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We can’t afford to go back to pale, male and stale

Primavera Sound's Marta Pallarès outlines the unprecedented opportunity we have to build a better, more diverse post-pandemic industry

07 Apr 2021

Marta Pallares

Health passports, fast testing, social distancing, rapid screenings: the industry has been grappling with more medical concepts in the last year than it ever had to before.

Getting back to business; finding ways to reopen venues and stage festivals; getting technicians back to their sound desks and musicians back on stage, is all we’ve thought and talked about during the past 12 months.

But is that everything? All of it? Perhaps the question shouldn’t simply be when is the industry resuming but how and with whom?

Perhaps the question shouldn’t simply be when is the industry resuming but how and with whom?

Because we can’t afford to go back to pale, male and stale music festivals, to companies overwhelmingly ruled by men, to soundchecks where as far as the eyes can see it’s Johns and Jacks and Martins – not that we want them to disappear, we just want them to share their space with us Janes, Jackies and Martas.

It’s been two years since Primavera Sound sent a message to the world: a gender-balanced lineup can be achieved. When we released that line-up, we said that equality and dismantling gender barriers should be normal, and yet, in spite of the fact that we claimed that that edition would be the one in which everything changed… it didn’t.

Two years after becoming the first major festival with a 50/50 gender split, we haven’t seen much of a change. In fact, the situation has only got worse for women thanks to the pandemic. The biggest problem now is not only the ongoing systemic inactivity but the depressing thought that the pandemic can, and will, be used as an excuse to avoid taking the much-needed next steps.

It’s not about the lack of female artists or headliners: it’s the lack of willingness to book them or give them the rank they deserve

At Primavera, we know how challenging this process can be, maybe even more than the promoters and festivals that still refuse to be more diverse. In the end, we set our own standard: we have to live up to that past achievement, and keep honouring it.

2019 was an amazing year for music made by women: Rosalía, Janelle Monáe, Robyn, Erykah Badu, Chris from Christine & the Queens and many more, made it really easy for us. But was that programme just a once in a lifetime? Not really.

The next year proved us right, thanks to Lana del Rey, Bikini Kill, Kacey Musgraves and Brittany Howard. So it’s not about the lack of female artists, or even female headliners: it’s about the lack of willingness to book them or give them the rank they deserve. In the end, if they are the ones who chart the highest and win all the awards, shouldn’t they be also topping our line-ups?

In 2019, Primavera Sound’s [gender-balanced line-up] sold more day tickets than ever, up to 65,000

So, let’s talk business. Does a gender-balanced line-up translate into revenue? In 2019, Primavera Sound sold more day tickets than ever, up to 65,000. That Saturday, 1 June, Rosalía, Solange and Lizzo shared a line-up with James Blake, Jarvis Cocker and Stereolab, as well as the biggest Colombian reggaeton artist, J Balvin.

Isn’t this how real diversity should look (and be heard)? Even our partners at the UN SDG Action Campaign thought so.

Whilst I don’t pretend to be an expert on this matter, by any means, let’s ask Google how a more diverse and inclusive environment can and will improve any company.

I remember moderating a panel last year at Primavera Pro. We were already asking ‘What’s Next?’ because we suspected that 2020 could be the perfect time to pause and reflect on our work. In that panel, we were inspired by Fruzsina Szép (director of Lollapalooza Berlin and Superbloom Munich) and her approach to the pandemic: her whole team was taking much-needed time to take a deeper look at their festivals and to think how they wanted them to be, not how they had to be.

It’s not about being perfect, the real challenge is to do better

Why shouldn’t we use this crisis as an opportunity to fix systemic issues – that are more deep-rooted and insidious than a virus – instead of as an excuse?

We understand that competition can be fierce, but saying that line-ups prior to the pandemic have to be honoured feels cheap. Crazy thought: what if they had already been diverse in 2020? To all the festivals who pledged to achieve gender equality in 2022 and to all of those who were already trying to do better, please don’t take a rain-check due to the pandemic; you are doing a great job. It’s not about being perfect, the real challenge is to do better, no matter how small each step may seem.

We have this chance to start planting in empty fields, as nothing is written in stone anymore. If we don’t have a clue what it’s going to be like when we programme festivals again, if we lose all the benefits of a stable landscape, why should we inherit its problems?


Marta Pallarès is head of international press & PR for Primavera Sound in Barcelona, Spain.