Glasgow’s ever shifting, buoyant and self-sufficient music scene is the envy of cities across the globe.
And it’s one that generates nearly £70 million for the local economy and supports around 2,450 jobs, thanks to two primary factors.
Firstly, the insatiable appetite Glaswegians have for live music, be it in a basement venue bar on the likes of Sauchiehall Street or alongside 13,000 other punters at a capacity show at the SSE Hydro near the river.
Secondly, it’s the sheer plethora of venues and spaces that play host to live music with a ‘G’ postcode – at least 241 by the last (official) count, of which almost half are dedicated music and arts venues.
Yet all that being said, there’s a long-standing issue that continues to castigate such overwhelming positivity.
And it’s one which needs to be addressed by festival promoters and organisers in the city sooner rather than later – the startlingly obvious lack of women and female identifying artists on festival lineups in the city.
Take TNRMST for example, Glasgow’s showcase music festival that has all-but-in-name only replaced T in The Park. Last year’s inaugural festival counted 42 men and only two women among its 14 headline acts, while approximately 91% of all artists performing at the festival were male (239 of 263).
The main stage at TRNSMT line up minus the men (credit – @nikkers)
And this year, of the 33 acts playing the main stage over the festival’s five days this year, they count 104 males and only 6 females among a total of 110 artists – equating to 5%.
As music journalist Claire Francis said in her review for The Skinny, “The programming too often defaults to white-male-indie-rock, and the male-to-female ratio is still disappointingly patriarchal. TRNSMT is Scotland’s opportunity to deliver a large-scale event that reflects the wealth and breadth of musical talent, both from our own country and beyond, but for most of the people in the audience here today it seems to amount to just a drunken day in the sun.”
Next month will also see the return of Glasgow Summer Sessions at Bellahouston Park on the south side of the city. The event, which will see Kings Of Leon, Catfish & The Bottlemen and Kendrick Lamar headlining three nights over the course of a week, features no female representation at all among its 14 announced acts.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the festival spectrum, female artists continue to be absent from lineups.
Take King Tuts Wah Wah Hut for example, which will soon fall under the gaze of the Glasgow (and Scottish) music public as it plays host to the SAY Award ‘Live At The Longlist’ event to announce the 20 shortlisted candidates for this year’s Scottish Album Of The Year. Of the 60 artists performing the venue’s ongoing King Tut’s Summer Nights Festival, only 12 are either female solo artists or bands including one or more female members.
Also on the horizon is east end venue St Lukes ‘All Dayer’ in August, which, among its already announced 14 bands, contains no female artist representation whatsoever.
Tenement Trail, billed as ‘Scotland’s festival for music discovery’, has announced its first wave of acts for its one day festival in September. And among the 29 acts listed so far, a grand total of 6 are female artists or bands featuring female musicians.
While Glasgow’s other all day festival, Stag & Dagger, billed as ‘Scotland’s original multi venue event and biggest new music showcase’, featured only 8 mixed groups or female artists among its 41 group lineup celebrated back in May.
Glasgow’s garage/psych/pop festival, Freakender Weekender, fares better, with over a third of its 15 acts announced so far featuring female performers – including a rare sight among Glasgow festival lineups in a female four piece in Spanish band Melenas among its headline acts.
That being said, in general the lineups point to a worrying trend among Glasgow bookers and promoters – a failure to include for women and female identifying artists in their numbers.
And to make matters worse, these same promoters and organisers have been routinely called out over the issue on social media platforms such as Twitter, but never seem to respond or address the issue as part of the ongoing debate.
But this is nothing new. As far back as February of 2013, The Old Hairdressers in the city centre held a two day Ladyfest festival in response to the normalisation of local male dominated festival lineups.
As writer Anya Pearson noted back in the same year, “Women aren’t passive consumers of popular culture – we just often lack a creative platform to showcase what we can do”.
And nowhere does that seem more certain than now, within Glasgow’s ”indie’ festival circuit.
Yet, frustratingly, the music scene in the UK and further afield is not short of female artists making exciting and interesting music.
And Glasgow itself has an abundance of bands featuring one or more female musicians and female solo artists such as Hairband, WomanSaid, Kathryn Joseph, Tongue Trap, Sacred Paws, Honeyblood, Siobhan Wilson, The Ninth Wave, Carla J Easton, Lucia, Breakfast Muff, Emme Woods, Martha Ffion and Emma Pollock.
Never mind the female solo artists or bands featuring female artists who would walk onto a main stage slot at any festival, such as Haim, Hinds, Warpaint, Lorde, Fever Ray, Goat Girl, Slowdive, St Vincent, Grimes, PJ Harvey, Angel Olsen, The Kills and First Aid Kit to name a few – many of whom have played shows in the city in the last few years.
It seems the case that Glasgow’s indie/alternative festival scene could learn a lot from its far more ‘healthier’ counterpart – the city’s electronic, dance and hip-hop scene.
Lineups at events at places such as SWG3, Stereo, La Cheetah, Sub Club and The Art School seem to offer a far healthier male/female split when it comes to their booking, while the likes of Sub City Radio, the Producer Girls workshops and nights like Tomboy helping to foster a scene which feels genuinely dominated by female artists; artists such as LAPS, Iona Fortune, Vaj Power, Cucina Povera, Nightwave, Ribeka, Rebecca Vasmant and Sofay.
Take Optimo’s 20 anniversary party last year for example. Of the 19 acts that performed at the all day event at SWG3, 13 women were featured and 14 men.
Prior to the event, Optimo spoke to The Skinny in an interview about the gender balance of their lineup, noting that “We didn’t do it in a tokenistic way”… “it was genuinely people who we felt aligned so closely and we’ve always been drawn to, people we’re friends with. It also shows that it wasn’t hard to do this! It wasn’t like, ‘How are we going to find all these [female acts]’… it was very, very easy to do. I think a few festivals pay lip service to it, and they book a couple of token acts, but I think it should just be a natural thing, you should be trying to make it as equal as possible.”
If we cast our eye further afield, in Spain we find a nation where there has been a constant dialogue about the lack of representation from female artists within festival lineups, and where real change seems to be afoot.
Primavera Sound in Barcelona went from having women making up a 12% portion of artists in 2017 to 20% this year, including for 23 bands featuring female performers and 42 female solo artists – two of them headliners in Bjork and Lorde.
It reflects a Spanish music and festival landscape that is showing a visible and palpable evolution in terms of the amount of women performing at major events across the country.
This was partly helped back in 2016 by the creation of The Association Of Women In The Music Industry (MIM), a group – representing over 700 mixed or female only bands – who describe their mission statement as “advancing so much as to render our own dissolution” as a result of equality of circumstance and statistics related to music in Spain.
With a lack of desire evident among major events promoters to sign up to the PRS Foundation’s International Keychange initiative, perhaps it’s time that promoters and festival organisers in Glasgow at all levels really do try and put in place plans to encourage for more equal representation within festival lineups, via a dialogue with female artists, agents, fellow promoters and others who work behind the scenes.
After all, behind-the-scenes, the music scene in the city features strong female representation at all levels.
Because if they remain in the dark ages, they might drag Glasgow down there with them.
And with that we could be saying goodbye to Glasgow’s long held and widely recognised status as one of the most musically-minded and attractive cities on the planet, while others, with different attitudes and less excuses, move more freely with the times and reap the rewards.