Field Day to Glastonbury: The Female Resurgence

It’s only July, and it’s fair to say that this year has lived up to its predictive billing as the decade’s ‘Year of the Woman’. 2015 has seen solo veterans appearing once more, in the form of Patti Smith, PJ Harvey, Roisin Murphy and Bjork; as well as the revival of the riot grrrl movement due to the likes of Babes in Toyland and Sleater Kinney. On the wave of this exciting and varied time for female musicians, the real impact in 2015 was to be measured on the festival circuit. For the first time this decade, the UK festival schedule boasts an array of female headline slots including St. Vincent (at Green Man), Portishead (at Latitude), Belle & Sebastian (at Festival No. 6), and the recently triumphant Friday night Glastonbury set from Florence & The Machine. However, the real resurgence in female musicianship comes in the encouraging uprising of female acts which include Hinds, Girlpool, Tei Shi and Alvvays, to name but a few.

The increased wealth in female talent has been well broadcast so far at this year’s major festivals. Glastonbury and Field Day, two festivals to which I have followed and visited respectively, have showcased an abundance of female talent and have had extremely successful outings. This year’s East London mecca, Field Day Festival, displayed a much more acceptable margin of gender difference – some would say, a step in the right direction. Despite the male dominance at the top of the festival bill (with the likes of Caribou, Django Django, Run The Jewels, Chet Faker and Ride), the highlights of the weekend came from some major players in this female resurgence.

Savages' headline performance on the Shacklewell Arms stage on the Sunday summed up the varied timetable Field Day offers and to why the festival’s strike rate remains unrivalled. The all-female band’s disciplined attack of cult-ish punk noir included a healthy mix of old and new. Jehnny Beth fronted the show in increasing confidence, holding the crowded tent in the palm of her hands. Classics from debut ‘Silence Yourself’ maintained their giant, twisting, bolshy rock; while one-off release ‘Fuckers’ was dedicated to anyone who was unhappy with the Conservative general election win – showing that it isn’t just Kanye West who can bring controversy to a festival line-up. Patti Smith’s ‘Horses’ was a jumble of garage, reggae, and lyrical sensibility. Performing with heart, anguish and cynical humour, she shows that class has no expiry date. Moments included jubilant renditions of The Who’s ‘My Generation’ and ‘Because The Night’, as well as a touching reflection in ‘Elegie’ by dedicating it to lost loved ones everywhere (specifically with her own references to Jimi Hendrix, Fred Sonic Smith and Lou Reed).
Saturday acmes came in abundance, but more surprisingly in the early afternoon. Between overhearing murmurs such as “I think my drugs are wearing off” (at 2pm) and “I want to get a Shoreditch House membership – just for the pic’n’mix”, Jagaara played one of the best sets of the entire weekend. With a laid back attitude, and ever increasing following, the three music obsessed sisters (Cat, Jane and Ruth) effortlessly laid down an atmospheric and almost cinematic sound. By drawing influence from folk music, as well as electronica and rock, they are certainly a strong part of the uprising not just in female acts, but in re-establishing musical genres.

Jagaara played:
Feel It
In The Dark
Marble Arch

On the same stage, the visibly humbled Tei Shi performed to a packed-out tent. Dancing around the stage, flying between the centre-stage mic and sampler padded desk, she flawlessly translated her complex sound to her live show. Closer ‘Basically’ boasted mounting high notes and pop dynamics – and eventually had to come to an end despite herself and the whole of Field Day not wanting her to leave the stage. A more brief dissection of Field Day included huge performances from Ex Hex, Shura, TĀLĀ, Sylvan Esso and Tune Yards.
For the past year, FKA Twigs has led the resurgence in female spectacle with her perfectly refined live show. Her live show is now at the point where she is able to put on one-off spectacles more than once (I know that’s not possible, but you know what I mean). In contrast to the above mentioned bands, FKA Twigs strongly emphasises performance over music. Despite the risk in festival performances, where not everything is within your control, she delivered some shocking and powerful performances at Field Day and Glastonbury. The imagery and enactment of her debut ‘LP1’ was deviously mysterious, profoundly meticulous and thankfully lived up to the big billing. Despite her sound’s obvious complexity, it is restrained and performed in a minimalistic and dark manner. Backing this up with some sweet, synth-tinged beats and vogue-nodding elegance, many would have been kept up in late night chat. ‘Two Weeks’ remains a powerhouse, and sends quakes to the system (one friend told me it “melted his brain and turned him into an ice cream”).
The resurgence in female ‘power’ was solidified at Glastonbury; firstly in the backing of Florence & The Machine to headline the Pyramid Stage, and secondly in the maturation and national success of Wolf Alice.

After Foo Fighters pulled out following Dave Grohl’s injury, heads turned to Florence Welch to see if she could step up to the top spot. Dishing out an eclectic mix of old, new and a cover of ‘Times Like These’, Florence repeatedly won the crowd’s affection and attention. The band’s performance showed that they could have been on the top spot all along. On top of the obvious effort and celebratory joy shown by Ms Welch, it helps that the band have a healthy store of undeniably great songs. Ranging from old classics such as ‘Drumming Song’ to new anthems such as ‘How Big How Blue How Beautiful’, the infectious enthusiasm ended one of the best days in the festival’s history.

It’s been a hell of a year so far for the North London four piece Wolf Alice. Fresh after kicking off Glastonbury with a secret set on Thursday at the William’s Green tent, they followed this up with arguably one the best shows of the weekend on the Park Stage on Friday (note: voted the 4th best set of the weekend by NME readers). In the same week that their debut ‘My Love Is Cool’ initially hit number 2 in the charts (pipped by Florence), the band rocked Worthy Farm and won over an ever-increasingly busy, and rain-soaked audience. Full of energy and ferocity, the band managed to make every moment feel inclusive and resonant; an example came in the run through of new era classic ‘Fluffy’. Ellie, Joff, Theo and Joel were able to pull off the most intimate of moments in a rain drenched Somerset field by curating a nostalgic rendition of revisited new single ‘Bros’; while also providing laughter during ‘The Wonderwhy’, where singer Rowsell’s mic stand collapsed and she battled on the floor to continue to deliver the song - aptly, the line she was trying to voice was “don’t leave me here”. It is clear to us all that the band will continue to rise up the ranks and find themselves at the top of the bill in years to come.

Other explorative and memorable performances at Glastonbury came from the increasingly bizarre Charli XCX, the raw Courtney Barnett, the sublime Sharon Von Etten, and the perfect Jessie Ware. Domination continued with Hinds, Lianne La Havas, Kate Tempest and a masterclass from Mary J Blige.

Having seen the international appraise that Glastonbury and Field Day (and most likely Bestival) have received for their balance in gender, it is still shocking to see the Reading & Leeds festival line-up. The huge gender imbalance has been broadcast across the globe in the form of an edited line-up poster, which upon inspection boasts a grand total of nine acts over the weekend (now boosted by the inclusion of Charli XCX and Ms Dynamite) which have a female member – and only one act on the main stage (this being Marmozets).  (See poster below)
Thanks to @crackintheroad
The whole debacle, in my opinion, is summed up perfectly by Siobhan Smith in her Overblown article:
“It’s not about tokenization, or female members being booked above their male counterparts in a positively discriminating way, it’s about recognising that great female musicians there are out there and addressing a disparity so glaring that it should be completely unacceptable. The first step is to start questioning it. It’s about being aware the problem exists. The music industry, including festival bookers, has to shoulder some of the responsibility.”

While, last year Blood Red Shoes’ Laura May Carter, in an interview for NME, explored the issue in saying:

“This isn’t just a problem with festivals not booking enough women. We need to look at the way society as a whole looks at female artists. If the audience still see women in rock bands as something of an oddity, that’s where the real problem lies.”

Long live the resurgence.

[FIELD DAY] - Early bird tickets already on sale!

Written by Richard Maver