June 15, 2016  

Six Festivals Addressing the Gender Imbalance Head On

In 2015, an image of the Reading and Leeds poster went viral. It showed what the line-up looked like with all the male performers and bands removed – you probably remember it. What remained was depressing: just nine female (or female-featuring) acts remained, a potent symbol of the widespread gender imbalance that has become the norm in our festival and event programming. Sadly, mainstream rock festivals aren’t the only culprits; the rot has set in within the future-focused world of electronic music too. However, a kick back is in place: the rise of festivals with women-only (or women-majority) line-ups are seen by many as the quickest means of redressing the numbers – a direct and often DIY way of fixing a broken system.

It may not be the perfect answer – insularity and tokenism are two concerns levelled at these events – but it could be the only way to set change in motion. And it seems to be working. Last year experimental festival Space Time boasted a female-only line-up, booking the likes of Holly Herndon, Helena Hauff and Nik Colk Void. Czech festival Lunchmeat made a concession too, adopting a similar policy for a warmup event. Even big guns like Glastonbury are boasting a heightened commitment to female artists, and that was before the news last week that Glastonbury was introducing a women-only platform as part of their Shangri La area. At Point Blank we’re committed to providing the tools for people of all genders to get out there and affect change in our industry. As such, we’ve gathered up the festivals from around the world that not only represent platforms for new, female talent – take note, up and coming artists – but are models of how we can switch up the status quo.

The Sisterhood, Glastonbury

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Ok, so it’s not a whole festival, but the news that arguably the biggest festival of them all was to introduce a women-only space hit headlines when it was announced last week. Unlike the rest of the festivals included here where men are both invited and encouraged to attend, men are not permitted. According to the official press release, The Sisterhood – which will be located in the festival’s Shangri La area – offers a place for women to network and connect while showcasing the best in female talent from the UK and beyond. Adding an additional layer of interest is the fact that the Shangri La’s theme this year is Media Manipulation. Considering the rise of online misogyny and accusations of reverse sexism (already, distressingly, levelled at the space) the actual existence of The Sisterhood feels deeply political. Line-ups are yet to be announced, but you can keep up with developments via their Facebook page.

Sad Grrrls Fest

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“Sad Grrrls Club started because I was a little disillusioned with constantly being the only non-male performer on shows I didn’t book,” says Sad Grrrls founder Rachel Maria Cox. Originally conceived as a bunch of musician mates getting together to tour, the project resonated with the growing dissatisfaction with lack of diversity and quickly grew in scope. There’s been a Sad Grrrls tour, a mini fest in Sydney, a club, and record label. This year the festival is planned in both Melbourne and Sydney. “Overall my mission with Sad Grrrls Club is to promote diversity, inclusivity and safety in music.” Excitingly, they’re not ruling out the expansion of Sad Grrrls Club beyond Australia in the future – stay tuned.

The Other Festival

726e8ff0-057e-0134-e753-0a315da82319If Sad Grrrls is defined by its DIY spirit and underground ethos, then New York’s The Other Festival is a glossily mainstream – all sizeable budget and aspirational A-list line-up. Founder Dee Poku-Spalding was inspired to set up the festival as a response to the surfeit of male artists at music festivals but The Other Festival has broadened its purview to take in all areas of the creative industries. The inaugural weekend event, which took place recently, married panel discussions and workshops with a separate evening programme covering a varied spectrum of electronic music.

Ladies of Hip Hop Festival

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Founded in 2004 by Michele Byrd-McPhee, the Ladies of Hip Hop Festival is an event that  explores hip hop culture – and women’s relationship with it – while providing a platform within a scene typically dominated by male voices. International hip hop artists are invited to perform and teach, while attendees can participate in workshops, performance and discussion. With splinter events in Europe and, most recently, Los Angeles, the reach of the festival continues to grow some 12 years since its inception. Want to help? They have an Indiegogo campaign.

Female:Pressure Perspectives

It’s no surprise that female:pressure, an organisation whose MO is to raise awareness of the disparity between male/female representation in the music industry, would create their own electronic music festival. Inaugurated in 2012, Perspectives is held in Berlin and was a direct response to the lack of female performers being booked around that time. “We were considering a mixed line-up,” says one of the organisers, Akka Miau, of the project’s inception. “But, I believe our whole team still sees that the balance hasn’t been achieved yet, therefore we will keep supporting women until the equilibrium is achieved.” Taking place every other year, with the next event due in 2017, Perspectives includes audio/visual workshops and panel talks alongside its stellar music programme. Excitingly, Akka notes the situation is getting better, in terms of people willing to do something about it at least: “In the past few years we witnessed the emerging of various female collectives, which is a great sign, the situation is really changing”.

Pandora Fest

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There’s a great line on the Pandora Fest website, a response to the awful stats (The Guardian, who Pandora Fest cite, calculated that in 2015 the percentage of male festival headliners was 89.6%): “We were annoyed – we go to a festival for a good time, not to think of stuff like this.” The response of the organisers was to programme a seriously diverse range of acts, including mixed groups, among the beautiful surrounds of Duncarron, Scotland. There’s also the option to camp overnight for the full-on festival experience. You can head here for more details, and keep an eye out for next year as they accept artist submissions.

Bonus mention: Finding the Female Headliner

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Of course, the real marker of success will come when mainstream festivals start booking a more balanced and diverse range of artists. A growing awareness of the unacceptability of all-male line-ups is permeating but still some promoters continue blame their booking policies on a shortage of female artists (the “PJ Harvey/Florence/Bjork was busy/too expensive/didn’t have an album out” argument). Promoter and journalist Ruth Barnes is making it her mission to ensure this argument is null and void. Finding the Female Headliner is based out of Dalston venue Birthdays, just down the road from Point Blank’s London base. By offering up a grassroots platform to female performers, Ruth hopes to nurture the next wave of festival headline-ready talent. The line-ups of these monthly events are staggeringly diverse, with artists drawn from hip-hop, folk, indie and the gaps between. If you’re interested in participating, you can find out information via the FTFH Facebook page.

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