This New Feminist Music Festival Is the Perfect Way to Wrap Up Your Summer

In our 9–5 series, we ask women at the top of their game how they made it. This week, FLARE chatted with Aerin Fogel, the founder of the new Canadian feminist music festival Venus Fest about why we need a female-led event and how women can start taking up more space in the music industry

Venus Fest founder Aerin Fogel posing in a dark tank top

Aerin Fogel (Photo: Courtesy of Venus Fest)

There’s no shortage of music festivals, but after Sarah McLachlan’s all-female Lilith Fair ended, there wasn’t a Canadian fest centered around feminism—until now.

Introducing Venus Fest: an alternative feminist music and arts festival organized by a team of women, genderqueer and trans people. Created by 29-year-old Aerin Fogel, Venus Fest is a one-day event featuring artists from diverse gender, sexual and racial backgrounds that aims to offset the prevalent male-dominated music events happening in North America.

The inaugural event will take place on September 30 at Daniels Spectrum in Toronto, with a lineup that includes Tunisian artist and activist Emel Mathlouthi, Columbia-born Lido Pimienta—who advocates for Indigenous rights—teenage girl group Hex and female-fronted indie band Weaves.

FLARE chatted with Fogel about why the country needs a feminist music event and what it’s really like to organize a festival.

Why did you decide to create a feminist music festival?

I’ve been in the music industry since I was a teenager in various capacities. The last time I was playing [music], it was myself and a male friend of mine, and he has a pretty successful career, so we had a really easy time navigating the industry. I took a couple years off while I was working on a different project, so getting back into the music industry this year with a solo project, I experienced a different side of it working as a woman. Through conversations I’ve had with other women and non-binary folks in the industry, I really started to understand some of the challenges that we’re still faced with—including a lack of representation. The idea for the festival came out of seeing a need for one, as well as surprise that we didn’t have something like this yet.

What are some challenges women artists face in the music industry?

It’s the way things are structured; there’s an imbalance of representation. If you look at the lineup for most of the festivals happening in Canada right now, it’s mostly white men. There’s a lot of amazing music happening, so I’m not saying that it’s not deserved by those specific bands, but I do think that generally when organizers are curating shows and festivals, there hasn’t been a lot of consideration around gender and racial representation. The balance needs to be shifted, where people who are organizing festivals have extra responsibility to account for this and consider who has access to getting on a lineup and who can start taking up more space.

Venus Fest poster with a purple planet in the centre and green clouds surrounding it

Venus Fest’s mandate includes gender, sexual and racial diversity. Are there any other festivals that are incorporating those core principles?

I think that Wavelength pays really great attention to representation, and they’re known for bringing bands into the community that are just starting out or are just starting to gain a following.

How did you determine the lineup for Venus Fest?

I was thinking about who was already working with feminism in some way. For each of the artists, it’s different because feminism can mean something different to every person who embraces it, but all of them are working with it. I also considered different genres and age ranges; we have a band playing whose members are 16-year-olds. We also have a headliner, Emel Mathlouthi, whose music was banned [in Tunisia] because it became part of the Tunisian revolution. She’s really been working at creating change on a big scale.

How does your own experience as an artist affect the way you’re planning the festival?

Usually I’m on the performing side of things, so I’ve experience what it’s like to be backstage and I’m trying to account for that a little bit differently. Almost like the way direct trade works, in the coffee or food community, [I’m thinking about] who’s at the receiving end.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far in organizing the event?

Because it’s the first year of the festival, I’m building something completely from the ground up. The whole budget and the incredible contributors who have stepped forward to work on this are new, and everything is starting. Later down the road, [it’ll be] much easier because people will be familiar with their positions and the festival will have a little more traction behind it, but the first year is always a big figuring-out process.

Artist Lido Pimienta in a colourful sweater and dark hair posing

Lido Pimienta (Photo: Courtesy Venus Fest)

Venus Fest has a tiered ticketing system where people can pay based on what they can afford. What’s the reasoning behind this?

I feel that a sliding scale is a really important thing to incorporate, especially for something like this where entertainment is not always accessible. There’s a certain reality that if something isn’t a free event, you need money to access it. We weren’t able to offer a fully free festival this year, but I did want to account for the fact that some people who are coming might not have as many resources as other people, and I wanted to create a little more spaciousness around who’s able to attend.

What do you hope people take away from the first-ever Venus Fest?

I would love to have a space that feels really connected, where people are able to connect with each other in a more personal way than some of the larger festivals, and also feel more connected to the artists that they’re coming to see. To me, feminism is about creating change as well, so I would hope that the festival itself—and just by virtue of hosting the festival—that we’re able to create change in Toronto through the community.

Who is welcome?

In my opinion, feminism is for everyone and we certainly welcome everyone and all identities.

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