Festival Republic launch ReBalance for emerging women and non-binary artists: “I hope that more people give them the same opportunity”

Aprilia Rine

Festival Republic launch ReBalance for emerging women and non-binary artists: “I hope that more people give them the same opportunity”

Festival Republic’s managing director Melvin Benn has told NME about the launch of their new ReBalance initiativ eand his commitment to supporting emerging women and non-binary artists..

The festival boss, who is behind Reading & Leeds, Download and more, spoke to NME around the relaunch ReBalance – a year-long development programme that provides opportunities to women and gender-expansive artists throughout the UK.

Initially, the programme was launched in 2017 and ran for three years, before ultimately being shelved due to COVID. Now, six up-and-coming acts have been announced as participating in the revamped 2024 programme, and are set to receive expert mentorship in the studio, as well as a guaranteed slot at a Festival Republic event in 2025.

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“I launched it in 2017 because it was apparent — and continues to be apparent — that there is an insufficient number of women and non-binary people getting into recording studios and getting their albums made to the standard where they can get airplay,” Benn told NME, explaining how the initiative looks to offer more than just the opportunity to perform on a festival stage.

“It’s the easiest thing in the world to just put more women and non-binary people on a stage at a festival, but if the audience don’t know them, they won’t receive them well and that won’t do their career any good,” he continued. “We have to start at that point of getting a decent recording so that people can start listening… then we can begin building an audience up through live performance.”

Ethel Cain performs on day 3 of Reading Festival 2023 at Richfield Avenue on August 27, 2023 in Reading, England. (Photo by Joseph Okpako/WireImage)

The artists selected for this year’s initiative include Mary O’Donnell (a singer, songwriter and folk guitarist exploring themes of womanhood in her music) Sprout (a rising solo artist from Burnley who first made their debut in 2022) and samxemma (an electronic duo inspired by messy, glitchy world of hyperpop).

The others are Bebeluna (a multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer also known by the DJ alias ‘XYRAK47), Red Ivory (a female-led, genre-defying band from South East London) and Cruush (a Manchester-based alt-indie group already gaining tracking for their mix of darkwave nursery rhymes).

In talking to NME, Benn revealed that the selection process was based entirely on who Festival Republic saw as having potential, and that it was only after seeing the artists interacting that the importance of the programme fully sank in.

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“To be honest, I hadn’t thought about inviting them to my festivals this year because it just hadn’t crossed my mind,” said Benn. “But when I saw them all together, bubbling with excitement about what they were doing and how they could help each other, it made sense.

“None of these acts had met each other before, but you could see by the end of the evening the way they were bonding with each other and collectively encouraging each other. It was fantastic.”

Benn continued: “They were able to see what it was like to be among a group of young women and non-binary artists that were going to make them feel better about themselves and encourage each other in a way that hasn’t been happening enough.

“It has been a man’s world. Unfortunately things do take time to change, but unless people like me are willing to make the effort to assist that change, it will take longer for it to come. I’m glad that that’s something I’m able to do and help with.”

Dana Dentata performs on Day 2 of Download festival at Donnington Park on June 11, 2022 in Donnington, England.
Dana Dentata performs on Day 2 of Download festival at Donnington Park on June 11, 2022 in Donnington, England. (Photo by Joseph Okpako/WireImage)

In being selected for the ReBalance initiative, the six artists will be paired with a carefully chosen producer and studio for their respective projects and receive mentoring from some of the industry’s most sought-after voices. Each recording session will be assisted by a woman or gender-expansive professional too – something which the festival boss explained as vital in making musicians feel more at home in the studio.

“The recording world is very largely dominated by men and I don’t think that’s a great start, particularly for these acts, to go into because they’re not seeing people they identify with in positions of control within a studio environment,” he explained.

“So part of the commitment I have is to do everything I can to ensure that there is better access to female and non-binary engineers and producers. Through that, there’s no breakdown of communication and it allows for that feeling of inspiration. That’s something that we’re working really hard for.”

Although acknowledging that there’s still a long way to go in terms of seeing more diverse festival bills in the future, Benn went on to highlight how the issues within the music industry are more complex than simply adding a wider range of demographics to the line-up.

“The industry is one of the most amazing in the world. New talent is emerging all the time, so I don’t think the industry itself is preventing enough women and non-binary people from getting through,” he said. “I think the principle is that not enough young artists have seen others from those backgrounds succeed, and therefore taken inspiration from it.”

English Teacher at Reading 2023. Credit: Andy Ford
English Teacher at Reading 2023. Credit: Andy Ford

He went on: “And you won’t see them succeed without giving them that opportunity… This is that opportunity for us, and I hope that more people give young women and non-binary artists the same opportunity as I’m trying to with ReBalance.”

As for how he envisions the future of festival line-ups, Benn reaffirmed his positive outlook and insisted that the live music landscape is on its way to becoming much more accepting.

“There’s plenty of work to be done, of course, but it’s a really positive sight seeing the line-ups now, it’s much better than it used to be,” he concluded. “It’s not changing as fast as many of us would like it to. But change is always slower than everybody wants, so I’m still very encouraged about it for the future – 100 per cent.”

Find out more about Festival Republic’s ReBalance initiative here.

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