FEATURE | READING AND LEEDS PREVIEW

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Reading and Leeds festivals: this weekend finally sees the arrival of these two mammoth events sitting at the tail end of the music festival calendar. Both are historically scenes of a veritable hunk of talented acts, and this year’s no different. Only, this year the line up has been called out for its dearth of women performers.

For those of you who got the chance to peek at Crack In The Road’s image of the Reading and Leeds line up with all the dude-centric bands taken out — the very poster that caused extreme consternation from many corners, including ours — you’ll agree that some attention is necessary.

Nine female-featuring acts stood strong on the otherwise vacant page, the ‘lucky’ few amidst the 85 or so male acts on the poster. We’ll just repeat those numbers: NINE. Out of NINETY FOUR (Ash were included but, of course, the lovely Charlotte Hatherley is no longer a member).

Ratking. Rat Boy. Oneman. What about onemorelady huh? Or onehundredmore?

For those silly souls out there dismissing this as an issue, we’ve highlighted the problem elsewhere. But, like Phoebe Summers, and her alternative line up stuffed with female talent, and like Ruth Barnes and her new night showcasing some of the best women artists, we’re keen to let the ladies do the talking for themselves as we look at those nine stellar women-inclusive acts that are gonna blow the faces off the 80,000 or so attendees at this summer’s Reading and Leeds festivals. (Nine. Ninety four.)

Starting with Alvvays. Canadian pop band Alvvays are labelled an “indie-pop wonder.” From childhood friends to high-school band mates, Alvvays’ self-titled debut album was released in 2014 to widespread acclaim. Vocalist/guitarist Molly Rankin sings sweet pop melodies while buddy Kerri MacLellan assists with some mean-dream 80s keys and backing vocals. With just the right mix of blissful garage melody and youthful humour, this is chills-down-your-spine-in-the-afternoon-sun kinda stuff.

Hannah-Wants

Hannah Wants, meanwhile, knows what she wants. “The first time I walked into a club, I watched how the DJ was controlling the dance floor and I had this overwhelming feeling: ‘That’s what I wanna do.’” Wants is a legend in a field of male DJs, described as “an all-round force of nature”. After winning several breakthrough competitions, Wants established herself as a world-renowned festival headliner and a bold name in the house and bass music scene. Having fearlessly climbed the ranks doing exactly what she loves best, Wants is enjoying her successes in her UK home and beyond. She encourages new talent, is deeply professional and well and truly knows how to make a D-floor go boom. “Music really is timeless,” she says. If that’s not enough to make you want to seek her out and try to be her best friend forevs, we don’t know what is.

Marmozets at Reading 2014 - credit Jen O'Neill

Marmozets are young and broody. They bring the party. They rock out with their singular frock out (frontwoman Becca MacIntyre is the band’s only female). With obvious inspiration from bands such as Paramore, these Yorkshire kids have twisted the knot, gone for gold, and have just supported Muse on their UK Psycho tour this past March. Not bad for only having released their album last year. Lead singer Becca MacIntyre does pull off a mean Hayley Williams growl, but they almost reach a 1970s occult-rock like point in tracks like ‘Why Do You Hate Me?’ If they’re rolling in any kind of similar direction as Paramore, it won’t be long until Becca is flippin’ beats over at Jay-Z’s house.

Azealia Banks_Rankin

Even for those who don’t really know who Azealia Banks is, you kind of actually do know who Azealia Banks is. That’s no small feat, even if it is potentially due to the commercial mass market and social media. Girlfriend says what she wants, when she wants, how she wants. That’s a powerful, unapologetic stance from a self-mechanized 24-year-old singer/songwriter. The sassy New York rapper stormed the globe after releasing a single from what would be her debut album 1991. She has garnered an enormous following worldwide and we are all intrigued as to what this human firecracker will come out with next/onstage/ever. Sisters be doin’ it for themselves.

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Bringing it down a notch, Little May are somewhat undefinable, but have more of a vocals-based, piano-laden, dark-pop feel. Think First Aid Kit meets The National. The Sydney trio are quirky (their Facebook ‘band interests’ reads: “Bagels/Eagles/Beagles/Beetles) and they seem to have their feet on the ground. The ladies were surprised by their sudden shooting to success having “only played hometown shows to friends and family.” They recorded their album in upstate New York (with Aaron Dessner from The National) and shit just got more and more real. They’re playing different festivals across the globe and this includes Reading and Leeds. Well. Done. Ladies.

WolfAlice

Wolf Alice are fast becoming festival favourites. Having played Glastonbury a couple of times (*polishes fingernails on shoulder) these guys are wowing crowds with their grunge-pop good times. Their video for hit track ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’ is an entertaining narrative on the dance-based uprising of a social outcast. It’s good viewing. After touring constantly for a good stretch, Wolf Alice have become stronger and tighter than ever before, and the poetic lyrics of lead singer/guitarist Ellie Rowsell leave a lingering taste of excellence. She also likes and is influenced by wolves. Which is cool.

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Fashion alert. Beautiful people alert. Sweet tunes alert. Cardiknox alert. There is something incredibly alluring about this band. And it’s not just that singer Lonnie Angle is featured in a promo photo with a double-knot bun (that’s a bun on top of a bun), mesmerising though that is. The Seattle-bred, New York-based pair have been working hard touring their electro-pop tunes, and now they’ve made the definitive leap to UK shores. Angle is a beast of a performer. With a musical theatre background she knows how to put on a powerful show and stand tall. She has stated her desire for more strong frontwomen and even referenced Gwen Stefani as a personal hero.

Walking-on-Cars

Not to be confused with Melbourne dude-rock band of similar name, Walking on Cars are a five-piece Irish pop-rock band. Sorcha Durham is the pianist, and she really does bring the flavour. (No one likes it when you waste the flavour.) We’re getting down with some real epic Irish drama-pop here — these guys have played at Abbey Road studios and are touring the European festival circuit and they haven’t even released their first album yet. (WTF.) They’ll be playing on the Festival Republic stage at Reading on Saturday and Leeds on Sunday.

Baroque indie group San Fermin are suitably unique: the eight-piece ensemble present a powerful batch of ornate rock songs. With critical praise from the likes of The New Yorker, the band are regarded as having the ability to “deliver epic and emotion-laden rock, with glorious and operatic vocals, electronic break beats, horns, strings, and other flourishes.” We’re unsure, but we bet the majority of that high praise is aimed directly at vocalist Charlene Kaye. One woman among eight men is better than none.

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There are a handful of other notable ladies featuring on the bill that have been announced since that original poster first saw the light of day: Lucy Rose, Lady Leshurr, Nicola Bear, Siobhan Bell, Ms Dynamite, Elle King, PVRIS, Queen Kwong, Shura and a smattering more — let’s not forget the wonderful Marcia Richards of The Skints — but with over 200 bands playing, it’s still a significant underrepresentation of women artists. (No, Single Mothers don’t actually have any single mothers, and Eliza and the Bear are both dudes. With a couple more dudes.)

Crack In The Road, meanwhile, featured a response page with a plethora of Twitter comments regarding the ‘Where are the women?” poster. The comments included doozies such as: “Who really, really honestly gives a fucking shit?” (Well, probably the hordes of overlooked talented female musicians, thanks pal), and: “It’s lack of female participation that’s the problem, not feminism” (A little hard to concentrate while choking on our horror/incredulity/shame — that one was from a woman.) But our personal favourite: “I can’t believe people are complaining, it’s a male-dominated scene …” (Uhhhhhh… I think you might have just proved our point for us. Thanks…?)

It is a male-dominated scene, line-ups are unequal, and men are looked at more, paid more, provided for more. Not all of the time, but a lot of the time. This is a problem. It’s a long-running problem that deserves to be looked at, considered, reviewed and rectified. There is no way on earth that all females are bad at music, or not as good or physically capable with an instrument as men (yep, that was a comment too). So let’s stop suggesting that this issue isn’t overlooked.  Let’s stop pretending that it’s actually about “bands that are touring and making great tunes”. Let’s stop suggesting that there aren’t thousands of women making excellent music all around the world that deserve equal opportunity.

The problem is not the lack of women; it’s the lack of focus on these women. It’s the competitive nature forced upon these women because of this lack of focus. It’s the lack of confidence women feel from centuries of being overlooked, underpaid and underappreciated. And it’s the ingrained idea that these female musicians somehow do not exist. We do exist. And we’re excellent — check out this lovely lot this weekend if you need evidence.

Esther Rivers

Photo credits: Marmozets – Jen O’Neill; Wolf Alice – Emily Cheng; Azealia Banks – Rankin; Cardiknox – Daniel Silbert

 

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