This Week’s Festival Announcements Demonstrate A Resistance To Change

A blank canvas is being used to paint a depressingly familiar picture...

2020 was an appalling, genuinely horrific year for live music. An entire sector was wiped out, while government assistance – when it eventually arrived – was paltry, and earned across-the-board condemnation from professionals on the ground.

At times, it felt as though only the love of ordinary music fans was preventing the entire live music infrastructure from collapsing. The outstanding work done by the Music Venue Trust to organise and rally crowdfunding campaigns allowed countless venues to keep the doors open, saving numerous jobs in the process.

It was done, though, with a caveat – everyone knew that live music wasn’t perfect, that the system was proving to be resistant to change. From poor pay for support bands to the lack of representation on festival bills, money was donated in the hope not just that our favourite venues could survive, but that something good, something better could emerge from the rubble.

Perhaps that’s why this week’s rally of festival announcements has ruffled so many feathers. Victorious Festival on the south coast went first, and its cavalcade of male headliners spawned a viral meme, with all of its paltry selection of female artists highlighted.

The Isle of Wight festival went next. Pushing its weekend-long event to September, the reconstituted event confirmed the first names on its bill a few hours ago, with Liam Gallagher, Duran Duran, and Snow Patrol all set to play. Female artists were sorely lacking in the announcement, and indeed this is a criticism that has been labelled at the Isle Of Wight festival for some time now.

Noting this, one Clash reader responded: “Hate to be THAT guy but I prefer the 1970 line-up more. This is the same festival. (speaking of female acts, 1970 had Joni. 2021, in comparison…)”

Finally, TRNSMT has just confirmed plans for its overhauled event. The Glasgow Green festival caused up-roar in 2019 when founder Geoff Ellis suggested that not enough women were forming bands, a potential means to explain the gender bias on their bill. At the time, he said: “We all know there aren’t a lot of festival headliners out there. It’s been the case for the past decade.”

Leaving aside the factual dishonesty of that statement, it’s worth pointing out the names on this year’s line up: a now ubiquitous Liam Gallagher, COVID denier Ian Brown, Courteeners, and The Chemical Brothers, who swoop to replace local-crooner-made-good Lewis Capaldi.

Responding to our tweet, Clash readers made their thoughts clear. One said simply: “Why are these festivals targeting men in their 50s by only books bands in their 50s?” – Another added: “State of this mate, you'd think that female artists don't even exist looking at this line up. Music festivals need to do better for gender equality, it's not hard there are loads of amazing women musicians and we're all fed up with having the same discussion year after year.”

It’s a sorry state of affairs, one that abuses the trust placed by so many fans in the live music sector. Why go through the pain and anguish of a music-free summer only to be confronted by a series of organisations so resistant to change, so hesitant to move forwards? We have no doubt that a great many people will buy tickets for these events – a high proportion of fans may well be women, too. But it’s gnawing to see the glacial pace of change laid out so clearly.

2019 – the last true festival summer before the pandemic – ended with a feeling that the discussion had reached the mainstream, that organisations such as Keychange were beginning to effect widespread change within live music. More and more festivals had signed up to the 50/50 pledge, with the likes of Primavera and End Of The Road – amongst others – leading the way in terms of authentic representation and thrilling, challenging bills.

This week’s announcements show that the blank canvas offered by the pandemic has been used by all too many events to draw a depressingly familiar picture.

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Words: Robin Murray

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