In an era where festivals continue to be dominated by men, Neighbourhood Weekender and Wireless festival have added fuel to the fire with bills dedicated to boys. Sam Lambeth investigates why this occurs and why it needs to stop.
Festivals have been ripe for debate for quite some time. Last year alone, there were issues with skyrocketing fees, poor weather preparation and, in terms of Liverpool’s Hope and Glory, pretty much everything else going wrong. Remove these threats, however, and another prevalent concern has been the lack of female representation across festival bills.
In recent times, around 86 percent of festival bands consist of all men. At hard-rocking institution Download, it was a whopping 94 percent. Sadly, in 2018, the first flushes of festival reveals seem likely to continue this unfortunate trend – Neighbourhood Weekender and, most current, Wireless Festival have both announced line-ups that are so largely devoted to male performers a quick removal of them shows barely anything more than a blank page.
Festivals know their audiences. For example, Neighbourhood Weekender has obviously geared itself towards the kind of people who have wet dreams about wild weekends with Tim Lovejoy. Reverend & The Makers rub shoulders with the likes of Blossoms and The Sherlocks, the latter another recent and tiresome example of self-anointed anachronisms declaring themselves “the future of British guitar music.” On the surface, it’s a shudder-inducing lad-a-geddon of a festival, the sound of sloshing Red Stripe interspersed with knuckle-dragging swagger.
However, of course, both genders will attend this festival, just like how Wireless Festival will attract both men and women. And, provisionally, there is nothing wrong with that. Both festivals know that these bands will pull in the numbers, both festivals will argue that sacrificing certain bands in order to tick an equal gender quota would not be beneficial in the long run. But in simply showcasing male acts and largely avoiding female artists shows a narrow-mindedness that affects the very core of why festivals exist.
Festivals are meant to inspire, educate and be eclectic. They’re meant to showcase classic bands among new, exciting artists. For example, last year’s Truck Festival boasted a vast array of bands with girls in, the likes of HINDS, The Big Moon and Sløtface slotting seamlessly in with the likes of Franz Ferdinand and The Vaccines. To younger audience members, particularly female ones, seeing Black Honey could inspire them to not only pick up an instrument but also to believe that festival slots are likely – would a young girl at Neighbourhood Weekender get that same jolt of inspiration watching The Pigeon Detectives plod through 30 minutes? Incidentally, the only female band confirmed at Neighbourhood is The Big Moon, whose presence sticks out so dramatically they should consider naming themselves ‘The Sore Thumb’.
As Lily Allen attested when denouncing the Wireless Festival line-up, “the struggle is real.” What leaves a particularly sour taste, especially with Neighbourhood Weekender, is the fact some of the male performers have courted controversial claims in the past. Miles Kane’s presence on the bill adds insult to injury – lest we forget that in 2016, while still riding on the bequiffed coattails of fellow dickhead Alex Turner, he frequently made a female journalist uncomfortable by asking her out and frequently rubbing his crotch.
You could also argue that by devoting the bills to male performers, both festivals have suffered a real decline in quality. Neighbourhood Weekender provides a headline slot to Courteeners, whose rise to power has been as baffling and troubling as Trump and May put together. Then there’s Jake Bugg, a man who takes as much pleasure from gigs as most of us do from colonoscopies.
There will be festivals this year that get the balance right. There will be festivals this year that will, hopefully, give female bands leading slots. We have groups as disparate but great as Wolf Alice, Paramore, HAIM and the returning Distillers that could stake worthwhile claims. Neighbourhood and Wireless, though, may not have to answer any difficult questions, but they’re not doing gender representation any favours.
Sam Lambeth is a journalist, writer and musician, born in the West Midlands but currently living in London. He performs in his own band, Quinn. He is on Twitter, and more of his work can be found in his archive.