THERE ARE MORE women than men living in Ireland, according to the Census 2016 results.
Figures, recently released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show that, of the 4,761,865 people in Ireland, 2,407,437 are female and 2,354,428 are male (a difference of 53,009). Overall, there is a gender ratio of 97.8 males for every 100 females.
So tell me then why it is then that only 27% of the 114 acts playing three of the biggest music festivals in Ireland are made up of females or have a female vocalist/musician at the helm.
While some fare better than others – the EP Main & Other Voices Stages coming in at a ‘colossal’ 33% – the likes of Forbidden Fruit has just a miserly 16% female representation in its lineup.
The reasons for this gender imbalance remain unclear but it must be assumed that the festival organisers along with bookers & promoters, still hold an archaic view of festival going audiences ie. that despite the fact that some of the biggest selling global music artists are female (Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Beyonce) the public preference is for a male driven festival lineup.
With that in mind, let’s look at the current situation in Norway. Of the acts that have dominated the Norwegian music charts over the past twelve months, the handful of indigenous artists have either been female – Aurora, Frokedal, Astrid S, Susanna Sundfor, Sigrid, Jenny Hval (the latter was the winner of the Phonofile Nordic Music Prize 2016 for her stunning album Blood Bitch) – or female centric – Highasakite, Slotface. Norwegian, indeed most Scandi music festivals, are crammed with female talent – one look at the Trondheim Calling, by:Larm & Oya programmes for the past few years will tell you all you need to know about Nordic gender balance. Female headliners – not a problem.
So, who are the special ones? The female chosen few who’ve managed to secure much sought after places in the ranks of the festival lineup elite.
FORBIDDEN FRUIT (3-5 June, RH Kilmainham) : PROMOTERS, POD – TOTAL ACTS 25, OF WHICH FEMALE 4 — 16%
So far, of the acts announced for FF only 4 – yes FOUR – are female and/or have core female members. Now four isn’t bad, in comparison with last year’s two, we say without an ounce of sarcasm. In fact yoy FF seem to be actually doubling their female constituent parts, that number rising from 1 to 2 to 4, so that next year we should expect a ‘great eight’, no?
The Forbidden Fruit Four are – Lisa Hannigan, The Staves, Peggy Gou and Nao. Not a sniff of female in the headliners Orbital, Aphex Twin, Bon Iver or even amongst the top support acts, Booka Shade, Nicolas Jaar, Flying Lotus. Hannigan is as good as it gets in the ‘chain of command’.
LONGITUDE (14-16 July, Marlay Park) : PROMOTERS, MCD – TOTAL ACTS 47, OF WHICH FEMALE 12 — 25%
The ‘penthouse’ at Longitude is ‘so macho’ as to be disquieting where the top four tiers are filled solely by male acts. Headliners include Stormzy, The Weeknd and Mumford & Sons, none with so much as a feminine squeak. Interestingly, The Weeknd’s other half, Selena Gomez, has the globe’s biggest social media following, clocking up a gargantuan 119m followers.
Be that as it may, here are the results of the Longitude jury – Jorja Smith, Dua Lipa, HVOB, Karen Elson, Lucy Rose, Bitch Falcon, Raye, Sunflower Bean, Aine Cahill, Her, Ray Blk and Norwegian newbie Sigrid. This year’s distinguished dozen represents a 140% uplift on the 2016 lineup which featured a measly five female artists. Notwithstanding the large % increase, the figure itself remains paltry at best.
ELECTRIC PICNIC (1-3 Sept, Stradbally) : PROMOTERS, FESTIVAL REPUBLIC – TOTAL ACTS 42, OF WHICH FEMALE 14 — 33%
Top of the Festival Pops, Electric Picnic also tops all others when it comes to female inclusion – but hardly by a noteworthy margin. Featuring 14 female artists out of a possible 42 acts lined up to play their main stage plus Other Voices, EP2017 is still lagging way behind the national male:female ratios or Scandi fest averages.
Strip out the male centric acts and you’re left with a female inclusive lineup that looks as follows – The XX, Chaka Chkan, London Grammar, Annie Mac, The Pretenders, Phantogram, All We Are, Kelly Lee Owens, Goat Girl; [Other Voices] Saint Sister, Odetta Hartman, Loah, Katie Laffan, Soule.
Big up to EP for the number of Irish females included in this year’s mix but by the same token, a festival as ginormous and important as EP that prides itself as being a leader in terms of diversity and eclecticism should surely, be leading the way in terms of gender parity. Kudos for having The XX and Chaka Khan on the top rungs of the lineup ladder, but they still only make up 1/3 of the overal top 6 acts featured in this year’s programme.
While it would be easy to lay the blame at the feet of the ticket buying public, frankly in this day and age, that age-old excuse doesn’t quite cut it any longer. The fact is that in the industry itself there are several women at the top of their game – Jo Whiley, Jenny Greene, Annie Mac, Edith Bowman. In addition, there is a large cohort of female artists dominating music on a global scale – Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato, Adele, Selena Gomez, Sia, Carrie Underwood – all of whom are listed in the Top 30 best selling music artists of 2016. So, saying that women no longer ‘own it’ in a male-dominated industry, is quite frankly, bull.
In an age where women’s voices are getting louder AND being heard, what is it about the Irish Festival scene that appears to be turning both a blind eye and deaf ear to the growing trend of peer to peer, gender to gender equality within the universal music industry. Frankly Ireland, it’s not good enough. If we can look to Scandinavia as role models for matters of health and education, and if we are happy to be lead by their example, then similarly we can follow in their footsteps when it comes to equality of status, positioning and recompense when it comes to all things music.
The current trend won’t undergo any seismic shift unless bookers and promoters ‘woman up’ and start putting some serious effort into including more female artists in the lineups of our biggest festivals. Come on Ireland! Let’s starting putting the ‘equality’ into the gender equality we speak so much of! As the song goes, let’s get the balance right.
To celebrate some of the female acts playing this Summer’s Irish Festivals, we’ve run up a Females for Festivals playlist over on Spotify! Enjoy!!