Is there still inequality in festival lineup selection?

Isle Of Wight
Isle Of Wight

Isle Of Wight Festival: only five female performers announced to play the main stage this year. Pic: Wikimedia Commons/Liz Murray

Leading figures discuss why women and new artists continue to be overlooked for the key slots on UK festival lineups

In 2018, Liam Gallagher, Stereophonics, Kasabian, The Manic Street Preachers and Craig David were billed multiple times at festivals including, Reading and Leeds, TRNSMT, RiZe and Isle Of Wight. While the bookies favourites to headline this year’s Glastonbury, alongside Stormzy, are The Cure and The Killers. Many people blame general sexism for the exclusion of female artists at festivals, but is that the whole picture?

Festivals like any business need to make a profit, but are older, established artists more effective at pulling in the crowds then newer acts? At the time of writing, The Specials, Busted and Ian Brown occupy three of the top five spaces on the official UK album chart, proving that these artists are anything but irrelevant.

“In the festival and outdoor market we are consistently repeating headliners every year,” says AEG Presents co-CEO Steve Homer. “We have to look at how we can develop new artists into these positions or we run the risk of exhausting the talent pool.”

Since 2015, when a Guardian report found that 86 percent of performers across 12 UK festivals were men, the argument highlighting gender imbalance at events has gathered momentum. However, only five of the 19 artists announced to play the main stage at this year’s Isle Of Wight festival are female.

In 2018, Wireless festival added a female only stage in response to a backlash due to the lack of female artists on its line up. While Keychange and the PRS Foundation has committed to achieve a 50/50 gender balance by 2022. Festival Republic has also since announced their ReBalance scheme: a three-year project that offers artists studio time and festival slots, and apprenticeships to women wanting to work behind the scenes.

According to Lucy Wood, a booker for Latitude, it all comes down to who has an album out and which of those artists can pull the biggest crowds that determines festival headliners. “We need to think about tickets sales,” said Lucy. “We look at people who are arena level or above… I have real sympathy for other festival bookers because there could have been a year where there aren’t many female artists releasing albums.”

Norwegian singer Sigrid made her first appearance at Isle Of Wight last year off the back of two EP releases and she will play again this year a few months after the release of her debut album. It appears that if initiatives like the Keychange and PRS 50/50 gender balance is going to work then there needs to be more female artists releasing more music more frequently.

Ariana Grande recently released her second album in six months. The singer wants to “put out music in the way that a rapper does.” Grande believes there is a double standard in the music industry that restricts female artists by imposing strict release schedules, whereas men are allowed more freedom when bringing out new albums.

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