Change the record: There's no excuse for male-heavy festival bills

(Image credit: Brad Merrett)

It’s a bit of a hot mess in the music industry right now. How do we get gender parity on festival bills? How do we ensure those same blokes in a four-piece aren’t hogging the festival headlines, year in, year out, when there’s a diverse and talented selection of bands bubbling up, hungry for success but denied by a music industry often too cautious to take a chance? 

What with initiatives like KeyChange, which asks music festivals to pledge to have 50/50 line ups by 2022, backed up by Smirnoff’s Equalising Change ad campaign, things do seem to be changing… a little. But it does also seem to say that curating a diverse festival is a tricky thing. It’s almost as if the mainstream is proclaiming female, gender neutral or gender fluid musicians don’t exist now, and aren’t ready to get up and play those big stages. 

And while KeyChange at least starts conversations, who’s actually listening? 

Kath & The Kicks at Cro Cro Land

Kath & The Kicks at Cro Cro Land

With all this noise around gender-balanced festivals, we wanted to know just how hard it is to put one on. And handily, Croydon – home of a true DIY-music ethic, the birthplace of grime and dubstep, the borough where punk found its foothold – was able to provide an answer thanks to Cro Cro Land, a brand-new, gender-balanced music festival, taking place over one day in three different venue spaces. 

Cro Cro Land sold out – a triumph for a freshperson festival – and founders Julia and Angela from Croydonist blog were pretty sure they knew the reason why. 

“There seems to be a fear that a female-strong line-up doesn't sell tickets, but we proved that wrong with Cro Cro Land," they told Louder. "We showed that it's totally possible to sell out a show, and not just with big names. The majority of our bands were unsigned/DIY, but have exciting music and they drove a hell of a lot of interest. Each stage was absolutely rammed from the moment the doors opened. The audience was also pretty balanced, gender wise, so it wasn't a case of only appealing to women with this event.”

“There seems to be a fear that a female-strong line-up doesn't sell tickets, but we proved that wrong with Cro Cro Land."

Most bands on Cro Cro Land’s huge line-up (something like 36 bands played across the day, a triumph of logistics and planning) were female fronted, or at least had plenty of diversity of members. 

Couples at Cro Cro Land

Couples at Cro Cro Land (Image credit: Brad Merrett)

From indie-rockers The Lovely Eggs and punk-rockers Werecats, to riot-grrrls Bugeye and Blood Red Shoes' alt-rock, to rock'n'soul popsters Bang Bang Romeo and punks The Weird Things, every musical style under rock's umbrella was represented. There was also an acoustic stage for those looking for something a bit different. 

Julia and Angela told us: “One day we'll get to the stage where we don't need to talk about 'female musicians' or 'female-fronted bands', and everyone will simply be 'musicians' or 'bands'. But until that day comes, music festivals need to make a point of focusing on gender parity.”

Here’s the call to action, then: come on, promoters and bookers. Those diverse bands with balanced line-ups are there – if you can be bothered to look. To give you a head start, here’s our pick from Cro Cro Land’s recent fantastic line-up…

If you want a psychedelic stylings with a touch of class, book Couples

There was… something about this London-based five-piece that got the Concrete Playground stage at Cro Cro Land jumping. Maybe was lead singer Jaime’s faux-Jarvis Cocker stylings or incredible vocals. Perhaps it was bass player Tamsin’s haughty smirk as she sat on stage beating out some hypnotic, low-down beats. Or perhaps it was guitarist Millie’s utter abandon as she flung herself around the stage, hair streaming like a mini-Medusa, high-kicking even as she ground out some slick, semi-psych sounds. Couples' Cat On A Hot Tin Roof = instant classic.

If you’re looking for heavy-duty power rock with a sense of humour, go for Kath & The Kicks

They’d driven down from Leeds that morning and we were very fucking grateful they had. Because Kath and her Kicks (bass player Shaneen and drummer Matt) were that kind of power rock band that makes you suddenly miss that old-school, gut-thumping sound from back in the day. Kath is a frontwoman you wouldn’t mess with – but she’s got a voice like a cider-drunk angel and her tunes are infectious enough to keep everyone rocking throughout the set. Also, with song titles like The Lethal Parrot (about a devilish bird), what’s not to like? 

If you want drums and guitar only! Then go for Arxx

They’re styled as ‘two girls, two X’s, one big sound’ and that’s what you get from ARXX – drums and guitar, tuneful and heavy power-pop with songs like Tired Of You chewing up your head and grabbing you in the gut. Hannah (on guitar) and Clara (on drums) make the most of their stripped-back unit with short, sharp and doubly infectious takes on being dumped and falling out of love. All with a ferocity that you don’t see in any packaged pop pap. 

If you’re searching for ferocious rap/grime rock beats, check out The Nova Twins

‘Break down the barriers!’ shouts Amy of The Nova Twins halfway through their charged-up, riotous set – and the Cro Cro Land audience tried to do just that, scrambling over the crash barriers and dancing in front of the stage. It’s credit to this duo’s grimy blend of rock and rap that the audience was instantly up and wanting more as Georgia gave it her all on guitar and Amy roared out her call to action. Full, front-up and ballsy – check out Bassline B*tch for a taste of their fiery, south London sound.

Classy electro punk sounds on the menu? Look for She Drew The Gun

Straight off the back of a 6 Music Festival appearance that got everyone talking about them, She Drew The Gun took to the Town Hall stage with little fuss… and then blew away the early-evening rammed crowd gathered to see them. Frontperson Louise has a full-throated vocal that swoops and sways over the notes, and the group’s melodic, electro sounds were enough to bring the house to its knees, roaring for more. They opened with Selector – an instant classic – and ran away with the night with their psych synth/guitar/drums tunes.