Across two weeks, The Retreat is going to be offering audiences something rather special, and better still, it’s all free. To celebrate International Women’s Day, a lineup of exclusively female artists, musicians and DJs are bringing every genre you could hope for to the stage, to showcase and encourage the remarkable wealth of talent that is thriving in an often male-dominated industry. We talk with Kerryn Fields about the momentum for equality, and her excitement to be part of the Women Up Front Series.
“There’s work to do,” Fields says thoughtfully. “It’s rapidly coming to the front that it is a real issue, and a collective of voices has really highlighted the need to nurture our musicians equally, both male and female. I want to be cautious about saying we should just champion women, or just champion men. I just think there’s been a recent influx of statistics and information regarding the lack of equality. Currently, it’s hidden in the fine print, where women musicians wouldn’t expect to be paid as much as a male band, or to play the bigger venues. We’ll play the smaller ones, or opening for not-so-well-known acts.
“It’s all the little things like that, which are being addressed and confronted now. It’s highlighted a lot of stuff that people have been saying for years, but it’s also a really cool time to be an artist who is a part of that community. You’re part of the change, you’re part of the action. That’s really empowering.”
Fields is hardly alone in identifying this imbalance; in fact, that’s why this conversation is so encouraging. Many people are now standing up for greater recognition and opportunities for female artists, to level out the playing field. Support has been coming from other artists and industry figures – such as The Retreat Hotel itself – but also from a vibrant local audience.
“The audiences [at events such as this] have been varied. A lot of women who are seeking support and a safe space where they can engage in conversations, a lot of older women who are happy to see this change, and then your regular Melbourne cool crew. Guys, girls, in-betweens, outsiders and insiders, there’s a great mix of folks coming together to enjoy great music. That’s what it’s about. There’s always that risk of making a statement about the theme of the event, and that can detract from the fact it’s also just fucking good music.”
While she is gladdened by the broader cultural momentum underway, Fields is also conscious of the work that needs to be done. She has experienced first-hand how patriarchal attitudes can be ingrained, and is a firm believer in change that happens at home.
“There’s definitely momentum. I managed the original Billy Hyde music store in Melbourne on the guitar side, and I was the only female in the shop for a couple of years. I struggled to even sell a Strat to a father and son on a weekend. You could watch them searching desperately for a man to sell them a guitar, so it starts from the moment a young man walks into a music store for the first time, and his own father is fidgeting to find the right man to sell them the guitar. And I could shred that guitar better than half of the dudes,” Fields laughs.
From retail, all the way through to gigs and conversations amongst music industry professionals and lovers, Fields wants to see change across the board. She says it’s key to empower young girls to get them playing music right into their adulthood, which is where they can often get lost in the noise.
“There’s so much going on now, and every time someone discovers a pocket of inequality, Melbourne is the kind of place to put a spotlight on it.It’s not like one particular person or group is responsible for the change,” Fields emphasises.
“It lies with everyone. It’s in those little conversations. The big picture is there, but it’s what you can do in the small picture. That talk around the table, empowering your own nieces and nephews. I firmly believe it happens in the community, in a few kilometres around you and what you can do there is just as powerful as trying to influence an entire generation.”