UNIFY: A Heavy Music Gathering came under fire last year for what many saw as a serious misstep in its male-dominated lineup of bands, an issue that has become a hot-button topic in recent years as more and more events make shrinking the gender divide in Australian music a big priority.

Having unfortunately let down a segment of their community last year, the festival has put its best foot forward this year, addressing the criticism they received and outlining their plans for this year’s event in a lengthy statement released today by organiser Luke Logemann and the rest of the UNIFY team.

“As we get closer to the announcement of UNIFY 2018, I want to address our lineup and the ongoing conversation around gender inclusivity on festivals,” the statement begins. “When we announced UNIFY 2017, we got feedback from people both in the press and on social media that our lineup had a very disproportionate amount of males performing, and that only two of our announced bands had female members.

The words “community” and “diversity” are in our mission and vision for a reason, and we don’t take that lightly

“I think it goes without saying when we booked that lineup, we obviously never wanted to exclude anyone,” it continues. “As a company and as an event, we are all about equality and inclusivity. I can’t say that any more definitively. The words “community” and “diversity” are in our mission and vision for a reason, and we don’t take that lightly.”

Luke then admits why the lineup looked the way it did: it was a complete oversight, but one they’re doing their best to make up for.

“So why weren’t there more females on stage? Well, we simply just didn’t think about it,” Luke says. “That’s in no way an excuse, but it’s just complete honesty. It hadn’t crossed my mind. I just booked the lineup I wanted and tried to put on the best show possible.”

Unify Gathering is the country’s best heavy music event – and they want to make it better

The statement goes on to explain how “blindsided” the company was by the criticism, how personally the members of the festival team took it, and what they’re doing this year to address everyone’s concerns, while also admitting that they have a long way to go.

We made sure there was no shred of tokenism, and that we were booking every artist for the right reason

“I can’t tell you that we have a completely multi-cultural, gender balanced event across the board,” Luke admits. “But I can tell you that we’ve tried our best and that we have thought about it a lot. We made sure there was no shred of tokenism, and that we were booking every artist for the right reason. But we also made an effort to try and move this lineup in the right direction.

“We will have five acts with females in them out of the 29 playing UNIFY 2018.

“To be honest, I do wish there was more than that, but we are working with genres of music that are especially dominated by male members. We put together what I think is our best lineup yet, and managed to start making progress towards a more balanced look in the future. Next year, we want to do better. And the year after, we’d like to improve it even more. We’re open to suggestions on artists you’d love to see.”

Next year, we want to do better. And the year after, we’d like to improve it even more

The team also address the lack of trans or gender-non-conforming artists on this year’s bill, closing by admitting they “don’t have all the answers”, but are doing their best to work with the community and give the local music community the best event they can.

The vast majority of the most popular responses to the post seem to fall into the camp of “just put on the bands that are best/most popular, regardless of gender”, but it’s important to realise that correcting the seriously unfortunate gender balance in music is going to take people making an active effort to promote the smaller number of female or gender-non-conforming acts we do have.

Like it or not, there are longstanding perceptions in the music industry (and society in general) that have lead to fewer women on the stage and off, and taking a moment to think about whether you’re overlooking any talented non-male acts that deserve a platform is an important step in turning the tide.

It’s something that UNIFY, and most concert promoters, are taking seriously. As they say in today’s statement, this isn’t about “tokenism”, or giving undeserving bands preferential treatment. It’s about putting together lineups that not only reflect the talent we have in this country, but also the diversity of culture, gender and sexuality we ideally hope to embrace.

UNIFY’s entire statement is below.

UNIFY’s statement on gender diversity at UNIFY Gathering 2017/2018

As we get closer to the announcement of UNIFY 2018, I want to address our lineup and the ongoing conversation around gender inclusivity on festivals. When we announced UNIFY 2017, we got feedback from people both in the press and on social media that our lineup had a very disproportionate amount of males performing, and that only two of our announced bands had female members.

I think it goes without saying when we booked that lineup, we obviously never wanted to exclude anyone. As a company and as an event, we are all about equality and inclusivity. I can’t say that any more definitively. The words “community” and “diversity” are in our mission and vision for a reason, and we don’t take that lightly. So why weren’t there more females on stage? Well, we simply just didn’t think about it. That’s in no way an excuse, but it’s just complete honesty. It hadn’t crossed my mind. I just booked the lineup I wanted and tried to put on the best show possible.

If anything, the feedback that day blind-sided us. A huge amount of effort and conversation goes into planning a lineup and announcing a festival. The weeks leading into announce, everyone in our office helps get it out there in some way, and it’s a very special day for everyone involved. But in the early afternoon, we saw the first mention of the lineup imbalance, by the evening it had turned into a full-blown social media conversation on both sides. It gained steam and all of a sudden it was the only thing any of us were thinking about and looking into. The noise became deafening pretty quickly. There were intelligent people on both sides, and a few bad eggs on both sides as well. We read everything, and we stayed fairly quiet in the moment. Eventually (as in 24 hours) the whole thing blew over, the chatter died down and the event went ahead as planned. But we didn’t stop thinking about it.

I’d like to take a moment to explain how I personally felt on that day. My first instinct, admittedly, was not my best moment. I was angry at the people saying things about our event, and I wanted to tell them where to go. I can admit that, I’m only human and when I feel attacked, my first instinct isn’t always my best one. I got together with all the leaders in our group – women and men alike, and we talked it all out. Hearing this from a female perspective was exactly what I personally needed to really focus on why this conversation is so important. They explained that this isn’t about us and our festival. It’s about a cultural shift and people starting to recognise things that have been happening in the world for as long as anyone can remember. Most importantly, they said that I don’t really have a voice in this conversation right now – it’s about the people who feel the inequality talking and the rest of us listening.

Basically, I’m a white, middle class, heterosexual male from a wealthy country, and I’ve never been told before that I can’t express my opinion. I’ve been told to be brave and to talk whenever I want to about whatever I want to. Now there are conversations happening around race, gender and sexuality in which I don’t have a place to talk – I just have to listen. And the more I think about it, the happier that makes me. I’m more than happy to listen.

So, we worked together and made a general statement in response. We sent that off and didn’t put any more communication out there. We knew our best foot forward was action, and hard work. Then we got to work on our event and making it as inclusive as possible, while thinking forward to our 2018 event and how we could do better with everything.

Now, back to UNIFY 2018 and the lineup we’ve built. Unfortunately, this long-winded diatribe is not concluding with me announcing that half of our lineup is female. I can’t tell you that we have a completely multi-cultural, gender balanced event across the board. But I can tell you that we’ve tried our best and that we have thought about it a lot. We made sure there was no shred of tokenism, and that we were booking every artist for the right reason. But we also made an effort to try and move this lineup in the right direction.

We will have five acts with females in them out of the 29 playing UNIFY 2018.

To be honest, I do wish there was more than that, but we are working with genres of music that are especially dominated by male members. We put together what I think is our best lineup yet, and managed to start making progress towards a more balanced look in the future. Next year, we want to do better. And the year after, we’d like to improve it even more. We’re open to suggestions on artists you’d love to see.

I know there is still a discussion to be had about trans and gender diverse people, and their inclusion on the lineup. As far as I’m aware we don’t have any of these people playing UNIFY 18, but if I’m mistaken I do apologize. We’re open to suggestions on how to improve our knowledge here of suitable artists that might be worthwhile additions for UNIFY 19.

So why am I writing this? I’m writing it to give an honest view of how we feel and how we approached all of this. To make sure you know that everyone’s voices have been heard and we’re trying to do what we can to make our event a haven for good people who want to have a good time. We don’t have all the answers, but we will try.

We hope our fans and followers feel supported and above all else, heard. We hope you love the lineup like we do!

– Luke Logemann and the UNIFY Gathering team