“How are we at this point in the 21st century?” comes the voice on the other end of the receiver, astoundingly. It’s a hazy Tuesday afternoon in this Indian summer and I’m catching up with the woman behind newly rebranded live music initiative, ROAR, Kath Butler. The conversation has sparked off the back of a reflection on this year’s Reading and Leeds festival which is no stranger to picking up critique on its lack of diversity (see Phoebe Summer’s “How I taught Reading and Leeds to be culturally relevant from last year”). And sadly 2016’s line up is no better with noughties frat heads, Fall Out Boy and Scots lads, Biffy Clyro celebrating their 10th anniversary performing at the weekender. There was even promise of a ‘Whisky In A Jar’ collab. Yuh-huh.
It’s not surprising then, that in and amongst all of this testosterone on the festival fields, there’s been a spark of interest in trying to push past this seemingly inherent misogyny of the music industry. Indeed, Butler doesn’t feel alone in her mission to tackle the bills imbalance: “When I first started researching this, I was really surprised to see so many collectives spread out across the UK. We’re like satellite groups, with pretty much one in every UK metropolis”. It’s true, with creative collectives like Glasgow’s TYCI founded by Chvrches’, Lauren Mayberry and the five teenagers who set out to eliminate groping at gigs, Girls Against, it all links back to ROAR’s ethic “I love their manifesto around more female security guards”, Butler chips in. “There is definitely more scope for gig going to be a more fair and equal space”.
Thus, ROAR (née Finding The Female Headliner) was born in a bid to address this imbalance and showcase the incredible female or female fronted acts across the UK. So why the name change to something so much more seemingly abstract? “The idea behind the name was clear but it implied that female headliners needed to be found and they don’t exist”, she explains. “But take a look at your Beyonces, Adeles and Florence headlining Glastonbury this year and it feels a little counter productive”. And just as the name has shape shifted somewhat in the last year so has the focus on music with a strong spotlight on young, potential talent “who in ten years time could be those headliners”.
Indeed, its recent shows in London played host to English synth poppers, Lovestarrs album launch alongside newcomer Camp Claude, a lineup that certainly feels at home in East London’s stripped back basement bar, Birthdays. But just as this summer’s festivals can seem all too entrenched in the noughties nostalgia fest, Butler and the ROAR team were keen that genre didn’t dictate their events: “You think you have to be part of Pussy Riot/Bikini Kill riot girl type and that’s you pushing the feminist agenda but your genre doesn’t dictate how you get across being a woman in a band”.
That’s certainly true of the remaining events for ROAR in the calendar, with urban punk pairing NOVA TWINS rounding this wave of shows off in Manchester on Monday night. Positioned as two girls who ask all the questions and have all the answers, the band have been commended for their “stew of futuristic riffs” and it’s this progressive behaviour Butler is keen to see elsewhere, particularly in terms of live music promotion on a grand scale: “End of The Road is doing a great job. They’re newer and more progressive as opposed to Reading and Leeds. Ticket sales isn’t even an excuse. You put those icons on and you will sell those tickets”, she affirms. “They just need the recognition. Female headliners are actually releasing albums right now”.
It only makes it more staggering to see that female headliners are not just releasing albums, they’re ruling the charts with them. Take a scroll down Billboard’s top album sales of 2015 and it’s stacked with high ranking women; Taylor Swift, Meghan Trainor, Madonna, Kelly Clarkson and Adele all featuring. Thankfully, it’s something that other industry heavy weights are recognising and doing their bit to support the upcoming talent across the UK. In fact, ROAR is funded by the Open Fund through PRS Foundation which Butler is keen to commend: “They’re 100% behind it”, she says with pride. “Obviously inequality is a reality and, as much as we wouldn’t like it to be, it’s quite nice that they know that this is the case”.
As we come to the end of our phone call, with so much passion and zeal for the project, I can’t help wonder what’s next for Butler and the ROAR team following the dates up and down the country this September? “I know Glasgow is a place I’ve got my eyes set on especially with TYCI up there. It’s just a matter of seeing where we can take it in the future and who we can collaborate with”. There’s certainly a few folks at Festival Republic who could use a hand for 2017’s booking.
Catch NOVA TWINS, Molly Warburton, Chloe Foy and Kiera Lawlor as part of ROAR this Monday at Manchester Sound Control.
Follow Cheri on Twitter – @thedivinehammer