Taking a critical lens with Elly Scrine
Elly Scrine is a woman with many hats. She is one third of up-and-coming electronic Melbourne trio, Huntly, a board member of Melbourne collective LISTEN, an activist, a PhD candidate doing her research project on music therapy in a school and a genuinely great woman. She has an assertive air about her; she’s authoritative, well-informed and self-aware.
Spreading her proverbial wings and moving from Brisbane to Melbourne, Elly has become a powerful voice in the music industry, choosing to use her position to speak up for those that aren’t heard. This year has seen her make that voice a little more formal, as she is set to make her third appearance at a music conference, speaking on a women in electronic music panel at Face The Music this month.
I first met Elly in person this year at BIGSOUND, though I had known her online for a few months before, and I can say with honesty she is someone I respect and admire. Her constant and consistent work in the music community and her striving to make spaces safer and more inclusive is something that I can appreciate and revere, and whilst she does not work alone in this fight, she is absolutely fascinating to watch and talk to.
I had the privilege of chatting with Elly earlier this week, the morning after Huntly‘s performance at a Girls Rock! fundraiser (an initiative that teaches school aged girls skills to form bands and dive right into music). Check out our chat below, and her panel at Face The Music if you are heading along.
How was Girls Rock! last night?
Yeah it was good! I had a really crazy day trying to get back to Melbourne from 350km. My car broke down and I got towed back to this town, then I had to get a bus, and a train, and then a lift from the station and got to the gig just in time! It was quite a long, stressful day but it was great. Our set was pretty good, and the vibe was great. We hadn’t played an all ages show before, and also the vibe of the whole thing being a fundraiser for such a good cause. There was good people there. The people who are going to show up to that kind of thing are normally good people.
Are you involved with the actual camp?
No, they’ve asked me to volunteer but it’s in a tricky time where I normally fly away to the beach for a month. I’ve been so busy this year with voluntary commitments so I don’t know.
Sometimes you need that time away!
Yeah, I might need that month. But it’s so awesome, and I have learnt a bit more about it collaborating with Girls Rock! and LISTEN, and I feel like I understand a lot more about what it’s about. I’m so supportive of it.
Do you think you can see tangible change coming from things like Girls Rock!?
Yeah! If there’s one young person who has not had the opportunity to feel confident enough to start playing music or be in a space where people who are trans or non-binary or women in music, there’s just not a lot of spaces where you feel safe. Particularly in the high school age bracket, so having an opportunity for those people to come together and try and explicitly create that safe space to learn music, I think that in itself is such a cool thing. If a few of the young people then end up playing music and, starting from so young, recognising the issues of marginalisation and wanting to find new ways to create inclusive spaces in music, I think that’s amazing. If there are a couple who continue playing music and voicing these issues, then that’s huge change.
It’s kind of starting at ground zero, grass roots level, isn’t it? Instilling this in them from so young, and making it known there are spaces out there for them to feel welcome and safe.
Totally! I’ve been reading a bit about feminist activism with young people and how a grass roots/community approach to social justice is the most effective and it challenges this model of “one special girl can take on a whole corporate industry of sexism and violence.” It changes that. A social justice community approach is about a collective of grass roots effort and I think that’s really important, especially in challenging the normative white, middle class, very privileged face of “girl power” activism.
And that ties in with the importance of intersectionality in everyone, but also what you’re doing with your PhD. Can you tell me a bit about that?
My PhD looks at how music can create conditions for young people to explore gender and feminist activism. I am running a research project in a school, and I’m running music therapy groups because I’m a music therapist. I’m very interested in exploring how young people’s strong connections to music and the relationships they have with each other through music and the conditions that music can create for self expression and inclusivity, and personal things like confidence and emotional regulation. I’m interested in combining what we know about feminist activism and gender equity, and also how young people relate so closely to music. My research basically looks at combining gender equity with young people in schools.
How do you see that translating out of the classroom and into the real world? Can you see places where that kind of already is there, or places that would benefit from something like this?
It’s tricky because I think you’ve gotta recognise that I’m not trying to generalise or create generalisability. I’m not saying, “All young people will realise how masculinity is a harmful construct to young men by listening to or writing about xyz.” This is the first research of it’s kind so I’m really just looking at how will this go in this one scenario? The school that I’m in is a big, mainstream school in the far outer suburbs of Melbourne. It’s very multi-cultural and there are a high number of newly-arrived refugees. There’s third generational poverty in the area, it’s a low socio-economic area so there multiple challenges these young people are facing. I love the young people there but I’m very aware that my work there is just one model and what I do there would probably be very different from the way that I would work in a private school in Melbourne’s inner north. It’s about recognising the nuances and the context for where you’re working and how that effects what you can then claim as benefits.
It’s so interesting. You’re set to speak at Face The Music in a couple of weeks, and this will be your second conference appearance this year – is that right?
There was also the LISTEN conference as well.
Of course! So your third. What purpose do you think these conferences and panels serve for the greater music industry? Do you think there is a purpose there?
I think the big music conferences certainly have a purpose for serving the big corporation of the music industry. On a more personal or community level, I think the upside of these conferences is that there you do get to learn how to separate yourself from the music industry types who are there to serve the economy of the music industry versus the people who are there who can say, “Hey! Let’s have a conversation about safety in music venues!” There seems to be quite a distinction between the groups of people who attend these sort of events and it can be really cool meeting people who are likeminded.
For example BIGSOUND this year when I got to hang out with you and Grace [Pashley from 4ZZZ] and find the community of people with shared interests outside of my Melbourne network. I think it’s also really beneficial to have conversations at these big corporate events that challenge the status quo and have people on them who are going to call people out. I think that’s crucial and vital. I think these kind of conferences should be having multiple critical discussions about the music industry. There shouldn’t just be one or two. I think these conversations should be embedded in all these discussions, but they’re not, so it’s good that there are a few panels set up to do that.
I agree, I think this is kind of the long-awaited start of it being embedded in those conversations, but right now it kind of runs the risk of being “tokenistic” in a way. Do you agree?
Yeah, like, “We’ve checked it off and had a conversation about sexism in music.”
Do you have any outlook on how to stray away from that tokenism into actual equity and inclusion in these kind of things? Or do you think it’s about continuing this representation and building upon it?
Look, things have gotten better. I always have a good look through these panels and see who is speaking. Both Face The Music and BIGSOUND were pretty good in having women on panels, but we can’t stop there. It’s about creating cultural change, so that instead of making sure that we’ve got enough women on the panel, or we’ve got gender non-conforming people involved, it’s about creating a space where we’re less and less putting them in to “hear a trans perspective,” but rather having trans people, gender non-conforming people, people of colour, Indigenous people part of this conversations without it being a tokenistic gesture.
I was at a meeting recently where someone was saying that we can’t leave anyone behind anymore, we can’t forget anyone anymore, and if one is being pulled forward, those remaining must also come with us.
Exactly. We know better than that now, and that’s what intersectionality is about from how I understand it from my very narrow lens as a white, privileged person. It’s not about this linear progression of, “First we’ll get enough women and then we’ll look at gender diverse people.” It shouldn’t be that linear process which will happen if this is how we progress. It can’t be at the expense of other identities who are also excluded and marginalised.
I wanted to ask you as well, are you optimistic of real change happening? Is it something you can actually see?
Definitely. I think it’s important that the people who hold a lot of power shouldn’t be the ones talking about how much progress we’ve made. I think it’s important that, for marginalised communities, people who have been silenced or erased, it’s important to recognise the things that have changed. You need to, to survive. There has been a huge amount of change, and that’s amazing. It’s so important to look at the last ten years, for example, for women in music and see things like LISTEN and Brisbabes and Girls Rock! and all of these initiatives that have used a feminist perspective to promote inclusivity. It’s great to recognise that change and it fills you up in a way, but it’s also important to note that there are still people who can’t identify as much change in whatever area. I think it’s a little bit dangerous for those who have all of these intersecting axes of privilege like men, white people, people who are able-bodied, people who are cis, people who are straight, it’s really important that if you embody all of this privilege – are you patting yourself on the back by celebrating how much progress we’ve made? I think it’s important to not let that celebration of progress overshadow communities who are still fighting really hard. Something like Indigenous Australians are a case in point for that, because how can we talk about anything in Australia whilst the rates of incarceration or Aboriginal deaths in custody are this bad, or what white people are doing to the land owned by Aboriginal people in terms of environmental destruction – it’s hard to celebrate if that comes at the expense of other communities. They’re like, “Hang on, who the fuck are you celebrating for?”
I think it’s important to know that sometimes you lull yourself into a false sense of security because your community almost acts as a bubble in a way, and you begin to think that everyone thinks like then. But then, you leave your bubble and you’re so shocked at what is happening! You start to realise your bubble can sometimes make you complacent. I think that, ultimately, your appearance on this panel and BIGSOUND is really important too. The Listen conference as well to an extent but it’s definitely different to these bigger ones and I hope many, if not all, would find it a safe space attending. A lot of people would not feel comfortable or safe at all in some of these bigger, more mainstream events as they’re not represented at all. So whilst increasing representation is mandatory, having panels that include people like you, Elly, as well as having the panels at all, is very important too.
Absolutely. If it was a matter of having them, or not having them, of course it’s important to have them. It’s just also important to…
Strive for it to be better?
Yeah! We need to keep looking at what it is being done for, how it’s being done. Something Coco Solid said at the LISTEN conference, she keynoted the opening day as well, but she repeated a number of times, “Who are you out here for?” I think that is a really important reminder, particularly within feminist spaces and in terms of conversations around feminism in the music industry. It’s really important to question, and take a critical lens whilst celebrating the joys of change and events that are safe and the number of amazing women and GNC acts there are in Australia alone. I think it’s a two-pronged approach. Critical but overjoyed? *Laughs*
Elly Scrine will be speaking on the MusicNSW presented panel for the Women In Electronic Music talk at Face The Music.
For more details, head here.
Intro and questions by Emma Jones.