Deputy Culture Editor – Music
“The only thing that should separate artists is genre, not gender.”
Glaswegian music festival TRNSMT was subject to scrutiny this year for its introduction of a stage dedicated exclusively to all-female acts. The “Queen Tut’s” stage takes its name from an International Women’s Day event held at Glasgow’s own King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut. The instalment was a late addition to the male-dominated lineup which was released earlier in the year. DF Concerts, the events company behind the festival, announced that the initiative was part of a commitment to closing the “Gender Play Gap” and described the stage as a “platform for core female artists at a grassroots level to help them become the bill-toppers of the future”. In the aftermath of the festival, I decided to hit social media to gauge opinion on the matter, both for those within the music industry and casual gig-goers. I created a post on Instagram asking people to give me their thoughts on the stage organisation: was the installation progressive or counterproductive?
The response was revealing. Scott McPherson, bassist of Tom McGuire and the Brassholes stated that “one of the many reasons for hosting the Queen Tuts stage is to close the ‘Gender Play Gap’ and I feel like creating another stage exclusively for women only serves to widen that gap. These acts should be on the bill with everyone else regardless of their sex or gender.” This response encapsulates the overall consensus of the other respondents. Johnny Rogerson, editor of music magazine The Rodeo, contended that “it was a move to save face after the lack of diversity in the original lineup and to meet a quota”. The most poignant quote from my findings was that of Fiendz bassist Craig Rowan, who commented that the “only thing that should separate artists is genre, not gender”.
Although this clearly wasn’t an insincere or intentional move, this stage appears to be promoting a false narrative on the actual state of gender diversity in the music industry. However, other festivals have managed to achieve significantly improved gender-diverse lineups in comparison. Just take a look at Hyde Park’s British Summertime. Their July 13 instalment saw female headliner Florence and The Machine share the stage with The National, Khruangbin, and Blood Orange, alongside an integrated range of female acts like Goat Girl, Let’s Eat Grandma, Lykke Li, and Nadine Shah. Furthermore, the vast lineup of Barcelona’s Primavera Sound achieved a 50/50 gender split this year, and in response to their success 45 other events pledged their commitment to achieving a 50/50 gender split in their lineups by 2022. It’s happening within smaller festivals too. Manchester’s Psych fest was not too long ago, and was fuelled by acts such as headliner Courtney Barnett, Our Girl, Donna Leake, Jane Weaver, Cosmic Strip, and Tess Parks. So how could TRNSMT organisers have rectified their original blunder? Since the Queen Tut’s stage was formed of mostly local talent, perhaps placing them in a 50/50 gender split on the King Tut’s stage would have conveyed their “Gender Play” message far better.
After my social media search, I endeavoured to get an opinion from a female act who actually played the Queen Tut’s stage this year, since clearly there is still a lot of merit to be gained from playing such a popular festival, even if it is on a smaller stage. After many an email interaction, up-and-coming singer-songwriter Scarlett Randle gave me an extremely perceptive insight into how she felt playing the stage, and her thoughts on its gender politics:
“I really appreciate what the Queen Tut’s stage was trying to achieve, but I think that having an all female stage kind of creates an ‘us’ and ‘them’ vibe and segregation never solves inequality. I think that the problem with representation is far bigger than music festivals and is a problem with society, I believe we need to break down the gender binary in order to move past inequality. I also believe it’s not just gender that should be represented: we live in a diverse world and minorities are often silenced. It’s a difficult one because although a 50/50 split of female and male artists may seem to even things out it’s only enforcing the gender binary. I feel that we need to start with education to break that down. Saying that, the Queen Tut’s stage has allowed me a platform to speak about these issues which are very important to me and I am very grateful for being able to talk about them.”
Organisers must adapt to this ever-changing socio-political climate and the gender politics that come with it. Gender binaries must be destroyed. Although the Queen Tut’s stage provided welcome coverage for blossoming female acts, this coverage could have been provided in a far more attentive manner. TRNSMT, learn from your mistakes. Don’t alienate. Integrate.