Wireless Festival organisers have hastily announced plans for an all-female stage at this year’s event, in a last-minute move to compensate for an overwhelmingly male-dominated line-up.
The organisers announced on Friday – just a week before the festival kicks off at London’s Finsbury Park – that a host of female acts including Lady Leshurr, Quay Dash and Paigey Cakey would appear at the Smirnoff House stage.
The move was quickly labelled tokenistic – even by some of the female performers taking part. “I think that this stage we’re doing could definitely be viewed as tokenism,” DJ Emerald told the BBC.
“But what are we going to do? Not have that stage there and have no women performing at the festival?”.
Gender imbalance on the festival circuit has been the subject of growing debate in recent years, but progress has been slow. Wireless is a prime example of this but by no means an isolated example (in past years Reading and Leeds have also come in for heavy flak).
Back in January Melvin Benn, MD of Festival Republic, the firm who organises Wireless, waxed lyrical about Wireless 2018’s “phenomenal line-up” seemingly unphased that only three out of the 37 acts were female.
Singer Lily Allen and DJ Annie Mac were quick to highlight the imbalance on Twitter, questioning how such a discrepancy was still possible in 2018.
Even now, five months after the initial backlash and with the line-up finalised, the numbers still don’t look good: only five out of 62 acts to perform on the main stage will be female.
This imbalance is a global issue, according to Equalising Music, a three-year campaign launched by drinks brand Smirnoff in 2017 with the aim of doubling the number of female headliners at festivals. It says 17% of headliners at international music festivals in 2016 were women.
Another organisation campaigning for progess is Keychange, led by the PRS Foundation. It is working to achieve a 50:50 gender balance on festival line-ups by 2022. So far 100 festivals including Kendal Calling, Bluedot, Sound City, Roundhouse Rising, BBC Proms and Eurosonic have signed up to the campaign. So perhaps change, however slow, is on its way.