Last weekend, Clockenflap, Hong Kong’s only big music festival took place. Originally I had decided to veto it and thankfully I changed my mind last minute and got my tickets, I would have been pretty pissed if I missed M.I.A’s performance. M.I.A has always been pretty present on my itunes and I was semi-familiar with her progression as an artist, catching interviews here and there, I was aware of her new releases. I had a vague memory of the video for ‘Galang’, in which she dances in front of animated graffiti of militant images. I also recalled the video for, probably her most famous track, “Paper Planes” and without giving it much further thought I assumed her set would be a live representation of these two videos, with her pretty stationary in front of a backdrop of images to enhance the performance. How very wrong I was.
Armed with swagger of the highest degree and hoards of energy, her performance was more comparable to her powerful presence in her 2013 video for “Bring The Noise (Street Edition)”. She arrived on stage wearing an orange wig, striped gloves, a white windbreaker tracksuit, reminiscent of the video for “Mo Money Mo Problems”, where Diddy floated around in a massive wind machine. A windbreaker would have indeed come in use that night as the rain poured down, monsoon signals were raised and for the first time in Hong Kong this season, it was actually cold. A lot of people went home early that day but those that stayed accepted the saturation and danced off the damp to the tunes of this super cool broad. She tore up the mic and affronted it with so much energy it was infectious. She gave it to us, hard. Her songs are intricate, filled with multi-cultural sound inspirations, arrays of samples, political messages and a unique euphonious abrasiveness to them that when listening to them, and not dedicating full attention, its easy to overlook just how talented she is as a rapper, amongst everything else going on. This was amended throughout her set. During her costume change she adopted a pink wig and a bright orange windbreaker. This ensemble combined with the bad weather made it feel like Missy Elliot’s video for “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” and supa dupa fly it was indeed. Her stellar performance was accompanied by some (also very 90’s reminiscent) choreography, encouraging the crowd to get down too and indeed we did. There was a slight hiccup when she started saying how she didn’t want to come to China for a long time but she’s glad she did and how Hong Kong is the best city in China. Hong Kong isn’t in China and people find it insulting when the difference is ignored (much like when people think Republic of Ireland is in the UK). Since the Sri-Lanken/British musician is known for her political engagement, the crowd was kind of pissed. I looked at her twitter and Instagram afterwards to see what was up and it appears she had been in China for the couple of weeks leading up to the gig and posted some relevant content, so I’m sure she’s aware of the history here. It may have just been a miscommunication from her choice of words and the audience’s interpretation; she was forgiven pretty quickly when she launched into a new track and all was well again.
As I rejoiced in her badass performance, I tried to think of the other female headliners I’ve seen at festivals, and I couldn’t think of any. I could only think of a handful of women I had seen at festivals, comparing to the literal near hundreds of men I’ve seen. I assumed it was just the beer fogging my memory, surely I must have seen a hella of a lot more women than my memory was serving. Google Machine to the rescue…. Nope it wasn’t the hoppy confusion, the ratio of men and women musicians is pretty shitty. Tis once again the ole gender inequality wheel ticking along strongly.
From looking at different sites, it averages around 80% of the line-up in every festival is male. Have a look see;
Fusion.net took a look at all the music festivals in the States;
Britain is no better, here’s the Reading and Leeds festival line up if all the male only bands/performers were removed:
Or closer to home, Dailyedge.ie made a poster of Electric Picnic with all the females performing (including females in a band made up with men):
That’s pretty shitty. But thankfully I have had the pleasure of seeing some pretty badass chicks that I thoroughly recommend you check out like,
Brittany Howard from Alabama Shakes:
Okay, this one is kind of cheating because I missed their set at Electric Picnic 2012, they were on super early on the Friday and we had tents to put up and beer to drink and as time does at festivals, it escaped us and I missed them. But she was there, when I was there and I have seen her twice since at Alabama Shakes gig so I’m counting her. She is one of the most captivating performers I have ever seen. The first time I saw her in Dublin’s Olympia I was awestruck by just how damn cool she was, how impeccably she played the guitar and sang with so much soul and talent. The way she conducted her band mates in this funk-rock fusion orchestra, it felt like the whole room was just going to take off to another funk dimension. She rocked the hell out. The second time I saw her was just as incredible, if not more so. Here’s the notes lifted straight from my iphone that I wrote straight after the gig in November 2015:
“It was a blues opera. The whole aesthetic and feel of the show is very different, it’s developed/more mature sound into a very powerful rhythm and blues/soul album reminiscent of Amy/Aretha. How this woman hasn’t been propelled to the fame proportions of Adele or indeed Amy is beyond me, she is a powerhouse and magic lies within their music. Sometimes the songs ran into each other, like Howard was turning it on and off, when it was on, the whole crowd was absorbed, mesmerised and it felt meditative. When her pedal was off it led to people drifting off amongst themselves talking or making a stampede for the bar before she put the acceleration on for the home run, where she had the whole venue in the palm of her hand gaping in awe at how she held the notes. She simmered it off to a blissful boogie as they played their popular songs to end the set.”
I think I cried a bit actually, in between repeatedly shouting to my friend “I just want to be her.” She was that awesome. No wonder they won a bunch of Grammys this year. If you haven’t listened to them check them out, particularly if blues-rock/soul tickles your fancy.
Recommendations: Check out ‘Gimme all your Love’ live & “Don’t wanna fight”
Alice Glass of Crystal Castles:
From soulful chill vibes the next artist is the complete opposite, it’s the invigorating ruckus that is Alice Glass from Crystal Castles, playing on the Saturday afternoon of Electric Picnic 2012. The hangover was webbed deeply within my soul from the previous night’s antics, even the morning cure was faulty in soothing my ailing head, yet off we trekked to the main stage and thankfully were greeted by this ferocious female thrashing around the stage. I hadn’t been too familiar with Crystal Castles before hand but was certainly a fan afterwards. I am a fan of anyone that can make people jump around crazy like that at 4pm in the afternoon. I soon forgot about my hangover and was too busy flailing my limbs around on the instruction of this missile of a woman. She even dived off the stage a few times and into the crowd, the security gaurds did not seem to devote themselves as eagerly to her antics as the rest of the crowd, who sacrificed themselves whole heartedly. She left the band in 2014 due to a dispute with the other member and has since been replaced my Edith Frances. They too played at Clockenflap this past weekend but the schedule conflicted with Foals set. When they finished I rushed away but got distracted by the magnetic mixings of 3 djs and a bunch of turntables, the band Birdy Nam Nam. When I finally got to the edge of the tent, I saw Frances swinging from speaker overhead as she finished up their set. My friends who saw the full set confirmed her she is just as badass.
Recommendations: Untrust us & Crimewave are my favourites from their back catalogue, I’m not yet up to date on the new stuff.
Solange Knowles, Body and Soul 2014
With the huge success of her album ‘A Seat At The Table’ this year Solange is finally getting the independence and global recognition as an individual artist that she deserves. This has been a long time coming. Many times when brought up in conversations over the years, her surname made some music snobs immediately write her off as just Beyonce’s little sister, assuming she is your run of the mill popstar, paying no head to protests that she’s awesome. She’s been cool as hell for years now – separate from her sister. She took the stage at Body and Soul, with gravitas and impressive braids past bum length, and serenaded the festival with soulful, 80’s pop funk infused grooves like her song “Losing you”. She was the perfect Sunday pick-me-up. I really hope Solange tours the festival circuit this year with her new material.
Recommendations: I love “losing you” and most of her 2013 EP True (“Lovers in the Parking Lot” in particular is pop nostalgia, 808 perfection) and of course her new album is pretty incredible, “Cranes in The Sky” the debut single will get stuck in your head for days, in the best way possible!
Twas the Friday evening of Longitude 2015, a friend and I wandered excitingly around the stages to get our bearings for the days ahead. As we explored around we heard the most incredible voice and primal drumbeats that lured us into a tent where we saw these two incredible performers. These Parisian twin sisters were born in Cuba and sing both in English and Yoruban (the Nigerian language their ancestors spoke). Their songs are haunting and bewitching, as was their performance. I don’t think the crowd was overly familiar with their songs yet they had everyone singing along and getting down. Their energy was incredible and led to me shouting at my friend a loud, repetitive rendition of “Oh my god, I love them!”. When I listen to their music they make me want to roll around barefoot in grass or jump through a lake in summertime, they envoke a sense of freedom… making them the perfect act for festivals. They’ve recently gained more fame in the U.S as they appeared in Beyonce’s accompanying film to her album Lemonade. Fingers crossed they’ll pay us a visit this festival season.
Recommendations: “Ghosts” and “River” are stunning tracks from their debut album, you need this in your ears!
Régine Chassagne of Arcade Fire:
I saw Arcade Fire in 2015 at a one day festival in Marlay Park in Dublin. Arcade Fire were one of those bands that I heard on the radio but never listened to. I would meet die hard fans that would spout rhetoric of the band’s genius but for a long time it fell on deaf ears, until I saw them. Their whole show was a spectacular celebration of music, dance, art, colour, lights, love and confetti guns. Supported by The Pixies who were pretty disappointing, Arcade Fire ignited this explosion of happiness, freedom and love throughout the audience. The crowd abandoned their chill vibes and picnic blankets to party with this indie rock orchestra. I soon realised I knew most of their songs and seeing them brought to life in this euphoric manner moulded me into a lifetime fan. The band is made up of many members mostly men (A good portion of the internet is dedicated purely to Arcade Fire and you can check out all the wonderful details on those members there). However, one of the founding members and lead singer is female Régine Chassagne. A Canadian lady, of Haitian descent, she holds a myriad of talents which she bestows to their live shows such as playing the accordion, drums, xylophone, hurdy-gurdy, keyboards, organ and singing. She’s immeasurably cool and is invigorating to watch. While touring, the band is complimented with another female member, violinist Sarah Neufeld. I can’t wait to exult in another Arcade Fire party the next time I have the pleasure of seeing them.
Recommendations: Everything! Seriously. If I had to chose my favourite “Sprawl II”, “Neighbourhood #1”, “Reflektor” (which David Bowie did backing vocals on) and “Afterlife” are my favourites.
So there’s some of the best female performers I’ve been lucky enough to witness at festivals. As mentioned earlier, campsite distractions can be a blessing and hindrance at festivals and time does fly by when you’re having fun so there are probably more that I would have loved and I missed. There are a handful of others who I saw that weren’t my cup of tea. There seems to be more and more original female artists coming up, making their own music, and I hope this is evident in future line-ups. By the time next summer rolls around I hope I have dozens more to add that I haven’t seen before like, particularly hoping FKA Twigs, Christine and The Queens, Jorja Smith, Jenny Beth (Savages)and PJ Harvey. Or the dream of heavy hitters like Florence, Missy Elliot, Alanis Morrisette or Courtney Love (Hole) or No doubt (with Gwen on lead). So many badass women, to name a few off the top of my head. Oh, and Beyonce. Always Beyonce.
I’d love to hear about some of the badass women you, lovely reader, have seen at festivals. Comment below or tweet @Viragocarnival and if you like this post, share it please!
Author: Shaunna Lee Lynch
About: I am an Irish writer, performer, avid day dreamer, generally enthusiastic, hip hop enthusiast,living in Hong Kong.