When I first saw the headline that Moogfest (which occurs annually right down the street from my house) would be featuring a 2018 lineup led by female, non-binary and transgender artists and would feature a keynote by Chelsea Manning, I was a little surprised. Moogfest has always attempted to be cutting edge, even to the point of hubris, but the new strategy just didn’t make sense.
By Judah Gross (Finding love at MOOGFEST) via Wikimedia Commons
I found myself wondering: What relation does gender have to music in that it should be an exclusionary or disqualifying factor in whether you play a synthesizer festival? I confess that I wasn’t familiar with most of the artists mentioned in the article about the lineup. One name did stick out to me, though. Chairlift singer Caroline Polachek (playing as CEP) was named as one of the promised performers. I’ve been listening to Chairlift for a few years now. I consider their 2012 album Something as a independent synth pop masterpiece, with an abundance of hooks that make it accessible to anyone. I found myself wondering if Polachek met any of the criteria for the Moogfest grouping, other than being female.
Apparently Polachek took issue with the announcement, as well, stating that gender is “not a genre.”
“I was very excited to do a sinewave set at Moogfest next year, but am furious to see my name on an all-female / non-gender-binary announcement list that went out today,” Polachek wrote on Instagram. “Gender is not a genre. I don’t want or need a sympathy pedestal, especially not from a male curator. Take my name off this victimizing gimmick and put me in the pit with the boys, I can and will hold my own.”
Polachek subsequently pulled out of Moogfest 2018. The organizers of the festival were very graceful about the exit, even sending an apology letter to Polachek, which clarified that their intention was not to take the focus off of the art.
It seems this is becoming a more common scenario. Those that are traditionally viewed as marginalized are given special status. The intentions are good, but there are two possible negative outcomes:
- The group on which the focus is placed feels patronized, as was the case with Polachek.
- Those who cannot participate in an activity because they are not among the marginalized group feel resentful. The case could be made that those outside of the group have other opportunities of the same nature. However, it’s still dividing up people into different classes, which is not always helpful.
As the potential audience for the festival, I have to say my preference for the lineup would be one of all around inclusiveness that makes the music the primary criteria for choosing the lineup.