Your say / Society

Are music festivals inherently sexist?

By laura williams, Thursday Feb 26, 2015

The Reading and Leeds Festival lineup announcement was received with mixed emotions by the rock fraternity, but along with the grumbles/excitement about headliners and nostalgic sojourns to when Reading was good and there was a more serious commentary – a commentary on the role of women in the music industry.
 
It stemmed out of a clever/depressing photoshop job that music mag Crack in the Road did on the official poster. In removing all the acts which did not feature a women, they were left with a handful of names dotted about down the bottom. Barely even a token gesture. Cue a heated debate on social media which led to national press coverage
 
Sadly it’s not a new phenomenon (see Telegraph piece published last summer). Women in the music industry – artists, managers, promoters, journalists – all know it (like society as a whole) is male dominated, but seeing it expressed in such a visual way was still pretty shocking. And while there’s good representation of women in the production team at Reading and there’s unlikely to be any sinister plot to exclude women. And it is run by a man, Melvin Benn, a man who last month told Gigwise that gender was no longer an issue with bands: “Gone are the days when a band was four guys,” he said. So what gives?
 
“There just aren’t any decent female rock bands’, said a fair few commentators on social media. And therein lies part of the problem. But while that could help explain the under-representation of women on this bill, it does not justify it. The fact is there are less than 10 bands featuring women on this 100-band lineup when there are blatantly more than 10 Reading festival worthy rock outfits featuring women in the world is an issue. And while it’s clear that just because the bands exist, doesn’t mean they should be on this festival bill there clearly is some underlying gender-based issue here.
 
So what to do? Do we go down the political party route of female quotas? Positive discrimination. Maybe. Or maybe it’s as simple as promoters being a bit more proactive in seeking out the decent bands with women in – the likes of PINS, Sleater Kinney and The Joy Formidable of Warpaint, Courtney Love and Pixies etc. They do exist. Not in the volumes that all male rock bands exist, but they’re worth a look. Emily Eavis of Glastonbury fame knows this, it’s part of the reason she booked Beyonce according to this NME article.
 
As a music journalist, I’ve covered loads of great female-led/female-containing bands not because I’m on some sort of feminist crusade (though maybe I should be), but because they bloody well deserve the coverage – take Laura Kidd aka She Makes War who I interviewed for the March magazine. Sometimes I’ll get the the end of the month and realise most of the bands I’ve been listening to, watching and talking about feature women. It’s not a deliberate attempt on my part to redress the balance but a genuine disregard for a musician’s gender. It doesn’t matter. If it’s good music, it’s good music. 
 
You’d think that would be the case across the board, but how can it be when you have women in bands referred to as the [token] ‘female bassist’ (I’m going to throw up my hands here and confess that I’ve been guilty of this in the past), when reviewers comment on female musician’s hair and make up and when men seem genuinely surprised when a women has a decent taste in music.
 
While this latest wave of attention is levelled at Reading Festival, it’s not alone in this with Download having even fewer female musicians on its 2015 bill. But it’s not all bad news for women, cross the rock divide and head into indie/Americana territory and festivals are full of awesome female artists. Green Man regularly has big female headliners, Feist, Joanna Newsom, Patti Smith and St Vincent and women are well represented lower down the bill too – First Aid Kit, This is the Kit, Lanterns on the Lake, Stealing Sheep (pictured), The Staves and Cate Le Bon. The list goes on. It’s not quite equal, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the picture at the rockier festivals.

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