Bollocks to it! Reading & Leeds’ male dominated line up is indicative of entire music industry

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Reading Leeds Line Up with and without sausage

Reading & Leeds 2015 line up – one side contains a fair few more wankers

Reading and Leeds’ male dominated festival line up awakens Getintothis’ resident feminist Emma Walsh who asserts the problem goes right back to the playground.

Yesterday Reading and Leeds Festival completed their 2015 line up. Today the internet near exploded when Crack in the Road published a copy of said line up omitting all acts that didn’t boast at least one female member.

Of the near 100 acts announced so far, Reading and Leeds have booked just nine that have at least one vagina between them (the Libertines excluded).

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sure you’re aware of the fact but let me throw it out there again just for safe measure: it is 2015. We are living in the twenty first century.

Yet here we still are. In sausage country.

Naturally, as with all issues considered feminist or “women’s issues”, there was an immediate outcry of disgust, disbelief and outrage from some, and a complete whitewash campaign of defence of the damned patriarchy from others.

This is just the way it is and always has been.

Women just don’t do alternative music.

There just aren’t any female acts big enough or good enough to headline”.

Having given due time and consideration to the most appropriate way I might voice my impassioned rebuttal to these claims I’ve settled on the following eloquent, and I think quite fitting, declaration:

Bollocks”.

Bollocks to your “there just aren’t any good female acts out there” (Warpaint, ChvrchesSt Vincent, Haim )

Bollocks to your “women just don’t do alternative music” (Savages, Stealing Sheep, Sleater-Kinney, Blood Red Shoes )

And bollocks indeed to your “that’s just the way things are”.

If civilisation as a whole had ever been satisfied with the way things are and always have been we’d still be sitting around a dank cave dragging our fists and grunting at each other – although having read some of the comments made about this outrageous display of gender inequality I wouldn’t be surprised if some of us still are.

Savages front woman Jehnny Beth

Savages front woman Jehnny Beth

Sadly, this line up is not alone in its heavy masculine slant, female artists are under-represented on many festival bills, particularly when it comes to headline slots.

Last summer when Two Door Cinema Club had to pull out of Latitude, Lily Allen stood in and became the only woman to perform a headline slot at any of the six big festivals in 2014.

At the time, some helpful person over at The Telegraph trawled through festival statistics to paint a bigger, uglier picture of gender equality on UK festival bills.

In 2014, all female bands made up a minuscule 3.5% of artists to perform at Glastonbury, Reading, Latitude, Isle of Wight, Bestival and V Festival.

In comparison, all male bands racked up 43% of the festival slots. Reading and Leeds surpassed that already dire disparity with 56% all male bands taking to their paired stages in contrast with just one, lonely all female band, Warpaint.

Back then, Reading’s booker Jon Mac acknowledged that “a historical precedent needs to change” when it comes to gender equality on festival line ups.

However, ahead of this week’s announcement Reading organiser Melvin Benn, told Gigwise that while there has been a “historic lack of opportunity for young women to get into bands” he said he didn’t believe female acts are ‘sidelined’ and there was “an abundance of opportunity now“.

By ‘now’ he apparently means, ‘not at Reading 2015′.

But is it the responsibility of the festival organisers and booking agents to balance the gender scales?

Emily Eavis believes so. She was quoted last year as saying that Glastonbury consciously” tried to meet a balance of male and female acts, placing high importance on slotting some of those women at the top of the bill.

In recent years those conscious decisions have led to BeyonceDolly Parton , Laura Mvula, Lana Del Rey, St Vincent, Lily Allen, Kelis, Angel Haze, Ellie Goulding, First Aid Kit, HAIM, Goldfrapp, Anna Calvi, tUnE-yArDs, Cate Le Bon, Courtney Barnett, Beth Orton, Annie Mac and Laura Marling taking to the Glasto stages each in high profile slots.

Perhaps not ideal candidates for Reading Leeds headline sets but it does go to show that the big female acts are out there, they just happen to cluster at the ‘poppier’ end of the spectrum.

However, flipping that argument on its head, the Reading Leeds bill is so diluted from its original demographic that it now boasts the likes of Mumford & Suns who would have been drenched in bottles of urine quicker than you can say, ‘Daphne and Celeste‘.

We could diverge into the question of why women are more attracted, or more likely to gain notoriety, in a genre that relies much more on image (and generally a highly sexualised image) rather than artistic merit. We could also discuss if that has anything to do with a general tendency to take pop less seriously as a credible genre.

But lets stick to the bottom line.

Melvin Benn may defend his team’s booking decisions with an emphasis on artist ‘quality’ rather than equality but when it comes down to it we all know that the greatest driving force behind his and many others’ booking choices come down to money.

Festivals book the big hitters who put bums on seats (or wellies in mud) and sell tickets, we live in a consumerist world, that’s just the way things are – right?

But if women can make the big bucks and draw the crowds in pop, why not on the alternative stage? What is it that the alternative end of the industry is lacking?

I can give you a few reasons – Madonna, Whitney Houston, Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears and more recently, Beyonce. Let’s call them forerunners, pioneers, precursors, and most importantly role models.

When it comes to the nitty gritty of it, this problem is the same problem that women encounter in business, sport, politics and every other global stage where men still dominate and hog the spotlight. If girls and young women don’t see female artists on that stage they’re far less likely to strive for it themselves.

It goes right back to the playground where kids pretend at being in a band – the boys get to play drums and bass and guitar and rock out as the front man, and the girls get to stand in formation looking pretty and singing backing vocals that consist of nothing more than over-enunciated vowels.

It’s going to take another Blondie, PJ Harvey, Bjork or The Slits to bring forth that next generation of festival headline female artists that trade on their own talent and artistic merit rather than a team of stylists, choreographers and song writers. And it’s going to take those profit-driven festivals to give them a shot, because God knows they’ve already got the rest of the world against them.

Should all the major festivals introduce an all female shortlist when it comes to booking 2016? We’d call it a worthy investment. 

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  1. I work as a photographer and videographer in this field, and I’m also a musician in a band, so I’ve been exposed to many, many acts and scenes over the years. This article is drastically overplaying the percentage of women who participate in alternative music and seems to ignore the overall ratio by giving a few examples, implying that female-led bands are plentiful when they’re much more of a commodity (read: miracle).

    Festivals operate under one rule: recruit bands that will sell tickets. I very much doubt there are underlying misogynistic schemes happening here. “There aren’t a lot of women in alternative music” IS a valid complaint, because as much as I wish there were more of us, there aren’t. And the ones that experience any level of fame are even fewer.

    This is more of an issue within the female community, and is not a case of sexism. My progression in music has never been hindered due to my gender; on the contrary, it tends to set us apart from other bands. The unfortunate case of these events being sausage festivals has everything to do with scant female participation in this type of music.

    If you look up the statistics of gender listening, you’ll find information regarding the top 20 artists based on each gender. The male list is heavily dominated by hard rock (e.g. QOTSA, Rage, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Audioslave etc) and the female list features artists like Michelle Williams, Vanessa Hudgens, Cody Simpson etc. While there are definitely many women who enjoy heavy music and attend festivals, this is still indicative of a larger appreciation for heavy music by males, and proves hard evidence of gender disparity.

    http://musicmachinery.com/2014/02/10/gender-specific-listening/

    There are many other facts I could sling up here, as well as a long history of personal experience, but I really can’t be bothered. What I will say is that one shouldn’t jump to this conclusion just yet – at least not until the playing field is fair and the amount of women involved increases dramatically.

    Encourage!