Words || Harriet Atkins
Newtown is a bit weird. There are many ways to describe it; eclectic, diverse, ever-changing; but it always comes back to one word. Weird. It’s because of this that the suburb is so loved and appreciated by its community. It is home to an unexpected range of individuals, who coexist harmoniously. In a pub that is the epitome of its surroundings and community, a group of women with a distinct opinion on the gender balance gather once a month. Lauren Alison, also known as Batman, has been present at Chicks with Picks since its conception.
Lauren is captivating, her hair is a blaze of red curls and she has the ability to befriend anyone she meets. She’s dressed in black the majority of the time, and proudly sports a belt emblazoned with the logo of her namesake, Batman. Lauren found her love of music as a teenager. From the first time she picked up a set of drumsticks she knew that she would never be able to go without playing. “Music gives me purpose. I have to play”, she says. Before she was eighteen, she would wander into any pub that would serve her, except for the Townie. The Townie was a pub for punters.
This description doesn’t exactly line up with its identity of today. While in its past life it was far from overtly old-school, it didn’t yet have the welcoming attitude that it is now well known for. The pub is one of the most prominent in Newtown, and for many years it has sat at centre stage, refusing to budge. The Townie’s importance to the area emphasises just how big of a deal the change is, and therefore Chicks with Picks, the instigator of The Townie’s change.
Chick with Picks was started by Hayley Thorncraft in 2003. Hayley was an up-and-coming artist who grew frustrated by how difficult it was to find somewhere to play. This gave her inspiration to organise an open mic night for other struggling female artists like her. Hayley and her friends decided to create a monthly event, and gathered in a cordoned off area of the Abercrombie Hotel, because it was free. It occurred alongside a BBQ out back and, eventually, a $5 door charge. Many would come to catch up with some friends and hear others play. Some of the magic in it was just how cheap it was, allowing artists to invite their friends to their gig without the pressure of requiring them to pay up at the door. In time Hayley outgrew the event and sought greater things. She handed the reigns to Sally Hackett and McKenzie Raymond who had a destiny in mind for Chicks with Picks.
The new caretakers moved Chicks with Picks out of Chippendale and into Newtown, an area where all of its participants felt more at home. It found its place in The Townie, and began to change the face of the pub, month by month. Mac dreamt for Chicks with Picks to be a safe place for diverse women to perform and listen. Lauren loves that it is now based around “forgetting the bullshit of the music industry”. The lack of female representation is a big part of the bullshit.
In the various roles she has held, from working in a music shop to playing her own music, Lauren has felt underestimated. When setting up her drum kit, sound engineers have told her how to do it. When offering help in drumming section of the store she worked in, customers would ask for someone else. When playing a gig, her band would be told that they’re “not bad for a bunch of girls”. Lauren believes that we have been conditioned to think that seeing male-fronted and dominated musical groups is what is normal and that in order to find equality in the industry we must gently chip away at that way of thinking.
Lauren is not the only one who has experienced this kind of treatment as a female musician. Band Camp Cope has become famous for speaking out and working to draw attention to this issue. Camp Cope are an indie rock band out of Melbourne’s Footscray. They are lead by Georgia Maq, daughter of Hugh McDonald, who is known best as the guitarist for Australian rock band, Redgum.
Recently, Camp Cope lead singer Georgia Maq has gotten in trouble for calling out lead singer of The Sticky Fingers, Dylan Frost. The Sticky Fingers have been making waves of late after resurfacing following their December 2016 announcement of an ‘indefinite hiatus’, a result of various assault allegations.
Frost has been accused of racism, harassment and assault, as recently as the 17th of May 2018. He has attended rehab for his bipolar schizophrenia and alcohol addiction but there have been no other consequences for his actions. The allegations have not affected their ability to release new music, with the announcement of a new album on the May 21y this year. Georgia Maq took to her Instagram and Twitter to criticise Frost and show support for one of the alleged victims. Camp Cope’s stand at Falls, where she changed song lyrics to criticise the festival on the lack of female representation in its lineup was reported on by the Guardian, Forbes Magazine and the ABC, all with an air of praise.
Music in Australia conducted a census and found that 75% of successful Australian musicians are male. The Triple J Hack team found a similar figure. Lauren Alison says that she “is underestimated” and “people doubt my ability as a musician because I’m a woman”. Camp Cope’s loaded voice on the issue has been met with praise from other artists. There are definitely more men in the Aussie music scene, but what is unclear is why. Music in Australia claims to have no clue and Triple J don’t provide any kind of reasoning either. The only explanation is that offered by those who live it.
Lauren and Harpreet look at our music industry and see a destructive norm. They see an audience who has been conditioned into thinking that male artists are the ones who belong on stage. In order to reduce the gap in representation we need to get used to seeing talented women on stage. Chicks with Picks has been working to that effect and has successfully made Newtown a safe space for female performers to feel at home.
The success of Chicks with Picks is well known among female musicians across Australia, with many female artists travelling from Melbourne and Newcastle to play. For any individual who is passionate about gender equality in our music scene this is both heartwarming and disheartening. Yes, this event has had an amazing impact on its locality, but it took 15 years.
On the 15th of April, a Sunday, at around 4:45 pm, the Townie was filled with grey white men. About half sat alone, staring into their beer or into the abyss. As it neared 5 o’clock, younger women filed in, many of which were heavily tattooed with hair from any colour between bright blue and blood red. The music grew louder and the bartenders changed shifts. The two contrasting groups mingled together, forming a rare accord.