Why have this year’s festival lineups caused so much controversy?
In winter months festival announcements serve as a glimmer of summer, that a weekend watching bands in the sun may not be too far away. But this year’s announcements have been met with an intense level of scrutiny over genre, gender and headliner deja vu. Here are the key questions the big festivals have thrown up.
While we’re focusing on the biggest festivals, to understand whether there’s a split between different markets, the festivals we’re looking at are; All Points East, Latitude, Reading and Leeds, TRNSMT, Lovebox, Wireless, British Summer Time, Bestival, and Parklife.
Where are the women?
The biggest talking point recently when it comes to festival season is that there’s not enough female representation on line-ups. While 60% of festival goers being women, if any of those want to see female representation on stage they may need struggle.
There are promising signs for the future, as the newest festival on our list, All Points East (APE), offers three headlining artists featuring female performers – with headliners LCD Soundsystem, The XX and Bjork.
Bestival is typically strong as well with representation, with London Grammar and M.I.A announced to top the bill in Dorset. The festival’s booker, Rob Da Bank, told the BBC that this was an important part of organising the festival, “”We counted it up two weeks ago and almost a quarter of our acts are female – which I know is nowhere near the 50 [per cent] it should be but it’s more than a lot of other festivals.”
However it is a typically dismal affair from the traditional big festivals however. Reading and Leeds will have no female representation despite having four headliners, and TRNSMT – the replacement for T in the Park – have announced six different headliners but without a single female featuring amongst, and only five acts featuring women have been confirmed to play at the festival at all so far.
From the data available, the nine festivals we’re primarily looking at, there are 31 headline slots with just seven acts featuring women involved. If you want to narrow it down to all-female acts, that goes down to just three.
The discussion gained traction after famous stars such as Lily Allen shared a poster of Wireless’ line-up without men.
Here are edits we made to show the contrast for some of the most controversial line-ups. (the bottom of the Parklike poster features collectives that are yet to announce their DJs, so could still be all-male).
What’s being done for the future?
Festival organisers have been aware of the criticism, 45 festivals around the world to commit to booking a 50/50 split of male and female artists by 2022. In the UK none of the larger festivals have signed up (most likely because it’s impractical to promise anything with hundreds of slots to fill), but if attitudes begin to change you’d suspect they’d follow in time.
The UK festivals that have pledged for equal representation include; Liverpool Sound City, The Great Escape, Kendal Calling and Bluedot. The full list can be found here.
Is indie/rock in decline?
Across the traditional indie and rock festivals, or festivals that cater to a similar audience (Reading/Leeds, TRNSMT, Latitude, APE and Bestival), there does seem to be a move away from traditional guitar bands.
There’s no foolproof definition of genres, but apart from TRNSMT, there’s definitely an embrace of pop music. Reading and Leeds will argue that Panic! At The Disco and Fall Out Boy both constitute being traditional headliners for the festival, but alongside Kendrick Lamar (both genre and popularity-wise) it seems a world away from popular recent headliners Arctic Monkeys, Foo Fighters and Metallica.
If anything, The Killers and Alt-J, who are headlining Latitude – also organised by Festival Republic – seem like a more natural fit for R&L, even if both bands are past their commercial peak.
Bestival has always flirted with indie, but aside from London Grammar’s headline slot it seems Rob Da Bank has gone for more alternative names such as Grace Jones, rather than typically huge ones.
Meanwhile the new festival All Points East goes for a more traditional indie line-up with LCD Soundsystem, The XX and Bjork, posturing itself to fans of 00’s indie, but refusing to go down the rock route – possibly a sign that there’s just not the interest to start a major festival for that audience in 2018.
If you are keen for guitar music, there has been a steady rise in popularity of smaller festivals which indie-rock heavy line-ups. Kendal Calling, Truck Festival and Victorious all feature similar headliners for fans already nostalgic for 00’s indie.
Where are the new headliners?
One criticism of major festivals is a reluctance to bring new artists through and give them headline slots. This year this has improved, though, out of the 31 headline slots in our research, 14 are filled with acts who had not topped a major festival bill before this year (some acts, such as Liam Gallagher have been counted twice, for both TRNSMT and Parklife appearances as this will be his first year as a headliner).
In 2017, the comparable number was 12 new acts making their way to headline status (with Glastonbury replacing All Points East in the comparison).
Is this increase a good sign or should we approach with caution?
One thing this doesn’t account for is the size of the acts coming through. For example, The 1975 headlined Latitude in 2017 and seem on course to use that as a step to bigger slots at Reading and Glastonbury, while Solange takes up the same slot at Latitude this year, but it’s likely to be one of her only major festival slots.
So it is encouraging that fewer bands are on festival rotation every year, but it’s unlikely the majority of them will become stadium-sized acts that headline Glastonbury, for example.
Who keeps headlining festivals?
Festivals have largely dug themselves into a hole when it comes to festival headliners. By relying on the same handful of stadium-sized acts, booking anyone smaller seems like a risk so they often have to return.
Here are the acts that have dominated the top of the bill at the UK’s three biggest festivals, Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds and T in the Park (until 2016).
They all also suffered from the same trends, here shows that out of the last 15 years of these festivals, all three were dominated by the same acts. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, every member of each band is a white man.