The future is female

‘Last year we saw an older, mostly male audience coming to the festival so this year we wanted the opposite. Every year, we tickle a new segment in the mass that is the general Sonic City audience. Sonic City is trying to surf the contemporary waves in the society, and curator Courtney Barnett was ticking all our boxes; young, female, hot.’ In conversation with the ladies at Wilde Westen, the crew behind Sonic City festival.

Interview by Herlinde Raeman
Photos shot by Sybren Vanoverberghe in Kortrijk

Whose idea was it to keep the line-up (mostly) all-women?

Fleur: We were definitely not aware from the start, but the programmation turned out to be going in that direction almost immediately.
Elisah: We always start from a big list of names coming from the curator. That first list of bands from Courtney showed a tendency: we spotted only a handful of male bands or musicians. About 95% of her picks were female. When I mentioned this to her, she was surprised as she hadn’t realised the music she listens to is so female-dominated. When we indicated our interest to develop it as a concept for the festival, she loved the idea and started sending us even more female bands.

Is there a certain ‘female ear’ in music, the counterpart of the ‘female gaze’ in photography?*

when I hear a female band, I immediately feel more connected

Elice: I am not aware of it, but when I hear a female band, I immediately feel more connected. I look at them differently, I’m also going to reflect on how they present themselves on stage and how they bring their music. I feel a bigger distance with a male band; in those cases, I focus mainly on music and less on connection.
*the gaze of the female viewer

Do you have any favorites on the line-up?

Fleur: I am really looking forward to see Emma Ruth Rundle on Friday. I’ve been listening to her last album a lot. I think she’s a very intriguing and beautiful woman (laughs). I’m also looking forward to Melanie Di Biasio, because of her energy on stage. It’s a sensual vibe that surrounds you. She’ll be our artist in residence the week before the festival and will be working with new musicians here. She literally told us: ‘this show is going to be really trippy’.

How do you experience working in a male sector?

Elisah: It seems to be double: although we are proud to promote our festival as ‘mainly female’, we think it’s a shame that this is still perceived as ‘special’ in 2018. It shouldn’t have to be like that. But the reality is that female-dominated festivals do not take place that often so I’m sure there will be a different vibe. As for working in a male sector, I think we’re lucky. Seven years ago I was the first girl in this team, now we count as many women as we do men. Our team is mixed, and we can all work in an atmosphere of respect. But I must admit that I feel more connected to Sonic City festival than I ever have. As a woman, this edition is really special to me.

although we are proud to promote our festival as ‘mainly female’, we think it’s a shame that this is still perceived as ‘special’ in 2018

What will be your task during the festival?

Elice: I coordinate over 100 volunteers working at the festival.
Elisah: I’m in charge of the guest list, I handle press contacts, PR and coordinate social media, and photography. This year, we are broadcasting a message. Many of our artists have a strong opinion – just think of Laura Jean, who fights for equality in the music business – so I want to make sure their voices are heard. I don’t want to see performance-only photos afterwards. so we’ve invited Lara Gasparotto to our festival to make a portrait series of the artists backstage.
Fleur: I am mainly responsible for the organisation of the ticketing and I’ll follow up on a number of sustainability and ecology initiatives. We are members of a cross-border network called DEMO, which is advocating that cause.
Heidi: I’m part of the production team and will make sure everything goes smoothly backstage and with band hospitality.

There is even a third stage this year. Tell us more!

Elisah: Sonic City is a discovery festival and our audience is – thanks to our international curators – very international. This year we already sold tickets in 17 countries already, which is great, but on the other hand we only have a few local musicians on our line-up. The third stage was born with only one specific goal: to showcase local, upcoming and edgy talent to an international audience. We asked Girls go BOOM and Dansende Beren to select 4 bands each for this third stage.

Are there other festivals you get inspired by?

Elisah: The former ATP and now Le Guess Who in Utrecht!
Fleur: The diversity in the line-up and in the audience at LGW is something we can learn from. They have someone who works intensively on diversity throughout the year and they have many international connections.

now we get remarks like: ‘There is a man in the line-up’

Do you plan on continuing to work with a theme from now on?

Elisah: That is not our intention, everything starts with the curator. When he or she wants to introduce a positive message, we will, of course, go along with it. As an organizer you have very little chance to spread a message so it’s nice to see it moving something here.
Elice: I already heard a lot of positive reactions to the fact that we put women in music in the spotlight.
Heidi: You do feel that this topic is alive because there is a lot of media interest!
Elisah: Yes, now we get remarks like: ‘There is a man in the line-up’ (laughs). I notice that tickets are mainly bought by women and that is the first time!

What are you looking forward to?

I suspect the backstage will be neat

Elisah: I like seeing ex-curators or artists return in other formations. Fay, the drummer of Savages, will play along with Let’s Eat Grandma for example. And FACS has been around almost every year in a different formation: last year as Brian Case, the year before as Disappears.
Elice: For me it is the first time I’m participating in the organisation and I am really looking forward to that. I also think the small stage featuring the Belgian bands is a giant added value and I will definitely watch the shows of Zola Jesus, Emma Ruth Rundle and Snail Mail.
Heidi: I am curious about the atmosphere between the artists! It will be very different from previous years, for sure. I suspect that the backstage will be neat but the atmosphere might also be bitchy (laughs)!
Fleur: I think it’s cool to see how we evolve in terms of atmosphere and experience. I like to think about how to spoil our audience. Apart from that, I hope to see at least one band this year (laughs)!


Sonic City takes place from 9 till 11 November at Départ (Nelson Mandelaplein), Kortrijk.

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