INTERVIEW: Women Are Mint | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Georgia May by Victoria Wai

“Gender equality in the music industry, specifically this year, has completely been put on a back burner.” If you’re experiencing some deja vu from Martha Hill’s statement, you’ll no doubt be remembering her interview about the May incarnation of her Women Are Mint festival, which gets a reprise this month at Alphabetti. Sadly, things haven’t changed much since she bemoaned the state of mostly-male festival line-ups. “Everyone’s just pumped to get back to gigs and it feels like the PRS initiative for 50/50 line-ups by next year has just been totally scrapped by everybody. Nationally it feels like it’s been totally forgotten about.”

While the North East may have some way to go before shonky promoters and all-male line-ups are a thing of the past, Martha praises organisations like Sister Shack, Tracks, Noisy Daughters and Forward NE for making a push towards gender equality in the region. “In the North East I am quite proud to say it still feels like it’s a big thing that’s being talked about and progress is being made.”

Thanks to Martha’s own brand of beguiling alt. pop gaining considerable traction this year, she’s made a decent dent in the festival circuit herself, but she comes up against the same problem time and again with many of the headline and better paid slots going to all-male bands. “The sexism in the industry isn’t as black and white as a sign on the door saying ‘no women are allowed in’, it goes so much deeper.” From the gender pay gap to female artists being overlooked while their male counterparts assert their confidence with bookers and agents, the gatekeepers are still ever-present.

The recent Gender Data report by equality campaign Why Not Her? analysed the top 20 British artists and bands featured across UK radio stations in the year from August 2020 and it makes for shocking reading, with female artists accounting for 15% or less across stations including BBC Radio 1, 1Xtra, Kiss, Kerrang!, Capital, Smooth, Radio X and Absolute Radio. BBC 6Music fares better at 40% (up from 10% in the previous year), while BBC Radio 2 has seen a significant shift in the opposite direction (40% in 2020, just 25% in 2021). Non-binary musicians fare even worse, and in some cases just 5% of the music played on large commercial and BBC-owned stations was made by musicians of colour.

The sexism in the industry isn’t as black and white as a sign on the door saying ‘no women are allowed in’, it goes so much deeper

These figures chime with what Martha calls her ‘new theory’. “I think it goes deeper than just artists being booked to what the general public wants to listen to; pop music is all about recognisable music, the best pop tunes are basically like nursery rhymes with a solid beat behind them. I think if people only ever hear male voices then your ears just want to hear male voices. Some people just prefer the sound of a male voice, and I don’t think that’s because men actually have better voices I think it’s because if that’s what you’re constantly being fed, you want to hear what you recognise.”

Sadly, quotas may be one of the main ways to address some of these problems, but where larger events and corporations conveniently use the Covid crisis to avoid tackling the issue, it’s become increasingly down to grassroots organisations like Women Are Mint to address the disparity and actually do something about it.

Leading by example, and following on from May’s virtual Women Are Mint festival, Martha has teamed up once again with Alphabetti Theatre, where the festival first started in 2018, to present a three week smorgasbord of musical talent. Taking place from Tuesday 26th October-Saturday 13th November, Women Are Mint boasts a refreshingly diverse line-up which highlights how much amazing female and non-binary talent there is in the region. Spanning genres and performance styles, and including DJ talent as well as live music, as they put it “there is nothing you might want that Women Are Mint doesn’t offer”.

Kicking off the first week (from Tuesday 26th October) performers include self-effacing songwriter Lauren Stone; R&B/neo-soul artist Frankie Jobling; producer and vocalist of considerable talent Cortney Dixon; Darlington-based indie pop rock duo ETHR; self-proclaimed ‘eclectic selector’ DJ Lady Annabella; and soulful songwriter Nadedja. Week two sees Holy Moly & The Crackers’ accordionist Rosy take to the D’Addario stage on Tuesday 2nd November, followed by classically trained alt. pop maestro Ruth Lyon; indie rock artist Holly Rees; the stunning fusion of drones, guitar and close-knit vocal interplay of duo Maisie May and Anna Hughes, otherwise known as Northering; alt. R&B songwriter, producer and hotly-tipped talent Phibi; and a Saturday night DJ set from Women Are Mint staple CADI, whose bass-driven funky house will see the week off with a bang. The third week of performances starting on Tuesday 9th November includes Teesside songwriting talent Jodie Nicholson; soulful vocalist and lyrical storyteller Georgia May; North Shields’ melody-driven rocker Heidi; the piano-based powerful sounds of Beccy Owen; electro-punk juggernaut Straight Girl and funk, soul and Motown DJ Paula.

It’s nice to bring it back to Alphabetti because that’s where it began.” Martha says of the venue. “Also, Alphabetti is just one of the most sensitive spaces in terms of being friendly to LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities and people of gender minorities. They obviously make it a safe space for people, which is really important.”

Women Are Mint takes place at Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle from Tuesday 26th October-Saturday 13th November (Tuesday-Saturday). Entry is pay what you feel

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