Turn Up The Volume Female Focus

What’s it like on the festival scene as a female artist? You would have hoped that it was an even split in terms of gender.  But the damning stats, according to Female Pressure Analysis of 166 Global Electronic Festivals (2012-2019) show that only 17.3% of acts are female, 6.9% are mixed acts and a staggering majority of 74% are male.  In 2018, Wireless Festival only booked 5 female acts. We know that there are thousands of female artists, we know that there are fantastic female musicians in every genre, so it is not down to lack of talent available, just gender inequality and a male-dominated industry not making the necessary steps for parity.

Two years ago, 45 Festivals signed up to the Keychange Pledge to close the gender gap and have a 50/50 split by 2022, including the BBC Proms, Cheltenham Jazz Festival and Liverpool Sound City. With Covid-19 thrown into the mix, and putting the live music scene on temporary hold, it will be interesting to see if they achieve the ‘new look’ gender-equal festival line-up next year and are held to account if they do not fulfil their promise.

Sophie Burke, a musical director, arranger and saxophonist from South London founded The Daisy Chains; an award winning, all female, rock n roll vintage band.  Sophie wrote to Twinwood festival asking to be on the bill but received no response or acknowledgement to her letter. She experienced similar rejection and lack of acknowledgement from other festivals, such as Goodwood Revival, which she says is very frustrating. “I know they have similar [male] bands; we should be on the list”. 

It was only when Twinwood ran a Newcomers Competition that the band had their break. “This was the only way in”, recalled Sophie.  They entered and got through to the finals. The following year they were on the bill, opening the festival on the Main Stage.  “Rock n roll is traditionally a very male-heavy genre. Having a female saxophonist is seen as trendy and fashionable, but having a female guitarist, especially bass guitar, or a female drummer, it is still unusual; it’s considered a masculine role. It shouldn’t be!”  It seems ridiculous that musical instruments are still ‘gendered’. What makes a man more suited to playing the guitar or trumpet than a woman?  Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, The Daisy Chains took part in their first online festival, the Bournemouth Shake and Stir. Even this online festival was male heavy, and most bands were either male, or majority-male.  

It is the same story across musical theatre too. There are very few female musical directors working in theatre compared to male.  According to UK Music’s 2018 Diversity Report, 49% of the music workforce are female, and yet the in January 2018, the Musician’s Union published a survey that found that under 10% of the West End orchestra pits were female players.  “People seem shocked when you sit down at the piano, they expect you to be playing a little tune, and then you tell them you’re the MD and they’re surprised. It’s massively important for the little girls watching [the show] to see a woman leading the pit, taking authority, and counting everyone in”.

Let us hope that when live entertainment comes back after the pandemic, it is a different, more equitable landscape for our female talent both on stage and off, the 50/50 pledge is realised, and the festival scene is changed for the better for the future generations.

 Deborah Stinton March 2021