Even before Cardi B’s cancellation back in April, only three of Wireless Festival’s 37 acts announced in January were women; Cardi herself, dancehall MC Lisa Mercedez and R&B singer Mabel.
For a major London festival showcasing grime and R&B artists from around the world, this didn’t look good – even though Wireless had, as it told the BBC, approached more than 20 acts featuring women who couldn’t make it for one reason or another.
Stars pointed out the imbalance including Lily Allen, who tweeted a striking image of the line up with male artists photoshopped out.
So, just over a week before the festival, Wireless announced it would be introducing an all-female stage across the three days with the help of Smirnoff’s Equalising Music campaign.
And ultimately, it paid off. The female line up went from two to 25 and festival goers had a chance to get stuck into sets by a solid mix of artists from British MC Paigey Cakey to Spanish dancehall singer Bad Gyal.
Performances were on point, standouts including Lady Leshurr’s dazzling freestyles, host DJ Emerald who led the stage seamlessly and Girls of Grime, who threw strings and solid vocals into the stage’s final set on Sunday.
The space also provided some much-needed relief from the testosterone emanating from other stages – which is where the problem comes in.
“Relief” shouldn’t be a word associated with any of the artists on the Smirnoff House stage. These performers should have been – as Lisa Mercedez, Mabel and Ms Banks were on the Pepsi Max Stage – the centre of attention.
Although crowds were absolutely living for performers at the Smirnoff House stage, volume-wise, they were incomparable to those at the other two.
The stage itself was also modest in size – closer to that of a DJ booth – and when looking at the festival’s map, hard to spot, the only sign of its existence a little Smirnoff logo nestled among food stalls.
On the full-sized Pepsi Max stage Ms Banks, Lisa Mercedez and Mabel’s brilliant performances gave us just a taste of the crowds female artists can draw in when given enough space.
Wireless’ decision to add the Smirnoff House stage was important, and a good move – without it, festival goers could have easily missed out by not getting to listen to more than a couple of female artists.
Only next time, women must be up there on the main stages alongside the men.
Let’s hope other festivals make the same realisation.
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