Who Run The World: 41 shows. 107 acts. 11 venues. 2 years.
I’m Beth White, singer, songwriter, guitarist, wannabe drummer, cat enthusiast, and founder of Who Run The World - London’s first promotions company exclusively dedicated to booking women.
Who Run The World was founded on the basis that women simply are not given enough opportunity in London’s grass roots scene to perform; something I found as an artist myself. After experiencing my fair share of shitty gigs, I decided enough was enough. I wasn’t getting proper support from promoters I dealt with, and I knew there had to be other talented women out there not getting their fair share of the limelight, or even a chance to perform because they didn’t look or sound “right”.
I started out in London’s underbelly of the acoustic gig circuit, playing any open mic or show that would have me. I quickly found every line up was overflowing with white boys, playing the same shit at every show; there would literally always be some reference to dreaming of being Ed Sheeran, the white boy musician overlord. Needless to say, it was depressing as hell. Occasionally you’d get a really nice & talented guy with a bit of soul, who would make the effort to speak to you, but mostly it was ‘one in, one out’, everyone rushing to the bar once their pal was done with their set. There was zero sense of community from fellow musicians, and you’d be lucky if the promoter remembered your name.
Beth White - Who Run The World founder
I was made to feel like a complete novelty, as I refused to be the archetypal “sad girl with acoustic guitar” trope, with my offerings of fun, fast, loud, tongue-in-cheek tunes about being a big fat lesbian. As you might imagine, I really felt as though I didn’t belong, and came close to packing it all in several times.
Looking back now, after two years of Who Run The World, I was actually really pissed off.
All I wanted was to write some songs, have some fun, maybe not take myself too seriously, and play to a supportive crowd. The complete lack of opportunity for women like me was the drive I needed to start something great for a community that I dreamed was out there.
Lo and behold, I was so right.
What have you learned from two years running Who Run The World?
Basically, that women in music are amazing. We are resilient, we are immeasurably talented, we are tough, creative, supportive, fiercely protective of ourselves and each other; we are angry at the state of the music world and we have the gumption to do something about it. And most importantly for me, we are there. Despite what the majority of grassroots venues, gigs and promoters would have you believe, we exist, we are not invisible, and we are more than good enough to take up space at shows and on line ups.
Of course, I also learned how to put on a show, and that there isn’t really that much to it! All you need is some great acts, a venue willing to take your hire money, and just a dash of organisation to put the two together. I’d had no experience of putting on a show before launching Who Run The World at a small Brick Lane venue back in August 2015.
The Menstrual Cramps
What have you achieved?
Who Run The World was granted its first monthly residency during its launch, at Apples and Pears Bar in Brick Lane. That was a brilliant feeling; I felt as though I struck a chord (lol, music pun) with the venue management, as that meant the ethos and principles of the night were corroborated. Women do need more opportunities to play, and that was granted on the first go.
Who Run The World was also Soho’s first monthly live music night for LGBTQ women. This was especially important for me as a gay woman; Soho is stereotypically seen as the place to go for LGBTQ folk, though somehow queer women are very limited in their choices of nights to go to in the area. This seemed so odd and so wrong for an area like Soho in a city like London, so to be able to create a new night for queer women was incredible and, I felt, absolutely necessary.
I’ve also felt really proud of the alternative approach women-led promotions brings to London’s grassroots music scene - a staple principle is of collaboration, not competition, which you tend not to find at most other grassroots shows. Most London promotions companies are out to rip bands off with a practice called ‘pay-to-play’ (where promoters charge artists for their tickets in advance to sell on to fans/friends), and there’s a real lack of support between fellow musicians too, as bands tend bring friends along to see their set before all rushing off to the bar or back home. At Who Run The World shows however, audiences tend to come for the whole night, stay to see every band, meet new friends and be a part of a strong and supportive music scene.
This principle rings true for other organisations that have sprung up too - I constantly look to help promote other London nights by Loud Women, We Can Do It Promotions and Gigslutz as examples. Who Run The World has also teamed up with Loud Women and MINT Events in the past for one-off shows; the support that women bring to each other is a very powerful thing, which I have real faith in. It’s extremely affirming and wonderful, and something that carries me in occasional moments of despondency about some of the challenges I face with running gigs.
Since starting Who Run The World, has anything changed?
There has definitely been a strengthening of the women-led DIY scene, as well as the springing up of new women-focused organisations and nights, which of course I think is magnificent.
I think the conversation about women’s representation in music has dramatically improved too, from scrutiny of festival bookers’ line up choices, to tackling sexual harassment at shows, to small time venues being aware of underrepresentation at a grassroots level and making attempts to create more welcoming spaces.
What’s next for Who Run The World?
I’m looking to restart a monthly night for acoustic artists this year, though with an interesting format twist to what is typical of a programmed line up or open mic night.
Who Run The World will also team up with similar events organisations to put on one-off shows this year, and I’m also flirting with the idea of putting on a festival in future. Watch this space!
I think ultimately, I would love for Who Run The World to shine more of a light on the issue of women’s representation in grassroots music, and to do what I set out for it to - provide more opportunities for women to play. I aim to do this by plugging away, booking shows when I can and maintaining that level of work ethic and commitment to the scene that has taken me to this point.
What would you like to see happen in the future for women in music?
I would like women to be seen as artists in their own right; in a way, the explicit reference to us as “women” can perpetuate the idea of this being a novelty, so it would be ideal to simply be considered ‘artists’. The hypocrisy of this is not lost on me - however, right now I feel it is important to be explicit about supporting women specifically, so long as issues of representation and safety still persist for women in music, as artists, promoters, sound engineers, venue managers, and audience members.
I would like more opportunities for women in music to play. I would like to see women and girls encouraged to pick up instruments, learn how to sound engineer, have a go at putting on a show. I would like the mainstream music industry diversify and be open to more types of women doing different things, as this is what I get to see at every grassroots show - the disconnect between the two is unbelievable, so it would be great for the gap to be bridged somehow.
What could bookers and festival promoters could learn from you?
Finding quality women in music to book is really not that hard..! I had zero experience when I started out, yet here I am two years later, with new & brilliant bands contacting me all the time and the usual suspects still going, doing their thing and being as inspirational as you like. Pick any genre, I can guarantee there will very easily be at least 5 bands (a typical line up) who are incredible and who are inclusive of women.
There is no justification for ignoring women in music or for denying us the opportunity to play.
Check out Who Run The World’s 2nd Birthday Jam & Gig, on Sunday 13th August, live at The Fiddler’s Elbow, Camden. Featuring ARXX, Fightmilk, The Baby Seals, The Menstrual Cramps, Suggested Friends, and Beth White.