Here’s How Standon Calling Became The First Major UK Festival To Achieve A 50/50 Gender Split

Organiser Alex Trenchard on meeting their Keychange pledge...

Hertfordshire festival Standon Calling is pioneering the change to festivals we've been needing for decades. The four day family-friendly festival has officially fulfilled their Keychange pledge, confirming over 50% of their 2022 line-up will be comprised of female and non-binary artists.  

This year's bill also includes several female performers such as Sigrid, Anne-Marie, Sugababes, and Annie Mac, performing across multiple stages carefully curated for balanced representation of gender (and, of course, quality entertainment).

Sigrid, due to appear on the main stage at Standon Calling, said, “I’m beyond thrilled to return to festival stages after so long, and it’s cool to see real progress with the gender split – I hope it can be inspiring for other festivals. My band and I can't wait to play Standon Calling and join all the brilliant women on the line up!”

Having a line-up representing talent without prejudice is significantly positive news for a sector that otherwise possesses a lacklustre male to non-male ratio of performers. Standon Calling seeks to inspire widespread change, and show the music industry that gender parity at festivals is not only possible, but powerful.

Clash spoke to the festival's organiser, Alex Trenchard, on why diversity in Standon Calling was important to him.

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What was the process behind organising a line-up of equal representation?

Around 2018, we signed up to this Keychange pledge. At the time, I think we were probably up to about 30% [female line-up]. It felt like quite a mountain but at Standon Calling, we'd always tried to kind of have as diverse a line-up as possible, not just in terms of gender, but also in terms of music and musical styles. But one of the areas we noticed that we were not as diverse as we could have been was gender. So when PRS launched the whole Keychange pledge, we signed up. I think we were one of 500 organisations to sign up then. We're very proud to be I think, one of three organisations that hit the pledge in 2022, which was the target.

Was it daunting, trying to hit a target of 50% non-male acts?

It's been a kind of gradual thing. I mean, last year, our 2021 line-up was at about 45%. In 2018 we were at 30%, and then up to about 40% in 2019. It did feel quite a challenge at the time. I worked with two bookers (Amy Lord and Rob Lee) in that time and when we looked at the bill, it felt like quite a tall order. But when we broke it down by stage, that was when we started to see it might be possible. We took another step in this direction in 2018 when Amy booked the Laundry Meadows stage – our more indie stage second stage. She made Sunday an all-female or non binary line-up and that really showed it could be done on one day, all on one stage. Then we decided to go a step further and look at ensuring that elsewhere at the festival, each day on each stage was a kind of even split.

Did you face any challenges?

Of course in some areas we found it easier than in others. For example, some have a certain vision of indie bands, but we've actually found that there's so much talent coming through that isn't just white blokes with a guitar. When you look to the whole bill, the most difficult was DJs and electronic music production – areas often made up of men. One of the things we've done this year that's really helped us get to 50 percent is focusing on the DJs. Jamz Supernova and Annie Mac lead our Friday at Electric Willows, our dance music stage out in a wood. That's an all-female day. We've worked with them to ensure sets for female and non binary artists that they want to support. And then we even go on a stage further to one of the last male preserves of new music – the world of Garage. That's what we're really excited about, because 24 Hour Garage Girls have curated a pretty much all- female line-up. People felt that that was impossible but actually, there's so many good female DJs coming through that we're excited about that as well.

Why is diversity and gender parity in Standon Calling's line-up important to you?

I always think firstly from the perspective of my audience, and secondly, for what's important to me. Standon Calling is a multi-generational festival. It has people of all different ages and all different demographics – our whole approach is that everyone is welcome at Standon Calling. We very much want to create an open and welcoming festival, and, as part of that, we want to ensure a balanced line-up and gender equality. We also have 4000 under-13s at Standon Calling and it's important to us and particularly to our family audience who bring their kids, that girls and young women can see themselves through other women represented on stage. The second reason is I felt that whilst festivals became mainstream over the last 20 years, the whole representation of women and non-binary people really moved forward. It has been noticeable that festivals, which were created to be at the forefront of pushing cultural boundaries, are not keeping pace with the rest of society. That, for me, was surprising given that the whole ethos of music festivals has always been to be progressive. I felt that needed to be addressed. And this goes on – it's not something that we can now say, "Oh, we've achieved it this weekend, we can rest on our laurels." I think every year it's something we want to continue to ensure that we deliver: a balanced line-up that represents men, women, and non binary people to our audience who are made up of those same genders.

Do you have any advice for other festival organisers considering changing their line-ups?

You have to start with your audience. Think about the makeup of your audience, and how can you make your audience feel most at home and have the best possible experience at your event. It's only when an audience feels that they're being represented that they can really enjoy themselves and discover new things, which is ultimately for me what festivals are about.

Which acts are you most excited to see play Standon Calling this year?

Self Esteem, CMAT, Kelly Lee Owens, and then on the pop side Sugababes and Sigrid.

What do you hope music festivals will look like in 10 years?

I hope that music festivals will continue to be places where diverse people of different backgrounds and demographics can come together. One of the impacts of digitalization of culture is that people don't come together in the way they used to. When they come together online, it's more often for conflict via social media. I think one of the areas festivals have a real part to play is in bringing people together so that they meet people with diverse opinions, and bridge cultural and political divides. I think that for festivals to continue to be relevant, this is an important direction of travel. That's my hope.

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Standon Calling runs between July 21st – 24th.

Words: Gem Stokes
Photo Credit: Chris Cowley

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