Along with the usual cries of “FUCK YEAH *BAND* IS PLAYING!” and “Ugh, those guys are headlining? YOU’VE LOST A TICKET BUYER!!” that come with any and all festival lineups, recent times have seen a new conversation spring up around lineup announcement time — that of the ratio of women to men on the bill.
Despite the expected criticism from meninist trolls, who writhe in Cheeto-dust fury at the so-called whining of “social justice warriors”, it’s an important dialogue. We’re already seeing a more revealing spotlight thrown on lineups this year, though disappointingly the vast majority of festivals are still identified as sausage-fests.
Perhaps the most pertinent of recent cases was the spray copped by the organisers of this year’s Reading & Leeds festival in the UK, with 89.6% of the lineup consisting of all-male acts. The online response of “just not good enough” even incited a response from festival promoters.
“This idea that female bands are sidelined as a suggestion is just not there,” Festival Republic’s Melvin Benn said at the time. “The truth is that there has been a historic lack of opportunity for young women to get into bands, and to be in bands, and I think that’s disappeared now.”
How it would look if the Reading / Leeds line-up only included the acts that have a female musician in the band. pic.twitter.com/xpEgI0gNUB
— Josh / Crack In The Road (@crackintheroad) February 24, 2015
“Disappeared” is probably overstating it somewhat. Closer to home, last month’s Vivid LIVE lineup announcement was similarly maligned for the lack of women on its lineup. Artists group the Listen Collective released a statement calling attention to the “50+ acts consisting of a male performer or group, compared with two bands featuring women (The Drones and The Preatures) and one female solo act, George Maple”.
Despite most festival curators retaliating to claims of bias quickly pointing out that an artist’s gender is of no concern to them, that lineups are constructed with only talent and suitability in mind, it seems that the tide is slowly beginning to turn. Some, such as this year’s Laneway Festival, have made improved gender diversity on lineups both a priority and a badge of pride.
Dom O’Connor, an A&R scout for Lunatic Entertainment, which curates the Laneway Festivals, posted an image of the lineup artwork with the males erased. It’s an increasingly popular trend, usually used as a means of ridicule. In this instance, it was paraded as a positive.
With a big focus on the amount of women on festival lineups, I'm proud to say this is what Laneway would look like: pic.twitter.com/jkmcrKtLNJ
— Dom O’Connor (@Dong_OConnor) March 10, 2015
So now we come to the big daddy of Australian music festivals, Splendour in the Grass, whose lineup dropped from the musical heavens this morning. Removing acts with all-male lineups reveals the following picture. We’re happy to say, in light of recent poor attempts at diversity, it’s not too bad by comparison.
Of the 104 acts who feature on the Splendour’s lineup poster, 28 are women, or feature a female performer. That gives a roughly 27% estrogen occupation level, a very similar ratio to Laneway 2015. Even more notably, Florence + The Machine features prominently in the headline spot, following on from fellow ovary-owner Lily Allen, who closed out last year’s Splendour weekend.
Not only is the female representation on the up, but we’re seeing a wider spectrum of artists as well, with big name international Florence sharing a bill with the likes of, say, Ecca Vandal, who is yet to release an EP.
One could speculate that this positive step towards better representation of women is a result of gender diversity being at the fore of lineup planning. Or perhaps we’re finally reaching an era where women are being justly recognised for their talents on a similar level to men.
With some incredibly popular releases in the past couple of years from the likes of Lorde, FKA twigs, Banks, Courtney Barnett, Grimes, Chvrches, Haim (and on, and on) it could well be the latter, with Australian music fans particularly partial to kick-ass female talent.
But 27% is still firmly in the minority, and today’s Glastonbury 2015 lineup reveal fares similarly in this musical Bechdel test, but not as well as its antipodean counterparts. 17 of the 75 Glasto artists are ladies, giving a 23% girl power rating.
It could be easy to reject arguments of gender bias on festival lineups on the grounds that they’re simply a reflection of the ratio of female to male artists in the music industry. Some statistics show it could be as low as 32% in Australia. Easy doesn’t mean right, though.
The importance of equal representation of art from both genders — which is what we’re really talking about here — is an undeniable necessity in a time when, for example, violence against women continues to run rampant, with not nearly enough attention given to eradicating its causes.
Women need more of a voice in many arenas: our communities, our digital spaces and — lest we forget our current sub-par arrangement — our governments. Why should the music industry and their festival playgrounds be any different?
Is this snail-paced swing towards gender-equal music lineups a sign of the big-wigs sitting up and listening to the rightful anger of disappointed fans who wish to see more ladies up on our stages?
The optimist in me says yes, but my inner social justice warrior flexing his typing fingers (and opening up a bag of Cheetos, because fuck stereotypes) still thinks it could be a whole lot better.
Splendour in the Grass 2015 takes place on the last weekend in July, with tickets on sale next Thursday — details and the complete lineup can be found here.
Watch: Splendour In The Grass 2015 Lineup Announcement