Radio X and the dangers of ‘male-focused’ stations

Ben Duncan-Duggal explores how Radio X’s rebranding increases alternative music’s gender divide

Alternative music has a gender problem.

Evidence for this is easy to find. When edited to remove bands made up of men, the posters for this year’s music festivals are pathetic – entire festivals reduced to one act in a lunchtime slot on the stage behind the toilets. Look at the BRIT award for Best British Group, often won by alternative acts, yet never by an alternative act that features a non-cis-man. If you are into alternative/indie music, look at the posters around your room. I have 11. Just two feature non-cis-men.

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The main cause of this is not necessarily the choice of festival headliners, or awarding of the BRITs. The problem lies with those who determine the future of music at its base. It goes right to the grassroots, to the point at which tomorrow’s stars become interested in music.

XFM exists at these grassroots. Today’s children and teenagers will be inspired to create music only by listening to it – it is one of only two broadcast radio stations committed to playing new and off-the-charts music. So, if the gender problem in alternative music is going to change, radio stations must not alienate young non-cis-men.

In light of all this, we now have Radio X, XFM’s new re-brand. I’ll let the press release take it from here: ‘The first truly male-focused, fully national music and entertainment brand for 25-44 year olds… playing the best fresh rock and guitar based music.’ Nice! I was really worried about men being included in the music world, so this is definitely a step in the right direction.

‘Chris Moyles is a broadcasting genius…I couldn’t think of anyone better to host the station’s breakfast show.” I could. I could think of literally thousands of people who would be better than Chris Moyles, including, I dunno, maybe someone who isn’t a ‘bloke’? But we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. There are several other shows on the station, i.e. plenty of opportunities for Radio X to salvage some gender politics points.  ‘Along with Vernon Kay, Johnny Vaughan and Ricky Wilson, the UK has never had a radio station like Radio X before.’ Ah.

Radio X reflects the state of music today, but goes further in its implication that guitar music is fundamentally ‘not for girls.’ In another arena where non-cis-men are already sidelined, Radio X has taken them off of the sideline, walked them out the stadium and bought them a bus ticket home.

The likely defence – that this is ‘just a business decision’ reflecting research of existing demographics – does not wash. While this rebrand may bring more money in, the effect upon the involvement of non-cis-men in guitar-based music will be devastating. They will be further alienated by a world in which they are already being excluded. Being a business rather than an individual does not excuse the individual decision makers from moral responsibility.

The damage created by this decision affects us all. If non-cis-men are never included and inspired, we lose out on an unthinkable amount of music: close to half. The great women-led songs which do exist serve to offer a tantalising glimpse of what could have been, but also what may still be.

Because for every ‘You’re A Germ’ by Wolf Alice there are another 4 or 5 another spit-inducing, ex-crushing anthems to youth which were never written, because more non-cis-men were never successfully inspired to get involved in music. For ‘Rebel Girl,’ there are another few of the finest cuts of punk ever – which may never be written. For Joni Mitchell’s generation shaping Blue album there are several more opportunities to change the path of time and music which have been lost.

We lose non-cis-men, and we all lose out.

We all turn to music to help us feel included in the world. Indie music should be a great celebrant of the underdog. How awful that it could be stolen from us by people who so evidently do not care about inclusion.

Image: Andy Von Pip

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