Women in Festivals, the Slottsfjell Way

Siri N Moen of Slottsfjell
Siri N Moen. Photo by Nina Holtan

Siri N. Moen from Norway’s Slottsfjell tells Festival Insights about how women working in the festival industry are perceived

When I started last year as head of press in Slottsfjell, one of Norway’s biggest music festivals, I was the first woman to be appointed to one of it’s full time roles in the festival’s 12 year history.

In addition, I obviously do have female colleagues too, and some of these are indeed key roles, but not working full time for Slottsfjell. Three out of five of our board members are female as is our head of artist liaison, main stage manager, our transport chief to name but a few.

My impression is that outsiders see us as a handful determined, very hard working and conscientious professional individuals. Most of us are also highly educated, and often not within fields that primarily relate to our festival jobs. From time to time we are “made aware” or reminded with the fact that we are women in a boy’s club. It is not always clear what precisely that entails, other than the observation that the men outnumber us.

My gender was certainly no issue when I arrived here. If I wanted, I could probably analyse certain situations where male editors, colleagues or others, would apply one of the (oh so boring and classic) “master suppression techniques”. The occasional inappropriate joke, perhaps, but nothing major. In fact, amongst my female colleagues and peers, “gender is not an issue” is often our refrain. Everyday life matters more than the odd off-colour remark, for me as well as for the rest of my closest colleagues.

Take parenthood vs. late nights at the office, for example. As a parent with young children, this is important stuff. In our most stressful periods, we all benefit of a common understanding for this. The men I work with are of the typical modern kind with opinions and habits you would expect of men with a more equally balanced role with their partners than has previously been the norm in child rearing.

The flexibility this job affords us – both male and female colleagues, is in fact a huge plus. For a lot of people in our field, freelance work also makes up the core of your income, and therefore I also mention the Norwegian maternity / paternity leave. This comes in addition to subsidised day care – both are financed by Norwegian tax payer’s money – which enables you to have a schedule both you and your kids can live with.

Every year, journalists in Norway count female artists on the main domestic festival line-ups. Every year there is a mock of a debate that usually ends with “This has to change!” vs. “We’re just doing our job / Nothing should overrule our free booking policy”. But this year something is different in the kingdom of Norway.

Coincidentally, the debate is more constructive this year, parallel with Slottsfjell’s line up with a significant feminine profile, especially among our headliners (Haim, First Aid Kit, Lykke Li, Veronica Maggio, Monica Heldal, Highasakite, Chlöe Howl, etc). But the debate around the festival’s line up should not overshadow a much more important challenge, which probably is addressing how women are welcomed into various professional roles. This is more complex than just counting how many women your festival put on stage – ask any music-making girl who has been touring with her band, if she is treated with the same respect as her male band colleagues. But then, come to think of it, she could have her own reasons to keep quiet about it.

When asked (again) this year, about the percentage of female artists in our line-up, and the follow-up question on why there aren’t more of them, I had no trouble in rejecting procedural quota on booking. At the same time I feel an obligation towards our female audience; they should also have the empowering experience of identifying themselves with the artists in the spotlight. And does it have to be a conflict between the two ideas? Making sure you have cool artists of both sexes, and at the same time having a booking policy free of political demands.

In everyday life, I do not feel gender is an obstacle. But it is of course an issue. One way or another. (Thank you, Debbie Harry.)

Siri N. Moen is Head of Press for Slottsfjell Festival, Norway. She has also worked for several years as a music journalist and radio host, and as Head of Music Norway’s Berlin office.