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Reading & Leeds boss: 'We can't put a bill together based on gender'

Melvin Benn addresses concerns that the line-up for this year's festival suffers a lack of female artists

Wunmi Onibudo /NME
Festival Republic boss Melvin Benn has spoken out about recent concerns that the line-up for this year's Reading & Leeds Festivals suffers from a lack of female artists.

Speaking to NME at the launch for Latitude Festival, which this year will be headlined by Alt-J, Noel Gallagher and Portishead, Benn talked about the controversy the announcement of their full bill has caused.

Benn commented: "The facts speak for themselves in terms of female acts that were available at that time and that fit the Reading and Leeds bill. There's nobody more committed to gender equality than I am, but I can't make an act that isn't there."

He added that the Latitude bill is markedly different, mainly due to the genre of music that the festival books, with a more folk, indie slant to the event. "If you look at the Latitude bill, a very substantial amount of the acts are women or have female members," he commented. Laura Marling, Portishead, La Roux, Lianne La Havas, Wolf Alice and Savages will all play the event this summer.

"I can't pretend we're not conscious of it," explained Benn of the lack of women on the Reading bill. "But we can't put a bill together based on gender, we can only put a bill together based on availability and appropriateness."

Speaking about Glastonbury booking Foo Fighters, a band Benn previously said he was keen to have headline Reading and Leeds, he commented: "Foo Fighters have played Reading and Leeds an awful lot and Foo Fighters are a Reading and Leeds band [but] they want a day off, and they want to play Glastonbury, and that's fair enough! I'm delighted for them actually - they've always wanted to play Glastonbury and I would say it'll be one of the great Glastonbury moments. It'll just be incredible. For me seeing the Foo Fighters at Glastonbury will be just unbelievable."

He added that though he was aware Blur would be releasing a new album this year, he did not approach the act and ask them to play either Reading or Latitude. "Damon played Latitude last year, so we didn't approach them for Latitude, and it wasn't right for Reading and Leeds this year," he said. "Maybe a future year. By the time the news came through, we were very far down the line with our headliners. We've had the headliners for Reading and Leeds for an awful long time. They were all done in September and October last year."

This year's Latitude will see Alt-J headline their first festival. "They wanted it and let's not beat around the bush, we wanted it too," said Benn of the band, who will join Portishead and Noel Gallagher in topping the bill this July. "They started on the Lake Stage, they headlined the 6Music tent and when they did that they were equally clear that they wanted to headline when they were ready. So it's been in the pipeline since they headlined the second stage (2013). For me, it was no issue: 'Tell me when you want to do it, and you can do it'."

Latitude Festival takes place July 16-19 at Henham Park, Suffolk.
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