With International Women’s Day on March 8, International DJ Day on March 9, and March being International Women’s History Month- many are revisiting a topic that seems recycled throughout the years: Where are the women in dance music?
Is there a lack of female DJs to book at festivals and clubs? Are conventionally attractive females easier to book than those who don’t follow the media’s idea of what is “hot”? Or are they taken less seriously if they aren’t dressed in androgynous clothing?
These are questions still being discussed since pioneer Daphne Oram created the first piece of music to include live electronic manipulation, Still Point, in the late 1940s. While she is recognized – the London Symphony Orchestra paid a tribute to Still Point last year at Deep Minimalism Festival – not much has changed for female DJs and producers outside of underground scenes from those years.
The Black Madonna is major player in increasing female participation and visibility, especially over the last couple of years. Nearly 20 years into DJing, it is finally her full-time career. She was chosen as Mixmag’s DJ of the Year for 2016. She created the Daphne series of events at Smart Bar in her hometown Chicago as one step for female inclusion. Named after the aforementioned pioneer, it focused on female, non-binary, trans, and queer DJs.
DJ Rachael was the first recognized female DJ in East Africa, and has built her own cult following over 20 years. She has been instrumental in developing the electronic music scene there. She also started Femme Electronic, a platform for female electronic music DJs which includes workshops, mentoring and showcases. Here, The Black Madonna and DJ Rachael meet to discuss their experiences.
This week, The Black Madonna and DJ Rachael have announced a partnership with Smirnoff to enhance high-visibility bookings for female/female-identifying/non-binary DJs. The campaign, Equalizing Music, aims to double the name of female headliners by 2020. Alliances throughout the industry have already been forged, starting with a pledge.
Key industry leaders who have signed include Spotify, Pitchfork, iHeartRadio, Deltic Group, Mixmag, THUMP, Broadly, and Insomniac. Together, these organizations have stated their intent to increase gender representation across performance bookings, exposure in media and music availability.
The lack of visibility for female DJs and producers encourages us to think a little deeper. Does it appear that women are less interested in DJing or producing because they have no interest in the technological aspects or are slightly intimated by them? Perhaps there is interest in the music, but females don’t find the resources and mentors often key in successful growth as a DJ or producer, even though the basics of DJing are relatively easy to master.
Through my party and festival experiences, I have also notice that archetypes and gender roles do play a part into how women participate in electronic music. Many times, women fall so easily into the “decoration” role that is repeatedly enforced in media, at home, at school, and in the workplace. The dance floor is often a place where feminine beauty is on full display, almost divine. Dance has always been part of our mating rituals, and rhythm often translate to sexual prowess. This is especially apparent at music festivals, where relative privacy and anonymity allow many women to drop inhibitions and cover themselves in bikinis, sparkles, lycra, nipple stars and more.
This role is rewarding. Males and females alike enjoy watching an attractive or interesting person dance. And so, it seems like many females have claimed their place on the dance floor, seeing no need to venture behind the decks. Here on the West Coast, with Burning Man culture and festivals like Desert Hearts, men have increasingly taken a dandy-like stance and started heavily participating in costuming and artful dancing. Interestingly, it seems that may have opened space for women to headline. DJs like Tara Brooks, Lee K and Oona Dahl have packed dance floors easily.
In feminist circles, the concept of “see it, be it” is often discussed. For a long time, women have been participating in electronic music. However, they’ve rarely seen themselves as headliners outside of industry goddesses Tini, Heidi, Nastia, and so on. We look forward to seeing how the Equalizing Music partners enact their pledges. If you are a male DJ or producer- I encourage you to look around and find a female in your life whose passion for electronic music rivals yours. Engage her in a discussion on her interest in DJing and producing. I think you may find that your favorite dance floor partner also wants to check out the other side. But no matter what, as The Black Madonna says in the video, "We've been here the whole damn time!"
Check out: Pink Noises: Women on Electronic Music and Soundhttp://www.femmecult.comOTB has a majority female staff and management team.