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Glastonbury & putting the ‘I’ in DEI

Updated: Jul 5

Glastonbury is the biggest staple in UK music culture and, according to Somerset council, the biggest performing arts festival in the world (Coachella would definitely have something to say about that). After spending last week in Algarve, Portugal for Afro Nation and witnessing the sea of ethnic diversity of the crowd myself, I wondered about the broader trends of diversity in festival culture. 

In this week’s headlines, there have been conversations regarding the cultural shift around Glastonbury, with more racial diversity amongst headliners and attendees than ever before. This year presented a watershed moment for marginalised groups with the first-ever Trans Liberation panel. There was also the debut of the ‘Scissors Tent,’ a revolutionary lesbian space with a secret nightclub, as well as the festival’s first-ever dedicated South Asian space in the Shangri-La area. Now, if you take the news at face value, you may think that Glastonbury has had a facelift. 

What remains the same is the extortionate ticket prices and lavish VIP areas.

However, naysayers like Paloma Faith predict that this ‘knee-jerk reaction’ is only temporary and that the festival will ‘go back to white men again’. For such an accomplished musician, what would make Faith so confident that Glastonbury’s diversity efforts are performative? 

Perhaps we need to differentiate between dialling up diversity and creating a feeling of inclusion, as there’s a difference. If we cast our minds back to 2008, when Noel Gallagher of Oasis said, ‘I’m not having hip-hop at Glastonbury. It’s wrong’, we can see the undertones. 

Humble beginnings? 

Glastonbury Festival, originally called the Pilton Pop, Folk & Blues Festival, was founded by Michael Eavis in 1970. Inspired by the free-spirited ethos of the 1960s counterculture movements and the Isle of Wight Festival, Eavis aimed to create a space for artistic expression and communal gathering on his farm. The inaugural event, marked by an eclectic mix of music and attendees, laid the foundation for what would become a symbol of social change, environmental consciousness, and diverse musical celebration, rooted in unity and creativity.

“When I set out on this crazy, hippy trip, little did I know that this roller coaster would run. But now I have to pinch myself every morning when I wake up to the excitement of another day heading up a team of the most creative artists anywhere in the world.” — Michael Evis, co-creator of Glastonbury Festival

Who knew it would be one of the biggest stages in the world?

In 2022, Lenny Henry was surprised by the lack of Black and Brown faces at Glastonbury, but this year presents a stark difference. This year features a broader spectrum of artists of colour, including Burna Boy and Bobby Friction, with prominent Pyramid Stage slots for SZA and Michael Kiwanuka. This diversity could reflect a deeper cultural shift and an effort to address previous shortcomings, setting a new standard for inclusivity in the festival scene.

Inclusion as a next step 

When we think about festivals or events at large, evidently diversity for all protected characteristics is no longer a nice to have, but a necessity. A diverse selection of artists or panellists – as well as accessibility requirements like a sign language interpreter, are now the makings of a good event. 

Cannes Lions is another example of a festival prioritising inclusion as the next crucial step, emphasising the importance of making all attendees feel genuinely included rather than merely meeting diversity quotas. Upon her travels, our MD made a poignant observation

“I picked up that people were feeling the inclusivity of the spaces, they were getting access to the discussions that mattered, and they were feeling inspired by their craft.

In 2024, what’s important is creating a truly inclusive experience for marginalised groups who have felt excluded from spaces like Cannes Lions or Glastonbury. One way to get them to feel comfortable and enjoy the experience? Co-design festivals with them, not just with them in mind. 

The fact is, the call for diversity has been loud for a while now. With the rumblings of DEI being dead still persisting, it’s time for organisations to get that step further. 

Camping out 

Historically, a key barrier or deterrent for marginalised groups to head down to Glastonbury is the prospect of “camping out”. This likely comes from the perception of the outdoors and the countryside – space which felt exclusive towards faces who don’t fit in with the locals. In the UK, White people make up for 96.8% of the rural population in comparison to the 81.7% of the urban population, which may explain why places like Somerset can feel alienating.

It feels reductive to say that Black and Brown people simply just don’t camp– we have to look at the facts and understand the barriers. Earlier this year, Wildlife and Countryside Link presented a report to Parliament on racism and its influence on the outdoors. They argue that the British countryside is a white space governed by white British cultural values and a colonial legacy – presenting “structural, experiential, and cultural” barriers for minority groups.

So while we’d like to camp out in our Hunter wellies and go “glamping” in luxury tents with champagne by the fire, there is real history we need to consider. 

However, we have to acknowledge groups like Black Girls Hike and Flock Together that are trying to change the narrative of an inaccessible countryside. They are encouraging marginalised groups to venture out into the green spaces. In fact, Ethan Joseph and Ollie Tikare – two Black men who avidly attend camping festivals, shared their experience of going to Glastonbury this year, and shed light on how Black joy can be possible in this space: 

“Overall, we find that people are overwhelmingly kind and welcoming, and bar the odd comment – and the person who approached us to buy drugs – we’ve had the time of our lives. Everyone agrees it’s too expensive, and that there aren’t enough Black people behind the scenes, but we think that can be addressed. Black life is alive and well at Glastonbury, and we’ll definitely be back next year. You should come too.”

While this may not characterise the experience of all marginalised voices, if we think of the nature of Glastonbury, it probably wasn’t created for everyone in mind.

It’s hard on the pocket 

It’s no secret that in recent years, Glastonbury has gained the reputation of being one of the most ‘bourgeoisie’ events of the cultural calendar. In 1970, tickets cost £1 compared to a whopping £340, excluding travel, accommodation, and on-site amenities, which has made it less accessible to the vast majority of the UK.

In 2024, where the average median UK salary is £35,724 and around 4 in 10 energy bill payers struggle to afford payments – who has the disposable income to afford Glastonbury tickets? 

The following tweets encapsulate the general sentiments around what group Glastonbury is geared towards: 

It’s clear that Glastonbury’s original creation wasn’t intended for the middle class, but more so a safe space for free expression. Due to rising demand, the need to secure brand sponsorships and maximise profits, over time the demographic shifts have meant attendance has naturally skewed towards attendees with higher tax brackets. This has been accompanied by the proliferation of “glamping options” or luxury camping facilities, and VIP packages, catering to an audience that would rather pay for comfort and convenience.

Keeping this in mind, the cost of Glastonbury excludes a large part of the UK population.

To put the price jump into perspective, have a glance at this graph that takes us through Glastonbury ticket prices through the years: 

Or is it just the music?

Perhaps we need to simplify this discussion with the simple fact of why Glastonbury may not be for everyone because of its musical identity. The festival has been revered as a haven for indie and rock enthusiasts, with its history of legendary performances by bands like Radiohead, The Cure, and Arctic Monkeys solidifying its reputation. Some members of our team reflect these sentiments. As managing director, Simone Marquis still doesn’t feel in the know:

“I have also generally associated this Festival with Rock/ Grunge/ Indie music, even though it has changed so much over the years… although not enough to entice me as I think I would be quite intimated by the Festival crowd who are in the know of how you “do” Glastonbury… I for one, haven't got a clue.”

Similarly, Principal Consultant, Cathia Randrianarivo, reflects on her previous perceptions of Glastonbury and how this has changed with time: 

“Based on stories, people I’ve seen going and line-up — I’ve also thought [it’s for] predominantly White / rock audiences, but I will say my perception has been changing over the last few years with more people of colour going (influencers or not) or headlining stages — for example this year they had the first Muslim all girl rock band performing called Voice of Baceprot.”

While Glastonbury has expanded its offerings to include more pop, electronic, and hip-hop acts, the perception of it as a rock-centric event persists. This can be a double-edged sword; for die-hard rock fans, it’s a pilgrimage, but for others, the festival is just not “a vibe”, underscoring the broader challenge of catering to varied musical tastes within a single event. As with any festival, Glastonbury’s musical offering may not be for everyone, but it’s still important to create inclusive spaces for the many kinds of people that do like what it offers.

What’s it giving?

Let’s be honest: Glastonbury had to broaden its net and change with the times as the mother of all music festivals. The festival would land pretty “out of touch” if it followed the ethos of the likes of Noel Gallagher where certain genres “don't belong”, especially given that it’s platformed artists from marginalised groups since its inception. 

As Cathia points out, ‘we do live in Britain after all, so a dial-up in diversity was bound to happen with growth and awareness'. A diversity statement on the website and spaces dedicated to marginalised groups is one thing but making underrepresented voices feel safe & included is another thing. 

If the festival is so inclusive, then why should minorities brush off the “odd comment” or face microaggressions as employees? After reading Jazpa’s statement – as part of the production team for Silver Hayes, I can’t help but focus on the part where he says:

“I will get approached by white people who will ask me if I’ve got drugs to sell, or if I’m performing or for directions. When I tell them I’m part of the management team, it surprises them.”

When the bottom line is that this is still a likely experience — and combined with the hefty price tag to pay for it — I’m not sure if I’ll be heading down to Somerset anytime soon.


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