The lack of gender diversity in the music industry is an enduring problem across the UK. Despite being a city defined by radical thought and a colourful musical past, Manchester still has
On the 8th of March, people in Manchester and all over the world celebrate International Women’s Day. IWD began in Soviet Russia, where it became a national holiday after women gained suffrage there. Since then it has been adopted by several other countries as a day to celebrate the achievements of women. The campaign theme for International Women’s Day 2019 is #BalanceforBetter, calling for a more gender balanced world, particularly within the realms of work.
The music industry is not exempt from gender imbalance, with the average gender pay gap at the three biggest record companies – Sony, Universal, and Warner – sitting as 33.8%. Equally alarming is the percentage of female artists booked by music festivals in recent years. Last year, an analysis of 9 UK music festivals found 583 acts to be all-male, 97 all-female and 76 mixed. Few studies consider the representation of transgender people and those who do not identify within the gender binary.
Manchester’s recent musical history does not escape the problem. Many bands synonymous with the phrase ‘Manchester music’ have an exclusively male or male dominated line up – Oasis, The Charlatans, The Smiths, Joy Division, Inspiral Carpets and The Stone Roses to name a few. From a female perspective, the history of clubbing in Manchester is equally disappointing. In films and books that document the rise and fall of The Haçienda, little is mentioned of DJ Paulette, Lucy Scher and Ang Matthews – three women who were integral to the growth and running of the club.
More efforts are being made to address this gender imbalance, and to make the industry more inclusive of not just women, but transgender and non-binary people too. In the spirit of International Women’s day, I’d like to celebrate some of the emerging female, trans and non-binary artists active in Manchester’s music scene today.
Lead vocalist and guitarist Rosey acknowledges that people may feel ‘intimidated or outnumbered at times’ by the lack of gender diversity in the music scene. She believes the will to make and share music is special, and that gender or sexuality shouldn’t get in the way of people realising their musical potential. She also stresses the importance of inspiring future generations of artists by exposing them to a diverse array of performers. She recommends checking out Inland Taipan, Katie Pham and The Moonbathers and All Girls Arson Club.
Priceless Bodies are a recently formed musical and production duo, comprising of twin sisters Viv and Bianca Pencz. They cite their main influences as 70s and 80s post-punk, new wave and glam rock, as well as film and socio-political issues. Their new single ‘The First Divorcee’ is a wonderfully angular concoction of cowbells, raw vocals, distorted guitar and a sample of a knife being sharpened.
Viv and Bianca feel that growing up in a society that ‘constantly devalues women and women’s contributions to music culture’ has been damaging to their musical development. For the same reasons, they admit it has taken a long time for them to build up the confidence to share their music with the public. Some of the Manchester based artists who inspire them are Rachel Hillary, bunny hoova, Pearl City, currentmoodgirl and Handle.
SNO is a Manchester based DJ whose record collection spans Highlife, Afrobeat, Makossa, Funk, Disco, Zouk and more. Her vibrant sets fill rooms with grinning faces and joyful energy. She appeared on the scene in 2015, joining the likes of Disco Mums, Meat Free, DJ Paulette, Andrea Trout, Anz and Annabel Fraser. Since then she has experienced a meteoric rise, playing alongside Gilles Peterson, Tony Allen and Mr Scruff to name a few. She feels lucky to have attained a modicum of success in a short space of time and to have already presented her sets at very reputable events.
However, she notes that her rise has not been without its challenges. She adds, ‘whilst I have been afforded respect by most of my male
Caoilfhionn Rose is a singer, songwriter and producer from Manchester. Her debut album Awaken, released on Gondwana records in October 2018, is an ethereal blend of folk, psychedelia and electronica. The album is rich in texture, with layered vocal harmonies, gentle guitar riffs and subtle use of delay. It maintains an expansive quality, and a feeling of peace and tranquillity reverberates throughout.
While studying at School of Electronic Music in Manchester, Caoilfhionn was the only girl on her course. She would like to see more female producers in the field which is currently male dominated. Since being in the music industry she has experienced instances of sexism and dismissal and has found women have to speak louder to be heard. However, she thinks that Manchester already has a diverse and thriving music scene and feels part of a strong female force within it that seems to be growing.
AVANI is a trans-feminine vocalist and producer based in Manchester. She blends elements of synthpop, rock and trip-hop to create songs that ‘you can dance or cry to, depending on your day.’ She released her debut single Heavenly Love in October 2018, which begins with an arresting, glitchy beat and slowly develops into a soulful synthpop banger.
AVANI thinks one of her main difficulties is having to play to crowds who don’t take her seriously as an artist. She recalls playing shows where she could ‘really feel the energy of people who don’t understand what they’re seeing’ and feels ‘the difficulty grows as the audience grows.’ However, she credits Manchester music itself for developing in an interesting way and feels it’s inevitable that the scene should diversify alongside it.
bunny hoova fuses elements of electronica, trip hop, grunge and electro rock to create hypnotic, swampy grooves and ambient soundscapes. Her track Magnet exists in a strange, disorienting world of its own where the drunken beat slumps forward under a chorus of sirens and down-pitched vocals. Denying is more bittersweet in vibe, with melancholic detuned keys and Cocteau Twins-esque vocal production.
She believes a more diverse scene would allow artists to make more meaningful connections with one another. She adds, ‘what makes a music scene is about unity to some degree – therefore we’re attracted to labelling and finding unity in diversity, and the other way round.’ Some of the Manchester artists she’s been following recently include Iceboy Violet, Pearl City, currentmoodgirl and Handle.
Yemi Bolatiwa is a
One of the main challenges she faces is breaking the stereotypes associated with black female singers. She is tired of routine assumptions like ‘I bet you can sing like Whitney Houston’ and ‘do you do reggae?’ She thinks that the more diverse a scene becomes in terms of gender, race and sexuality, the more interesting it becomes. She believes it’s important to see ‘expressions of more varied perspectives and projections of different life experiences.’
Handle are a recently formed No-Wave trio consisting of Leo Hermitt, Giulio Erasmus and Nirvana Heire. Their newly released demos are an amalgamation of unpredictable patterns, agitated vocals and razor-sharp synth lines. The tracks are rhythmically tight, yet they maintain an erratic and improvisational feel. They are strangely playful in nature despite being pervaded by a stark sense of urgency.
Genderqueer vocalist and keyboard player Leo says, ‘trying to navigate heteronormative terrain, whiteness, homophobia, silence and life acrobatics growing up is difficult.’ However, they feel a sense of community in Manchester and describe Handle as a point of connection. They support artists Ajah UK, Hannah Ross, Layfullstop, IBEN, bunny
Dreampop group Sequin Sally
Lead vocalist Sal Isaacs is committed to making the Manchester music scene more inclusive of women and all members of the LGBTQ+ community. She seeks out female engineers, producers and promoters to work with and acknowledges that they are vastly underrepresented within the industry. She is also working together with artists SUGAR, The Elephant Trees and AVANI to make line ups more LGBTQ+ friendly in Manchester.
All Hands On Deck
All Hands On Deck are a recently formed DJ collective. They play a wide selection of genres ranging from Neapolitan disco to 90s pop bangers and everything in between. As well as playing together as a collective, they hold open deck events where women, trans and non-binary people are encouraged to try their hand at DJing. When they began DJing, they felt they could benefit from a low pressure, supportive learning space. So, they decided to create that space and open it up to other people who might in the same position.
Despite being a relatively new project, the team have already observed the positive impact of AHOD. Some workshop attendees have started DJing elsewhere in the city and have even collaborated with each other after meeting through AHOD. They would like to continue to offer an inclusive space for new female, trans and non-binary DJs and perhaps book inspiring acts in the future. Some Manchester artists they’ve been following recently include LOFT, Iceboy Violet, Anz, Afrodeutsche, RebeccaNeverBecky, Sofie K, Clemency and
Love the Manchester music scene? Check out our guide to Manchester music venues.