We, as Irish people, love a good festival. Every year we wait patiently for the likes of Electric Picnic or Body & Soul to throw out their ever-expanding lists of who’ll be rocking the fields that summer, before spending the equivalent of a month’s rent on tickets, tents and tins of Carlsberg … a typical cycle which we are well accustomed to. However, have we ever stopped to take a critical look at who exactly is playing our festivals? Well of course not, we’re too busy trying to decide which low-cut vests to buy or whether or not Penneys is the best choice for high-quality wellies.
It’s a sensitive issue and one that has lead to vicious debates on certain online forums, but the notion of a gender gap within music festival line-ups is one that we shouldn’t actively ignore. Are less women being booked to make room for successful male artists? Are festival organisers conscious of this? In order to gauge this accurately, let’s take a look at the line-ups for the past five years of Forbidden Fruit, a popular Dublin music and arts festival which takes place each summer.
After a thorough examination of each year’s line-up, it was concluded that more than 260 male acts were booked for the festival, with only 34 female acts being booked within the same time. Bands and groups comprised of mostly male musicians totalled 19 while two groups which were comprised of mostly female members were booked during the same time period. Groups with a perfect balance of male and female artists came to 14. This shows, as displayed in the graph above, that over 79 percent of acts booked for the festival for the past five years have been solely male while only 10 percent have been female. The question lingers, is this acceptable?
“As someone who has had experience in working at festivals in Ireland, everything from smaller niche festivals to Electric Picnic, I am not shocked by the current stats on the lack of female performers at festivals,” explained Ellen Clarke, a BA Creative Cultural Industries graduate who has bountiful experience in festival production after working on the likes of Electric Picnic.
“In my opinion, even the smaller organisations that label themselves as conscious of these recurring issues are still falling into the trap of inviting more well-known male artists to be part of their events because they feel that it will give them the publicity they need. This is creating a vicious cycle which needs to be broken. I am not someone who believes that there should be a 50/50 split in male/female involvement but the representation of the female side is clearly extremely lacking and this, in my view, is not because the right people aren’t available. It’s more about organisers and management overlooking these people,” said Clarke.
Breaking a cycle such as this one can be a difficult task. Festivals like Forbidden Fruit have been going on for a number of years now, typically run by the same promoters, booking agents, stage managers, etc. What they believe to be the right way of doing things, from booking acts to deciding which style of barriers they’re going to use, will undoubtedly be hard to change. However, we are beginning to see conversation take place surrounding the issue. This can only be positive of course.
Last March, the popular Irish music blogger Nialler9 publicly voiced his concern surrounding the lack of female artists booked for Higher Visions, a electronic music festival which took place on St. Patrick’s Day in Bellurgan Park, Co. Louth. He openly tweeted his annoyance towards the festival promoters which in turn led to an open online debate with popular Dublin DJs such as DJ Deece and Kaily getting involved. Some praised the blogger for raising the issue, while others were quick to defend the new festival claiming that it wasn’t a conscious decision.
Recently a local house DJ, Conor Foley, experienced a similar situation when he reiterated Nialler9’s point in the Four/Four music group, an open forum which focuses on Dublin’s nightclub scene, on Facebook. His post wasn’t warmly welcomed and was received with mixed opinions from commenters.
“From my experience, most promoters are aware of the idea of a gender gap. Some choose to not believe it’s due to anything untoward or in their control such as structural sexism and whether that is due to convenience or not we’ll never know,” explained Foley.
“Promoters do have a tough job booking the right lineup at the right price as is and often the equality of the lineup is understandably left til the last thought. A booker for the Red Bull stage at Life festival told me recently that one year he had the lineup locked in for the full weekend and only realised then that he hadn’t included a single female, which he regretted deeply,” he continued.
A similar study was done in the US by Alanna Vagianos of HuffPost where she looked at the gender gap within American music festivals. To quote her, she believes…
“The root of the disconnect between the number of women on stage and the number of women in the crowd may lie partially in the male-dominated subcultures these festivals were founded out of.”
Should Ireland follow this example of ignoring the problem and pretend that everything’s all good? For the future of our incredible music scene, let’s hope not.
By Conor Shields