Iceland Airwaves: Years Ahead of the Festival Line-Up Pledge for Equality
“When 45 music festivals pledged to have a 50/50 gender split across their line ups by 2022, many were sceptical, many were excited, many were confused as to how it would work. Enter Iceland Airwaves who, four years ahead of schedule, have already done it. “
When my band, Gaffa Tape Sandy, were asked to play Iceland Airwaves back in January we were ecstatic. Iceland had been on my bucket list for years, and the festival itself is known for having a huge eclectic mix of new music. When the full line-up was announced and it became clear that the festival were easily achieving the 50/50 split, it felt amazing to be a part of it.
Whilst it shouldn't even be an achievement, with such dire festival line ups still being announced, any improvement is worth commenting on.
We've all seen the edited line ups with the women removed and read the articles about gender equality at festivals, so instead I wanted to share my experience on what a totally equal festival actually feels like. Despite having been attending festivals for over 5 years, Iceland Airwaves was the first totally 50/50 festival I've been to.
“We spent a majority of our time at the venue we performed at, called the Gaukurrin. Described as the “queen of Reykjavik's grungy bar scene” that “operates a proactive safe space policy for LGBTQ+ gig goers”, I was relieved to find that it lived up to its reputation. With gender neutral toilets for all to use, and signs all around emphasising how you should be free to party without being spiked, the venue had such a safe atmosphere, without lacking personality. “
I was lucky enough to meet the venue owner, who drunkenly told me the story of his vision for the venue. He told me he had wanted to create a space where everyone was welcome. Whether you'd fucked up before or not, “We don't expect you to come in squeaky clean, but if you are going to be nice to everyone today, then you're welcome in my venue”. You could sense the genuine appreciation everyone in the venue had for live music, whether they were working or in the audience.
I didn't feel the need to try and actively make it clear that I wasn't just a band member's girlfriend and that I was in the band. I was able to tell the guys that if I wanted to go home earlier than them, I would feel comfortable walking the streets of Reykjavik by myself because I felt safe. And I wasn't on constant alert of who was standing behind me, and where their hands were.
It was weird but wonderful to feel so comfortable so far from home. Reykjavik and it's spaces for musicians seems to have gotten it right, and hopefully others start to follow suit. With 2022 just around the corner, hopefully we'll start to feel the changes very, very soon.
words / photos by Catherine Neilson and @triscatphone