Moogfest’s focus on showcasing gender diversity at its 2018 music festival this spring – an effort that received mostly praise – took a negative turn Wednesday after an artist pulled out of the Durham event to protest how her appearance has been marketed.
The electronic-music and technology festival received a positive response Wednesday when it rolled out the first part of its lineup. Organizers announced Chelsea Manning, a transgender woman, as a keynote speaker and multiple acts who are female, transgender and non-binary musicians.
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“Furious to be (without approval) on an all-female & non-gender-binary announcement list for @Moogfest,” tweeted the musician, formerly of the band Chairlift. “Gender is not a genre. I don’t need a sympathy pedestal, esp from a male curator. Take my name off this list and put me in the pit with the boys.”
Several hours later, Polachek followed with another tweet announcing that she no longer would be performing at Moogfest this May.
Moogfest issued an open-letter apology, published on numerous music websites, that thanked Polachek for “starting this conversation” and noted that the event is curated by a team of people, not a single person or man.
“We apologize for reframing you in a way that takes focus off of your artistry and talent and we regret that you will no longer be taking part in Moogfest 2018,” the letter said. “Today’s lineup announcement was inspired by and coincided with Always On, a celebration of voices that are traditionally underrepresented. Our intention is to showcase an initial lineup that further amplifies those voices while supporting others in a way that challenges the manner in which festival lineups are typically presented.
“We believe that using our platform to center women, non-binary and transgender people is an important tool to combat the erasure and invisibility that can occur when these identities are kept on the periphery,” the statement continued. “Please know that no musician was booked for Moogfest for any reason other than their own unique artistry, and today’s announcement is just phase one of our 2018 lineup. As always, the full Moogfest artist roster will be a diverse lineup of talented performers across a wide spectrum of gender, culture and politics.”
Thursday, Lorna-Rose Simpson, Moogfest director of programming, declined to elaborate on the statement.
“We made our public response, and that is all we’re going to say on the matter,” Simpson said. “We don’t want to discuss it any further. We did thank her for the opportunity to open the conversation and bring this into our current dialogue in discussions about the complexities involved in this instance.”
Numerous social media responses followed Polachek’s announcement with some siding with her objections. But others said they appreciate that the music festival, which moved from Asheville to Durham in 2016, is highlighting artists of all backgrounds, especially in North Carolina, which has seen polarizing debates surrounding which bathrooms transgender people can use.
About the social media response, Simpson said, “We don’t really get involved in what people said about things.”
Moogfest, scheduled for May 17-20 in downtown Durham, began in Asheville in 2004 as a celebration of Bob Moog, the synthesizer pioneer who brought his operation to that city in the late 1970s.
Over the years, Moogfest has featured well-known electronic heritage acts like Gary Numan and Kraftwerk alongside rising upstarts. The festival has always had an activism component, too, such as this year’s “Protest Stage.”
Moogfest offers panels and workshops by day and concerts by night. Manning’s appearance will be about technology as a disruptive force in politics and society.
Manning was born a man and served with the U.S. Army as an intelligence analyst under the name Bradley Edward Manning. She was convicted by court-martial in 2013 for leaking classified intelligence documents to WikiLeaks. She was sentenced to 35 years at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, but her sentence was commuted by former President Barack Obama earlier this year after she had been incarcerated for near seven years, including time while awaiting trial.
The rest of the Moogfest 2018 lineup will be announced in January. For details, see moogfest.com.