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“It can be done”: Primavera Sound talks gender-balanced 2019

On the back of its first-ever gender-equal line-up, the tastemaking Spanish festival says time has run out for "pale, male and stale" events

By Jon Chapple on 13 Jun 2019

Christine and the Queens at Primavera Sound 2019

image © Sharon Lopez/Primavera Sound

Primavera Sound has said this year’s mould-breaking, gender-balanced line-up, which included headline performances by the likes of Janelle Monáe, Miley Cyrus, Solange and Christine and the Queens, received “so much love” from fans – and proved that a 50/50 gender split on festival bills “can be done, and should be done”.

Speaking to IQ, the Barcelona festival’s head of international press, Marta Pallarès, says the decision to book an equal number of male and female acts was “not about shoehorning or quotas”, but rather a reflection of the quality of talent on offer across all genders, as well as a challenge to “classist attitudes towards who is a headliner”.

“We released our lineup in the first days of December, and as the ‘best of 2018’ lists were appeared, all the names we had booked were there,” explains Pallarès, also a spokesperson for Primavera’s ‘the New Normal’ initiative. “This wasn’t a bold move made on a whim – this is about quality and about the music we are passionate about.”

Other female talent performing at Primavera Sound 2019, which took place from 30 May to 1 June at Barcelona’s Parc del Fòrum, included Erykah Badu, FKA Twigs, Robyn, Rosalía, Liz Phair, Courtney Barnett and Charli XCX.

Initially, ticket sales were “slow but steady”, continues Pallarès, “but sales kept increasing, and on Saturday 1 June we beat our historical attendance record [63,000]. And taking a look at all the reviews of this past festival, both attendees and media professionals praised the mind-blowing shows by our female headliners…”

Male headliners, meanwhile, were Tame Impala, Interpol, Future and Latin star J Balvin.

“We need to change the ‘pale, male and stale’ paradigm”

While many other events have also signed up to the Keychange pledge to achieve gender parity by 2022, only a handful, including Primavera Sound and Iceland Airwaves, have so far hit the target. Pallarès says while it’s “not her call to say” how important that milestone is, she says it was “important to us because, although it’s only a first step, we know our position in the music business and the [role] we play as one of the main festivals in Europe. And we need to change the ‘pale, male and stale’ paradigm…”

IQ earlier this week asked several European festivals for their view on gender-equal line-ups, with bookers divided on the merits or necessity of balanced male/female bills. For example, Roskilde Festival, Tomorrowland and – interestingly – Iceland Airwaves said they don’t book based on gender, while the UK’s Bluedot said it is working towards the “new normal” of a Primavera-style gender balance.

For Primavera Sound, though, there was never any doubt, says Pallarès: “We never had any other thing in our minds but to make it happen. The ‘new normal’ would happen, because we would make it happen. We started thinking about it back in 2018, when we realised that for that edition we were already booking more female acts than ever, and that we were slowly moving towards this ‘normality’. We didn’t have a 50/50 line-up split back then, but we had as many headliners as small acts who were female, we had women on every stage and every hour, one of the main stages on Saturday was 100% female…

“So we decided to make this happen, and we worked towards it since the very beginning of the booking process for this edition. We didn’t have any alternatives in mind, and this proves that if you want to do this in 2019, it can be done. There are no excuses.”

Pallarès says the changing perception of the headliner – with festivals moving towards spreading their talent budget throughout the line-up, and focusing more on the experience (many events are getting out of the headliner “arms race” altogether, the AIF’s Paul Reed told IQ recently – made the festival’s job easier.

“A black female R&B singer deserves to be a headliner as much as a white male guitar band”

“There is as much good music made by women as that made by men nowadays, and when you understand that the concept of a headliner is not the same today as it was in 2008, it’s easier to be convinced about what you are doing,” she says. “A black female R&B singer deserves to be a headliner as much as a white male guitar band…

“Our line-up is proof that whoever says this can’t be done, they are wrong. It can be done, it can be done now, and it should be done now.”

Alongside the positive press and strong ticket sales, the reaction from fans has been equally gratifying, according to Pallarès. “We received so much love,” she says. “We had very young people telling us that they finally found a line-up that represented them, because we booked many artists who speak out regarding body positivity and gender. And obviously because we believe it has been an amazing line-up – and thousands of people seem to think that as well.”

“Gender bias is a problem that affects the entire music industry,” she concludes. “We are working really hard to achieve something similar to equality, but there is still tons of work to do. Female artists are more visible now, and I believe our work environment is better for everybody – there are more women in charge of press and marketing departments, more agents – but, especially in technical jobs and in management, it’s still tough.

“Our challenge right now is keeping up the good work. We are aware that from now on, we’ll have more eyes on us – but when you make a commitment you have to stay true to yourself, and be aware that this is not something that can be done for one edition and then be forgotten.”

Primavera Sound will return in 2020, alongside a new event in Los Angeles.


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