The first song to be written, record and released in New Zealand by a New Zealand label was sung by a woman.
Pixie Williams, by her own account, saw music as a means to happiness and never coveted a career. Other women who followed may have had more ambitious goals, but for decades they had no real route to controlling their own destinies.
But in the 1970s, Shona Laing and Sharon O'Neill not only wrote their own songs, but were signed because they did. Punk rock arrived and began to invalidate ideas about proper gender roles. The Flying Nun community emerged with women who played instruments, sang songs and eventually managed the label. Smart, pioneering women ran Virgin Records' New Zealand arm. My partner Fiona managed Dead Famous People, my friend Suzanne managed Fatal Jellyspace. Things did change and continued to change.
But obstruction, exclusion and bullshit didn't go away and in recent years there have been conscious efforts at inclusion: Apra undertook to redress the gender imbalance, financial and otherwise, in its sector, and Julia Deans devised a tour for which all support acts were female or non-binary fronted bands or solo artists, and the booking agent, promoter, publicist, and most of the band and crew were women. Girls Rock Camp has done an amazing job of introducing young women to playing music.
Less formally, the DJ scene has begun to diversify away from being a boys' club and perhaps one day a leader like Aroha Harawira won't have to worry about being groped and vomited on by men while she's trying to do her job. But what Aroha has done really matters: it says to young women watching her that they can do more than just make up the numbers on the dancefloor.
All of these developments should be seen as the industry speaking to itself, keeping itself honest, doing better. And that's how Chelsea Jade's online comment about the all-male lineup on Six60's Western Springs bill should have been heard. Chelsea wasn't the only female artist to make that observation, just the one who said it out loud, and she had a damn point (for comparison, Ladi6, Jess B and Silva MC provided a fair bit of the energy at Fat Freddy's Drop's Springs show earlier in the summer). Similar criticisms were actually made of other summer festival bills, most notably Homegrown, Unfortunately, blowhards like Sean Plunket weighed in on the "madness" of balanced bills and some Six60 fans felt it was okay to outright abuse Chelsea online.
But sometimes a celebration is due, and that's what Milk & Honey festival is. Next Friday, March 8, International Women's Day, will see five venues across four cities host shows featuring lineups led by women, produced by women. It's the brainchild of 25-year industry management veteran Teresa Patterson and Elemenop bass player and erstwhile SAE Institute staffer Lani Purkis.
"We kind of came up with the idea independently," says Teresa. "I thought about it when we were putting together the ideas for Julia Deans's tour last year and Julia said to me, gosh, there's so much talent around the country.
"And I said, how come there's not a female festival, like Lilith? We should put together something for International Women's Day. We should put on a series of gigs. I booked the Powerstation and Lani got wind of the fact that I'd done that and she contacted me and said, I've been wanting to put on an all-female festival. So we decided we should do it together."
The idea took off and one gig became five. And they're really good gigs:
Powerstation, Auckland: Tami Neilson, Nadia Reid, Julia Deans, Ria Hall and DJ Sandy Mill.
Whammy/Wine Cellar, Auckland: carb on carb, CHAII, Cheshire Grimm, Dead Little Penny, HEX, LEXXA, Randa, October, Sami Sisters, Tooms, Wax Chattels, Valkyrie.
Club 121, Wellington: DJ Alexa Casino, Half Queen , Peach Milk , Amy Jean.
Blue Smoke, Christchurch: Bic Runga, French_concession.
Sherwood, Queenstown: Mel Parsons, Dana Sipos (Canada).
"We've really tried hard to have women working behind the scenes," says Teresa. "I'm looking after the Powerstation and all my crew but one are female. All of Lani's crew at Whammy are women. We just want to show young women that there are options out there – and that it can be a safe environment. That it's just normal."
It would be good to see Milk & Honey become an annual celebration – ideally one with the all-ages shows that this first year is missing.
"We would love for it to be a regular thing. We would love for it to grow, to become a proper festival. But most importantly, we would love for there not to be a need for it. For all festival lineups to be 50-50, and all crew and so on. That there is 'balance for better', as per the theme of International Women's Day."
On a personal level, I'm stoked to see my DJ buddy Sandy Mill involved. Sandy's more than a DJ, of course: she's been the guest vocalist on any number of dance tracks over the years and and has sung with everyone from Neil Finn to Basement Jaxx and Boy George. But it's only in the past year that she's been able to finally do her own thing (it's no accident that her new label and production compay is called She's the Boss). In similar vein, Caroline Easther, drummer for The Chills, Let's Planet, The Verlaines and others, has just stepped out from behind the kit and released Lucky, an album of warm, winning alt-country and indie pop. For both, it's been a long road to singing their own songs.
So anyway, tickets to all the Milk & Honey shows can be purchased here. And, thanks to Teresa and Lani, I have a double pass to give away to each of the shows. Just click the email reply button below this post and put the venue name of the show you want in the subject of your message.
I'm on the road working from next Monday, so I'll draw winners on Sunday.
And if you've ever done a gig, please do pour one out for Ross Lowell, the inventor of gaffer tape, died recently aged 92. Respect.
And I'm back playing records at Cupid bar in Point Chevalier tonight, along with Ben McNicoll (Ijebu Pleasure Club). Next Friday, it's Mark Graham and Jackson Perry. Come on down!
Peter McLennan, aka Dub Asylum, likes a bit of Carribean-style steel drums, and he's a longtime champion of local reggae. He brings the two together today with this remix of Herbs' 'French Letter'. It's really lovely, and it's available on Bandcamp at a price of your choosing.