FEATURE: The Single Voice Festival: A New, All-Female Music Event



The Single Voice Festival:


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IN THIS PHOTO: Bat for Lashes; PHOTO CREDIT: Jackie Dewe Mathews


A New, All-Female Music Event


I know that name, ‘The Single Voice’, is something I have attached to a…

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lot of different ideas. In a way, it (The Single Voice) is a project or a movement: something that has been bubbling around for a bit but will take shape in various different forms. Before going on to the details and components of my proposed idea: it has been a bit of a bugger trying to think of a name for the festival. I tried searching for all the Roman/Egyptian/Greek goddesses of music/equality/power – seeing as the festival will be an al-female event (bar backing musicians, perhaps). They have all been taken so it was hard coming up with something. I dabbled with the prospect of calling it ‘The XX Festival’ – worried people might think it is a festival organised by the London band; shorten it to ‘XX Festival’ and it is borderline-dirty. The name is not the most important thing but it is important to choose something original and memorable. I understand in name and concept there will be some cynical and contradictory tongues. Many might say calling something ‘The Single Voice Festival’ implies exclusion and division: the fact is, it represents a shared desire for unity and equality. True, an all-female festival can be seen as sexist but it is the opposite: a chance to have them shine in a festival circuit that is largely male. There are few who would deny the fact there is inequality and sexism in the way festivals acts are chosen. There are other U.K. events that promote female music: never, to my knowledge, has there been an (I hope) annual festival in the U.K. that brings together mainstream, established acts with those new and unsigned. Men are welcome to attend – as is everyone – but the artists are going to be female/female-fronted. If you have a problem with a sense of exclusion then take a look at all the major festivals this year – how many of them have as many women on the bill as men? There will not be many, I can guarantee you that! We have come to a stage where we’re having to fight for equal rights in music. It is galling having to experience that in society but music is meant to be a fairer and more unified field.

It seems there is that boys’-club dynamic that has been rigidly in place for decades now. You cannot say the festival bookings are the results of quality over gender. As I will speculate in an upcoming review: you could easily put one or two female headliners on the bill at Glastonbury or Reading and Leeds. Whilst there are some festivals looking to break boundaries and include more female artists, it seems more could be doing their part. The Single Voice Festival, as I will explain, looks to promote black and minority artists and various genres – making the title both ironic and pretty apt. If title causes any controversy or issues – not that I really care – you cannot fault the ethos and aim of the festival. I’ll get down to the stages, artists and particulars of the festivals but, before I do, wanted to look at location and timing. It would be wise having the first-annual (again, ambitious with its durability) event held in London. It would be good having The Single Voice Festival as a boutique occurrence: surrounded by a lake, greenery or idyllic view – it would have to be in a very particular spot in London. The idea is to spread the festival over a few locations: maybe part would be in Regent’s Park whilst another bit would be at St. Pancras Old Church; a few events happening at Shoreditch. The city is the important thing; ensuring there is enough space and capacity for the artists and punters. In London, there are quite a few good festivals already ongoing: Raw Power, We Are FSTVL; Camden Rocks and Field Day are just a selection. The idea is to have it relocate to other cities in subsequent years. Bristol, Manchester and Brighton; Leeds, Liverpool and Glasgow are just a selection of possibilities – Manchester and Glasgow are definite aims. To begin, I envisage it in London, pretty central; at a great venue(s) that can hold some of the best female musicians in the country.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Nina Kraviz

In terms of the stages at the festival, there would be a main stage (The Headline Stage) and The Kate Bush Stage (for minor or newer acts); a Residency Stage for non-musical performers and artists. The stage name might change but, essentially, there will be the three. In a lot of ways, there will be similarities with most festivals: the number of stages and mixes of genres; the fact there are all sorts of events happening over the event. In terms of the number of days, it will run: it seems like a two-day festival would be sufficient; running from morning to evening. That way, perhaps at a weekend, if gives many a chance to attend and see the full extent of acts on the bill. For many reasons – weather and timing among them – it seems logical to have the festival taking place in summer (possibly August). Not only does that give the weather a chance to warm up but it is right in the middle of the festival calendar – hopefully not clashing with any other event. In the same way Meltdown Festival has a curator; The Single Voice Festival would have someone helming and putting everything together. My part would be establishing it and making suggestions: acting as an executive producer rather than the director of the festival. My dream curator for the London-leg would be Laura Marling. Not only is she an act, dream of dreams, that would be perfect for headlining; she has a passion or women’s rights and giving opportunities to female musicians. She could collate some extraordinary, diverse musicians and bring together art, literature and film. There are some great locations around London that would provide a platform for terrific artists. I would aim to have genres as diverse as Folk and Drum ‘n’ Bass playing the festival – the former would suit somewhere like St. Pancras’ whereas the latter might prefer the open of a park, say.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Billie Marten

I have mentioned how it would be a two-day event so, mathematically, there would be two headliners. I have acts like Billie Marten and Bat for Lashes near the top of my list. I know the reality of getting legends on board is going to be farfetched but they will be involved – I shall come to that later. On The Headline Stage, there would be the headliner but five-six other, big acts. By that, I mean thy will be established and not necessarily of-the-moment artists. The idea is not to have solely white female artists and cause another problem of inequality. The aim is to celebrate black and minority artists. In terms of quality and potential, Laura Mvula is someone I am keen to snare. The ambitions of Neneh Cherry and Beyoncé might seem a world-away but I am keen to include international talent in the festival – acts from the U.S., Australia and beyond. The fact the festival brings new artists together with mainstream means there is a multi-layer dynamic. Of the ‘big acts’ I am hoping, the likes of Honeyblood, Warpaint and Laura Marling are up there; London Grammar too (I know there are two men in the group but Hannah Reid is the lead). Of course, it is up to the curator to decide the actual line-up – whether it is Marling or somebody else. Giving spotlight to newer, unsigned acts is very important. So many festivals rely on bigger names and almost exclude those coming through. In terms of initial problems, finance and profitability are causes for investigation. I have seen festivals fail very soon after inception because they are unable to finance themselves or see any profit. The fact The Single Voice Festival is a multimedia happening that links with local venues and businesses mean that should not be an issue. It would be wonderful combing with P.R. companies and record labels: not only using some of their artists but ensuring the event is provided as much publicity as possible.

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I’ll discuss the way new and older music will unite but, like most festivals, it is not just about music. There are some fantastic female poets, speakers and writers in this country. There will be poetry readings and platform giving to rappers too – RAY BLK and many upcoming Urban artists would do well in small spaces I feel. Across smaller locations in the city, maybe cafes, small-capacity venues and charming spots, you can see some fantastic poetry, art and literature unfold. There is an emphasis on public participation and involvement. We would have teaching and interactive events where one can actively take part in events across the weekend/two days. Not taking it too far away from music but there is that blanket of creativity and art. D.J.s would be welcomed to play sets and show what fantastic female disc-jockeys are performing all around the world. Nina Kraviz is someone I am eager to approach and lead a stage/event. If you look at something like Meltdown Festival, that is what I am talking about – only it will be women having their voices put at the forefront. Not only will performers from the U.K. come together: sourcing creatives from all around the world is a key consideration. Throughout the festival, there will be talks and workshops that encourage people to think more about gender in music. We know there are fewer women in studios and music jobs; less emphasis when it comes to festival headliners. Throughout the two-day events, there will be talks, I hope, from women in music jobs; those who can exact influence and fight for better rights. It is not meant to hector but get people thinking; the younger generation inspired to take part. Similarly, there will be lectures and talks about women in music through time; how they have managed to shape and change the face of music as we know it.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Laura Mvula

That brings me to the point of inter-generational music and sporting the best from all time. I know it is not possible to get Kate Bush, Carole King and Björk on the bill but that is not to say they will be omitted. Interactivity and archiving classic female-made music is going to be a future. Maybe having music rooms that act like a studio/music café. You would get information/interviews with female musicians; listening stations and soundtracks from some of the greatest acts of all time. Not only can you flick through vinyl and access thousands of songs: a bespoke station/room where one can, at their fingertips, have access to the information/work of all the wonderful female musicians we have ever seen. It is important having musicians like Nina Simone, Patti Smith and Billie Holiday sitting alongside the best and brightest from today. The Single Voice Festival would have that desire and intuition: music from the 1930s through to present-day. Female D.J.s and presenters would be included – podcasts and broadcasts from them available. I am keen to have a charity/fundraising element come into the festival. Raising money and awareness is as important as the music itself. There would be fundraising around the site(s) that would work with a number of charities and causes. Among them would be women’s rights and issues around the world – helping those less fortunate or, otherwise, might be ignored. Education and awareness are vital when creating evolution imperative and abating apathy – a mission statement for The Single Voice Festival.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Honeyblood

Of course, these words are a hollow sucker to a man who dreams too big. If there are logistic and financial constraints then it might not happen at all. I mentioned apathy: that does not just extend to men who feel unconcerned with the gender-imbalance in music. If the public feel there are too many cooks in the festival kitchen, they might forgo another festival. Creating a niche and genuine originality is an important selling-point. Great music and wonderful female artists are the skin and core of a festival that not only gives women a chance to headline – we want to effect change and bring about genuine progression. If The Single Voice Festival does just that, then it could go on for years. I return to my earlier point and whether (having such an event) s sending a negative message. The aim is not to exclude men or cast aspersions. The majority of festivals have a majority of men on the bill: in a way, this is just trying to redress the balance. I am not sure If Marling would be interested in being involved in any way but can only hope – she is someone at the forefront of women’s rights in music. Whatever the outcome of that pitch, the festival is something I want to get started and see if it is viable. I shall keep people informed but if it gets the go-ahead, and it is a fundable festival, I feel it can genuinely…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Laura Marling

START to make a change.

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