Interview: How do you create an inclusive festival, Eilis Frawley?

It started as a concert series in 2016, by now Bang On has turned into an intimate two-day festival with twelve acts on two stages in the heart of Berlin. The festival focuses on giving Berlin-based bands and FLINTA artists (female, lesbian, intersex, non-binary, trans and agender) a platform in an accessible environment – both venues are barrier-free. Eilis Frawley, a professional drummer and the inventor of Bang On, gives an insight in how to organize a festival and talks about why she loves seeing musicians being on stage for the very first time. Tickets for the festival on September 30 and October 1 are available here or at the door during the event.

Festival-Poster mit Lineup: Amigdala, Baby Smith, Clear History, Drowning Dog and Malatesta, Halfsilks, Liiek, Lucy Kruger and the Lost Boys, Mellie, Odd Beholder, Theyy, TheOtherWithin, Zoom Zoom Rentals

Musik unterm Radar: Eilis, it’s been six years since you’ve started Bang On. What did you have in mind when you came up with this project?

Eilis Frawley: My idea was to invite local bands, get more FLINTA musicians on stage and make an event that is for everybody. The music scene can be quite cliquey, but I think there should be a place where everyone can come to. That also means that the tickets have to be affordable because that’s part of making it as inclusive as possible. This is a big problem in the music industry: Musicians should be paid well, but that should not only be the responsibility of the people attending. Otherwise, it will become a matter of social class since you need a certain amount of money to take part. We are very lucky to be funded by the Musicboard Berlin. That keeps it very affordable, and everybody gets paid fairly. We want to make sure that if you can’t afford the ticket, you can still come. You can write to us and we will find a way. With small events like this you have that feeling of trust, which I really like.

You said that Bang On should be an event for everybody. Did that work out from the start? Was the audience as diverse as you had hoped?

No. (laughs) To try and be inclusive doesn’t necessarily change who attends right away. It takes years to build a reputation and reach the right communities. But we are a very small festival and we have time to let it grow. We’re not trying to reach a commercial status. It’s all about the community and about love for artists.

Who chose the artists for the festival and what were the criteria for your decision?

My colleague Kristina and I did the booking. She is a sound engineer and a musician as well. We’ve both been very active in the scene for years and she came up with some really great ideas for the lineup, like Odd BeholderLiiek and Mellie. Every band has at least one FLINTA member. One of the two stages will be electronic only, which means there’s no live drums. But when I go to a festival, I don’t want it all to sound the same, which is why we also looked for artists covering other genres. Drowning Dog and Malatesta for example are a rap duo. We’re also trying to have more People of Color in our lineup. This is something where we can still do better.

Portrait Eilis Frawley
Eilis Frawley is a drummer and the organizer of Bang On Festival. – © privat

You’re a musician yourself, now you’ve also become a festival organizer. How is it being on the other side?

I was living in Seoul in South Korea before I moved to Berlin. In the music scene I was in there were no promoters. It was the bands who put on the shows. So, I was used to things like making posters and organizing events. When I moved here, I was like: Oh, you don’t have to do that here? And then I kind of missed it. That was when I started Bang On. It has some advantages to know the different sides. I understand what an artist might need when it comes to technical requirements or what kinds of emails I would like to receive as an artist. That really helps.

Especially in the beginning it must have been overwhelming, though, to be responsible for everything.

Yeah, it can be a lot. And at the end of 2020 when my musical life got very busy, it got too much for me. I didn’t know if I could manage all this work anymore, but I also thought it would be a shame if this platform just folded. So, I got some more people involved. By now I’ve gotten much better in giving people jobs that I know they can do much better and in much less time than me. Now we work with a team of different people like a social media person or a graphic designer.

Were there any problems you encountered while planning the festival?

Finding a venue was quite difficult. So many venues in Berlin are upstairs. To find a barrier-free one that has space for two stages, accessible toilets and is not too big is not so easy.

Are there acts you personally are looking forward to?

I’m really looking forward to seeing Zoom Zoom Rentals. They are really something special. Clear History is also one of my favorites. I’ve seen them a lot of times and every time it’s just great. And then I’m really excited to see Theyy. It’s such well-produced R’n’B that there’s no way you can’t like it. It’s so good! But the whole lineup is really cool.

„By now it’s almost unusual to see a festival with no FLINTA people at all.“

– Eilis Frawley

The artist TheOtherWithin will play their first concert at your festival. At the past Bang On events there were also artists playing their very first gigs. Why is that something you care about?

I just love first concerts. It is so special to hear songs that never made it out of a rehearsal room and to see people get excited about something that they’ve made. It’s the closest you can get to being a child again. It’s so pure. There are so many great musicians that are a little shy or just don’t know how to get a concert. I think we should take chances on people like this if we have the possibility.

You’ve been living in Berlin since 2016. Has the music scene gotten more inclusive since then?

The general conversation and the approaches of establishments, fundings and companies have changed a lot since I’ve come to Berlin. There was a lot of events with only cis-men happening earlier. It’s really cool to see that by now it’s almost unusual to see a festival with no FLINTA people at all.

What changes would you like to see in the German music industry?

It’s great to have safe spaces for FLINTA artists but it would be nice to see the idea cross over into mainstream. Rock am Ring for example has the most awful booking. They have so much money and abilities and there are so many famous FLINTA artists they could book. I’m thinking about how we could convince these people to change their mindset. Because they have a big influence. I like the grassroot idea to try and change things from the bottom and that works very well in our local scene, but there’s a lot of work to be done by the money-making industry.

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