TRNSMT's 2020 line-up: Stale, pale and male

As TRNSMT announce the first wave of acts for its 2020 edition, the festival's line-up fails to show any improvements on past criticisms

Feature by Nadia Younes | 27 Nov 2019
  • Crowd at TRNSMT 2018, Glasgow Green

‘Man says there aren’t enough female musicians’ is hardly a fresh piece of content to contend with, but when said man is claiming such outright nonsense about feeling unable to produce a balanced festival line-up, there are lots of questions that need to be asked and answered.

Yesterday, it was announced that the 2020 edition of TRNSMT will be headlined by Courteeners, Liam Gallagher and Lewis Capaldi respectively over the festival’s three days, taking place in Glasgow Green from 10-12 July. It was also announced that the festival’s controversial Queen Tut’s stage will return to the festival again next year, with more female acts than the mere two (Little Simz and Rita Ora) included in yesterday’s line-up announcement set to be added to the bill before the festival.

Festival director Geoff Ellis told STV: "We'd love there to be a higher representation of females but there isn't, certainly on the acts we're announcing today, but it will be a while until there's a 50/50 balance.” Ellis then went on to suggest that the reason they are yet again unable to produce anything even remotely close to a gender balanced line-up was a result of there being “far, far less female artists”.

The problem with Ellis’ statements are that he's the one in a position to be booking more women to play at his festival – but he just isn’t doing it. He also seems intent on consistently booking the same acts year upon year. Comparing TRNSMT’s line-ups over the years is telling of their approach to booking acts for the festival, with many having appeared multiple times over the few short years the festival's been running.

Of those announced for next year’s festival, Blossoms, Courteeners and Sam Fender have all appeared twice before, Twin Atlantic and Liam Gallagher have both played once before and Lewis Capaldi has performed every year since the festival began in 2017. Snow Patrol were also booked to play at last year’s festival but had to pull out at short notice due to medical reasons.

This isn’t exactly indicative of a festival progressing and moving with the times, and doesn’t show much engagement with the current musical landscape. It’s also important to note that moves are being made elsewhere to address the imbalance, with numerous festivals across the world signing up to PRS Foundation’s Keychange initiative pledging 50:50 gender splits by 2020.

Earlier this year, Primavera Sound became the first major festival to have a 50:50 gender split, with headliners including the likes of Erykah Badu, Solange and Robyn. You would only have needed to turn on a radio or have glanced at a music magazine over the last 10 years or so to know that these women exist, and that they are perfectly capable headliners. Geoff Ellis, it appears, does not think so.

The news also comes just a few weeks after the shambolic fallout of EH6 Festival’s decision to cancel the Sunday of the two-day Edinburgh festival and drop all the women on its line-up then rebrand as a free day of music. The festival’s organisers blamed the decision on “poor ticket sales” after facing backlash from those who had bought tickets and from one of its original headliners, Be Charlotte.

There is a lot of progress that needs to be made on the part of festivals like TRNSMT and EH6 Festival towards addressing the gender imbalance at Scotland’s music festivals, but it’s also worth mentioning that many are attempting to improve. Celtic Connections, Sonica and Flying Moon Music & Arts Festival are just a few of those signed up to the Keychange initiative, and pledging 50:50 gender balance at their festivals by 2020. At the time of writing, both TRNSMT and EH6 Festival have not signed up to the initiative.