“Right, that’s it. We’re organising a female-positive music festival!”

This was the statement that kickstarted this summer’s hottest new music festival: PandoraFest. Organiser and joint founder Caroline Daalmeijer had had enough of the obstacles thrown in the way of female musicians on the festival circuit and decided to start her own, where women are centre stage and top of the bill.

Hanna sits down for a chat with Daalmeijer to get her thoughts on the gender imbalance of major festivals, and how she hopes to inspire them to re-evaluate their line-ups.

How long has PandoraFest been in the pipeline and what was the catalyst behind it?

I suppose you could say PandoraFest has been in the pipeline since there has been live music! But to be less glib, the people PandoraFest organisers are, or have been, are producers, sound engineers and musicians. All of us have experienced first-hand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of the obstacles thrown in front of women in the music industry. Over a year ago, some of us started talking about the lack of women performers on the live festival circuit.

Again, we knew from experience that the big name festival committees (including the women in those committees) actively favour male artists. Without naming names, we know that some go as far as telling female artists that they are good, but not ‘what we’re looking for’ and they ‘would do better to sound more like so-and-so’, as one award-winning female musician was told by a big name festival last year.

Around the same time that we were discussing this amongst ourselves, a Guardian article came out, highlighting precisely this problem for women in live music, complete with statistics that made us sit up and say: “Right, that’s it. We’re organising a female-positive music festival!”

How big is the team behind PandoraFest and how many acts are on the bill?

Our team is my fellow PandoraFest founder Jammy and myself (Caroline Daalmeijer), plus about 10 others (mostly women!). They are heading up on-site tech, artist bookings and liaisons, catering, security, health and safety, PR, social media, collaboration with our location hosts at Duncarron Medieval Village, and so on.

Our line-up boasts 35 acts of varying genres, from experimental jazz to head-down metal, electronica to folk, country to classic rock, afro-psych to neo-punk, pop to acoustic and much more.

Do you envisage PandoraFest happening again, or is it a one-off event?

If this launch year is a success, it would be wonderful to make PandoraFest a permanent annual addition to Scotland’s festival season. Of course!

We’d have everything in place to make it happen. The amount of acts that submitted music was overwhelming, to such a degree that we have had to say no to quite a few artists we’d have given a slot to in a heartbeat. So there’s definitely opportunity for a repeat.

The festival is a labour of love and we hope to inspire other festivals to re-evaluate their line-up criteria; to inspire festival goers not to settle for cookie-cutter fare on their live circuit; to think outside the box and be vocal about what they expect and hope to see.

But let’s not forget that going to a festival is primarily supposed to be fun, so if on the day I look out over the festival area and see lots of people relaxed and happy, while enjoying great music, I’ll be really content.

What’s your favourite act on the bill and why?

I have very eclectic taste, but I will be thrilled to hear acclaimed Dutch singer Mathilde Santing, who will be singing Joni Mitchell. Others I’m excited to hear, if I can get away from grown-up commitments during their set, are Vodun, Courtesans, One More, Moxxie, Bugeye, The Swizzle Sisters, Sofia B., Syntonic and Heel. If I could I’d be everywhere at once!

Do you think the visibility/appreciation of female musicians at festivals has improved 
or is there still a long way to go?

I think it’s in the process of improving, but I am also pretty irked that it’s 2016 and you are still having to ask that question at all!

It’s noteworthy that top artists like Missy Elliott, Ellie Goulding, Björk, and Lady Gaga are being vocal about the glass ceiling for women in music. The fact that it is there, even for them, at their level, means there is still an imbalance to redress.

I get really worked up that good music, films, etc., are still viewed through a gendered lens. Any art should be enjoyed and experienced for its own sake and it’s appalling that whether the artist is male or female enhances or diminishes it in the eye of the viewer or listener. Our preferences are unconsciously loaded by the entertainment media that surrounds us and to provide a visible alternative is important.

As far as the live circuit is concerned: you only have to look at the statistics to see that the ratio of male/female artists at festivals is woefully uneven. Very often festivals only book women of certain accepted genres for women to succeed in, like country, punk or pop. PandoraFest will feature the talents of female artists representing as many different genres as possible and you can be sure that that extends behind the scenes; there will be female techs, female crew and female sound engineers at work, as well as men.

I’d like to make very clear that PandoraFest is an inclusive event: you’ll see mixed bands and everyone’s welcome to attend. At the end of the day, it’s about good music, and good music should be enjoyed by all.

However…if there are girls and young women in the PandoraFest audience whose minds are alerted to the possibility of becoming a musician, by offering a positive example of great women musicians on the stage in front of them, we’ll call that a happy side effect.

What message do you want people to take from PandoraFest?

Equality and Quality Music can go hand in hand!

Interviewer: Wendy Davies

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