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Leeds Festival 2020: inclusive or narrow-minded?

Written by Music

After seeing the Reading and Leeds lineup, which got announced a couple of weeks ago, I voiced my excitment in a Courier article. In this article, I talked about how I thought the lineup was perfect in its blending of genres. It had something for everyone. All acts and all people could appreciate the music that was on show.

Then I did a double take, after someone voiced their disgust at the lack of female inclusivity in the lineup.

Could this be true? A festival which I’ve been to a couple times since 2017, which I always saw as a hub for political open mindedness, engaging in misogyny? Well, Instagram page @bookmorewomen showed that the proof is truly in the pudding.

Source: Instagram @bookmorewomen

Posting a reviewed lineup poster, with only the acts which include at least one woman or non-binary member, showed their scarcity in the August bank holiday festival. On the main stage, one of the more popular locations for fans, only three acts over the weekend fit into this category, all early on in their respective days.

Looking at a few stats, the festival in 2018 had 19% of acts in this category, raising slightly to 21% in 2019 and 22% this year.

This brought up a big argument, ranging from industry professionals and music connoisseurs, to modern feminists understanding of the current social climate.

Let’s take a look at what some industry individuals had to say:

Annie Mac, the BBC Radio 1 DJ, stated her distaste at the lineup. She tweeted: “Feeling so disheartened about this Reading and Leeds line up. At the blatant lack of want to represent women. For all the 16 year old girls going to their first festival at Reading and Leeds 2020. Just know that you DO belong on those stages.”

Similar words were voiced by other professionals, such as Maggie Rogers, who jokingly tweeted “omg i love dudes plus dudes with more dudes and side of dudes”.

However, one of the more interesting perspectives, and perhaps linking in to how we can evolve the future of festival lineups and music, was the words of The 1975’s Matty Healy. Healy has never been one to silence his opinions on many political injustices, and he even headlined the festival last year. 

On twitter, after initially voicing his happiness at seeing Rage Against The Machine headline the festival, he responded to The Guardian’s deputy music editor, Laura Snapes.

Laura stated “Rage would be a dope booking if they used their leverage to demand equality on the bill”, and Matty respond with “Shit that’s so fucking true”.

Further discussions resulted in Healy stating his approval of a new contract for his band, in the hopes to better the future. This contract would see the band only play festivals committed to 50% on the lineup being women and non binary performers.

He tweeted: “Take this as me signing this contract – I have agreed to some festivals already that may not adhere to this and I would never let fans down who already have tickets. But from now I will and believe this is how male artist can be true allies”

Sadly, during the time I’ve been producing this article, we’ve seen the backlash of a certain musician at the NME Music Awards this year. Slowthai, who’s listed to be performing at this year’s Reading and Leeds, engaged in rather physical and unwanted actions with the award host, Katharine Ryan, stating “[Katharine] wants me to tend to her flower” and constantly referred to her as “baby girl”. This was before someone in the crowd accused him of being a misogynist, to which he jumped into the crowd, having a scrap, and getting kicked out.

For someone in such a privileged position, his seemingly bulletproof nature on stage sets a dangerous precedent for men in the industry. Some made links between the rapper and R Kelly. Personally, I hope that the act didn’t reflect his true intentions, and a combination of the stage and alcohol inspired him to make such a horrendous error.

He voiced his apologies on twitter, stating
“@nme please forward my award to [Katharine] or she is the hero of the year. what started as a joke between us escalated to a point of shameful actions on my part. i want to unreservedly apologise, there is no excuse and I am sorry. i am not a hero.”

However, it’s important to know that a single tweet won’t correct this mistake, and with some twitter users urging him to be taken off the Reading and Leeds lineup, and cancel culture in full swing, only the next few days will show how the consequences of his actions.

Looking back to the Leeds lineup, many twitter users voiced clashing opinions. Many appreciated the arguments of Healy, Mac and Rogers, admitting that Festival Republic should evolve from their masculine bias. On the other side, many Twitter users suggested that the lineup isn’t a result of misogyny, but the fact that the majority of popular acts are male.

One of these twitter users argued “Reading and Leeds has historically been a rock festival. Gotta be honest there aren’t a great deal of female rock artists alone let alone ones big enough to headline”.

Personally, I can see both sides of the argument. Whilst many acts of the lineup are male and, subsequently, only 22% are female or including a non-binary member, whether this is a result of the festival or the music industry in general is significant. Similarly, the fact that of the acts in this category in this lineup, they’re much lower down and playing much smaller stages, hence their public appearance and image will be affected.

With Reading and Leeds yet to fully respond to the allegations, and 7 months until the festival starts, it will be interesting to see how both festival goers and musicians acknowledge this inequality, and how we can hopefully adjust the industry to become more inclusive. We’ve already seen movements emerge in the industry, such as ‘SafeGigs4Women’, and at Leeds last year Frank Carter, during his set, urged the crowd to appreciate the women in the crowd and allow them to feel safe during the festival.

However, with this recent lineup, it’s clear that more has to be done.

Last modified: 27th February 2020

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