How easy is it for women to be equally represented at music festivals?

Currently listening to: The Opener – Camp Cope

the opener.jpg


You’d think it would be pretty easy.

On Monday, it was reported that 45 music festivals and events have signed up to a global initiative set up by Keychain and the PRS Foundation to ensure that by 2022, there’ll be a 50/50 gender split in their programming. UK festivals such as Sound City, Cheltenham Music Festival and Bluedot have all made the promise, and many more from across the world are joining them. Brilliant, people are taking this shit seriously. Its impossible not to see reports at this time of year highlighting the lack of women on festival line ups, there’s more and more every year, along with a backlash on social media from musicians and fans alike. Back in December, Falls Festival in Fremantle, Australia, was slammed by artists for failing to give women an equal opportunity to perform at the festival. The most prominent of all were Camp Cope, who used their set to call out the festival organisers on their programming, calling it “bullshit”. Its not the first time they’ve called out the industry. Their song, The Opener, talks specifically the band being told their can’t fill up venues. Though at Falls, they went with this:

“It’s another man telling us we can’t fill up a tent,
It’s another fucking festival booking only nine women
Nah, hey, cmon girls we’re only thinking about you.
Well, see how far we’ve come not listening to you.
Yeah, just get a female opener, that’ll fill the quota”


And right there is the issue. The quota. Yes, we should be ecstatic to see festivals finally taking note and promising to change the way they do things (it should have been done a while ago, but hey) but how exactly do they intend to do it? They run the risk of just filling a quota because its something they said they’d do. 2022 is a long way off, are there not already amazing female artists to fill the slots now? Is there not a question about how women are treated by the music industry as a whole? We already know they’re treated pretty badly. In January, Recording Academy President, Neil Portnow, told women that they needed to “step up” in the music industry after the Grammy’s were slammed for being too male. As far as I can tell, women stepped up a long time ago. There are an abundance of  women who produce, manage, provide tech, write and perform who are stepping up all the bloody time (check out P!nk’s incredible response to the comment). Women don’t need to step up. Society needs to stop acting like the fault lies with them.

If you hadn’t already seen, recently joined forces with Metal Hammer, Classic Rock and Prog magazines to run She Rocks, a month of coverage on women in music. All three magazines dedicated their February editions to female musicians who have, and are, changing the landscape of rock music. As well as the front covers featuring female artists, there were various interviews showcasing some incredible talent. This move is well overdue. Women rarely receive the recognition they deserve from music publications. I did a break down of front covers over the last five years of a certain well known rock magazine (you know, the one every teenager who ever loved Green Day or Blink 182 read at some in their lives) to see how many women featured. Its shocking. In five years, men appeared over 700 times as the main feature on their front cover (this includes repeats of various artists). Guess how many women? 69. And a lot of those were Hayley Williams. Young people are heavily influenced by what the media shows them. If magazines are showing them men, then they’ll idolise those men as the musicians they could only aspire to be. There’s a brilliant article on that talks a lot about the media and how they’re influencing music today. Its spot on and probably articulates it way better than I can. The She Rocks coverage is a huge step forward, but don’t let it stop there. Don’t revert back to giving the spotlight to men and throwing a woman in here or there. If the media influences taste so much then the media should take responsibility for promoting female musicians in the same way as it does with men.

When it comes to live music in general, there’s still a long way to go. Aside from sexual harassment and assault (take a look at my last post for that) there’s a whole discussion to be had about gendered space, both on and off stage. The gig space is generally seen as male dominated. Mosh pits and barriers are traditionally spots held by men. If a woman enters them, they’re invading the masculine space (I’m not making this stuff up, there’s a whole bulk of academic research on this. If you really want to get into the literature, there’s some great articles , including this one about the Leeds metal scene). This is exactly what Bikini Kill challenged at their shows in the 90’s, by encouraging “girls to the front” and stopping their sets if any man invaded that space. Don’t get me wrong, women and girls go into pits all the time at shows and I’ve definitely seen a shift over the years. But there’s definitely not equality just yet.

So what exactly am I saying? Its fine to create initiatives that promise a 50/50 gender split at festivals by 2022. A lot of blame is placed on festival organisers when it comes to programming. Yes, its their responsibility to book the artists, and yes, they can definitely do more. It doesn’t take four years to see that there are women who have already worked their asses off and still continue to do so. Book them now. But then challenge the media, so that teenagers who idolise the bands they feature see that female musicians can be just as iconic as males ones. Challenge audiences to see that a woman’s place is at the front and in the pit, just as much as men. Then challenge promoters, producers, agents, managers and labels to do their bit.


Don’t just fill a quota. The industry as a whole needs to step up, not the women fighting to be a part of it.

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