This new initiative means we’ll see more women headlining UK festivals

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Moya Lothian-McLean
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80% of headliners in 2017 were men.

Each year we eagerly await the announcement of UK festival headliners. And each year we’re disappointed to discover that very few women received top billing alongside their male peers. 2018’s line-ups have proved no different. Despite last year’s furore that seemed large enough to prompt real change, the number of self-identifying women listed on festival posters, particularly in top slots, was woeful.

Now, over 45 international music festivals and conferences have signed a pledge to implement a 50/50 split of gender in their line-ups (including conferences and commissions) by 2022. The pledge is the brainchild of PRS Foundation – a UK-based organisation that supports new talent across the country through open grant schemes.

Dubbed the ‘International Keychange Initiative’ and supported by the European Union’s Creative Union programme, the pledge aims to shake-up the male-dominated world of live music. 

“We support diverse talent across every programme we run at PRS Foundation,” said Vanessa Reed, CEO of PRS Foundation in an online statement. “Our focus on gender equality in 2018 aligns with the centenary for some women being given the vote in the UK. The Keychange network of female artists and industry professionals and the festival partners’ idea of establishing a collective pledge will significantly accelerate change. I hope that this will be the start of a more balanced industry which will result in benefits for everyone.”

Among those who’ve signed the commitment are the BBC Proms, Brighton’s Great Escape and Roundhouse Rising, which supports young creatives and counts rapper Little Simz - whose own festival, Wonderland, has a 75% female programme - among their alumni. 

Notably missing are any of the UK’s most popular festivals, including Reading, Leeds, Bestival and Wireless, whose line-up this year features only three women.

Last year, it was revealed that 80% of festival headliners in the UK were male. Despite a deluge of up-and-coming female artists - including pop singer Dua Lipa who was 2017’s most streamed female artist in the UK on Spotify - there’s still a persistent failure to represent them when it comes to live performances. 

The Keychange pledge has received pushback from some industry figures though. “Is that the right way to go about it - to say it’s got to be 50/50? I don’t know that it is,” said Melvin Benn, Managing Director of Festival Republic, which oversees Wireless Festival in a BBC interview. He defended his opposition to the initiative, citing his own ReBalance project which will provide 36 female artists with a single week of studio time in the next three years. 

“I do support the principle of it [gender equality],” he claimed. “I’ve chosen a slightly different way to go about it, but with the same principal aim.”

Images: Rex Features