It is 2022, Why is a 50/50 Gender Split Festival Making Headline News?

Submitted for a university project – April 2022.

Last month Hertfordshire music festival Standon Calling[1] made headline news by becoming the first major UK festival to curate a line-up consisting of at least 50% female or non-binary acts. The festival, which goes ahead in July, has achieved a 54% representation of female identifying/non-binary artists[2] including headliners Anne-Marie, Sigrid, Sugababes, Self Esteem and Annie Mac. 

There is no doubt that this is a step in the right direction, but I cannot help but wonder why something which I consider to be so basic is making headline news. 

I have lost count the number of times I have been to festivals and there hasn’t been a single female act on the main stage. As a womxn*[3] who is a music enthusiast and aims to work within the industry, this at times has been demoralising. It gives the impression that womxn are unwelcome and their contributions to what is a brilliant industry are not appreciated as much as they should. 

Investigating festival line-ups for this summer was both eye-opening and horrifying. London’s All Points East[4] will present six days of live music including 42% female identifying artists. This doesn’t sound too bad until you look deeper and realise that only one of their headliners out of fourteen (7%) is female. For Derbyshire based Y Not Festival[5] it is slightly better with 38% but Reading and Leeds Festivals[6], arguably some of the biggest festivals in the country, which had an attendance of around 200,00 people each day in 2019[7], only has 25% female identifying acts in its 2022 line-up. This figure gets worse when looking at its headliners and the stat falls to 21%. This is far from being gender balanced. 

It is unbelievable how high-profile events continue to get away with it.

In 2018, Standon Calling along with many other major festivals both in the UK and abroad, signed up to the PRS Foundation’s newly launched International Keychange initiative, in the aim to achieve or maintain gender-equal line-ups by 2022[8]. We have now reached 2022 and the majority of festivals and conferences on this roster have not accomplished this. It isn’t that female artists aren’t popular. In fact in 2021, seventeen of the top forty most bought and the top three most streamed albums were by female artists**[9].

Obviously something fundamental has happened between 2018 and the present, which has had a catastrophic effect on the music and live events industries – but why should a pandemic stop festivals from forming gender-equal events?

Pins’  bassist, Kyoko Swan, believes that the gender conversation was “forgotten” during the pandemic, whilst the UK project manager for Keychange, Maxie Gedge, thought that the return of live events last year would have been a good opportunity to focus on gender equality. They explained that: “the pandemic has been a bit of a reset button for everyone”. They also described the music industry as a “boy’s club”[10]. It is probably no surprise that some inspired individuals have taken it on themselves to create events with completely female identifying/non-binary line-ups such as Coventry’s Boudica Festival[11] and new for 2022, No Man’s Land[12], which is taking place in Nottingham.

Recently when festival line-ups have been announced, they haven’t excited me. This isn’t just because of the lack of female representation but also because there doesn’t seem to be any originality anymore. The same acts get pushed out year on year when I know from working in the local scene that there is so much raw, undiscovered talent out there which is being ignored. I think a reason behind this is that festivals are scared to make the change.

I acknowledge that booking acts is a bit of a juggling act. With the scheduling and budget, it is tough to put out a line-up poster in plenty of time, but this doesn’t excuse festivals creating line-ups which are not gender-equal never mind only having 25% female identifying artists like at Reading and Leeds. It is fortunate then that Keychange have created a Talentroster[13], with over one hundred female identifying/non-binary artists from around the globe to give event organisers and promoters a bit of a head start. 

It shouldn’t be the responsibility of gig-goers to force the change. However, when festivals like Kendal Calling[14] only have female representation in two out of sixteen of their headline slots, it begs the question: Should we fund an event which is so unequal?

I urge music-lovers to expand their horizons and shop around when deciding what festivals to visit this summer. There is a lot of unexplored talent out there which is worth your time, and I look forward to the day when 50/50 gender split festivals aren’t making headline news.

*An alternative spelling and definition of woman/women that includes not only cis women, but female-identifying and non-binary individuals.

**Or acts which include at least one womxn in their line-up. 

[1] Standon Calling. (2022). Standon Calling festival home. Retrieved from: https://standon-calling.com

[2] NME. (2022). Standon Calling becomes first major UK festival to achieve gender-balanced line-up. Retrieved from: https://www.nme.com/news/music/standon-calling-becomes-first-major-uk-festival-to-achieve-gender-balanced-line-up-3187668

[3] Blume. (n.d.). Why we use “Womxn”. Retrieved from: https://www.blume.com/blogs/blume-university/why-we-use-womxn-and-why-you-should-too

[4] All Points East. (2022). All Points East festival home. Retrieved from: https://www.allpointseastfestival.com

[5] Y Not Festival. (2022). Y Not Festival home. Retrieved from: https://ynotfestival.com

[6] Reading and Leeds Festival. (2022). Reading and Leeds Festival home. Retrieved from: https://www.readingandleedsfestival.com

[7] IQ Mag. (2019). Reading/Leeds Celebrates Hottest, Biggest Year Yet. Retrieved from: https://www.iq-mag.net/2019/08/reading-leeds-2019-celebrates-hottest-biggest-year/

[8] NME. (2018). Festivals make pledge towards gender-balanced line-ups by 2022. Retrieved from: https://www.nme.com/news/music/festivals-pledge-gender-balanced-lineups-by-2022-2249206

[9] Official Charts. (2022). The Official Top 40 biggest albums of 2021. Retrieved from: https://www.officialcharts.com/chart-news/the-official-top-40-biggest-albums-of-2021__34858/

[10] BBC News. (2021). Gender balance at festivals: Has it been forgotten in the pandemic? Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-56591249

[11] Boudica Festival. (2022). Boudica Festival home. Retrieved from: https://boudicafestival.co.uk

[12] No Man’s Land. (2022). No Man’s Land links. Retrieved from: https://linktr.ee/nomansland_live

[13] Keychange. (2022). Keychange Talent. Retrieved from: https://www.keychange.eu/directory/underrepresented-talent

[14] Kendal Calling. (2022). Kendal Calling festival home. Retrieved from: https://www.kendalcalling.co.uk

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