Update: Tumblr have removed Crystal Castles from the bill.
Tumblr have removed Crystal Castles from the bill of their SXSW show expressing a lack of understanding around the controversy behind the initial decision, but “do not want the band’s presence to distract from this important mission”. Read their full statement below:
“We’ve removed Crystal Castles from the lineup of the 79 Cents party. We don’t know the facts around comments made about a member of the band, and we’re not going to engage in an investigation around it. We’re hosting this event to highlight gender disparity issues, something that Tumblr and our community cares deeply about, and we don’t want the band’s presence to distract from this important mission.”
“A woman’s place is on the stage, to the front, or wherever she wants.”
Tumblr’s SXSW music event this year is focused on female voices. Called the 79 Cents Party (to highlight the wage disparity between male and female American workers), it will feature only women artists or women-fronted bands, including Jhené Aiko, Empress Of, Little Simz, Tacocat — who just did the darling theme song for the re-upped Powerpuff Girls — and Crystal Castles.
Yes, that Crystal Castles. The Crystal Castles who in 2014 were doomed to be dismantled until original frontwoman Alice Glass left and remaining producer Ethan Kath had some pretty foul things to say about her upon her departure:
i wish my former vocalist the best of luck in her future endeavors. i think it can be empowering for her to be in charge of her own project. it should be rewarding for her considering she didn’t appear on Crystal Castles’ best known songs. (she’s not on Untrust Us. Not In Love, Vanished, Crimewave, Vietnam, Magic Spells, Knights, Air War, Leni, Lovers Who Uncover, Violent Youth, Reckless, Year of Silence, Intimate, 1991, Good Time, Violent Dreams etc.). people often gave her credit for my lyrics and that was fine, i didn’t care.
Kath has since enlisted singer Edith Frances to round out the band. And while, yes, this is a female-fronted group who should be welcomed to play an event highlighting the talents of women, Kath’s inclusion is extremely tone deaf. Jamieson Cox at The Verge reached out to Tumblr’s head of music who expressed enthusiasm for women performers, but Cox writes: “When asked if Kath and Glass’ history affected Tumblr’s decision to book Crystal Castles, Auerbach replied, ‘No, because I’ve heard Edith’s voice, and I’ve seen photos, and I know enough that she’s incredible. I don’t get involved in the politics of the things.'”
So, let’s scratch the fact that “feminism” is conceptually a buzzword at this point and that when people are booking female-centric events, sometimes you have to question exactly where the motivation is coming from. But this is not some pink heart emojis girlz rule fest — this is an event named after income disparities that will also feature a guest appearance from former Texas senator Wendy Davis. For the uninitiated, Davis was vital to blocking a bill restricting Texas abortions after performing an 11-hour filibuster. Texas is currently in the midst of a massive Supreme Court case regarding the conditions of abortion facilities in the state, one that could possibly shut down all but 10 clinics in the state. Not only is Davis an important figure to women in politics — she is an important figure in Texas, the state where SXSW takes place. How is this not about politics?
Another thing here that feels grossly misguided is the lack of understanding of the vitality of politics to Tumblr, especially its younger user base. A brand may think they’re able to pull the wool over someone’s eyes as they used to be able to, but the youth’s access to the internet has made them more savvy than the most cunning marketing executive. This is, ultimately, not going to go over well.
The event will also feature a “feminist art installation” from brilliant Tumblr artist Animated Text. Here’s an example of her work and a perfect example of how this inclusion feels: