No Girls Allowed – Where Is The Equality in Electronica?

Article by Rosie Stewart.

We’ve all seen it, time and time again, an all male line up on a night out. Whether its Warehouse Project in Manchester or XOYO in London, it seems that the UK has got a male-only door policy at a lot of these big events. This year at Glastonbury, one of the biggest festivals in the world, only 20.2% of the bookings were women. Ultra festival in Miami, voted by DJ mag as the World’s Best festival in 2016, only 7.5% of the bookings were female. And yet, why is this the case? Why aren’t more women/trans/non-binary artists involved in this growing scene? Is it a UK problem, or more likely, a worldwide issue of inequality? We spoke to some up and coming DJs about their own experiences of being female in this scene. 

Melissa Webb, 19 is an up and coming young female DJ performing in Newcastle. She warmed up for the likes of Mak and Pasteman, Friend Within, and Shadow Child, to name a few. She is well on her way to great things, and has just recently been made a resident DJ at Newcastle’s club, Cosmic. She is also playing at Sounds Of Solidarity : The Power & Politics Of Dance Music. Here is her perspective on the scene;

When did you first start DJing/producing?

I’ve wanted to get into DJing for a few years now but it was always just a fantasy. I only started messing around mixing on a controller in January/ February time, and it’s just taken off from there!

Do you think being female has had any limitations or caused any problems in your career so far?

I think it’s harder to get into DJing as a female because it’s such a male dominated scene, it can be quite intimidating. I also think being a female means people judge you on things other than your Djing abilities such as physical appearance. It can be harder to be taken seriously as a female. The first time I ever played in a club the bouncer wouldn’t let me in because I didn’t “look” like a DJ. He wouldn’t even go and check the DJ list for my name, I had to ring someone to come out and let me in.

What do you think promoters and club owners can do to make the scene more equal? Not only for female vs male, but for all genders?

Positively discriminating females onto line-ups, ensuring there is at least one female playing is a good idea. If there are more females DJing out I think it will inspire more girls who are interested in DJing to take the plunge and go for it, which will eventually make the scene more equal.

Would you say there was a greater sense of community between female DJs? 

I’d say that as we’re in the minority female DJ’s do tend to support and encourage each other more. However, I’ve found the DJ community as a whole- both males and females- in Newcastle to be very close. All the other DJ’s around Newcastle I’ve met have only ever been encouraging and friendly which is nice.

Do you ever feel that promoters are booking token female DJs to make their line up seem more equal and fair? 

As I mentioned earlier, I do think it’s a good idea to ensure females are included on line-ups. However, I do stand by the fact that ultimately it has to come down to the music and DJing ability of the artist, as that’s what it’s all about. In an ideal world gender wouldn’t even be a factor in booking DJ’s, but as it stands at the moment I do think it’s important to make line-ups diverse and equal.

Why do you think there are so many fewer female DJs? 

It can be intimidating putting yourself out there as a DJ regardless of gender, but I think it’s even more intimidating for females as it is so male dominated. There are probably loads of girls who want to DJ but don’t because of the inaccessibility of the scene. Also there are still huge issues surrounding how comfortable women feel in nightlife spaces, as they are so often treated as sexualised objects when they go out to clubs.

Who inspires you? 

I love DJ’s like Jackmaster, Joy Orbison and Bicep because they play such a mix of music and they create such an atmosphere as they really know how to read a dance-floor, which can be such a tricky skill but so invaluable. A DJ can be technically perfect but if the crowd isn’t reacting and the club isn’t popping off, what’s the point? That’s what clubbing is all about, enjoying the atmosphere and music. I love the Black Madonna’s music taste and really rate her DJing abilities, but also totally admire her energy and attitude- she doesn’t fit the stereotypical DJ description at all and she doesn’t care, she’s still so confident in herself and I really admire that.

What would your advice be to any DJ starting out who doesn’t identify with being male?

I’d say just put yourself out there and go for it 100%. I went from messing about on some decks in Ricky Road earlier this year, treating the whole DJing thing as a bit of a joke, to now being a resident at Cosmic. Reach out to another female DJ that you may know of, even if you don’t know them, drop them a Facebook message because they’ll probably be more than happy to help you out. If you’re passionate about music and interested in DJing the rest will come- plucking up the confidence to go for it is half the battle!

Holly Lester, Manchester

Sprouting from the abundantly talented soils of Ireland arises a DJ who is well and truly in bloom. Holly Lester has held down residencies at both Liverpool’s Chibuku and Sankey’s in Ibiza, with each experience contributing to a rhythmic portrait of a fine selector that graces our decks today.

Holly has played with some of the best in the game. Jackmaster, Cassy, Jeremy Underground and BICEP have all lined up alongside the Manchester based creative. She’s played at Belfast’s Shine and Manchester’s Warehouse Project regularly, laying down her own brand of nostalgic and movement provoking sounds that have inspired a working relationship and friendship with both projects.

Here are her thoughts on the scene at the moment:

Do you think being female has had any limitations or caused any problems in your career so far?

I don’t believe it has caused any limitations whatsoever. There have been a couple of occasions where I have felt uncomfortable or felt like people have taken advantage of me because I am a girl. Though I think this happens to just about any girl in any industry/general life, so I don’t really focus on it too much.

Would you say there was a greater sense of community between female DJs?

Perhaps in the last year or so, since there has been so much media attention around females in the industry. I think before that, it was quite competitive. I think there has been a bit of an awakening in that sense for females in the industry.

Do you ever feel that promoters are booking token female DJs to make their line up seem more equal and fair?

They probably are, but as long as that female can provide a service that is equally as good as the men on the lineup, then why not! It’s a problem when they are booking looks over talent, or balancing out with girls who don’t match up to the rest of the lineup. There certainly is a lot of focus on equality right now – not just in the male-female sense; and I personally think that is great. Especially considering the roots of our scene.

Why do you think there are so many fewer female DJs?

I think it simply boils down to the fact that a large percentage of women are brought up and conditioned by society to think that they have to do A, B and C in life. Its going to take a while for that way of thinking to fade out. Perhaps a lot of girls are put off by the technical aspects? Or that it has been so male dominated til recently?

Who inspires you?

I don’t really have one person in particular; a lot of people inspire me for various reasons. Career wise, a couple of my lecturers/teachers and certain friends have inspired me throughout my life/still do. I try and draw inspiration from as much as I can. On a personal level, my grandmother is my number one.

What do you think promoters and club owners can do to make the scene more equal? Not only for female vs male, but for all genders?

Good question, I think it goes back to the previous subject of equal lineups. Also, making sure that everyone feels welcome in their venue and feels safe inside – no matter if they are a DJ or punter. I think likewise DJs, streaming sites and any other kinds of major platform involved with the scene also have responsibility. Everyone who has any kind of influence or voice needs to be pushing this and calling out those who are blatantly discriminating.

What would your advice be to any DJ starting out who doesn’t identify with being male?

It wouldn’t be any different from the advice I would give to a male – just go for it. Make sure you love it and are in it for the right reasons. Do it well and stay true to the music you love.

The techno promoter scene seems to be a bit of a lads club at the moment, specifically in the UK. There’s a huge lack of support and encouragement for young girls to start downloading Logic 10 and get producing, or even hoping on a pair of decks. Club owners and promoters need to be conscious of their biased bookings, and start to create an even playing field for people of all genders, sexualities and races. And this consciousness will allow for a far more diverse underground music scene that we should all strive for.

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