Girls Rock! Camp

Girls Rock! Camp Aotearoa

Words by Keegan Fepulea’i

Globally and internationally the music industry continues to fight the uphill battle that is female representation in Music. A recent study from the states conducted by Dr Stacy L. Smith, the​ “Inclusion in the Recording Studio”, had some not so surprising findings. Two such findings that​ came as a result of interviewing 75 female producers and songwriters found that 40% of participants admitted their colleagues had dismissed or discounted their skills & 39% had experienced stereotyping and sexualisation. It begs the question: on a local level, how do we create an environment for women to thrive in music? 

In its third year, Girls Rock! Camp Aotearoa is a school holiday programme for female, trans & non-binary youth to create great music and build confidence. From spending a few hours at the camp there’s a sense that it’s a whole lot more than that. It’s about working relationships and affirmation. 

 “Before I started coming to these camps, I didn’t think it was really that big of an option for me. I thought it was mostly getting your skill and I didn’t have a lot of belief in myself until I started coming here. I saw all these people who wanted to do the same thing as me and also people who were more experienced than me, I realised that it really is an option and if you have the goal in mind then you can get there, and this is a very good place to help you.​” – Angel, intern and former camp member. 

“Creating a safe space here where they can learn and grow, and then giving them a community and the connections so that they can move up through the music world in Auckland and NZ.” – Steph Stuteley (Organiser) 

Current students of the camp have had similar experiences in the past, struggling to find a space where they’re comfortable to express themselves amongst peers or even just be accepted to such programmes. Due to their popularity, lack of funding and people willing to facilitate such opportunities i get a sense that we could lose a lot of talent to a lack of meaningful pathways for future generations. Locally, the programme is very fortunate. It takes contributions from the community itself as well as the industry to create these pathways. 

“We’re very lucky, we do have a lot of support, specifically people within the music industry, other musicians, teachers, schools. We have quite a lot of support for this program because people love what it’s about. But it’s still quite difficult because it’s something new, it’s completely different to anything – well I’m not sure but it’s quite different to a lot of things in NZ that already exist. We’re just kinda conjuring it out of thin air and hoping that it works. Luckily it has so far! 

We’re also very lucky because people in other countries who run the same program, the way the whole program works is it’s really about sharing resources as well. We were lucky in the start we contacted the people from Canberra and the States and asked them to help us. To teach us how to run this program, and they’re so giving. They just said ‘Yup! Here’s our time, for free…we’ll help you because we’ve been in that position too’ –​ Nicole Gaffney (Chair of Girls Rock!)

“It’s an entirely volunteer-run program, we don’t pay ourselves during the year for all our organisational work. Just this week. All of our mentors and instructors are paid for the week, so they’re not giving their time for free. We really think it’s important to pay people for their work. 

The Auckland City Council and Creative Communities, the NZ Music Commission, Recorded Music NZ and the Tindall Foundation’s Next Gen fund have contributed to making this programme possible. We put out a wide net of funding applications and see what we get back. Also MAINZ have very generously donated the space. Also lots of people have given us in-kind donations, so that’s how we can do this.” – ​Steph Stuteley 

While the programme targets young women, there’s also an emphasis on creating space for gender diverse and Māori and Pacifica students. Representation for these groups is an ever-growing issue. We live in the largest Polynesian city in the world and that is rarely reflected in music, art & festival line ups 

We also make sure that our mentors and organising committee is a wide range of different​ people. We have a very diverse group of organisers and that translates to the campers – because then we have different people from different communities going to their communities and saying that this is happening, you should get your kid to apply. 

We try and make sure that when we’re organising the camp we keep that in mind because those are the kids that don’t get a lot of support in schools I think. I think it’s very new for a lot of people so we make sure that we train our mentors and make sure they know all the language that’s important to the campers and make sure the kids feel like they are accepted in this space. Then they just grow up to be great! 

A lot of statistics about trans and non-binary kids that there’s a huge suicide rate, it’s something very heavy to talk about. We want to make sure that these kids feel like they’re accepted here, and with our staff as well everyone here is well trained with how to deal with kids who are…different basically.​” – Nicole Gaffney 

This year’s camp culminates not only in the end of week performance to friends and family where they showcase the fruits of their labour over the week but they will also take over the stage at Milk & Honey Festival as part of the celebration at Silo Park for International Women’s Day.