Earlier this year Wireless faced a barrage of criticism from both celebrities and the press due to their paltry representation of female artists on this year's line-up. It seems, however, that they've taken those thoughts on-board — and come back with a dedicated all female stage in response to the criticism. So what exactly is the deal with the Wireless all female stage then?
First a little background information. When the line-up for this year's festival was announced in January of this year, there were only three female artists on the bill — Mabel, Cardi B and Lisa Mercedez — and 37 male artists. Annie Mac, the Radio 1 host and DJ, tweeted that that line-up was "appalling" and "so, so embarrassing". Singer Lily Allen also spoke out on Twitter, posting "the struggle is real".
Wireless was criticised in the press as well, with Grazia writing "it's an early indication that this year's festival landscape is probably going to be male heavy once again," and Gal Dem saying "the line-up simply does not reflect how far women have come". A poster in which all of the male artists were photoshopped out, just showing the three lonely female artists, went viral —with the Indy100 saying the image showed "the music industry's problem with female artists". At the time, Wireless declined to comment to BBC's Newsbeat.
However, Wireless seem to have taken on board some of this criticism, and have since teamed up with Smirnoff's Equalising Music diversity programme to present an all-female stage. Curated by Rinse FM, the Smirnoff House stage will feature Julie Adenuga and Emerald on hosting duties, with Bad Gyal, Barely Legal, Manara, Quay Dash, and Siobhan Bell performing. "The stage is set to be hosted by two leading voices in UK radio: Beats 1 anchor Julie Adenuga and Rinse FM Drive time host Emerald," the festival announced, saying the stage will "bring breakneck sets of grime, garage, and cutting edge club sounds, taking the pulse of London’s nightlife and bringing it to the heart of Wireless."
Working with Smirnoff's Equalising Music programme seems a smart move, as the scheme is dedicated to improving representation and promoting gender diversity in music. It is a three year project, according to CompleteMusicUpdate, and aims to improve the representation of women in the music industry, with a particular interest in dance music. Currently in its second year (and running until 2020), the most pressing focus for this year is on club and festival headliners — stating just 19 percent of artists headling festivals globally last year were women, and that in the UK that figure was even lower, at just 11 percent.
Equalising Music will be hosting stages at some other festivals as well as Wireless, including Snowbombing and Lost Village festivals, as well as teaming up with the club operator Deltic to up the representation of female artists. It is also launching a mentoring scheme for emerging female DJs, with the DJ and producer Honey Dijon acting as one of the mentors.
“I think it’s important to celebrate all new talents, whatever gender, race or religion — whoever they are”, Honey Dijon told CompleteMusicUpdate. “This is a positive move to promote more female and female identifying artists and I hope I can share some of my experiences with some people at the beginning of their own journey”.
Wireless's all-female stage does send out a message — that the festival has heard the criticism and wants to do something to demonstrate they value female artists and are taking steps towards improving diversity of performers. And let's be clear — these women deserve to be on stage by their own merit at any festival. However, I can't help but wonder whether siloing female artists to a single stage is particularly helpful. And the festival is still far from offering gender equality, with male artists continuing to outnumber female artists at the festival. I hope Wireless take on board the criticism moving forward, and next year we see a line-up in which female artists are equally represented across all stages — including as headliners. That's what an equal festival would look like.