Since women first entered the paid workforce, certain occupations have been designated as “women’s work”. Fancy a job as a nurse, typist, or elementary-school teacher? Here’s your offer letter. A computer programmer? We’ll call you.
While today more women are embarking on careers in male-dominated professions, female employees are paid 87 cents for every dollar made by men in the same role, they rarely make it to the top positions in the company, and they are more likely to experience discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
In some industries, then, the glass ceiling is thicker than others—and that reality is faced daily by women in electronic music and art.
“As cultural producers, we see the barriers that women run up against when they enter this profession,” Ashlee Luk tells the Straight from across the table at a Railtown co-working space. “We wanted to create an event that would make women and their contributions to electronic music and art more visible.”
Masterminding a three-day symposium featuring panels, workshops, and performances, Luk decided to bring together various female and non-binary art collectives from across Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland to create a comprehensive festival named Current. With the help of multimedia creators Soledad Muñoz, leader of all-women Vancouver label Genero, and Nancy Lee—head of local electronic music alliance Chapel Sound—Luk saw her vision grow into, in her words, “the exciting monster it is now”.
“We wanted to prove that you can curate an all-woman and nonbinary lineup and still have a draw,” Lee says. “That’s one of the many things we’ve all experienced promoters and booking agents say, that women artists don’t attract as many people, and that’s why they’re relegated to opening. The popularity of Current shows that it’s just not true.”
The event’s performers and educators have little in common aside from being female-identifying or genderqueer. Diversity is a key part of the festival for Muñoz, and booking artists from all ages, races, and economic backgrounds helps make the bill both broad and representative. Despite offering their platform to just women, however, it’s vital to the label owner that men can also enjoy the festival’s art and music.
“It’s open for everybody to come,” she says. “That’s very important so that people who are not female or non-binary can see the great music being produced by people like us in the industry, and can attend the panels and hear our perspectives. We want everyone to learn how to become better supporters of women and genderqueer folk in electronic music and art together.”
Current’s first event, slated for Friday afternoon, taps into just that. A discussion led by four female trailblazers in the industry, the panel focuses on how to create better allies in the music and art world, and how to mobilize women to take the lead in planning events.
“We’re looking at how people in positions of power—who are usually men—can facilitate a more equal and inclusive landscape,” says Lee. “It’s a space for us to explain what our needs are. A lot of people have really great intentions about including women and nonbinary folk, but they just have no idea where to start.”
“The second panel is a bit different, and it examines women’s contribution to electronic art and technology,” Muñoz picks up. “It’s often said that women are excluded from the industry because they have no interest in it, but that’s just not true—the first computer programmer was a woman, for example. The discussion will help to rewrite a fairer version of history to point out the places in the narrative where women’s contributions have been passed over.”
More than just a discussion forum, though, Current will allow its attendees to gain some hands-on skills. Budding producers will benefit from a comprehensive Ableton workshop with Kasey Riot, while Kiran Bhumber and Norah Lorway will teach a five-hour class on how to build a synth from scratch and solder its components to a breadboard, and instruct guests in how to live-code the parameters of the soundwaves to change the output.
The most technical class, however, is Tifanie Lamiel’s lesson on how to create a DIY Arduino board. A regular feature in many audio-visual mixed-media projects, Arduino reads an input—such as a finger on a button or a Twitter message—and turns it into any output, like activating a motor or publishing an online post. Recognizing that the technology can be expensive and that buying multiple Arduinos adds up quickly, Lamiel’s workshop will show guests how to create the component from just a circuit board.
Preconceptions are shattered when people choose to be the change they want to see. Current is set to do just that. By spotlighting those who are underrepresented in electronic music and art, the event will facilitate collaboration, encourage mentorship, and help women and gender-nonbinary folk to conquer the feeling of “imposter syndrome” in the industry.
“We’re not just a festival,” Muñoz says. “We all feel like we’re changing things by creating the spaces and opportunities that weren’t available to us.”
Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays