organized all over the country, everywhere from clubs in the largest cities to teenagers’ basements in the smallest backcountry towns.
Fanclub is a part of this larger network of DIY music, and this semester we have made it our mission to challenge that scene and community to be more inclusive. Fanclub is responsible for six (or more) shows per semester, and the lifeblood of what we do is funded by organizations like ALANA Intercultural Programming Board, Cornell Haven (the LGBTQ Student Union) and the Women’s Resource Center. We could not accomplish what we do without their support and co-sponsorship. However, even as the DIY scene promises to provide an inclusive, alternative space, its music and industry (just like popular music) has, frustratingly, been traditionally dominated by men.
When the scene has attempted to be more inclusive of groups that contradict the stereotypical male-fronted rock band, the overall attitudes towards female-inclusive groups are often still exclusive, hostile or misogynistic. In 2003, Jessica Hopper, currently a senior editor of Pitchfork Magazine, wrote a scathing review of the male-dominated DIY scene, titled “Where the Girls Aren’t,” she noted the absence of change and proposed that the real issue for girls in music is that, if they cannot relate to those performing music, they may never be able to envision themselves as musicians, performers or artists.
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been dramatic change since she wrote that criticism 12 years ago, as she reiterated it in her new book, The First Collection of Criticism from a Living Female Rock Critic. An article by Paul Blest, titled “As The DIY Scene Becomes More Inclusive, Sexism Remains,” details the sexist attitudes that women in the DIY scene still face today. It seems that being cat-called and second-guessed while on stage is just a daily part of being “pretty good for a girl band.”
In the four shows we have had so far this semester, eight out of our 11 acts have been female-fronted. To put that in perspective, Cornell Concert Commission (CCC) has brought around 95 total performers to Cornell since 2012, with only 13 women in their mix. Furthermore, almost all of those performers have been in the pop and hip-hop genre, essentially excluding women from experimental or rock genres. Slope Day, too has featured only two women out of 23 total performers since 2012, two bands in total. While the absence of female performers at their events is surely not an intentional decision by CCC to exclude women, it reflects deep-rooted and systemic sexism in the music industry. Women won’t aspire to be performers if they can’t relate to the people they see on stage. If we want to eradicate this systemic and cyclical inequality, it is essential that we act intentionally to correct it, at times overcompensating for the negligence of others.
Surely, it would be easier to fill all our bills with guys; just as it would be to elect all our men as political representatives and leaders, to let all of our men code and program for us, to let men be all of our doctors while women hand them the scalpels — men have been given priority in opportunity in our society for hundreds of years, but the priority is not and never should be convenience. To the contrary, in a conscious, aggressive and affirmative attempt, we are choosing to feature bands that don’t fit the ‘norm,’ like Painted Zeros, Addie Onion, Izzy True, Princess Nokia, Juliana Huxtable, Pity Party, Diet Cig, Jawbreaker Reunion and many more.
Fanclub’s long-term goal is to foster as many types of alternative culture on campus — in terms of genre, artist, venue and background — as we can. Part of our emphasis on diversity is formulaic: We want to meet the quotas we set for ourselves. But it comes out of a deep respect and understanding of the need for justice not only in our society and politics, but also in our culture and in our art.
Emphasizing diversity in our shows is an important part of breaking down exclusive and insular networks, and exposing audiences to art and music from artists they would not otherwise encounter. Holding artists’ talks means little if it is the same story from the same archetype; it’s far more valuable to learn about the challenges that artists face as women, as queer people and as people of color. Fanclub has surely not done enough to address the racially exclusive nature of the DIY scene but we hope to do more — specifically to bring more performers of color, featuring them in a scene that has historically been overwhelmingly white.
We believe that dismantling a patriarchal society requires persistent, collective action that challenges the norm. Music may just be a small piece of this puzzle, but it also plays an essential role in curating a culture that reflects a society we would want to see — and brings us a step closer to actually realizing it. Of course, there is a lot more work to do, and clearly we can do better. We don’t want to be self-congratulatory — we know we are just a bunch of college kids organizing concerts, and we’ll still be featuring guys on our show bills — but we are conscious and aware of why so many concerts look the same. So you’re wrong if you think, “it’s not [your] fault that all the good musicians [you] know are white guys.” Consider the fact that you actually might be to blame — you’re not trying hard enough.
Like Fanclub Collective on Facebook to stay tuned for our upcoming events.
Lucy Stockton is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.