Live Music Exchange Blog

Gender Representation in TRNSMT’s 2020 Line-Up – Abigail Dunn


In this post, Live Music Exchange student intern Abigail Dunn offers a personal take on the recent controversy over the lack of gender balance in the 2020 TRNSMT festival lineup.

On the 31st of August 1968, ‘The Great South Coast Bankholiday Pop Festivity’ came to the Isle of Wight, and was a hugely influential festival for Britain. However, the festival wasn’t influential in an entirely positive way, as the skewed gender balance in its line-up became the norm throughout the culture of music festivals for decades to come. The popularity of music festivals in the UK is one that has continued to rise ever since, with festival attendance sitting at 4.9 million last year alone, a 23% increase on 2017.

The main line-up of the Isle of Wight Festival included only 1 female artist out of the 12 acts on the bill. Jefferson Airplane were a female-fronted American rock band who were set to headline the UK’s first ever music festival of this kind. This 8% female representation is appalling. However, at a time when women were underrepresented in rock music, perhaps having a female-fronted rock band headline the festival could be seen as inspiring to the budding female artists of the 1960s.

Fast forward to the 26th of November, 2019, and the first wave of acts for Scotland’s 2020 TRNSMT festival has just been announced. Being one of Scotland’s leading music festivals, attracting a massive 120,000 guests in its first year (2017), TRNSMT is a hugely influential music platform in Scotland and with such huge influence comes a huge responsibility. Sadly, however, TRNSMT are failing to show this. All 3 of their 2020 headliners are male, and only 2 of the 13 acts announced are female. The line-up therefore currently stands at 15% female representation, a decrease from the 21% in 2018 and 20% in 2019.

Since the significant imbalance in the 2019 line-up was brought to light, Geoff Ellis (DF Concerts CEO and TRNSMT Director) has made currently empty promises of improvement and change for women, although this year’s line-up continues to disappoint.

In defence of the announcement, Ellis said:

“We’d love there to be a higher representation of females but there isn’t, certainly on the acts we’re announcing today, but it will be a while until there’s a 50/50 balance … That’s definitely several years ahead for any major festival to achieve because there’s far, far less female artists … We need to get more females picking up guitars, forming bands, playing in bands.”

Ellis’ point of not enough females “picking up guitars” is, quite frankly, not a sufficiently viable point of defence, as a 2018 study carried out by Fender showed that 50% of new guitar buyers in both the UK and the US were females. And when it comes to his statement of progress towards a 50/50 balance of male to female artists being “several years ahead for any major festival”, some of the world’s leading music festivals are proving him wrong.

In 2019, Barcelona’s Primavera Sound festival announced their diverse line-up, covering a wide range of genres. Of the 226 acts announced, over 50% of them were female. This was most likely in response to Keychange’s 50/50 festival pledge set up in 2018, whereby 45 (now over 250) international music industry conferences and festivals made a commitment towards achieving a 50/50 gender balance by 2022. If festivals as big as Primavera Sound can take such bold steps towards equality in the industry, I don’t quite believe that others can’t do the same.

In fact, this year England’s Glastonbury festival is following in Primavera’s footsteps, as it has recently announced that they aim to reach as close to a 50/50 gender split as possible for their 2020 festival, with Diana Ross already announced to play the Pyramid Stage on the Sunday. This is an inspiring improvement towards balance, after only 14% of the acts performing at their 2015 festival were female.

After Ellis announced his unbalanced 2020 TRNSMT line-up, hundreds of angry people have taken to Twitter in response, with some of the biggest names in the industry publicly displaying their disappointment with the lack of female representation.

KT Tunstall tweeted:

“If you are the organiser of something, and you don’t WANT a situation to change, and you put fuck all effort into it, then no shit it’ll take years.”

The 1975’s Matty Healy also struck back at Ellis, when he tweeted:

“I hope ‘females’ do pick up guitars, if only to smash him in the face with them” [1]

Ellis does appear to agree that we need to do more for women in the industry, stating that “we’ve got to make the culture easier for female artists to come through”. After the backlash Ellis received on the 2019 line-up, he announced a new, all-female stage less than a month before the festival was set to begin, which set out to “help close the gender play gap” (an issue raised by HAIM after it was revealed that they were being paid 10x less than a male artist performing at the same festival). This new Queen Tut’s Stage has, however, been hugely criticised for further isolating these female artists, with Tamara Schlesinger (Music Business lecturer at SAE Glasgow who also makes music as MALKA) saying that:

“These women do to not need to be segregated and put on their own stage, they need to be given the same platform as male performers. If they deserve a slot at the festival, then they deserve the same opportunities as their male counterparts.”

Although I see where Ellis is coming from in creating a stage to help promote and build up our local, female talent, it does seem somewhat of an afterthought, and rather patronising that they had to create this separate, pink branded stage instead of just including a fair amount of females in the initial line-up. In fact, by trying to close this “gender play gap”, TRNSMT have essentially widened it, by separating talented females from the rest of the main line-up. If Ellis truly wants females to make it to the top, he should give them a chance at playing the main stage, in order to promote their music and talents.

Festivals like TRNSMT attract hugely diverse audiences, so surely the promoters should be aiming to curate line-ups that represent their audiences – ensuring that all genres, races, countries, sexual orientations and genders are represented, to allow for a safe space of self-expression.

All I can hope is that Ellis finally responds to the criticism of the current acts set to play in 2020 in a constructive way, and makes significant improvements towards balance before announcing the rest of the line-up.

1] Healy’s tweet was subsequently deleted.

Please note that this is a forum for discussion, dialogue, and debate, and posts and comments on this blog represent only the author, not Live Music Exchange as a whole, or any other hosting or associated institutions.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *