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Socially Distanced Gigs and Gender Distanced Bookings

After a locked down spring and a summer of cancelled festivals, the last few months brought a series of trial and error, socially distant concerts. From the groovy dim lounge of a Brixton bar to an outdoor brewery at sunset, these gigs have taken shape in many different ways. Perhaps the most notable ones to take place in the U.K. were the Virgin Arena concerts that took place in Newcastle. British performers including Sam Fender, Declan McKenna, Kaiser Chiefs, The Libertines, and others, took the stage in what is imagined to be the norm for large gigs for the foreseeable future. Concert goers were hoping for a taste of the lost summer of festivals as they gathered in social bubbles in a large field.

However, as gigs and festivals were cancelled, one thing that has seemed to continue to prevail during these unusual gigs is the lack of female and female-inclusive acts. For what has seemed to be a battle for inclusivity throughout history, the disparity is still relevant more than ever today. Some festival planners - like Emily Eavis of Glastonbury - aim for 50/50 gender balance in headliners, yet most are not as committed. As the industry tries to tentatively plan for 2021, despite protests, the problem persists. Of the 20 initial acts announced for Reading and Leeds Fest 2021, 30% were female; for Neighbourhood Weekender, of the 51 acts announced, roughly 21% were female or female-inclusive acts. The trend extends to many other music events and all around the word, not just the largest and not just in the U.K.

There have been a few diamond in the rough lockdown performances though with incredibly talented female artists that have popped up. One artist in particular that has set herself apart from so many other artists on her path to success is Sinead O’Brien. The innovative lyricist took to a stage in small bar in Brixton to debut her new EP, Drowning in Blessings, as well as to play her first live show in months. Through the social distant crowd, the flickering colorful lights gave an illusion of a more normal time. The socially distant gig however was only one of the things that made O’Brien’s performance unique. She has the ability to rhythmically connect her lyrics to the content of her songs, a skill very artists have. Her new music expresses the emotion of the last few months poetically for what has been an unorganised time at best. Another powerful female voice on the rise is that of Izzy B Phillps, the frontwoman of rock band Black Honey, who took the stage as part of DIY Magazine's 100th issue concerts. The outside of a brewery set in a business lot might not seem like the first choice for a gig, but in the new world we are moving into, it’s about as rock’n’roll as it gets. The electrically-charged performance was backed by music that empowers you and makes you want to rock along (in your seat of course). The gig included the hits of their self-titled debut as well as some teasing of new music from their recently announced second album Written & Directed, coming out next year. The deeper writing that is promised to be explored in their newest album is a prime example of why it’s so important to have balance in gig representation.

Music is used as a form of expression and storytelling, and what kind of story are we telling if just one narrative is heard? Sinead and Izzy’s approach to music is wildly different and yet that divergence does not exist without both of them being able to perform. The reason it’s so important that more women continue to be booked and play audiences isn’t just for the balance of names but also voices. The increase of female voices is not where the need for expression stops. Whether its race, sexuality, or gender orientation, events need to strive to include these voices more otherwise it just a repeat of the same viewpoints being listened to again. A repeat of the same stories and styles on the radio or in gigs, while maybe there’s someone who’s struggling to want hear their story in the music.

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