"I will never regret fighting and speaking back, nor will I ever regret making enemies..."
Camp Cope vocalist Georgia Maq appeared at BIGSOUND this week and offered a rousing speech as a conference speaker on the penultimate day of the 2023 music festival and conference event.
Taking the audience through what she’s learned throughout her career in the music industry, Maq went through her beginnings as an 18-year-old girl reckoning with her privilege beginning to play music, to forming Camp Cope with her bandmates Kelly-Dawn Helmrich and Sarah “Thomo” Thompson, and all the defying the status quo kind of statements we expect from her.
In her “absolutely wild industry-shattering speech,” as she called it and shared with The Guardian, Maq recalled forming Camp Cope and quickly realising that the acclaimed punk band had been forced into a political position due to being three women in a rock band. This was in 2016 when it was far more uncommon to see a band like Camp Cope appearing on festival line-ups.
Camp Cope were “three friends who wanted to play shows and make a record together,” Maq said. “We were forced into a political position because in 2016 being three women in a band was a political statement in itself.”
She told the BIGSOUND delegates, “We were asked who wrote our songs for us, we were asked if we were the groupies or the girlfriends when we were on our first tour, our male tech was asked multiple times over the years if he was our manager and in the first review of our live show, the only band whose appearance was commented on was ours, the only women on the bill.”
By the end of 2016, triple j called Camp Cope “this year’s girl band”, leading Maq to exclaim, “We weren’t ever just a band; we were a ‘girl band’; a derogatory and made-up genre where we are less important, less cool and less worthy of respect.”
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Despite how Camp Cope were treated by people in the music industry, their eight-year existence as a band undoubtedly changed lives.
Maq proudly shouted out to fans with Camp Cope tattoos, the people who started bands because of them, a transgender woman who realised she was trans by listening to their music, and a father with stage four cancer revealing that he’d mended and strengthened a broken relationship with his daughter.
“We strived to show young girls and queer people that they have a place on the stage, that their voices matter, and their music can have an impact,” she said. “We are still one of the only internationally renowned and critically acclaimed bands of all women to come out of Australia, and we did it all ourselves – with no external management, no showcases and no major labels.”
Maq acknowledged her inspirations in Bikini Kill and making live music safer, continuing, “If the music industry wasn’t going to do anything about our safety, we would.”
“Camp Cope started the It Takes One campaign before we played our first festival, to help end sexual assault and violence at shows. For our tours, we set up hotlines for people to call if they felt unsafe and needed help.”
Camp Cope’s hotline extended to Laneway Festival, which implemented the idea in 2017. To this day, 1800-Laneway still exists.
She explained, “Laneway Festival worked with us to create a helpline for anyone who felt unsafe or uncomfortable at the festival. 1800-Laneway is still being used to this day, and I would like to thank the organisers for that: it was one of the best and most important experiences of my life.”
Despite the sexism Maq and her bandmates were subjected to, she revealed that she wasn’t taught how to fight by the music industry but was taught that she needed to fight.
“I had a duty to fight for every person who wasn’t granted the grace men were given,” Maq stated. “I’ve been told that I wasn’t good enough to play because I was a girl, and I’ve been told that I only got to play because I was a girl.”
In addition to being told that she was only given opportunities because she’s a girl, her appearance and “proximity to men in the industry” were other reasons people were sexist towards her. “Men told jokes, publicly by the way, about sexually assaulting me, and then said I was too loud and too angry because I was speaking about being sexually assaulted by men,” Maq continued.
“But I’m tough, I have to be. I will never regret fighting back and making enemies – and I am damn proud that dangerous men in this industry still warn each other about me.”
Continuing to share the lesson on sexism, Maq said, “Being a woman in music means you have to work twice as hard as men do, and for women of colour, it’s even more than that. Respect isn’t ever the default for us.
“Despite the constant pitting of women against each other in this industry, they forgot one tiny detail,” Maq explained, “They forget that we know that a win for one of us is a win for all of us. We know that we’re not rivals; we never have been. We’re a team, and together, we are unstoppable, and we can change the landscape of the music industry; in fact, we already have time and time again.
“When women rise, we bring everyone else up with us. We know how hard the journey was to get to where we are now, and if we can make that journey a little easier for the next person, we do it. Without question, we do it. We know that the top isn’t a podium for one single person; there has been and always will be enough room for all of us.”
Maq, nearing the end of her speech, admitted that she doesn’t truly have the answers for those seeking to enter the music industry, but she does have suggestions:
Starting from the need for more women in leadership roles within the music industry, Maq added that women and non-binary people need more support to enter production and engineering roles. She continued to say that women need support when discussing abuse in the music industry and to hold perpetrators accountable, streaming platforms to pay artists fairly for their music, more women on the main stage of festival line-ups, venues to stop taking merch cuts, and support from the wider industry.
“We need Australian radio stations to support and play Australian artists if they really care about Australian musicians succeeding,” Maq said. “We need a minimum wage for musicians, mental health care and a union that will fight for us. We need sexual assault and harassment at gigs to stop, and this starts and ends with men: women have done everything we can; now it’s your turn. And oh my God, we need musicians who are women to stop being disregarded after they turn 30; this never happens to men.”
Maq also pointed out some examples of how specific artists with “drive and ambition” have been treated.
Using some modern examples and mentioning an Australian legend, Kylie Minogue, Maq continued, “Amyl And The Sniffers were made fun of by Australia, and now they’re one of the biggest rock bands in the world. Mallrat didn’t receive any ARIA recognition for Butterfly Blue, which featured Azaelia Banks and was remixed by The Chainsmokers. The Kid LAROI was given scraps from the Australian music industry, and look at him now. Even Kylie left us.
“Why don’t we care about and support our artists until the rest of the world takes notice of them?” she asked. “Why don’t we back them until we have to? It’s not the Australian way, I suppose. We are guilty of cutting down our own, like tall poppies, something that is so unique to only us. I’ve learned the best thing you can do as a musician in Australia, at this point, is to leave. Hell, I left; I had to. This will keep happening until we change until it’s possible for us to have a career and live off our art in Australia.”
At the end of the day, Maq told the BIGSOUND attendees that she wants the music industry to be a better, safer place for the people in it.
“The Australian Music industry has the ability to be a beacon of hope for everyone who doesn’t fit in anywhere else,” Maq said. “Imagine if the Australian Music Industry was where women were being paid the same as men, where CEOs weren’t all out-of-touch white men, where marginalised people felt safe, where violent and dangerous men were held accountable, and where you could make a career out of being a musician?”
She concluded, “Even though I don’t live in Australia anymore, my heart will always be here [Maq currently lives in Los Angeles].
“So, really, I’m not going anywhere, and you will never get rid of me. I know that may invoke a sense of fear in some people, but I really want to change that narrative,” Maq explained, “I know I’m not always the most palatable, and I’ve done things in ways you wouldn’t necessarily do them, but I believe we all want the same thing. For the music industry to be better.
“So I want to finish by speaking to all the young women and non-binary people in the audience: Start a band, start managing a band, start booking shows, start writing about shows, start a record label and show them what it means to be loud.”
Camp Cope will perform their final show at the Sydney Opera House on Friday, 13 October.