Grampians Music Festival Director Carly Flecknoe On Gender Balanced Lineups & Creating A Festival “With A Social Conscience”

Written by Sally McMullen on February 20, 2020

Grampians Music Festival is a cultural experience like no other. Nestled between lush bushland and the striking cliff faces of Halls Gap in regional Victoria, it’s a music festival that puts inclusivity and local musicians ahead of big names and commercial appeal. Led by Julia Jacklin, Ecca Vandal, DRMNGNOW and Maddy Jane, women (or bands with at least one female) make up more than 90% of this year’s lineup. This in itself sets it apart from almost every other festival in Australia.

The two-day festival also prides itself on being a platform to celebrate local and up-and-coming artists. A common gripe in the comment section of every festival announcement is that they often shuffle the same handful of headliners. With that in mind, it’s refreshing to see one that’s willing to shine a spotlight on both big names and independent Aussie acts that you may not spot at every festival.

Ahead of its third year, we spoke to GMF’s director Carly Flecknoe about designing the perfect lineup, the magic of regional music and how to create a festival with a conscience.

Music Feeds: When did you first launch the festival?

Carly Flecknoe: Grampians Music Festival’s very first event was in 2017. It was in a slightly different format and it had a little bit more of an eclectic lineup. It was just figuring out what it was and what it wanted to be. 26th February 2017 was our very first one.

MF: What goes into finalising the perfect mix of artists?

CF: I think it’s a journey and every single festival we have shapes the following year. We’re learning from what our patrons love, what’s happening in the industry and the statement we want to make as well. So looking at Australian independent alternative up-and-coming artists is very important to us. In 2018 onwards, we made sure we had a very diverse and inclusive lineup, so that’s part of the formula.

It takes about 6 months just to research and create a shortlist. From there we work out what’s going to fit and what’s going to work together. There’s really no one specific formula. It’s a lot of experience that shapes it.

MF: For anyone who hasn’t been before, what makes GMF different from other festivals?

CF: I would start by saying so much (laughs). I’ll try to narrow it down to a few things. One of them is that we have a single stage on purpose. We want you to be able to see all of the sets available if that’s what you want to do. If you want to catch every single band, you can. You can find your place on the grass and watch every moment.

The other thing is the atmosphere and community connection in this smaller, intimate festival is very hard to find in other festivals. It’s not unheard of for people to meet and become best mates. It’s a really lovely and relaxed atmosphere. In the three festivals we’ve had, we’ve only had one brawl. That’s really unique and really special. That leans itself into that family vibe. We have young kids running around, being able to join you on the dancefloor and then disappear to get their face painted and for their parents to feel really comfortable.

The setting is another one. For anyone who hasn’t been there, it’s located right in the heart of the Halls Gap. So you have rock cliffs visible on both sides, so as the sun starts to set there’s a gorgeous orange glow on one side of the rocks. It’s just second to none. One of the coolest things is to see an artist looking at out at the crowd and all of that magic and what that brings to their performance.

MF: That sounds beautiful and what a nice change to the dusty fields we’re usually thrown into at festivals in the city.

CF: That’s exactly what we hope for. It’s amazing to be submerged in that environment. We do get kookaburras sitting on the fence and kangaroos hopping by. It’s really beautiful.

MF: You’ve mentioned that the festival celebrates local talent. Why is that so important?

CF: The rest of the organisers of the festival are from central Victoria. It gives that firsthand experience of what it’s like to see young people spread their wings and do things in the broader space. Being able to celebrate local music and regional Victorian music, it brings that to the forefront. For us, not is it the opportunity for the performers themselves, but it’s also the opportunity to say there is a place for you. Just because you live in a regional town like Geelong or Albury, it doesn’t matter how big or small it is, there is a place for you and we want to hear what you have to say. That’s why it’s stayed part of the formula that is GMS.

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MF: It’s also a great opportunity for audiences to discover and support new artists, right?

CF: Exactly. We have a page on our festival website called, “Where are they now” and it’s really great to go back and look at artists who, when they played at the festival, were playing really small venues and then they’ve gone on to be a pretty big deal as we sort of saw. Last year, there were 300 people up at the front of the stage to see Angie McMahon. Like, imagine that? One of my favourite festival moments was with Elly from Huntly. There were a group of girls at the front who were really connecting with the performance and she literally got down there and was singing with a group of girls who were ranging between the ages of 9 and 13.

It was just magic. I’m getting goosebumps now. You’ll never forget that memory. It’s really special to be able to bring that to a regional community, in a small setting and
then someone walking away saying, “They’re playing in San Francisco or they’re playing at Lollapalooza and I got to see them at GMF.” I love being able to do that.

MF: The 2020 lineup largely features female solo artists or groups with at least one woman. This is almost the exact opposite of what we usually experience at music

CF: Yep and by no means do we have issues with males performing (laughs). We know that we’re able to provide a space for incredible female musicians to perform and we have a community of patrons who embrace that. I would also like to say that strong female musicians are having a very strong moment. They’re making really innovative music and they’ve really got something to say. That, in a live setting, when you’re a woman or anyone who has something poignant or important to say, that always resonates with an audience.

When you can have indigenous musicians who are saying incredible things about their community and life experience and what it’s like for them every day, it’s really interesting to see.

MF: It’s not diversity for the sake of it either. People want to hear those stories.

CF: That’s it. We also want to see people who resonate with who we are as well. Having a beautiful, diverse lineup allows us to connect with people who are performing. At the end of the day, that’s what art and music is all about: Connecting with people. If we choose to only speak through one voice, we’re really missing out on a lot of the message and the opportunity for the audience to connect.

It’s really special to be able to bring something where you can have a 10-year-old Indigenous girl in the audience who looks up and thinks, “Oh, I can actually do that or they’re talking about something I’ve experienced” or if it’s a teenage person who is working out their own identity, it’s like, “Holy crap, I’m not the only one and I don’t feel alone right now.” At the end of the day, that’s entirely what I think music is there for.

MF: There have been some great conversations around diversity and inclusivity on festival lineups in recent years but a lot of people’s responses are that if the musicians are good enough, they’ll end up on the bill regardless. What do you say in response to that?

CF: Well, my shortest response to that is that you’re being lazy. They’re just going for what has had space and opportunity to make a space for themselves. If you don’t understand the challenges that are put in front of minorities or females or anyone who speaks with a different voice, then you’re not really connecting with society or representing your audience. The reality, whether people want to address it or not, is that certain people in life, it’s harder for them to get where they want to go. It doesn’t matter how talented they are, they’re just not going to get in front of people the way they want to.

They may come from a low socioeconomic background and not have the luxury to perform as many times as they’d want to get discovered or they can’t afford musical instruments or they haven’t had music lessons. There are so many different reasons why someone may have a barrier to not be able to get into mainstream music. For someone to say they’ll just get there based on their merit, not only are you oversimplifying things but you’re not giving people a fair go. I’ve said this from the start, if you’re coordinating a music festival you have this incredible platform to educate. You’ve got this stage and people who are transfixed in this moment. You can either use it in a financial sense or you can use it to make a point about who your festival is and what’s happening in society. I suppose that’s the choice we made. Everyone who is part of this festival, who are volunteers by the way, have chosen to drive it this way. We’ve always wanted to create a festival with a social conscience.

MF: It’s such a great platform to use to enact social change.

CF: Exactly and music festivals are a rite of passage for so many people. I don’t think we should take that lightly. I think that puts us in a really amazing role and we can show people what behaviour we think is acceptable. We have a sustainability policy so that encourages people to bring their own water bottles, don’t buy plastic and throw it on the floor.

MF: That’s great because there are many festivals that don’t even let you bring an empty water bottle in with you, so you’re forced to use single-use plastics all day. What else goes into your sustainability policy?

CF: Yep. In fact, I had someone tell me that they weren’t allowed to bring sunscreen into a festival. In fairness, the smarter patrons are about getting things in, the smarter security has to be. But it really can get to the point where we’re creating such a single-use message at festivals. The amount of waste that’s produced at festivals can be phenomenal. By not having camping on-site, we’re not enabling that mindset of buying a $15 tent and leaving it behind because it’s easier to do that than pack it up. I think it’s about changing people’s mindset when they’re there and hopefully, when they walk away, they realise that it wasn’t that hard and that it didn’t impose on their experience. It’s little steps.

MF: The line up is full of amazing artists, but who are some of your favourite locals on the line-up?

CF: Ahh, there are so many! I love Feels. I think that the way that they not only show their talent but their message is incredible. Elizabeth’s almost 80s synth-y sound often reminds me of Twin Peaks and I love it. I obviously can’t go past Julia Jacklin and her Dolly Parton-esque way of writing a lyric. I’ve been listening to a lot of DRMNGNOW. I really love the rhythm and the way they choose to share some really heavy content in a really gentle way is quite beautiful. But it’s hard! It’s like telling someone to pick their favourite song. I love them all.

Grampians Music Festival returns on Friday 28 and Saturday 29 February 2020. Head here for set times and enter our competition here for your chance to win a double pass to this year’s fest!

Grampians Music Festival 2020 Lineup

Julia Jacklin
Ecca Vandal
These New South Whales
Maddy Jane
Raave Tapes
Zoe Fox & The Rocket Clocks
Pink Matter
Pinch Points
The Buoys

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