In anticipation of criticism, Ellis also preemptively defended the lack of female acts in the line-up, with the first wave featuring just two out of 13. But his ill choice of words went down far worse than if he hadn’t mentioned it at all.
He started off: “We’d love there to be a higher representation of females but there isn’t, certainly on the acts we’re announcing today, it will be a while until there’s a 50/50 balance.
“That’s definitely several years ahead for any major festival to achieve because there’s far, far less female artists.”
This is wrong.
There are hundreds of incredibly talented female artists and bands being denied the same recognition and opportunities as their male counterparts, many of which are hugely popular among TRNSMT go-ers.
No one is denying Scotland’s penchant for a blokey guitar band, but our love of music extends far beyond one genre. This year alone, we’ve had mammoth shows from Lizzo, Björk, Billie Eilish, Halestorm, Ariana Grande, CHVRCHES and more.
Make no mistake, the demand for female acts is there and meeting that demand would naturally strike a better balance almost instantly. If Ellis and those in similar positions choose to ignore this, they are simply part of the problem.
You only have to look at this year’s Primavera Sound line-up to realise it can’t be claimed that a balance is “several years” from being achieved. With female acts like Cardi B, Solange and Robyn making up half of the bill, organisers of the Barcelona festival are just one of many breaking the mould by doing what, in 2019, should already be considered the norm.
Ellis continued: “We need to get more females picking up guitars, forming bands, playing in bands.”
This is a fair point on its own but, in the context of his statement, a contradiction. Young girls do need more encouragement when it comes to pursuing their love of playing music but a large part of that comes from seeing themselves represented in the industry. Having someone to look up to gives them the confidence to realise, “I can do that.”
Ellis adds: “That’s why we’re giving that platform to help more females see that kind of opportunity because you do get more of a drop-off at a grass roots level and there’s less female artists around.”
Here he is referring to TRNSMT’s Queen Tut’s Stage which was introduced last year. It features a range of up-and-coming female acts – the very same ones he claims barely exist. Putting these acts on their own tiny stage out of the way is neither refreshing nor progressive. In fact, it’s borderline patronising. If these acts deserve to play at TRNSMT in the first instance, why not just include them on the other stages?
As my friend Beth Black, who plays in several bands, pointed out: “There’s nowhere to go after grass roots if there’s no place for you on big stages.”
Ellis went on to say: “It’s not just about booking more female acts because if there’s less of them then there’s less of them to go round all the festivals.
“But there’s definitely more to come – they’re just not over the line yet.”
Ah, that “We can’t give women fair representation just for the sake of it” rhetoric just never gets old. Again, major festivals like Primavera prove this is a false claim. The balance doesn’t need to be forced and no one is saying it should be.
It’s also funny that he talks about acts who are not “over the line yet,” when elsewhere in the same statement, he said: “It’s important to get new artists in early stages of their career. We don’t just go for the big, well established stars.”
Amid the online uproar sparked by his comments, some jumped to Ellis’ defence, pointing out that the backlash is unwarranted because “at least he’s trying.”
This is not “trying”, it’s not even close. If Ellis sincerely wants to make his festival line-up more diverse, there are much better ways to give fair and deserving representation to female acts, as well as people of colour, trans and non-binary acts, for that matter.
It’s simple: Festival bosses must acknowledge that plenty of talented female acts do exist and there is a significant demand for them, then book them and integrate them with the rest of the line-up. They must stop repeating the same excuses when others are proving this is already being successfully accomplished and, more importantly, normalised.