Gender balance in Belgian festivals

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This past weekend, Rock Werchter, mother of Belgian rock festivals, had its 42nd edition. With a fourth stage added and even more tickets sold, the festival keeps expanding. This has an obvious impact on the line-up. As visitors are leaving the camping grounds and life slowly goes back to normal in the surrounding villages, we dove deeper into the gender statistics behind the line-up at Rock Werchter and colleagues throughout the summer.

Every year around the start of the festival season we see articles on gender imbalances, the theories behind them and the solutions to bridge the gap. You can find these resources scattered around the internet. We won’t do the same, but we do want to give you the pure numbers.

 Updated on 12/07/2018 at 19:09.

Updated on 12/07/2018 at 19:09.

All this counting has lead us to this overview, where we can clearly see which festivals are doing better (Francofolies, Couleur Café, Sfinks) and which ones are failing the test. However, the most interesting conclusions are noticeable in the comparison between genres. Metal and electro genres, the ones that are already assumed to have a lower count of women, are pulling very low numbers. An interesting discrepancy is noticeable in the jazz and world genre. The festivals in these genres are situated on both ends of the spectrum, with very low numbers on the line-up of Jazz Middelheim and Reggae Geel, and higher numbers at Couleur Café and Sfinks.

 Anne-Marie at Dour Festival 2017. Picture by Noémie Bernard.

Anne-Marie at Dour Festival 2017. Picture by Noémie Bernard.

Other conclusions are hard to make. We need to remember the context in which these festivals are programming their line-ups. Are we looking for an equal 50-50 split between male and female artists? Festivals are usually a representation of the music industry, and we don’t see that balance there either. Since festivals depend on bands’ touring schedules and take sales into account, they may get the feeling that they have to work with the skewed music industry as is. On the other hand, festivals, promoters and concert venues play a big role in changing the status quo and should thus put in more effort to program female acts. Only then we’ll be able to see change happening. The most important disclaimer we have to make here, is that gender equality is not the only issue in this. When we look at numbers on LGBTQ artists, artists of color and artists with disabilities, the picture painted is even more grim.

By repeating this exercise annually, we can start looking at the progress. We’re planning on collecting these statistics and more, and comparing them with our other communities around the world. If you’d like to enquire about other festivals or if you’re part of the organisation of one of these festivals and would like to add comments or feedback, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

Claïs Lemmens
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