Milk and Honey Festival organisers Lani Purkis and Teresa Patterson on celebrating women in the New Zealand music industry on International Women’s Day.
What’s the Milk and Honey Festival? A platform for women to celebrate women in the NZ music industry on a day internationally set aside for women, a platform for younger women to see the different roles in the music industry and a safe, respectful and inclusive gig environment.
“And we’re still trying to make it more inclusive and more safe as we go forward but we’ve got to think of all the communities and that’s something we’re working on,” says co-founder Teresa Patterson, whose maternal grandparents come from Tongatapu and Ha’apai in Tonga. “We’ve just made sure that we’ve covered ethnicity, culture, age, sexuality which we’ve more or less done through our programming.”
“There’s a definite vibe we went for,” says fellow co-founder Lani Purkis (Ngā Puhi and Ngāti Kahungunu). Patterson, Purkis and musician Julia Deans launched Milk and Honey in 2019 with a bang, touring four cities and six venues showcasing over 20 female artists on the same night. “International Women’s Day 2019 was on a Friday and we thought we should do something different and we felt like no one had really done a festival like that before,” says Purkis.
It was a resounding success, with sold out shows across the country. “We had Bic Runga doing Blue Smoke in her home city (Christchurch), Ladi6 did San Fran in Wellington, Club 121 had a range of really great DJs. We were really amazed by the response that we got.”
When they went to book venues for this year’s follow-up event they were in for a surprise: 2020 is a leap year and International Women’s Day (March 8) falls not on a Saturday, as they’d assumed, but on a Sunday – making evening shows a much harder sell. That’s when Fresh Concept, the promoters who run all the events in Auckland’s Silo Park, contacted the trio to suggest a collaboration.
It was perfect. The new formula – a free, all-ages, all-day event at Silo Park with live acts, DJs, and food trucks – allowed for a fresh approach, but also necessitated some hard choices. This year the inclusive lineup featuring female artists, crewed by females in the industry and fed by female-owned/fronted and co-owned food trucks, needed to painstakingly chosen.
“It was hard actually because last year we had specific venues for genres,” says Purkis. “This year we only had six slots plus DJs.”
They came up with a lineup that was inclusive, diverse and would go over well in a family-friendly setting. The acts include hip-hop queen JessB, DnB boss MC Tali, RnB power house Disciple Pati, and DJs Phoebe Falconer, Lil Bok Choy aka Eva Choy. According to Purkis and Patterson, it was important to include new artists as well as those who have been in the game for a long time. MC Tali, who won Best Electronica Artist at the VNZMAs in 2019, started her career in a male-dominated industry in the early 2000s and now is an inspiration to up and coming female artists.
“I remember Tali being in Bristol and part of the Roni Size crew,” recalls Patterson. “I just remember going, ‘Oh my gosh I cannot believe that there’s a New Zealand female MC that’s part of that crew!’”
“It was like she was imaginary before,” says Purkis, “and now we can book her for a festival and the younger women are going to see her and know she exists.”
They’re young women like Disciple Pati, a new Samoan artist who was booked on the back of her debut track ‘The Boy Who Cried Woman’, an open letter to Pasifika people about reclaiming their culture and spitting in the face of stereotypes and systemic racism that Patterson and Purkis stumbled upon on social media.
“There can be a lack of opportunity for females to be booked on a lot of the summer festivals,” says Patterson. “That’s one of the reasons why we created the event and is aligned with our kaupapa. For someone to be really excited that they’ve been booked for their first festival on one of our festivals is a really proud moment for us.”
While there’s still a long way to go, they promise there will be something for nearly everyone at Silo Park on Sunday. But what about those people who don’t identify as women?
“[The festival] is not anti-man thing at all,” says Purkis. “There are men in the bands and men behind the scenes and men are allowed to come to the festival. We’re not going to be ranting. There’s no signs, or speeches, or anything – it’s just celebrating International Women’s Day through music, and addressing the lack of women in roles throughout the music industry and on festival lineups.
The organisers are pleased by the progress made on gender issues in NZ music over the past year, changes that they’re quick to say aren’t solely because of Milk and Honey. “Our festival was a result of a bigger outcry by women in the industry. While we did this lots of other things happened,” says Purkis.
“We’re part of a movement. The lineups are changing,” says Patterson. “Maybe one specific festival didn’t spark all this but definitely people are making more of an effort and trying to embrace putting women in their lineups.”
And that’s what the goal has always been – to be included.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.