Gender inequality exists in Australia’s music industry. To deny such a thing is indicative only of ignorance, but despite the glaring discrepancies between the treatment of different genders in the industry, Ali Barter is optimistic about the state of gender affairs.
“It’s something that is changing, and we’re talking in this way more. It’s a great time to be a woman playing music, especially in Australia. There’s such a wide variety of women playing music, too, there’s not just one kind of music for women, there’s girls doing everything,” she says.
“What we really want is equality, we want it to be not newsworthy that there’s an all women lineup. For nobody to bat an eyelid.”
Alongside Alex Lahey, Gretta Ray, and Jack River, to name a few, Barter features on the Electric Lady lineup, a collection of some of these powerful female presences on Australia’s music scene. But so much more than just an all female music lineup, Electric Lady is putting a spotlight on the strength of women in music, politics, science, sport, and beyond.
“The most important thing about having women represented in music, or any industry, is that it gives women permission to do what they’re doing,” Barter says, reflecting on the value of representation in her own experience in music.
“As a child, if you only see men play guitar, there’s a little part of you that only thinks men can play the guitar. If you let them know this movement is happening, it gives little girls permission to pick up an electric guitar as well.”
Female songwriters have had a profound impact on the 31-year-old Melbourne artist. Female representation, or a lack thereof, have played a large role in encouraging Barter to pursue her career.
“For a long time I thought that women didn’t write songs, because the pop stars you grew up with are sort of manufactured, they’re not writing their songs. When I found women who wrote their own songs, and they may not be well known, not huge stars, but finding those women I could identify with, that was big for me,” she says.
Bringing the stories of many of these relatively unknown women to the public through her History Grrrls project, an idea that was born in a university classroom in a music history class, an initiative she followed after writing an article for Junkee on the lack of a female voice in music history.
“Each week was based on two artists, and six weeks in I realised none of the main people we were talking about were women, and I just thought it was fucked. Why are no women the main, central idea in this class? Women were talked about, but it was because they contributed to men’s music.”
History Grrls sees Barter choose a weekly female artist from the hallowed halls of music history, to create a playlist, and write the history of and share with the music community.
The idea of a supportive community in the industry is something Barter is adamant to foster, one of the positives to what can be an extremely difficult lifestyle.
“It’s really important to have people around you who are doing the same thing because it is a really challenging life, it’s very unpredictable, it’s very taxing on your self esteem, and there’s so much wrapped up in this thing that’s so fickle, but it’s your art. And we love it.”
Her enduring friendship with fellow Melbourne muso Ben Wright-Smith is a part of that support system, and she speaks nothing but glowing praise for him, as he does her.
“Especially when you’re not making any money. Why else would you do it, when you can’t pay the rent, you can’t buy Christmas presents for people, if you didn’t love it. And to be around other people that feel the same way is really important,” she says.
“Also because your head tells you you’re a piece of shit all the time. That you’re shit one day, and the best thing in the world another day, so having someone else to talk to and have them get it, that’s so important.”
Originally published in Beat Magazine.