The rise in all-female publications has been swift and sharp, with the likes of Wears the Trousers paving the way for Her Beats, The Girls Are and many others that launched last decade. All-female celebratory issues are as likely to stock the metaphorical shelves of the digital (and still physical) world, with NME, The Guardian, Kerrang! and Q all jumping on board on a semi-regular basis. Though recent criticism has highlighted the segregatory nature of a 'one off' special on an entire gender (something we've been mindful of ourselves), needless to say, the coverage and exposure of female talent to counteract gross gender inequality in the music industry elsewhere is something we'll always support.
That said, it's surprising that few music festivals have used the all-female format to address the issues events often have around the representation of women on the stage. Stats about headliners across the country are now well known, and it's par for the course that only a few token female acts will be thrown into most major festival bills, sometimes none at all. While there are festivals that consciously address the imbalance (among them Live At Leeds, which made a very impressive and effortless statement this year), there are few who go the whole hog to make sure women are always included without bias.
Few, but not none at all. PandoraFest is one of the Scottish events to take this structure on board, boasting women left, right and centre on its bill. The festival, which takes place for the first time this year on 16th July 2016, takes its name from a Bjork quote and does not fail to include every genre going in its line-up. Importantly, all the bands have at least one woman in their line-up, in an attempt to "celebrate female artists and musicianship," says Caroline, one of the founders of PandoraFest. "You only have to look at the statistics to see that the ratio of male/female artists at festivals is woefully uneven. Very often festivals only book women of certain accepted genres for women to succeed in like country, punk or pop. PandoraFest will feature the talents of female artists representing as many different genres as possible."
In line with criticism against all-female editions of magazines, Caroline believes no event should be exclusive to one gender, stating: "This festival is meant to be an inclusive event: men are very welcome in the audience and as part of bands. We are passionate about equality and quality music!"
"It's unbelievable that in 2016, artistic achievement is still viewed through a gendered lens," she continues. "Good art, music, films; all of it should ideally be enjoyed without any focus on whether the artist is a woman or a man. Sadly, across the creative industries, this is still too often de rigueur. Case in point is recent thriller Sicario. Fantastic movie, amazing lead performance from Emily Blunt. Before going into production, the studio execs offered a third more funds to the filmmakers if they would replace her with any male actor. They, to their very great credit, stuck to their guns and refused."
Caroline however recognises the need to brand movements as equality-touting and welcoming of women: "Music festival line-ups still feature predominantly male artists and while we are not anti-male, we want to redress the balance by putting women centre stage and their talents in the spotlight."
"We had to conclude that 'Women in Music' is still a sub-genre, in the same way ska or punk are," she accepts. "I've been a session singer for most of my life. I've played in various bands and travelled across the world as a backing vocalist. I am 'lucky': singing is a culturally accepted craft for a girl to pursue, which is preposterous in its limited viewpoint. A woman who chooses to be, say, a prog-jazz bassist, faces a different challenge entirely... It is accepted to see women do well in pop and country, but when they stray out of those boxes they get pretty much ignored. The same with female artists with strong messages or politics: can we imagine a female Bono or Bob Geldof, of that caliber, at that level? Well, we can.
It's unconscious: our preferences are unconsciously loaded by the entertainment media that surrounds us. Women artists are not mainstream, if they were, there wouldn't be 'Women's Stages' at festivals, which as it happens are extremely rare. I am not certain if this is true but I heard a rumour that Glastonbury was to have a women's stage last year and it was cancelled."
Just as they actively encourage marginalised communities to engage with their event, the types of music on display at PandoraFest this year are really very broad - with rap cosying up to folk and rock fringing the edges of electro - something that might put the niche music fan off. However Caroline says this is deliberate and continues to embody their inclusive nature: "I have a very broad musical taste, from jazz to classical Indian to prog-rock to electronica to pop. If I'm able I will try to listen to most genres on offer on the day!"
As for the 2016 event specifically, Caroline says she's most interested in seeing Dutch singer songwriter Dame Mathilde Santing: "She is a multi-award winning artist and inspirational LGBT icon. She will be doing an acoustic set of her Joni Mitchell covers. I grew up in the Netherlands and have always admired her."
"I am also really looking forward to seeing New York rap artist Flapjak: her lyrics, wit and style should add a great vibe. Our headliners, all female London outfit Courtesans are fantastic. The unique darkness and sound of Vodun I can't wait to see live as well. If I can get away from grown-up commitments at the times these acts are on, I'll be down the front.
As for her dream headline act, "Lady Gaga instantly springs to mind, that would be amazing. But there are a fair few! Kate Bush would be my heart's desire, but she so hardly graces the world with her presence it would be a big ask. I'm a big fan of Zoe Keating's music: she is one of the do-it-yourself inspirations for women in music. With my Indian background, it would be great to see female fusion artists like Anoushka Shankar and Jyotsna Shrikanth, the flamboyantly original Bishi and the up-and-coming HorsePowar."
"I would love to host a big name headliner, specifically those ladies who have spoken out about the music industry's glass ceiling for women: Ellie Goulding, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Madonna, Björk, Missy Elliott. It was Lady Gaga who recently called the music industry "a boy's' club" at an awards ceremony. She's not wrong and it is only proof that, even at the level of artists of her caliber, women still walk into that. If one of these ladies were to headline PandoraFest, I'd be thrilled."
"We are keenly focused on making this launch year a success," Caroline rounds off. "If it is, it would be fantastic to make PandoraFest an annual pin on the Scottish festival map. We are putting in a lot of ourselves, not just ideologically but materially as well, since official funding organisations are not supporting us. It's a labour of love, with which we hope to at least inspire other festivals to re-evaluate their lineup criteria. We hope to inspire festival goers not to settle for cookie-cutter fare on their live circuit, to think outside the box and be vocal about what they expect and hope to see. We want to give women artists a platform where they are celebrated instead of having to constantly justify themselves and fight for their right to be there. oing to a festival should be an exciting, fun and memorable experience for artists and audience alike; besides our strong convictions, this is something we always have in our viewfinder. But if there are girls and young women in the PandoraFest audience whose minds are alerted to the possibility of becoming a musician, by offering a positive example of great women musicians in many different genres, our work is done!"