WHO RUN THE FESTIVALS? (STILL NOT GIRLS…)

Scroll this

2018 is the year of the woman, and so far we’ve seen it acknowledged across the entertainment industry. From Hollywood and a series of triumphant speeches at the Oscars, to Borehamwood and a house full of recognisable women from the past few decades – and on occasion some educational discussion – on Celebrity Big Brother. But one event still seemingly in the dark ages, despite so often being a beacon on the calendar for any music fan, is the music festival.

While Beyonce reigned supreme at Coachella these last two weekends, festival season kicks off next month in Britain and the amount of women at the top of the bill is shameful. Of course, there are exceptions – Solange headlines the Friday of Latitude, St. Vincent and Feist find themselves way up the bill for End Of The Road and Janis Ian closes the show at Cambridge Folk Festival, but this small smattering of examples shouldn’t be something to scream about – acts like these headlining UK festivals should be the norm.

Bestival and Cornbury are two festivals championing the girls this year, with 3 of 4 headliners at Bestival female (or female fronted). It’s also worth pointing out that Bestival‘s sister festivals (Camp Bestival and Common People) are doing similar, with Clean Bandit and Lily Allen topping their bills. Boutique bit-of-a-do Cornbury is going one better with a whole day dedicated to women, and the iconic (and Ironic) Alanis Morissette closing the show.

We had a chat with their organisers, as well as Get In Her Ears‘ co-founder Mari Lane, who tirelessly champions women in music on a daily basis.

Rob Da Bank. DJ and co-founder, Bestival.

“It wasn’t a conscious thing that we sat down and said “we must have 30% or 50% female” it just fell that way. I’m really proud that 3 of our four headliners are female, or female fronted acts, and 30% of our overall bill is female or female fronted. I don’t know if that’s good enough or if it’s the right number but it’s better than a lot of shows, and we seem to be getting the balance more right. It’s difficult because there are more male acts, but it’s our duty to be conscious of booking females where we can. The bottom line is, I haven’t booked these headliners because they’re female, I’ve booked them because they’re brilliant headliners. 60% of our audience are female, so we are a female-heavy festival in a really great way.”

Hugh Phillimore. Organiser, Cornbury.

“We’d been trying to book Alanis Morissette for quite a long time, probably about 8 years or something. There’s quite a funny bit with her and James Corden and they do this double act where he’s dressed up as her and she’s dressed as her, and they do Ironic, with a new lyric. And she makes reference to the fact that there aren’t enough female presenters in America, and she does it charmingly… And it set me thinking – she would love it if it was an all female bill.

I already had Amy McDonald and I was talking to Mavis Staples, and then it didn’t take too much just to start thinking, actually, at the moment, the majority of artists I want just happen to be women anyhow. I’ve booked festival bills for 30 years now, and they have their own flow to a certain degree. You don’t end up where you started necessarily, but on this occasion I had made a decision along the way that that’s where we was heading.

I’ve always loved the female voice. The last artist I managed was Imelda May – I managed her for 7 years, we went from 50 people in a club to 22,000 at The O2 in Dublin with Bono as her special guest. I find it all a bit odd really – there’s just so much out there. One of the reasons I’m pleased to be back is it gives me another chance to book great acts – we’ve got Catherine McGrath who is hotly tipped by the majors, and Ferris & Sylvester (Ferris played Cornbury solo a few years ago). I love stuff that starts with us and comes back.”

Mari Lane. Co-founder, Get In Her Ears.

“We need to turn the tables and readdress what we’re coming to understand as a phenomenal imbalance…” – Shirley Manson, Garbage

“Each year I hold out hope that we’ll see more equal representation on festival line-ups; more female/non binary artists on the bills. And not just in teeny, tiny fonts towards the bottom of the posters, but at the top – headlining. And not just one or two thrown in for good measure, but an EQUAL representation at best. It should not be (and isn’t!) hard to find plenty of female bands and artists worthy of headlining festivals, so why it’s still seen as rarity or novelty, I’ve no idea.

This year, I’ve been particularly disappointed and shocked to see female artists still very much in the minority in most announcements so far. Even festivals that in the past I’ve been impressed by and loved attending remain lacking (whilst I’ve previously renamed Green Man ‘Green (Wo)Man’ – being so happy with its line-up – this year there are no female acts in the bigger fonts on the poster, it’s only when you get further down that they start to appear).

Aside from Bestival (looking at British festivals), it only really seems to be smaller festivals this year that are offering better representation – city-based festivals like Visions, Field Day and The Great Escape, and more boutique festivals such as Indie Tracks, stand out as consistently balanced year upon year. These festivals are great, and essential in giving female/non binary artists a platform, but it doesn’t answer the question of why bigger festivals aren’t addressing gender imbalance on their line-ups.

In February this year, PRS Foundation announced Keychange – an initiative that 45 global festivals have signed up to, promising that by 2022 they’ll have a 50/50 gender ratio in their line-ups. This would indeed be a welcome statistic, given that just last year a whopping 80% of festival headliners were men… Festivals such as Blissfields, BBC Introducing stages and Kendal Calling have signed up to the initiative, but still some of the worst offenders (namely Reading & Leeds…) have refused to take part. And why do we need four years, I wonder, to find these ‘hidden’ female artists; are people unaware of the likes of St Vincent, Beyonce, Courtney Barnett, Wolf Alice, Peaches, Deap Vally, Rihanna, Grimes, Pussy Riot, Kesha, Savages, Dream Wife, Sleigh Bells, Lizzo, Tei Shi, Cherry Glazerr, Hinds, Kate Tempest… (I could be here forever listing worthy female artists)? Are they oblivious to the comeback of pivotal legends like The Breeders, Sleeper or L7? And will the initiative mean more female headliners, or simply a more balanced whole line-up, with women being placed further down the bill? Either way, it’s a positive step, and a necessary one if we are to begin to address this “phenomenal imbalance”.

In the meantime, the hard work smaller festivals and organisations do is essential in promoting women in the industry. And that’s part of the reason why we started Get In Her Ears

Although we have nothing against cis white straight men in music, we feel there’s so much more to music than just those guys. And, with the industry’s ongoing ingrained sexism and underrepresentation of women/non-binary artists, we didn’t feel the world needed another organisation dedicated to promoting those kinds of bands. So, following three years of a radio show, over a year of running gigs and now with our new blog, we aim to continue promoting new music from all genders and genres, with a focus on supporting women in the industry.

At our live nights, all are welcome, and we aim to create a safe space for women and non-binary folk alike. Our aim is not to exclude anyone from playing or attending our nights, but rather to mark a change in the currently accepted pattern of male-dominated gigs that are still so prevalent in the live scene today, and reflected in the imbalance of festival line ups. Rather than an all-female band being a novelty or noticeable feature amongst a list of men, we want to promote equality and bring female artists to the forefront of the scene.

At the moment, we hold monthly nights at The Finsbury in Manor House on the second Friday of every month, but are also branching out south of the river, holding our first night at The Windmill in Brixton on 23rd May. And, as always, it’s free entry!

Do you agree that the girls are unappreciated at UK festivals? Let us know @movetotrashuk

Submit a comment