Sausagefest Rising

written by Igor Jakobsen

I went recently to a great festival with a line-up I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, during the second day I noticed that there were only men on stage, no matter what band played. This is not how I had hoped to find the metal scene in 2022!

The festival was Keep It True Rising 2, which was 2 days + a warm up night. They have previously booked bands with female members (Keep it True Rising 1 had Velvet Viper and Atlantean Kodex), so I’m certain that the “one-genderness” on stage was not intentional by the organisers. 

Igor Jakobsen: author of the text

However, while many genders were represented in the audience, and my impression (having done no effort to count what so ever) was that the female to male ratio in the audience was somewhere between 40/60 and 30/70, the stage itself was a sausage party, with only Caucasian males for 3 days (and the extra concert with a well-known band on the 4th day, which I didn’t see, was also all male).

Is this a problem?

It is if we believe that talent is distributed equally, indiscriminate of background, gender and so on. Everyone can unite in metal, why shouldn’t everyone be able to form a band? A band reaching a quality to be booked should therefore contain members of any gender, not just one. The same general proportions of minorities that are in the society should be expected to be on stage, or at least the same proportions that are in the audience.

If that’s not reflected at the stages of festivals, there is either some structural issues preventing this, or having a penis (and being cis-gendered) is what makes one a great metal musician. 

So, you don’t play the guitar with your penis? Good. Could it be that the relevant bands for the subgenres of this festival has only good all-male bands? Like, Arch Enemy or Nervosa are great, but they don’t really fit the booking profile of Keep It True.

As mentioned in the introduction, Velvet Viper and Atlantean Kodex fit well in the profile. So do: the great Leather Leone/Chastain and Girlschool. So do also a lot of newer bands:  Crystal Viper, Claymorean, Lady Beast, Smoulder, Cobra Spell all are getting booked to true, heavy or epic metal festivals like Up The Hammers, Courts Of Chaos, Iron Fest, Headbangers Open Air, No Playback Festival and so on.

Other bands worth checking out would be Splintered Throne, White Crone, Crystal, Kramp, Sevi, Black Sword Thunder Attack, Natthammer, Mist, Sorceress Of Sin, Savage Master and Fury. I could go on, this was just the bands off the top of my head.

If this list isn’t enough, Lee Aaron is touring again, and with Keep It True’s great track record of bringing bands back together one could try to get Rock Goddess to perform, even though they declared they won’t tour anymore because of the developments in the music and touring business.

The bands are there, so why did we still get a sausage fest?

Did all bands that aren’t exclusively all-male decline offers to play so that we ended up with an all-male line-up? Given the amount of bands that’s unlikely. More likely, most bands asked were all-male. 

Are booking agencies only offering “all-male bands”? That’s true for some agencies, but many of the bands I listed up are on the roster of booking agencies. Furthermore, I could not find a booking agency for several of the “all-male bands” that played Keep It True Rising 2. The bands were thus selected in some way. 

Since there’s no reason to suspect any conscious discrimination or ill will from the organisers, we have to consider structural challenges:

One reason for female absence, as well as absence of minorities (both ethnical and queer) could be due to the working class ideation of metal. Metal fans and performers like to identify with the working class, even when that doesn’t seem to be the case (just look at the reactions upon the death of the Queen of England in the metal community). 

Therefore I would describe it as an ideation rather than actual association. Instead of commenting on actual working class struggles, they ideate an undefined “traditional working class culture”. If this reminds you of the ideation of a undefined “great past” by right-wingers and conservatives, it’s not coincidental. The same underlying mechanisms are at work.

Now, in the “traditional working class culture” a woman’s place is in the home, or sexually segregated to be only with other women, while other minorities either don’t exist or are excluded. 

That way the complaints of African-American blues singers of their harsh woman, which was actually complaints about the boss, turned into whining about not getting laid enough in the reinterpretation by European heavy rockers.

Beyond working class, heavy metal and heavy rock takes inspiration from 50s rocker and biker culture, both areas with exclusion or subordination of everyone that isn’t “white” and “male”[i][ii]. To quote Lemmy of Motörhead on the struggles of female musicians:

All of these [female] bands, people treat them like second-class citizens because they’re chicks. There’s all this, ‘Show us your tits, and we’ll give you a gig.‘ And all of that shit. It’s really like, poor.“

So while females would be allowed to be in the spaces where metal is performed, they would not be allowed on the stage unless they could get a powerful supporter in the scene, like Motörhead helped Girlschool by having them on some of their tours. [iii]

This makes it harder for bands that aren’t “all male-bands” to secure shows, and when festivals and concert promoters don’t allow them slots on the stage, they need to be called out on it, which is the reason for this article.

The ideas about who should do what based on gender might also give “all male-bands” the advantage. Musical instruments are perceived as gendered and there are ideas about what instruments should be played by women and what instruments should be played by men. In an example from Bayton, Mavis (1989)[iv] it’s shown how girls were denied access to instruments relevant to play metal:

E2 said that at her school, “the girls had tambourines and did all the singing and the boys played the drums. Girls played the glockenspiel. It was a jingly sound and they thought that was feminine. I would have liked to have a go (at the drums) but I didn’t because girls don’t do those things…Girls don t have a chance. We’re not introduced to these things.“

The situation is probably not as dire today, but there is still a perception that it is more masculine to play a guitar and more feminine to play keyboards and violins,[v] instruments that are often more common in folk, goth and symphonic metal, although no one would have raised an eye if Skyclad were booked to a heavy and true metal festival.

If one wants to combat the “masculine metal ideal” it becomes even more important to book bands where non-male performers play the “conventional” metal instruments.

The “feminine” and “masculine” instruments are often rehearsed in different spaces. And being in a band would also place one in a rehearsal space, outside of the home. Not everyone can afford that, and youth would be dependent on their parents allowing that instrument and the rehearsal. Minorities are often poor and might not afford to support this. In addition girls risk not being supported to practice “masculine” instruments, or not allowed to go to rehearsal spaces. [vi]

The first venues an aspiring metal band would play could also be problematic as not all spaces would be inclusive enough for women, LGBTQ+, people of colour or other minorities to feel safe there. Also bigger venues and concerts, as well as established bands might be an issue, shown in this citation from Solid Rock Magazine:

“Our new.., symbol is a bent over blonde stripper in garters. That’s what Mötley Crüe are all about.“ 

Another example is the very popular band Steel Panther that claims everything they do is humor, and yet want their female audience to come up on stage and strip. This doesn’t lead to a perception of a safe and secure space, instead one would think that “Rock… is a male musical form; women performers are rare.” (Bayton, M, 1989)[vii]

Most of the same arguments applied to non-male bands apply to other minorities. Here it’s important to acknowledge that Keep It True and many other festivals do great at accommodating artists where someone happens to use a wheelchair, or with vision impairment, as well as accommodating people with mobility difficulties at the venues. 

However, where are the people of colour on stage? 

In Germany, people with “migrant background“ make up 27.2% of the population[viii]. While most of them are from other European countries, there’s still around 5% that are from Asia and Africa[ix]. Yet there were no bands with members that represented this. Out of 27 bands, with an average of 4 members, giving an approximate of 108 people on stage, it would have been expected that at least 5 would have been people of colour.

Again, those bands exist, like Black Death or Skinflint.

I don’t know if there were any LGBTQ+ people on stage, but if they were, that was certainly not spoken of in any way. With 2 of the greatest heavy rock and metal singers being Rob Halford and Freddie Mercury, it’s really surprising that queerness seems to still not be a topic on stage. Again, the audience represented this minority much better, and there were many rainbow coloured patches on the battle vests of the audience. 

It’s interesting to note that while rock (and thus by extension metal) was invented by a queer woman of colour, credit went to a white man that didn’t write his own songs. The same structural issues that led to this seem to still be in place today, as we get a metal festival with only “all male-bands” of Caucasian descent on stage.

It is very clear that having someone to identify with, be it on stage as with the band Girlschool, in a tv show as with the last actor picked to play the doctor in Dr.Who or in politics, where too much is decided by older white men, is important for recruitment and participation. As said by McAuliffe of Girlschool:

“Every time we play … there’s always loads of girls at our gigs, always coming up going, ‘We’ve got a band! And we were inspired by you.‘ That’s really good. You think: at last!”[x]

And without seeing bands with members of the same gender, orientation or skin colour that themselves, these metal fans are less likely to start a band on their own, and we lose out on a lot of potentially great metal tunes. 

To conclude, it’s possible, as shown by other festivals, to be mindful of representation while booking. No Playback Festival did a “Female Fronted Friday”, and generally books bands beyond the “all-male bands”, even though setting aside a day instead of mixing these bands in with the rest of the line-up might not be the best solution: see Holly Frances Royles article on it here

I would hope that Keep it True be mindful of their position and importance in the metal community and take it upon themselves to set an example for other bookers to increase, rather than decrease the diversity on stage. If this doesn’t become the development of our scene, I worry that there will be a sausage fest not only on stage, but also in the audience, with a big part of the audience feeling alienated or kept out from the music we all enjoy and want to share.


[i] Brake, M. (1980). The sociology of youth culture and youth subcultures (Londres, Boston y Henley.

[ii] Willis, P. (1978). Profane Culture“, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.

[iii] https://www.equality-empowerment.com/post/equality-in-metal-girlschool-mot%C3%B6rhead

[iv] Bayton, M. (1989). How women become rock musicians (Doctoral dissertation, University of Warwick).http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/34719/

[v] Abeles, H. (2009). Are musical instrument gender associations changing?. Journal of research in music education57(2), 127-139.https://www.jstor.org/stable/40204955

[vi] Bayton, M. (1989). How women become rock musicians (Doctoral dissertation, University of Warwick).http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/34719/

[vii] Bayton, M. (1989). How women become rock musicians (Doctoral dissertation, University of Warwick).http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/34719/

[viii] https://www.dw.com/en/germany-over-1-in-4-people-have-migrant-background/a-61452241

[ix] https://www.destatis.de/DE/Themen/Gesellschaft-Umwelt/Bevoelkerung/Migration-Integration/Tabellen/migrationshintergrund-staatsangehoerigkeit-staatengruppen.html

[x] https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/jun/30/girlschool-heavy-metal-pioneers-drugs-groupies-lemmy-motorhead


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