Home Music Wireless festival adds women-only stage in response to criticism

Wireless festival adds women-only stage in response to criticism

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Following criticism over its lack of women performers, Wireless festival has announced a stage that will exclusively feature female artists. Only three of the 37 acts announced in January were women: R&B singer Mabel, rapper Cardi B – who has since cancelled owing to her advanced pregnancy – and dancehall MC Lisa Mercedez.

Artists including Birmingham MC Lady Leshurr, Spanish reggaeton artist Bad Gyal, and British MC Paigey Cakey are among the 25 artists appearing on the new stage, to be hosted by Beats 1 presenter Julie Adenuga and Rinse FM DJ Emerald and organised by Smirnoff’s Equalising Music campaign, a global initiative to address the gender imbalance in music.

“I remember seeing the flyer with all the male names taken out, it was so shocking to see that and it really hit home,” Emerald told the BBC. “Not even the lack of women, but the volume of men. It was just so overpowering.” She accepted that the women-only stage could be perceived as tokenism. “But what are we going to do? Not have that stage there and have no women performing at the festival? I don’t think that’s the right thing to do.”

Vanessa Reed, chief executive of the PRS Foundation, welcomed the additional stage. “This positive response goes to show that there are lots of talented female artists out there waiting to be booked. I hope other bigger festivals will follow suit. Alongside talent development programmes, we need to see more women on stages right now. That’s the only way that younger girls and women getting into music will be able to see themselves up there in the future as part of an industry that’s open to all.”

Melvin Benn, director of Festival Republic, told the BBC that Wireless had originally approached more than 20 acts featuring women who were unable to perform due to touring and other commitments. “We’d love to see more female acts on the festival roster in the future. However, there is a bigger industry issue at the heart of the debate on lineup diversity, with fewer female acts available at all levels,” he said.

Pop stars Ellie Goulding and Lily Allen were among those who criticised the festival for its lack of female performers. In January, Allen tweeted a sparse-looking Photoshopped image of the lineup minus the names of its male performers, captioned: “The struggle is real”. BBC Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac responded to her post: “This is appalling. So so so embarrassing.” R&B artist Ray BLK tweeted that she had been asked to perform, but turned down the offer.

The debate around gender equality at festivals has persisted into 2018. Green Man festival in Wales has been criticised for including four all-female acts in its initial 20-strong lineup announcement. Punk festival Slam Dunk only had two bands featuring women across its 16 acts. Green Man director Fiona Stewart told the Guardian that booking women at the top of the bill had been hard this year: “There is an industry-wide issue of fewer female acts available at all levels that has affected the booking process.”

A BBC study revealed that 80% of festival headliners in 2017 were male. In February, the PRS Foundation announced its Keychange initiative to achieve gender parity at festivals by 2022. Forty-five international festivals, including the Proms, Liverpool Sound City, the Aldeburgh opera festival and Kendal Calling pledged their participation.

Now in its 13th year, Wireless festival takes place in Finsbury Park, north London, from 6-8 July. Rapper J Cole, grime star Stormzy and hip-hop mogul DJ Khaled will headline.

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