We are proud to be able to announce that we are a Keychange Associate Festival. Keychange is a pioneering European Initiative which empowers women to transform the future of the music industry and encourages festivals to sign up to a 50:50 gender balance. Other festivals involved include Iceland Airwaves, Musik Centrum Sweden, Bluedot, Cheltenam Jazz Festival and Liverpool International Festival.
Gender balance in music festival line-ups has been a recurring theme in recent years with some major festivals been called out for an almost non-existent female presence. Yet even supposedly enlightened audiences are often critical of what they see as positive discrimination with regards to how line-ups are pieced together. So we thought we should explain why we have chosen to do this, to ensure you all this isn’t a tokenistic or empty gesture.
It was interesting to see a backlash from BBC 6Music audiences on recent coverage of Keychange. The disparity usually comes from artists and audiences. On the whole, audiences are generally not interested on the gender of a performers, as long as they are good. And, so the argument goes, women should get onto line-ups purely on merit, not through enforced gender balance quotas.
As a promoter and an encourager of the arts, we see things differently. We believe music and the arts can have a hugely beneficially impact on society and on the individuals within it. As Morrissey refered to them – “The Songs That Saved Your Life”. There is no doubt from our experience that music and culture are a hugely positive influence on mental health and on cultivating communities and creating joint experiences.
So in turn we believe promoting the message that music and the arts has its door open to all is essential. An artform that has an overwhelming number of male participants is less likely to appeal to non-male observers because, especially when we are young, we need someone to hold that door open for us, or at least show us where it is. And it helps if that person is relatable in some way. It’s human nature. So more female artists increases the likelihood for more female artists.
But does that mean we are booking ‘inferior’ artists just to appeal to non-male audiences? Absolutely not. For one, there are enough talented non-male artists out there to fill Long Division ten times over. It means we are committing to the importance of prominent female voices in what we do. Right now, making a public commitment is a way to have the public hold us accountable. It’s not the easiest way, and we set ourselves up for scrutiny. But it will keep us on a path that will lead to a world where gender splits are not even discussed because the opportunities have become equal for all genders. Then the quotas can be dropped and the audiences can just enjoy the music, as they always will have.