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SXSW Needs More Chicks, and Less Males, to Rock

Mills College Weekly

By April KilcreaseFor four days during the South by Southwest music conference, the streets of downtown Austin, Texas overflow with free beer, music from every direction, and – most of all – men.The ratio of men to women is “unbelievable,” says San Francisco singer-song writer Nedelle. “I think I talked to three women the entire time. Where my girls at?!” If you’re looking for proof that men still dominate the music industry, one visit to SXSW should satisfy your curiosity. With over 1,300 showcase acts playing at 60 venues and an estimated 10,000 conference attendees, SXSW is a beer and barbeque-soaked microcosm of the industry at large. Every March, thousands converge here for conferences on the music business, shows day and night and parties sponsored by magazines like Spin and Fader. While the ladies of Sleater-Kinney headlined for their new label Sub Pop to rave reviews, and Bay Area all-female bands the Donnas and Erase Errata filled the clubs, being a female performer at SXSW is still a unique experience.“It’s a shame there weren’t more women playing,” says Sleater-Kinney vocalist and guitarist Corin Tucker. “SXSW is booked by record labels rather than some conscientious person putting together a thoughtful bill. The music industry is not really very thoughtful.”“I stood in front of a club and watched the vans pull up to unload, and it seemed like every single van had four white guys jumping out of it,” says Cathy Bauer, General Manager of Berkeley’s Lookout! Records. Fueling the testosterone-saturated scene, many of the “female servers and bartenders were dressed in little to nothing,” says Nedelle. “It’s as if Austin was like ‘Here comes the male-dominated music industry! Get out your skimpiest outfits!’” Texas heat may justify less clothing in the summer, but the spring weather of SXSW often stays in the 70s and includes cooling thunderstorms. Leslie Satterfield of the San Francisco New Wave outfit Boyskout, who – along with her female band mates – dubbed SXSW “Dude Fest,” says that a lot of the extra attention she and her band mates received “seemed very sexual.” Says Satterfield, “My band mate Zola and I started introducing ourselves as girlfriends in hopes of being looked at as musicians and not just a possible piece of action.”“Being around so many rocker boys isn’t all bad though,” said Clementine, the drummer for San Francisco’s heavy metal band Bottom.While acknowledging that “people have low expectations of all-female bands, and we have to work our butts off to prove them wrong,” Clementine also said “we all love the company of men, so being at a festival surrounded by awesome dudes who love music as much as we do is just so much fun.”SXSW may turn Austin into guyville, but by bringing the recording industry together, it also allows both male and female musicians, label reps, journalists and fans alike to revel in their mutual love of music.With people from all over the world converging on a few square blocks, “It’s a very social and exciting environment,” says Satterfield.“I love the fact that you see people from around the country,” says Clementine. “I was thinking if I stood on the corner long enough, it’d be like that thing they say about New York, I’d end up seeing everyone I’ve ever met.”The concern is how to change the boys’ party atmosphere and get more women into the mix.“You just don’t see a lot of women playing rock. And so that puts up a wall against any girl picking up a guitar or wanting to play drums. Most of the women you see in music are these beautiful singers and dancers, and their talent is downplayed,” says Bauer, who, at 33, has worked in the industry for a decade.“I think there are people who are trying to change things, but it doesn’t happen over night or in a year. It takes some time,” says Bauer. Says Tucker, “Sleater-Kinney has always presented ourselves as serious musicians, and want to be judged on our music rather than on our gender alone. I think one of the best ways we can encourage other women to play is to just make good music.”If Bauer and Tucker are right, perhaps future SXSW festivals will see more women hopping out of vans and unloading their gear and less behind the bar serving beer.