Not In My Name. Gender Bias and Music Festivals
Behind petty squabbling about the death of rock and questioning the excitement of the new, there lies a very real problem within the music industry. Last night, a big yellow highlighter brought it to everyone’s attention.
On Tuesday 24th February, The Reading & Leeds Festivals announced a considerable amount of their lineup. From Limp Bizkit and Cancer Bats, through The Libertines and Bastille to Deadmau5 and Knife Party, it’s fair to say it’s trying to cater for everyone. But there is, in garish yellow, a question that needs addressing. Why aren’t women better represented on festival bills?
The owner of The Reading & Leeds Festivals, Melvin Benn, denied there was any sort of imbalance just last month. In an interview with Gigwise he claims “There has been an historic lack of opportunity for young women to get into bands and I think that has disappeared now,” before continuing “For me it’s never about the gender of the band, its about the quality and I think increasingly female bands, female-fronted bands, entirely female bands, mixed bands…they’re just forever on the increase now. Gone are the days where a band was four guys. It’s genuinely gone.” Looking at what’s been announced for his festival thus far, it’s difficult to believe.
You could argue that festival lineups reflect what’s going on in the music industry and some do. Both T in The Park (25% of acts including a female) and The Isle Of Wight Festival (28%) come close to mirroring the everyday.
Female artist or acts with at least one female member were represented in 20% of the nominees at this years NME Awards with that figure rising to 23% at the 2015 Brit Awards and 25% at last years Mercury Music Prize. Those numbers echo the charts with 30% of this week’s Top 40 Albums including a woman. While it’s not the idealistic 50/50 split you’d like to see these festivals do hold a mirror up to music as a whole and prove that there are a wealth of bands that could be booked.
Why then do just nine of the ninety-two acts announced for The Reading & Leeds Festivals and only three of the fifty-six bands currently announced for Download Festival feature women?
This isn’t a new problem by any means. Blood Red Shoes’ Laura Mary Carter addressed it last year for the NME and in this article on Drowned In Sound.
““I think a lot of people don’t want to face that there could be something wrong,” she tells DIS. “But if you look at the figures, the ratio of women playing festivals full stop… it’s hard to believe the figures are so different. I think the rock world is still very male dominated – there have been many festivals around the world when I will be the only woman on that stage or, on occasion, the only woman playing that day at all. I think it does have something to do with there being a lack of role models.”
“This isn’t just a problem with festivals not booking enough women. We need to look at the way society as a whole looks at female artists. Many women performers don’t want to speak out about issues like the lack of women on festival bills because of the online abuse we get,” she explains to NME
A cursory scroll down the replies to this tweet from Crack in the Road, that shows how the Reading Festival lineup “would look if it only included the acts that have a female musician in the band,” sadly confirms that.
Laura then goes on to rationalise “if the audience still see women in rock bands as something of an oddity, that’s where the real problem lies.”
It’s a sentiment echoed in Kerrang! a few weeks back as Marmozets’ Becca Macintyre explains “We have to talk about it. Words can be very powerful. Making people aware that this is way we feel about it as women and, if you agree, tag along and support it.”
This isn’t about female musicians getting booked above their male counterparts. This isn’t about tokenisation or positive discrimination; it’s about being aware the problem exists.
I don’t think anyone has a quickfire answer to solve this issue, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start asking questions. Reading Festival & Download Festival, why?