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Melvin Benn: ‘There’s nothing stopping RAYE from headlining Reading & Leeds’

As Festival Republic relaunches its ReBalanced campaign, Melvin Benn tells Rolling Stone UK about their commitment to championing female and non-binary talent - and why the headliners of tomorrow are already here.

By Nick Reilly

RAYE (Picture: Press)

As Festival Republic relaunches its ReBalance initiative, managing director Melvin Benn has told Rolling Stone UK about the need to support emerging women and non-binary artists, and why a new brigade of festival headliners are set to arrive very soon.

The festival boss, who is behind the likes of Reading & Leeds, Download and Latitude has realunched the year-long programme to provide fresh opportunities to women and non binary artists throughout the UK.

The programme ran for three years before it was parked due to COVID in 2020, but six upcoming acts have now been announced for the 2024 programme. They will receive studio time and guidance, alongside a guaranteed slot at a Festival Republic event next year.

“This is all about giving young women and non binary people that opportunity to create their first EP and to do it in a professional studio with a professional producer and engineer,” Benn explained.

“We want to give them a product that we believe in and hopefully a label or a radio station will believe in too. If other people start believing in it, then they’ll get the chance to do the thing they’re dreaming of, which is to make more records and play in front of crowds.”

Billie Eilish performs on day 3 of Reading Festival 2023 at Richfield Avenue on August 27, 2023 in Reading, England. (Photo by Joseph Okpako/WireImage)

He added: “We take six acts at a time and while we can’t determine whether they’ll succeed, we’ll at least give them their first bit of the tool kit to help them succeed for sure.”

Benn also explained how he hopes to restore the initiative’s momentum, after the programme was halted by COVID.

“We had a couple of really good years of giving that opportunity to artists and then unfortunately, COVID hit, and it interrupted a huge amount of people’s growth and opportunity. I think a lot of people who had that dream of succeeding in 2017 and 2019, it was extremely hard to come back after COVID.”

The artists selected for this year’s initiative are folk singer-songwriter Mary O’Donnell, Burnley star Sprout and hyper-pop duo samxemma.

The other acts include musical polymath Bebeluna, South London band Red Ivory and Manchester indie group Cruush. Each of the acts performed at a showcase hosted by Benn last week.

“They were buzzing after show and feeding off each other’s energy. In the past, the acts had never worked with each other and it was a chance for them all to get inspiration from each other, and that felt really special,” he said.

“But which one of them, or if not all of them, come through. Only the public can decide that.”

Looking ahead to female representation at Festival Republic events this summer, Lana Del Rey is set to headline Reading & Leeds while RAYEwho triumphed at the BRITs earlier this month – will take second billing. But Benn believes she still has the potential to go all the way to the top.

“RAYE is taking the country by storm and Reneé Rapp is unbelievable too. I don’t think anyone saw the totality of RAYE’s success at the BRITs, I know she didn’t! Can they go on and headline Wembley Stadium and Reading & Leeds? Absolutely, there’s nothing stopping them and they will be the ones determining that by the songs they write and the performances they give.”

He added: “The authenticity of the way she accepted the awards was something to marvel at, to be enjoyed and loved. This wasn’t somebody that had felt that they’d been on a sort of manufactured course to get there. This was her dream and I could feel that same dream in those young women and non binary people that we had on the stage on Tuesday night. I genuinely could feel that same dream.”