Hannah Ewens | Contributing Writer | Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The Festival Line-up Posters Just Highlighted The Lack Of Women In Alternative Music

The Debrief: Thank goodness it's finally a mainstream issue

Every week, something happens that requires another fresh batch of opinion pieces on inequality in music. Whether that be how white the Grammys are or how sexist a new music video is, it all serves to prove that music’s got a problem.

Last week, music blogs and fans were all in a muddle talking about a picture of the Reading and Leeds line-up that, once the bands without women in were removed, painted a sorry picture of sexual diversity. Even for someone who writes about music and is entirely aware of the status quo such as myself, it was pretty shocking to see. The line-up was bare.

This poster itself is simple, but that’s why it’s so powerful. There’s no escaping the facts. Bottom line: come August, people will be stood in a field watching the best/most popular mainstream alterative music today. Or a load of blokes with instruments.

It rightly caused a lot of debate and irritation from people wondering why there weren’t more women on the bill. But it also caused a lot of defensiveness from – predictably – a group that almost entirely consists of men saying that the poster ignores some serious considerations. Considerations like which bands are popular and would sell tickets? Which artists get enough media attention to guarantee the festival some coverage?

And, fair enough. Of course the Reading and Leeds bookers have chosen artists based on these factors. It’s business sense. If then, a festival line-up does equal popular and exciting media darlings, this line-up suggests that either there are hardly any women in alternative music, or that there are... but that they aren’t popular, successful or innovative enough to merit attention.

This stark poster makes more than just a comment on a single festival, it’s a visual representation of the alternative landscape. The question shouldn’t just be: why hasn’t Reading and Leeds booked more female acts? It should be: why has the alternative scene cultivated the kind of environment where this is acceptable?

It’s well acknowledged that there’s still great gender imbalance in alternative music scenes by people within those scenes. In hard rock, US hard rock and metal magazine Revolver hold ‘Golden Gods’ awards for achievers in the genre and then, exclusively for women the ‘Hottest Chicks in Hard Rock’, for which they’ll do a tour with bands that have an attractive female member. This year features Sick Puppies and Lacuna Coil.

In pop-punk, the genre’s biggest festival, Warped Tour, has a girl-only stage (apparently, girls with instruments still need to be separated from the men.)

As a music journalist, I’ve frequently spoken to female artists about these issues. Becca MacIntyre from Marmozets – one of the few bands with a female member on the Reading and Leeds line-up this year – agrees that women in alternative scenes are not treated equally to their male counterparts. ‘Girls in bands are still sort of treated like a gimmick,’ she told me. ‘And because there aren’t as many of us, everyone compares you straight away.’ 

It’s very true. It’s become almost an industry joke that female rock vocalists will just be compared to Hayley Williams from Paramore. Because, you know, all female rockers are interchangeable. When press releases come into my inbox, bands with female vocalists are marketed as being ‘female-fronted’. You can’t imagine a male band being called a ‘male-fronted band’ because it simply wouldn’t happen. It’s just taken for granted that a band will be all-male.

These problems are by no means exclusive to alternative music – sexism is rife in music full stop. This poster just highlights how little effort the alternative music scene makes to supporting female artists. From the completely male line-ups to the way women are marketed, I don’t believe any alternative music fan will have missed this.

But at least this year’s Reading and Leeds line-up will have bought the issue of inequality in alternative music to a mainstream audience.

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Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahRoseEwens

Tags: Festivals, Music