Reflections: Is it that hard for festivals to book gender-balanced lineups?


It is so boring. It’s talked about every year. And every year, despite all the criticism, it happens again.

This year, Creamfields has just 11 all-female DJ acts in a weekend of 230. This year, as usual, Forbes’ list of highest earning DJs was 100% male. This year, the RA Top 100 DJs was 9% female. Compare that to the British Parliament, which is now 32% female. But whatever you do, don’t ask why electronic music is still so far behind on gender imbalance, because you’ll get the same nonsense excuses: normally that there aren’t enough eligible female DJs, ignoring vast swathes of reality. And just in the last month, DJ and Giegling co-founder Konstantin, is alleged to have told a journalist that women are “usually worse at DJing” in a German article in Groove magazine.

What came next, his ‘apology’ published on RA, confirmed his blindness. He neither denied nor took responsibility for what he had said, using passive language to refer to his actions: “I feel deeply sorry about the words that have been printed.” and “I completely regret what was said.” But this didn’t stop him allocating agency to the journalist, asserting that it was her responsibility to not take his words seriously: “She did not appreciate my sense of humour.”


Evidently, from his slippery excuses, Konstantin has been getting away with such views, unchallenged. Giegling members Dustin and Frauke said in the original article that Konstantin’s views are known within the collective, “but sexism is fundamentally not an issue in the group.” The Black Madonna recalled in a tweet an incident where he espoused similar views to her, “I honestly thought he was kidding […] I hugged him.”

We need an industry that doesn’t acquiesce to this kind of bigotry, as that only sustains it. Some festivals have made efforts to stand up for women. The one-off electronic music festival TUFFEST in Seattle last year was exclusively devoted to female and non-binary artists. HARD Summer Music Festival, increased its female acts this year to 25 from last year’s five, to make up a quarter of the total number of acts. But then, they went and cocked it up (pun very much intended) by making a trailer about this achievement that has been widely received as demeaning to women. (Bizarrely, it included male DJs sporting saggy tits, in a parody that for many was way too close to the bone). Annie Mac called it “depressing” and The Black Madonna tweeted: “Crazy idea. Just book women without breaking your own arm patting yourself on the back about it.”

This week’s Into the Valley festival has booked a 45% female lineup – almost unheard of for an electronic music festival – without the whiff of a humble brag. Nowhere in the three-year-old festival’s lengthy statement of their Key Principles do they mention striving to book an equal gender ratio. The only thing they say about their booking strategy is: “All our lineups consist of artists we adore, we would never compromise here.”


Intrigued, we got in touch to ask how gender came into choosing the DJs. Festival booker Ulrike Schönfeld responded, quite simply, “It didn’t.” This isn’t a small deal festival. They’ve been in RA’s Top 10 Festivals lists for the last two years and the lineup is full of the biggest and most exciting names in house and techno, including Larry Heard, Nina Kraviz, Jeff Mills, The Black Madonna, Nastia, Ben UFO, Sonja Moonear, Riccardo Villalobos…the list could go on and on.

“If you believe in equality between men and women, then there is nothing to be discussed. There are plenty of talented women able to pull their weight in any lineup,” Schönfeld added. “Konstantin’s comment explains a lot about the male point of view within this industry. That is just one example of the vision most festival curators have, and the reason why there are still not enough balanced lineups for festivals.” Was it more difficult for her to book such an extraordinary, status-quo defying, one-of-a-kind lineup? “Not at all.”

It would seem there’s no room left for blinkered chauvinism. Silence condones. Words have not done enough. At this point, we need action. Sunfall Festival has stood up to Konstantin by cancelling their Giegling after party. Melt! Festival, the Freqs of Nature and Cocoon Ibiza, where he has more sets scheduled for this summer, should follow suit until he shows some real understanding with a proper apology. More generally, male DJs could refuse to play on clearly prejudiced lineups. Or festivals could sign a pledge to book a certain percentage of women, a modest 25-30%, say. Something to force promoters to stop making shitty excuses and just book them.

Photos taken at Into The Valley 2016 by Beata Cervin and Steven Kohlstock.

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