‘This can’t be tokenistic’ AIF on fixing gender imbalance in music

association of indepedent festivals

‘I don’t think you get anywhere without quotas but this can’t be tokenistic,’ says Association of Independent Festival (AIF) general manager Paul Reed.

He’s chatting about the issue of male-dominated line-ups at UK festivals, and the wider problem across the music industry. ‘It perhaps involves going outside of your usual networks, which I would argue is what you should be doing anyway,’ he continues

This year, the AIF is practising what it preaches, with women making up 46 percent of its speakers at the 2017 Festival Conference. And, with panels covering safe spaces, welfare and sexual violence, Paul and his team are ensuring misogyny, sexual harassment and homophobia are very much on the agenda.

‘Gender balance has justifiably become a large conversation across the industry, not only in relation to festival line-ups but within the industry itself,’ he acknowledges. ‘There is a lot of work still to be done, we thought that the Rebalance initiative from Festival Republic and PRS Foundation was a positive step as it is an attempt to tackle the problem at its roots.’

Also at the congress, keynote speakers and panellists from across the live music industry and beyond will discuss Brexit, secondary ticketing, the culture of hedonism and the future of the event space.

The event kicks off in Cardiff today (Monday) and runs until 31 October.

We grabbed a few minutes with Paul beforehand to learn how he thinks the UK festival circuit is changing, the biggest challenge facing indies, and how best we can address gender imbalance across the industry…

How is the festival experience changing? What new advancements are you seeing in the independent sector?

It is becoming more experience-based. Based on AIF’s most recent audience survey, of those asked, ‘When buying a ticket for a festival what is the single most important factor when deciding which one to attend?’ 54 percent replied that is was the ‘general atmosphere and overall vibe, character and quality of the event’.

Nearly eight percent (7.7 percent) replied ‘headline acts’ and 26 percent replied ’the music generally’, out of over 3,000 respondents.

When you go to Boomtown Fair, for example and see and the level of immersion, interaction, creative production and micro venues, that is where the frontier of festivals and live events is right now.

Also, more city based festivals are springing up – it’s a great format, you can cater for a demographic who are not so keen on camping, pack a lot of talent and experiences into it, brand it as a festival and take over a city or town with a mix of traditional venues and non-traditional spaces. You also don’t have the monstrous infrastructure costs of building a small town or city in a field.

What is the biggest challenges facing the sector at the moment?

Consolidation as major transnational companies such as Live Nation acquire increasingly more festivals. This has a knock-on effect to the indies as global exclusivity deals on artists happen at increasingly lower levels. We’re talking way below headliner level and it’s restrictive to smaller festivals and artists alike.

What more can be done to address this?

AIF are doing more to illustrate the overall ownership picture of festivals and try to ensure that the government and Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have their eyes open on such issues.

How has the AIF bumped the notion of ‘safe spaces’ up the live music agenda? What are you doing in this area and why does it matter to independent festivals?

AIF ran a hugely impactful campaign in May this year, involving 33 festival websites participating in a 24-hour ‘whiteout’, 71 signing up to our charter of best practice and global media coverage from 47 media outlets, estimated over 18 million reached on Twitter, over nine million on Facebook.

The core objectives were to raise greater awareness about sexual violence across everyone from audiences to artists to staff and volunteers – and to spread some audience-facing key messages around consent, about ‘not being a bystander’ and for festivals to loudly reiterate a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of sexual assault.

Also, for festivals to take inspiration from those events who are taking action in this area, to sign the charter of best practice and to take some demonstrable actions – including training for staff, victim-led contingency planning and specific facilities for survivors of sexual assault onsite. We wanted to highlight what festivals were already doing about the issue and make it clear that we weren’t hiding from this.

Do you think that racial, sexual, homophobic and transphobic harassment and intimidation is on the rise within the live music space? Or are people feeling more empowered to call it out?

I hope that there is more awareness and that people do now feel more empowered to call this sort of behaviour out, not only in the entertainment industry but in wider society.

Part of this is influencing and attempting to change behaviour, which is why we had the ‘Don’t be a Bystander’ message as part of safer spaces: if you are in a group at an event and your friends are acting abusively, you are culpable by not calling them out. Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do as the old Voltaire quote goes.

Part of the problem when we started looking at sexual violence is that according to Rape Crisis England and Wales, approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped each year. Only 15 percent of those who experience sexual violence choose to report it to the police. The underreporting is a key issue and we need to create a culture in which people feel safe and supported reporting harassment, abuse and violence – it is all about taking a victim-led approach.

What more should be done to encourage safer spaces and what are the practicalities of maintaining them?

The next steps for us are training events for festival staff (including on day two of Festival Congress this year, delivered by Rape Crisis South London) ensuring that festivals uphold their commitment to the charter, separate sexual violence policies for all festivals, support for academic research projects to develop knowledge base and gathering audience data through AIF surveys, alongside engaging more festivals in the UK and internationally to support future campaigns.

What about the issue of male-dominated line-ups? What is the AIF doing in this area and what more do you think we, as an industry, can do to diversify performer profiles at largescale events?

We have a discussion about this at this year’s Festival Congress in association with the Musicians Union. Gender balance has justifiably become a large conversation across the industry, not only in relation to festival line-ups but within the industry itself. There is a lot of work still to be done, we thought that the Rebalance initiative from Festival Republic and PRS Foundation was a positive step as it is an attempt to tackle the problem at its roots.

AIF are not involved in programming festivals but we can raise member awareness and lead by example with our own events. Our Festival Congress this year is very close to 50/50 split on the gender of speakers. We have hit 46 percent female speakers this year, so we are almost but not quite there with a conscious target of 50 percent. I don’t think you get anywhere without quotas but this can’t be tokenistic. It perhaps involves going outside of your usual networks, which I would argue is what you should be doing anyway.

What’s going to be your highlight at the upcoming Festival Congress?

As ever, we hope there will be many – John McGrath’s (Manchester International Festival chief executive and creative director) keynote, author Zoe Cormier talking about the science of hedonism, the Brave New Worlds panel discussion exploring creative production and of course the Independent Festival Awards. It’s an honour for AIF to celebrate Secret Garden Party founder Freddie Fellowes with our inaugural pioneer award this year, alongside a well-deserved and overdue Act of Independence accolade for Greenbelt. The awards are now a now legendary end of season party and we’ve a few tricks up our sleeve in terms of décor and the theme this year.

The Festival Congress takes place on 30 and 31 October in Cardiff, with the Independent Festival Awards on the evening of 30 October at Depot. For more info, please see http://aiforg.com/festivalcongress/