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Exclusive: how London music festivals have *really* improved their representation of women

Research by Time Out shows that many festival line-ups still average just 28 percent female-identifying acts

Chiara Wilkinson
India Lawrence
Written by
Chiara Wilkinson
India Lawrence

Ah, good old festival season. Nothing better, is there? No responsibilities. Lukewarm cider in hand. Crowded by the main stage with all your closest mates, sun beating down on your face. But who’s playing? Is it a group of similar-looking white men? Probably, yes.

We all know that the music industry has a lot of work to do when it comes to festival line-ups. Every year, the same crew of white male artists (most of who peaked in the 2000s, let’s be real) seem to rotate as headliners. Every year, photoshopped images of festival line-ups removing the names of male acts go viral on social media. And every year, festivals say they’ll do better. But is it all just talk?

We did some digging to find out. We took a sample of seven major London music festivals: GALA, BST Hyde Park, Wireless, Eastern Electrics, Hampton Court Palace, Hospitality Weekend in the Woods, and Community festival. Then, we analysed their 2022 and 2017 line-ups, to see what has improved (or not) in terms of gender diversity in the last five years. 

Here’s what we found…

In 2017, the year when Justin Bieber headlined BST Hyde Park and ‘Despacito’ was the song of the summer, this group of London festivals had an average of around 83 percent male-identifying acts on their line-ups. They had a tiny average of about 9 percent female-identifying acts, while the remaining acts consisted of mixed groups, record labels or collectives.

This year, in 2022, the number of male-identifying acts had decreased by 19 percent to an average of around 64 percent of the line-ups. The number of female-identifying acts increased by 19 percent to an average of about 28 percent of the line-ups. There were no non-binary artists recorded in this sample.

In 2022, male-identifying acts made up an average of around 64 percent of these festival line-ups

Sure, it’s better than it was five years ago, but with male solo artists or all-male groups continuing to make up the majority of line-ups, it’s still not great. Especially when you remember that in 2018 Keychain was set up – the PRS Foundation’s initiative for festivals to feature 50 percent women and gender minorities in their line-ups by 2022.

‘Increasing diversity in line-ups is vital to ensure that the plurality of voices involved in the creation of music is carried over to the performance or presentation of music,’ says a spokesperson for drum ’n’ bass festival Hospitality Weekend in the Woods. ‘There are, and have always been, many women making music, however women have been significantly underrepresented when it came to the performance of that music.

‘We’ve made a commitment to an increased annual percentage of women on our flagship festivals and, so far, we’ve delivered on that objective. Concurrent with that policy, we’re also running mentorship schemes for female-identifying producers.’

From our research, we found that BST Hyde Park’s 2022 line-up featured the lowest percentage of male-identifying acts – with around 41 percent female acts and around 13 percent acts made up of mixed genders. We’re talking Phoebe Bridgers, Rina Sawayama, Self Esteem, Chic, and the queen herself: Adele.

Dance music festival GALA’s line-up featured around 35 percent female acts this year, as well as 10 percent mixed-gender acts, record labels or collectives. The festival itself has grown from one day five years ago to a three-day blowout, with artists like Kokoroko, Nia Archives, and Goldie taking to the stage.

More issues persist when we start to look at the line-up representation of people of colour, minority genders and the queer community

‘There is still a long way to go,’ a GALA spokesperson said to Time Out. ‘We will continue working on our curation, as well as doing projects with cause-led groups such as Peckham Platform and Don’t Be a Creep, in order to make GALA a better and more inclusive space.’

More issues persist when we start to look at the line-up representation of people of colour, minority genders and the queer community in the London festival landscape. That might be part of the reason why there are an increasing number of new, underground festivals that have popped up in the capital in recent years, emerging to fill the gap and take it upon themselves to spotlight and cater for under-represented communities.

In April, there was Risen, the female-focused day festival in Hackney Wick. There’s the twice-yearly Dialled In, showcasing South Asian talent. There’s Decolonise, a non-profit DIY punk festival (happening September 16-18), organised by and for people of colour. And there’s also Body Movements in July and Flesh that took place in May, which both platform artists from the queer community.

The thing is, we know it’s not a hard change to make. It’s been proven that it’s possible (and even easy) to achieve an equal gender split of acts and still have a cracking line-up. London festival Wide Awake, and well as major events including Glastonbury and Primavera Sound (which set the precedent back in 2020) have all achieved a 50/50 gender split in their 2022 line-ups. So while it does feel like the landscape is improving, it’s clear that certain London festivals are still failing to take responsibility. There’s still a long way to go.

Festivals featured in this research have been contacted for comment. 

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