The lockdown period was an opportune time for the music scene to reconsider and reflect on the pressing issues surrounding the gender equality within the scene.
As the festival season comes to a close, it feels like there has been minuscule progress made with gender equality. These issues have been addressed, but not necessarily actioned. Whilst the music industry can’t be transformed overnight, there were definitely missed opportunities to curate equal line-ups. This issue is especially rife within dance music and especially within the drum and bass scene.
The PRS foundation established an initiative encouraging music festivals to pledge to commit to lineups featuring 50% women and gender minorities by 2022. However, with 2022 just round the corner, only a small handful of UK festivals have followed this initiative.
Strawberries and Creem is one of the few UK major festivals emphasising the gender imbalance within bookings and have taken the step to ensure that this year’s lineup was entirely 50:50. The festival’s initial lineup announcement consisted of 70% male performers, however, the Cambridge based event took the time to make a turnaround. Strawberries and Creem’s actions is a prime example of how it is possible to make changes, but it is a matter of whether the people behind the festival are willing to do so.
This raises the question – why can’t you just do it? It’s easy to pull the covid card and say that after a hard year, promoters need to book acts that will bring in ticket sales and that these acts happen to be male… However, it mostly seems like an excuse to not take any responsibility to address these issues.
This year’s Creamfields featured a 91% male lineup and as a dance festival, it’s really disheartening to see. There was a lot ‘pledging’ and ‘vowing’ within the scene over the lockdown period and how things will be different once festivals can operate and venues reopen. Yet, it does feel like progress has been stagnant and we’re stuck in yesteryear, with the same lineups churned repeatedly. It’s evident that women and gender minorities are criminally underrepresented within dance music – especially drum and bass.
Unfortunately, it seems that many promoters book a few females and gender minorities here and there to cover their own backs. Things won’t change within the industry if promoters are merely trying fill a quota. This needs to be at the top of festival promoter’s agendas, along with women’s safety. Strawberries and Creem have tackled this problem by introducing the first ever ‘Safe Spaces Now’ in a partnership with UN Women. The ‘Safe Spaces Now’ campaign aims to combat sexual harassment and violence against women and marginalised groups at live events. This initiative also includes volunteers that help that accompany those that feel unsafe back to their campsites.
“The pandemic has shown us that change can happen more easily than we thought – we just have to dare to believe in better,” said Claire Barnett, Executive Director of UN Women, reiterating the fact that it’s simply a choice whether festival promoters decide to engage in these initiatives.
Barnett is hopeful that others will follow suit. “Now we are using the momentum this partnership has created to encourage commitments from labels, studios, venues and festivals across the sector. If there was ever a time to transform the music industry to make it safer and more inclusive, this is it.”
Co-Founder of Strawberries and Creem, Chris Jammer, also hopes that their example will prompt other festivals to build safe spaces. “Together with UN Women UK, we have built a foundation for what safe spaces could look like at future festivals,” said Jammer. “We hope to have inspired other businesses in the sector, and we promise to share our learnings and keep championing safe spaces for all people.”
There was an undeniable positive atmosphere at Strawberries and Creem and The Girls Can’t DJ takeover on the Notting Hill Carnival Stage accentuated the feeling of female empowerment throughout the festival. It was heartwarming to see Strawberries and Creem make such an immense effort to tackle pressing issues. The season may be over, but with festival tickets going on sale soon along with lineup reveals, it will interesting to observe whether any substantial changes will be made in 2022.
The dance music scene should unquestionably follow in Strawberries and Creem’s footsteps. This is especially important now, throughout a time where we’re being left to question whether anything is being done to ensure women’s safety in the UK. It is imperative that the dance music scene do everything they can for a fairer, safer future for women and gender minorities in the scene.