There has been criticism of gender-imbalanced festival lineups for years, with fans routinely photoshopping festival posters so only female artists’ names remain. For many, it’s a sobering sight to see the lack of diversity at some of the biggest music events in the world.
This criticism and pressure for change accelerated with the launch of the PRS Keychange Inititative in September 2018. Since the launch of the campaign, over 140 festivals have signed the Keychange pledge which strives towards achieving a 50:50 gender split across lineups, conferences and commissions by 2022.
Progress has been slow, though, with Wireless (5-7 July) and Download (14 - 16 June) featuring very male-heavy lineups this year; Reading and Leeds Festival (23 - 25 August) only featuring three female acts on their main stages, and All Points East (24 May - 2 June) only putting on one female headliner across their six headline shows.
TRNSMT festival is returning to Glasgow Green for its third year from 12 - 14 July with Stormzy, Catfish and the Bottlemen, George Ezra, Gerry Cinnamon as headliners. There are only three female acts – Sigrid, Mabel and Jess Glynne – set to perform on the main stage, with a handful more on the secondary King Tut’s Stage.
The festival made headlines in the last week after they announced that they would be launching a new all-female stage called ‘The Queen Tut’s Stage’, that would become a permanent addition to the festival. The announcement follows the success of the sold-out Queen Tut’s event back in march that saw the music venue King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut renamed in celebration of International Women’s Day, and online criticism of this year’s festival’s male-oriented lineup.
Aarti Joshi of DF Concerts announced that the initiative was part of a commitment to closing the ‘Gender Play gap’, and described the stage as “a platform for core female acts at a grassroots level to help them become the bill toppers of the future”.
Tamara Schlesinger, Music Business lecturer at SAE Glasgow and artist, MALKA, said: “There is so much work to be done. With the PRS Keychange initiative being launched, it seems like a box ticking exercise rather than a real move forward to actually have a gender balanced line up. These women do to not need to be segregated and put on their own stage, they need to be given the same platform as male performers. If they deserve a slot at the festival, then they deserve the same opportunities as their male counterparts.”
DF Concerts have also joined forces with Scottish Women Inventing Music (SWIM) who will be onsite raising awareness of the organisation across the weekend. SWIM is a community of music creators and industry professionals who identify as female, and welcome non-binary, trans, queer women. The organisation is committed to achieving a level playing field for women, pushing for gender equality across the music industry, which includes musicians, DJs, composers, photographers, journalists and tech staff.
World: you don’t have enough females on the lineup.— Martin Stone (@stonefish100) June 7, 2019
TRNSMT: look we’ve added a whole stage of females, away from the main festival you understand, buuuuut we’ve called it Queens Tuts. We cool?
The backlash against the TRNSMT announcement seems to be that of ‘too little, too late’; why couldn’t the festival just book more female artists to begin with? It seems somewhat of an afterthought to create an all-female stage. Their response to fans criticism of the idea was overwhelmingly vague with regards to their inability to book female acts to begin with. A DF spokesperson said: “We’d have loved to have a greater gender split across all stages, but as that wasn’t possible for us this year, this is a genuine starting point that we’re committed to building upon.”
Furthermore, as Tamara said, the segregation of female artists makes music fans choose between catching their favourite female artists and some of the other big name male artists on the main stages. There is no reason why TRNSMT couldn’t have booked more female artists, across different genres so that the lineup was more diverse.
One festival that showed all the rest how it should be done was Primavera Sound, who made headlines when they announced their commitment to a lineup with 50/50 gender representation. They called this approach the ‘New Normal’, arguing that booking as many female artists as men shouldn’t be abnormal.
Primavera is the only one I can think that has the gender balance. I saw Grace Jones and Mac De Marco on the same night. Amazing. I think it's TRNSMT that need to check @KeychangeEU— Donald Shields (@upthedancin_) February 18, 2019
This year the festival took place at the Parc del Forum, Barcelona between from 30 May - 1 June, and featured 226 artists, of which more than 50 per cent were women, with a variety of genres that ranged from extreme metal to reggaeton.
Primavera said: “We should have done it ages ago. If half of our audience is female, why shouldn’t half of our line-up be so too? Why can’t there be equality in schedules, styles and stages?”
But, as Statement festival found out, it’s easy to go too far the other way.
Statement festival was started by Emma Knyckare, a comedian, after a series of sexual assaults took place at Swedish music festivals. This included rape and sexual assault at Bråvalla 2017, the country’s biggest music festival, which led to the event’s cancellation in 2018.
Equality means equality, and whilst it’s important to have representation of both male and female artists across all genres, music venues should be comfortable, enjoyable spaces where all music fans - regardless of their gender identity - feel safe to enjoy art.
Statement festival faced criticism for it’s ‘“women, non-binary and transgender only” policy, and was found in breach by Sweden’s discrimination ombudsman (DO). However, the DO found that nobody suffered damage from the festival’s restrictions, as no differentiation based on sex was made between visitors at entry, therefore no penalties will be imposed.
Excluding male music fans from festivals or alienating female artists by placing them on their own stage doesn’t seem like the way to go about closing the gender ‘play’ gap. Primavera 2019 showed it’s not hard to put on a range of genres featuring an equal distribution of male and female acts. The reviews speak for themselves and people loved it.
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