Girls to the front: why gender is still a headline issue at festivals

How hard can it be to have equal gender representation on festival bills? As Primavera proves, not hard at all

The festival lineup poster with all of the male artists’ names taken out, leaving behind a limp smattering of female acts, is now something of an annual tradition. The worst culprits are always at the rockier end of the spectrum, the events at which bottles of piss are flung with abandon, moshpit gropings are a grim inevitability and innovative teens constantly come up with new ways to get hospitalised for alcohol poisoning.

This year, however, one festival has finally realised it’s not that hard to have an equal split of lads and ladies on the bill. So Primavera Sound, please take a bow – or a curtsy – you do you, babes. The Barcelona festival’s “new normal” initiative has set a gold standard of equality when it comes to who you’ll be watching entertain you this summer, as you wonder if you should leave early on the Sunday to beat the rush leaving the site. (The answer, by the way, is always yes.)

“We need to change the ‘pale, male and stale’ paradigm,” explains Marta Pallarès, Primavera’s head of press. “We wanted to show that the likes of Tame Impala, Guided By Voices or Stereolab can happily live together with trap divas and reggaeton queens.” It’s this commitment that means the Primavera lineup isn’t just one of the most right-on bills of the summer, but also one of the best. The middle-aged blokes are still there (hello Jarvis, Primal Scream and Interpol!), but there’s a thrilling diversity in sound as well as gender thanks to the three-day event’s fresh approach. Like a whistlestop tour through your most genre-hopping friend’s Spotify account, they’ve got London MC Flohio up alongside pop royalty Robyn and Carly Rae Jepsen, DJ Peggy Gou, Solange, Neneh Cherry, Lizzo, Tirzah and basically every woman who’s released music in the past year that made you go “Oooh, not bad”.

Pallarès is open about how this move did not actually require much work aside from a passion to shake up the industry. “It can be done now and it should be done now, but you need to want it. We hope that our move can spark change,” she says. So is anyone else following their lead?

The answer is sadly a resounding “meh”. Last year, many smaller festivals pledged to comply with the Performing Rights Society’s Keychange 50/50 plan. But the big boys are still lagging. Yet again, Wireless and Download are sausage parties of the meatiest order, while Reading and Leeds are allowing just three women on their main stage and All Points East has only one female headliner across six days. That said, medium-sized events such as Green Man and End of the Road look more promising. But, as a disgruntled Lily Allen commented last year when posting a basically text-free picture of the Wireless lineup with female names only, “the struggle is real”. Do better, guys. As Primavera has proved, it’s not that difficult.


Leonie Cooper

The GuardianTramp

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