Where Are the Women in Bands at Metal Festivals?

Serena Cherry / Svalbard. Photo Credit: Olly Hanks

Serena Cherry is the guitarist of British metal/post-hardcore band Svalbard. Follow Serena on Twitter and Svalbard on Facebook.

I am dead against positive discrimination. At the end of the day it is still discrimination. There’s nothing worse than being asked to play a festival BECAUSE you are a woman. I am an artist, not a “female artist,” and I am not here to fulfill a quota. I don’t want people to diminish my bands’ achievements with phrases like “they only got on the bill because they have a girl on guitar.” All I care about is whether my music fits the bill of the festival. The rest shouldn’t matter.

But it does matter. It matters when Download Festival, one of the biggest metal festivals in the world with over 80,000 attendees in 2019, repeatedly fails to represent the many talented women of metal on their stages. And it matters even more when the head booker of Download Festival claims the lack of women in the lineup is “because women haven’t felt inspired enough to pick up a guitar or be the singer of a rock band,” as Andy Copping did in a 2015 interview with Vice, adding “Women like watching bands more than being in them.”

Erm, excuse me?

Anyone who has had their ear to the ground of fresh metal artists in the past decade knows how many exciting, inspired women are emerging within our scene. For Andy Copping to blame his own ignorance of these acts on women’s own “lack of inspiration” is truly frustrating. If you are not even aware of our existence, how dare you speak for us?! Who the hell are you to decide whether we are musically inspired or not?

Imagine how it feels to be told that, as a female metal musician, you basically do not exist to major festival promoters. To be told you are not represented on festival lineups because you are “not inspired enough.” We do exist! We are inspired! Stop blocking us out, as Download did in 2019 when only 5% of the bands on the lineup had at least one woman (and only two bands on the main stage throughout the whole weekend).

After I saw Andy’s quote, I quickly bashed out an imaginary lineup for next years’ Download Festival off the top of my head where every single band features at least one woman:

Where Are the Women in Bands at Metal Festivals?

I mean, I would go. Would you?

One of the best things about my imaginary lineup is that, in my haste to put it together, there are so many amazing bands with women who I forgot! Skunk Anansie, Code Orange, Oceans of Slumber, Brutus and Baroness — to name a few – furthering my point that there are loads of incredibly talented women in rock music nowadays and it wouldn’t be difficult at all to have a more balanced representation of gender on a festival stage.

So why are women still being dismissed and ignored by major festivals like Download? Do the bookers genuinely believe we don’t exist? Is it a case of confirmation bias, where male-dominated lineups have sold tickets for years, so the bookers believe that male bands are all people want? (In the same way that festival bookers are afraid to book newer, younger bands as headline acts because Metallica have reliably sold tickets for years.)

Now, I’m no business woman. I understand that Coven aren’t exactly a profitable choice in the same way that Korn are. I’m not trying to say that I would book a more financially successful major rock festival. I’m also not trying to tokenize women in rock. I’m merely trying to prove that women in rock and metal DO EXIST, and LOOK AT HOW DIVERSE AND INFLUENTIAL OUR MUSICAL OUTPUT IS! Would it be so awful for Download Festival to showcase us instead of writing us off?

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