In honour of International Womens’ Day, promoter and DJ Jo Lowes addresses a very important issue.
The line-up for the first Neighbourhood Festival weekender was released and was met with approving nods and a multitude of shares and joyous emoji’s across social media. Stockport’s finest up and comers Blossoms as well as indie giants The Courteeners and Noel Gallagher with his accompanying birds ensured sold out banners could be placed across event posters well before the actual event. Even the Scousers got a slice of the SJM-promoted pie in the form of Jake Bugg, but on second glance, there was something missing from the line-up that couldn’t be deemed accidental. Not one single female act was on the bill. Neighbourhood isn’t the only festival guilty of this blatant lack of gender representation Wireless Festival headlined by Stormzy, the outspoken man of the people, launched their initial line up and female acts made up less than 10% of acts announced. The problem isn’t just UK-based, America is mirroring the issue with festivals such as Coachella and Bonnaroo having similarly depressing misogynistic stats.
This isn’t an entirely new issue, in 2015 blogger Josh Dalton created a mock-up of the Reading and Leeds line-up poster and removed all-male acts, just 9 acts remained and only one was deemed worthy enough to be on the main stage. But since the controversy first attempted to shame festival promoters across the Internet to readdressing the balance it would seem that things aren’t getting any better.
This was something I was acutely are of when I became involved with presenting for Pie Radio and Manchester’s Sonder Festival. I wanted to be actively involved in creating a platform for all artists, not just men with beards, guitars, and skinny jeans in hotly-tipped indie bands. Don’t get me wrong, the line-up for Neighbourhood is an impressive one that I would no doubt enjoy with enough fruity cider-fuelled abandonment to ensure I had a toothache and heartburn for days after, but there is something deeper going on with omitting women from line-ups that we need to address. It’s saying that women in bands just can’t pull a crowd, they can’t sell tickets, and they literally are being told they have no economic worth to festivals and the music industry at large. The inevitable conclusion to that message is: why on earth women would even bother getting involved in an industry that will never get them the respect on monetary backing that their male counterparts get?
As part of the International Women’s Day, I curated a Pie Radio Sunday Session show featuring an all-female line-up. It was an amazing show with some immensely talented singer-songwriters but I entirely admit that alone is not enough. Just like Black History Month doesn’t compare to the eleven months of the year when racial inequality is unquestioned by some and latent-stage HIV doesn’t suddenly vanish the day after World AIDS Day when red ribbons are unpinned from jackets. The entire industry needs shook up like a snow globe in the hands of a toddler fuelled by Smarties from the ‘90s before we cared about the impact of E-numbers in food.
Do I think we have done enough at Sonder? I honestly don’t know the answer on exactly how much is enough, but I do know on our line-up we have talented, interesting, mesmerising feisty female acts that need to be discovered and celebrated. They have stories to tell and the guitar skills to back it up. I’m both excited and proud to be working with the Clarions, Maisie Johnson, Kirsty Almeida and Novustory to name but a few. The festival itself is being opened with two female-fronted nights. The first is the White Ribbon stage at Night People. White Ribbon is one of our charity partners its aim is to stop violence against women by encouraging men to stand up the challenge and speak out against all forms of it. Working with the charity was an obvious choice as over 4k of women reported being sexually assaulted at UK festivals last year and let’s face it if 4k reported it how many more did it actually happen to? For the second night, we’re teaming up with Heidi Dewhirst who set up the Manchester Women’s Songwriters’ Collective who will be helping us fill the Sandbar with female singer-songwriters and send a clear mess that women in music do matter.
The music industry not supporting women in my view is also just bad business sense. Some of the biggest hits are by women sharing their stories. Aretha Franklin did not write Respect, Otis Redding did but his original version reinforced the traditional family structure of men work all day, bring home the money so should get their wives respect in return. The song became a legendary hit when Franklin turned the track on its head and gave a women’s viewpoint.
Change does need to come from the top as record company executives have much more control over the industry than I like, but their decisions are based on sales and numbers that is something we can all do something about. We can support female acts, watch their shows, (legally) download their tracks and post about the lack of women on festival line-ups instead of just clicking a thumbs up when Noel is given yet another platform to sell more merch on.