Gender diversity – or lack of – at music festivals had a moment last summer, when the outrage over dude-heavy bills normally restricted to certain corners of social media bled over into the mainstream. A Guardian survey found 86% of that year’s festival performers were male, while music blog Crack in the Road’s posters showing only those acts with a female musician provided a striking visual representation of the issue. But then this year’s depressingly predictable T in the Park line-up emerged, and it was like we were back at square one again.
For musicians Caroline Daalmeijer and Jammenique Duchat, however, grumbling on Twitter was not an option. Instead the duo, along with record label Attack Agency, put their heads together and came up with PandoraFest: Scotland’s first women’s music festival, taking place at DunCarron Medieval Village in Stirlingshire next Saturday, 16th July.
“As musicians ourselves, we have experienced first-hand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of the obstacles thrown in front of women out of pure bias,” Caroline tells me. “We knew from experience that the big name festival committees – including the women in those committees – actively favour male artists. Around the same time that we were discussing this amongst ourselves, the Guardian article addressing the lack of women on the live festival circuit came out, complete with statistics that galvanised us into action!”
“I’ve been in various bands and travelled extensively working as a backing vocalist. I am ‘lucky’ as singing is a culturally accepted profession for a girl to pursue, which is preposterous in its limited viewpoint. A woman who chooses to be, say, a prog-jazz bassist, faces a different challenge entirely. The same with female artists with strong messages or politics. Can we imagine a female Bono or Bob Geldof, of that caliber, at that level? Well, we can,” she says.
Strikingly named – “we wanted something that highlighted a woman going against the grain of what she was supposed to be and do,” says Caroline – PandoraFest sets its sights on being an annual event, showcasing music from a wide range of genres across its two stages. London four-piece Courtesans headline, while elsewhere on the bill are Yorkshire neo-punks Arcane 39, classic jazz fusion duo Synotonic, New York rapper Flapjack and local singer-songwriters Caroline Gilmour and Alannah Moar.
“We did a public call for submissions on social media and various radio stations covered the initiative when we launched the website,” Caroline explains. “So bands and musicians who head of us on BBC Radio Scotland or local stations like Regal Radio and Radio North Angus started contacting us.”
“A lot of artists started their message with how thrilled they were that we were doing this and how much they would like to support the concept. They’ve all been brilliantly flexible and enthusiastic,” she says.
The festival will also have a market area with stalls selling pop culture and music merchandise, clothing and accessories, plus artisan food and drink stalls. The stallholders were all “very enthusiastic” about the idea behind the festival, as was Maroon Ribbon – an organisation that specifically works towards more equal treatment of women working in the music industry as part of the Women in Music International Foundation, and which will also have a stall at the festival, Caroline tells me.
“Going to a festival should most of all be exciting, fun and memorable for artists and audience alike, so we haven’t lost sight of that in our planning, strong convictions aside,” Caroline says. “But if there are girls and young women in the PandoraFest audience whose minds are alerted to the possibility of becoming a musician, by offering a positive example of great women musicians on the stage in front of them, our work is done.”
“It’s a labour of love, both ideologically and materially. We hope to at least inspire other festivals to re-evaluate their lineup criteria. We hope to inspire festival goers not to settle for cookie-cutter fare on their live circuit, to think outside the box and be vocal about what they expect and hope to see,” she says.
Fifteen-year-old singer-songwriter Lisa Kowalski will be performing at the festival before she puts on her own musical event next month – a Taylor Swift tribute concert at the Classic Grand in Glasgow. “I absolutely love this idea,” she told the festival organisers when she got in touch. “It’s such a great initiative considering the huge lack of representation of women in music getting attention, and it’s amazing to see someone finally do something about it!”
“I believe that audiences are used to seeing certain lineups and don’t necessarily question what they’re seeing,” Caroline says. “But if you attend PandoraFest, the next festival you’ll do to might look odd because it has no or very little women artists on the lineup.”
“That’s the balance I want to redress and an awareness I’d like to encourage.”
Day and camping tickets for PandoraFest are on sale now.