Strip away the male acts from the line-up posters of some of the biggest music festivals in the UK and US and you would be left with, appallingly, almost a blank page. As a recent study by The Guardian's data team found, "male artists aren't just dominating the top of the bill: analysis by the Guardian of 12 UK festivals has found that 86% of advertised performers are men. At dance festival Creamfields women are virtually invisible, making up just 3% of the advertised performers. Reading and Leeds and Download also fare poorly with a bill made up of 94% and 96% men respectively."
These statistics prove uncomfortable reading. It's a growing concern among music fans that women are being underrepresented on festival bills and, when you consider the fact that artists like Bjork, St Vincent, Azealia Banks, Beyonce, Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift are increasingly proving that it's entirely possible to be a world-dominating force on your own terms, it's something that doesn't accurately represent the musical landscape we live in today. Things need to change.
So in steps Burger Records, an independent record label based out of Fullerton, California. Founded in 2007 by Sean Bohrman and Lee Rickard (members of the power pop band Thee Makeout Party) Burger has put out over 700 releases from artists like King Tuff, Thee Oh Sees, and Colleen Green - most of them on cassette. In keeping with their DIY ethic, Burger decided to put on their own festival with all their favourite bands who, incidentally, are all female driven.
For the second year running, Burger Records will host Burger A-Go-Go! festival (whose name is presumably a homage to The Go-Go's) in California and the line-up is entirely comprised of female-identifying musicians. The bill boasts the likes of Kim Gordon, Cat Power and The Julie Ruin, which, intentionally or not, it pretty much sticks it to festival bookers like Download's Andy Copping who recently responded to criticism of male-dominated festival line-ups with: "There's no shortage of women coming to our festival, but they seem to like watching bands more than being in them. They just haven't felt inspired enough to pick up a guitar or be the singer of a rock band."
We spoke to label co-founder Sean Bohrman about Burger A-Go-Go!, the state of male-dominated festivals we're stuck with right now, and what can be done about it.
Hey Sean! So, what are you looking to highlight with this festival?
Sean Bohrman: Just good music, pretty much. We have a tonne of girl bands on our label, and it just kind of made sense that we gave them their own show. We were just sitting around in the sun one day, and we came up with this wacky idea, and here we are.
What's the reaction to the festival been like so far?
Everybody's excited about the line-up, and it's been a completely 100% positive reaction from beginning to end. I mean, we started it last year, and if you keep doing something over and over it will grow and grow. People are stoked about it. It shouldn't be so shocking to do something like this. It hasn't been done in a while, but something like this has happened before.
You mentioned there that you have a tonne of female musicians on your label, do you have a commitment to diversity, or do you just sign bands that you like the sound of regardless of gender?
We don't go looking for girl bands or anything. It's just bands that we like, bands that do something for us. If we feel something with their music, they'll be on Burger. We just like good music.
When you've looked at other major music festival line ups, how frustrating have you found it when you see how male-dominated they all are?
We didn't look at other festivals and go, women are being underrepresented at festivals, and that's why we're doing this. We just did this fest because it would be a fun thing to do. When we did this fest the first time, we started getting referenced in all these articles about how women were being underrepresented at festivals - which is true. But I don't think people are booking shows being like "okay we've got 97% men, 3% women, we've got our show. We're good. We've got our quota." I don't know how other people book their shows, but that's not how we book our shows. We just get good bands. It would really blow my mind if people were booking their shows, looked at their line up, and decided that there were too many women, so they got rid of the women and put some men on. If that's ever happened, I would be very surprised. I don't think it's something people are trying to do. It's not like people are like "hey, we're going to get all men on this festival". If you did that, you'd be excluding part of your audience. You want to get as many people as possible into shows.
I mean I'm happy to throw this fest because it represents something, and it highlights the problem [of male-dominated festivals]. But I think that we're not doing anything to change the world. We're just having fun.
Talking about quotas, what do you think about introducing diversity quotas at music festivals?
I think that's ridiculous. When they do things like that they make it weird. Just have fun, just do it. The more you think the more you stink. If you're looking at your fest like "okay we've met this quota and this quota" - I don't agree with that at all. That's hurting the music. When you start making rules for rock n' roll that's when shit stops being fun.
If there is someone to be blamed for male-dominated festivals, do you think that the blame lies with festival organisers, the music industry itself or, as you mentioned, just that there are more male bands?
I would be very surprised if there was some kind of conspiracy going on that limited the amount of women playing festivals. That would blow my mind. It wouldn't make any sense to me. Why would anyone do that? I don't think anyone booking a festival thinks that way. It just doesn't work. If people were like "these promoters aren't representing women enough! This guy right here said he doesn't like women!" - I mean if you could find a promoter like that - I'd be like, shit, that's fucked up. If you could find that one guy that's purposefully not representing women, I'd think that was unbelievable.
Turning to your line up for this year, you've got people like Cat Power already on the bill, was there anyone else you were chasing that couldn't make it?
We were hoping to get La Luz for this show but they were busy. We pretty much got everyone we were going after. We have some more to announce, but that's all secret.
Could you share any of those with me?
I'd feel bad announcing anything before it's ready.
Fair enough. So, will there be a Burger A-Go-Go festival 3?
Yep, we're going to keep developing. Maybe take it to Europe or Japan.
Regarding your own personal music taste, is there someone that you personally would have loved to get on the line up?
What would you say to someone that says that some female bands are actually doing some of the most badass and exciting things in music?
I would totally agree. Like Pussy Riot, they're rebelling against the government, that's rock n' roll. Their music is really good too.
Is there anything else you'd like people to know, before we finish up?
There's a band called Good Throb in London that I'm a huge fan of and I'd love to get over here. They put out a record called "Fuck You" that's one of the best punk records I've heard in a long, long time. They declined to do a Burger tape but I still really like them, their music is fucking killer.
Cheers for your time, Sean.
To find out more about Burger a-Go-Go! head here.
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