Over at Triple J right now it’s “Male Week”. The ABC’s Australia-wide, government funded youth music radio station has dedicated this week to examining what it is to be a man in Australia. Which would be great, if it didn’t look as if they think all the other weeks in the history of music broadcasting were male weeks too.
Every year I, and most people I know, enjoy participating in or at least keeping an ear on the JJJ public vote for the “Hottest 100” songs of the year. Having reached 20 years of the poll, the station has, for the third time in its history, invited people to stretch that bit further and vote for the “Hottest 100 of All Time”. To help us along the way, the station’s website has put up “our potted history of music over the last half century”.
Divided into decades, starting with the 1960s, each page shows between 9 and 15 album covers, with an accompanying note about musicians or bands that influenced the direction of rock and pop. The section on the 60s mentions the Supremes as one of the groups on the Stax/Motown label, and Janis Joplin as appearing at the Monterey Pop Festival. Then the 2000s section mentions the White Stripes. NO other female artists or groups that include women are mentioned. Of the 59 album covers shown to illustrate, NONE were put out by female artists. Janis Joplin appears as one of the musicians on the cover of the album from the Monterey Pop Festival, but apart from that – well, it’s a good thing there’s that naked female bottom on the cover of the Strokes’ album, or girls might think there was no place for them in the music industry.
It is possibly the modern music industry’s greatest tragedy and shame that it has, collectively, worked so hard to exclude women, keep them to the margins or, at best, channel them into narrow moulds. Given everything that worked against them being acknowledged as musicians it is a testament to the astonishing talent, dedication and sheer strength of will of women that any managed to break through and be heard. But break through they did, and they did amazing things, and now Triple J erases them all over again.
I have been trying to think of an appropriate way of drawing Triple J’s attention to what it means when they do things like this. The station’s own Forum has too much going on; a comment there would just disappear. They haven’t breached any codes that make a formal complaint appropriate (just breached their responsibility to their audience and their affirmed principles). I think a letter to Richard Kingsmill, Triple J’s Music Director, is my best chance to be heard. This is a man who cares about his music, so I want to say to him: check how many hits your history page has had. That’s how many people you’ve told that women have no place in music. I don’t want to just write a note, but to really make the case for why this is the kind of screw up that matters, if he really believes they have a commitment to young Australians.
This is not commercial radio. It calls itself “alternative”. It claims to be “all about the music”. It’s a station that specifically declares its interest in young people, and says it wants to “satisfy all your musical and cultural needs”. So, dear Hoydens, this is where I need you. Where does it seem to you that the erasure of female artists distorts the history of popular music? Who has shaped the direction of the art form in ways that deserve to be acknowledged? What would you like this station (that you pay for with your taxes) to hear about how your experience of what matters in music just got pushed off the edge of the page?