On Wednesday Moogfest, the Durham, North Carolina-based electronic music festival, announced that their 2018 line-up would be led by female, non-binary, and transgender artists.
It was an effort to recognize artists that are often ignored by traditional music festivals, whose line-ups are often dominated by male performers. But Caroline Polachek, an electronic musician and former member of the band Chairlift, announced that she was dropping out of the festival specifically because the line-up was defined through gender.
“Furious to be (without approval) on an all-female & non-gender-binary announcement list for @Moogfest,” she tweeted. “Gender is not a genre. I don’t need a sympathy pedestal, esp from a male curator. Take my name off this list and put me in the pit with the boys.”
In a statement from Moogfest the festival clarified that the line-up was curated by a diverse team of people, not one man, they apologized for “reframing you in a way that takes focus off of your artistry and talent. “We believe that using our platform to center women, non-binary and transgender people is an important tool to combat the erasure and invisibility that can occur when these identities are kept on the periphery,” they wrote. “Please know that no musician was booked for Moogfest for any reason other than their own unique artistry, and today’s announcement is just phase one of our 2018 lineup.”
Though it feels like artists have been fighting the “gender is not a genre” battle for years, Polachek’s announcement is still a good reminder that not everyone wants their work or art framed through a gendered lens. Because depending on who you are, an all-female showcase can either be a progressive, radical space or straight-up gender segregation. There is nothing inherently wrong with a festival that features only women and non-binary performers (and you’re right to think there isn’t anything particularly radical about it, either) but all those involved need to at least know and agree to have their work defined that way.
Because as traditionally male-dominated spaces try to diversify, they run the risk of pigeonholing marginalized voices even more. Are you really advancing the work of women and non-binary people if you only include them in showcases with each other? There should of course be pressure on festivals, award shows, museum surveys and more to seek out voices that are frequently undervalued or overlooked in art, but the best way to actually include these voices might be to do so wordlessly. Otherwise, your gender inclusivity feels more like a marketing gimmick.
For someone like Polachek, who’s co-written a Beyoncé song and performed at several festivals, I can see why the insinuation that she’s been “kept on the periphery” is patronizing. And while her asking to be “put in the pit with the boys” sort of has a ring of “I’m not like the other girls” to it, I understand her to mean that she just wants to perform like any other man gets to: to have her music just be music, and not “music made by a woman.”
Update, 10/7/17: Polachek released an additional statement on Twitter: