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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

All-Female Lineup at Hear Her Festival Makes Statement

Located on the south coast of England, a rainy caravan park may come off as an unlikely place for anyone to make a feminist statement. Yet, this weekend, this is exactly what happened at the Sandford holiday park in Poole. It was where the Hear Her festival was held, which was no less than an uprising of women in the music industry. There was an all-female lineup of artists from across a spectrum of indie rock, pop and folk. The event was backed by Diva magazine and musician KT Tunstall served as co-curator. The event was headlined by Soak, the Mercury nominated Northern Irish songwriter and singer, and Shura, the synth-disco artist hailing from Manchester.

Not only did the Hear Her festival featured only female-identifying acts, it was entirely managed and curated by women. Moreover, there were female trainee sound engineers learning the ropes on the sound desk, who had come from the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts. Hear Her was founded in 2018 by Heather Peace, musician, actress and music effort at Diva. She chose to introduce this festival to make up for the lack of platforms available for female artists. She said that the lineup balance at most festivals was downright appalling. 

A Reading and Leeds poster was doctored by music blog Crack in the Road in 2015 for the first time and since then, it has become the norm to see the festival lineup announcements edited on social media where the names of the men are erased to show how few women are booked for them. A rather stark example of this was seen in 2018, when a Wireless poster was shared by Lily Allen. The poster showed that only three women had been booked for the London Festival. BBC performed an analysis, which showed that men accounted for 77% of the acts at the nine biggest festivals in the United Kingdom. 

Peace has pointed to the Keychange initiative by the PRS Foundation as a beacon of hope because under this initiative a number of festivals have pledged to establish a 50-50 gender split by the year 2020. She also noted that there were 42% female performers in the Glastonbury lineup this year. Other than the UK, a 50-50 split was achieved by the Primavera Sound in Spain. In her opinion, the fact that this change is happening is an even better reason to have more all-female events, such as Hear Her as bigger festivals are now actively seeking more female artists. Recently, Emily Eavis was recently quoted as saying that she wanted nothing more than to book more women in the top spots at Glastonbury, but the problem is that there aren’t enough women to choose from as the pool is quite limited. However, Soak, the Norther Irish artist who headlined at the Hear Her festival for the first time disagreed with this statement. She said that there are women who can fill these main stage spots, but they are not being given the opportunity to build their stagecraft and fan-base. She said that good spots are not given to these women and so their talent cannot be nurtured.

She added that festival organizers need to make more investments and take more chances where women are concerned. In her opinion, women are cast aside even though they do have their own acts. Lanta, synth-pop artist based in Margaret, also performed at the Hear Her festival on Saturday. She said that the only reason that female-led bands and artists were not doing well enough in the industry is because they haven’t been let through by the gatekeepers. She said that there wasn’t a single solution to this problem and festivals also need to take some accountability because there are some very amazing bands that perform at these events. 

Currently, Hear Her has a capacity of under 1,000 people and Peace doesn’t have any plans of expanding it any time soon. She said that she enjoyed the small and safe feeling as kindness reverberated in the room. However, she is hoping that the festival would create a ripple effect that would move beyond Sandford. She said that she wanted Hear Her to be a place where bigger festivals would take a look and take it to the next level. 

The crowd comprised mostly of LGBTQ and females and the kindness on the weekend was almost palpable. Mo, a 31-year old from Edinburgh who attended the festival, said that it had been a lovely experience. She said that there were not many spaces that are completely focused on women in the music industry and are inclusive. She said that women-focused events, such as queer and lesbian nights, had become a thing of the past and that was definitely not a good thing. Therefore, Hear Her was such a welcome sight for everyone looking for a safe space for women-only events. 

Peace said that when lineups become more balanced in the future, she would love to open up the Hear Her festival too and invite men to perform as well. For now, she said that an all-female lineup was essential because it was a tool for change as female performances are way less in numbers in almost all festivals, as compared to men. The purpose of Hear Her is to change this and ensure that there is an equal split between women and men performers. 

Soak said that it was interesting to note that an all-female lineup is regarded as such a novelty. She said it shouldn’t be a strange thing and wanted more of such festivals to happen so it would become obvious that it wasn’t difficult to pull of all-female lineups at all. The artist said that she hoped there would come a time in the future where it would become just another festival rather than a statistic. This could happen if Hear Her is successful in fulfilling its purpose and more females are booked for different acts and performances in concerts and festivals organized in the future.  

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