Music festivals are great: an essential part of British culture, they unite us in our common love of music and all its various genres and artists. In recent years, however, it has become abundantly clear that women get far less recognition and exposure in such events than men. Kit Sinclair explains this issue, as well as how and why we must seek to solve it.
With the summer (finally) on the horizon, many of us will be excitedly holding tickets for one of the UK’s several music festivals. Whether it’s hard rock at Download, EDM at Boomtown or even some of the world’s biggest stars at Glastonbury, the UK festival scene offers something for everyone – except, perhaps, those of us who had been excitedly hoping to see some more female representation.
Despite high profile movements in the entertainment industry targeted at improving both female empowerment and representation (need I even name-check the #MeToo campaign?), we are left with very little physical evidence of this ‘progress’.
As the 2020 line-ups were slowly and progressively revealed, we’ve been confronted with the same disappointing reality over and over again: headline acts composed almost entirely of men. Despite high profile movements in the entertainment industry targeted at improving both female empowerment and representation (need I even name-check the #MeToo campaign?), we are left with very little physical evidence of this ‘progress’. Out of the 34 headline acts in 10 of the UK’s biggest festivals, only 4 of those are women or female-fronted bands (and 2 of those acts are the same artist, Taylor Swift). That’s a mere 11%.
It is often said that the reason for this striking disparity is that there are simply not enough female acts to bring in the crowds – Emily Eavis, organiser of Glastonbury, put it bluntly when she said that the women are “just not there”. And whilst this may have been true in years gone by, it is a hard pill to swallow now when we have seen the impact of female headliners. Adele’s memorable set at Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage was a force of nature, moving a crowd of thousands as they chanted along to her anthemic ballads. And that’s to say nothing of Beyoncé’s 2018 headline performance at Coachella, a production that was nothing short of iconic, and that had the whole world talking for months. It is clear that women can be just as successful as men on the festival stage. So why aren’t they there?
some women have pushed it even further, rejecting the established, male-dominated festival industry and taking matters into their own hands, by developing their own, female-only festivals.
Frustrating as it may be, perhaps what’s needed is support from male allies in the music industry. Following the outcry over the male-dominated Reading and Leeds line up this year, Matty Healy, lead singer of The 1975, pledged on his twitter account to only agree to play festivals committed to including a certain percentage of female performers. Following encouragement from Guardian writer Laura Snapes, Healy declared it was time for people to “act, not chat”. And indeed, Healy and his band do seem to be putting their money where their mouth is – the support acts for the 1975’s recent tour were both women, and of the 7 support acts for their own festival this summer, 6 are women or women-led bands.
Take this as me signing this contract – I have agreed to some festivals already that may not adhere to this and I would never let fans down who already have tickets. But from now I will and believe this is how male artist can be true allies ?? https://t.co/1eaZG2hEze— ?? (@Truman_Black) February 12, 2020
This is certainly the kind of decisive action needed to propel female acts into their long overdue spotlight. But some women have pushed it even further, rejecting the established, male-dominated festival industry and taking matters into their own hands, by developing their own, female-only festivals. Established over the past 5 years to now, Native Festival in Kent, Loud Woman Fest in London and Boudica Festival in Coventry have all been designed to exclusively feature female artists. Woman Fest has even reclaimed the hallowed grounds of Glastonbury to hold a celebration of all things female in music. These festivals are both important and empowering, inspiring the next generation of female artists by showing them that they, too, can be headliners in their own right.
But is it enough to have small, indie festivals composed entirely of women, when the main stages we see on our TV and phone screens are constantly dominated by men? For the female artists of the future, this must surely be a disheartening sight. Perhaps it is up to us to show our support for female musicians, both locally and on a national level, to prove to festival organisers that we are ready to see female names emblazoned proudly on the top of those ubiquitous line-up posters. Talented female artists are out there – now is the time for us to see them.
Featured image courtesy of Veld Music Festival via Flickr.
Image use licence here.