International Women's Day has come around once more, and this year, I took a deep dive into a musical subsection near and dear to my heart - Electronic Music. The role of the DJ is one that has been branded with masculinity. Still, it's time we gave some respect to the ladies of the House and explored why this is a genre where gender divides have been so continuously pervasive.
Electronic music is arguably one of the most culturally formative genres out there. From Acid Rave to Eurodance, all the way back to Jungle, Breakbeat and Minimal Tech, rave culture and electronic music has permeated fashion and nightlife and broken into the mainstream. So whether you're partial to a skank in Volks or busting a cheeky two-step in Patterns, I feel safe in assuming most of you reading this will have a subgenre of choice. The cultural significance of Electronic Music means it is crucial we unpick gender discrimination and destroy the boys club mentality to make raving a safe space for all - regardless of gender identity.
It's now time to address the elephant in the room - this is the music industry we're talking about. An industry hardly famed for gender equality with the odds seemingly stacked against women and non-binary folk on both sides of the stage. A study of producers in the Billboard Top 100 between 2012-2020 showed that a mere 2% of music producers were female. Not only this, but we continue to witness gender gaps in lineups, especially within Electronic communities. So why is this? It cannot be as simple as an alleged lack of interest. Having spoken with women who exist in these spaces, the story seems to remain the same: an influx of male gatekeepers who make it twice as hard for their female counterparts to get half as far.
In order to break into the kind of environment that will lead to success, women and non-gender-conforming individuals are required to have a certain level of confidence. Penetrating historically patriarchal spaces such as the music studio can be intimidating. The music classroom is often dominated by males from a young age due to its association with technology and the deeply entrenched gender roles in our society (yuck). This can feel like a strong deterrent. For those who do persevere within them, it's common to feel overlooked or sexualised. This in turn not only creates a hostile working environment but creates a devaluation of the feminine and a move to an androgynised appearance. The irony of the situation, of course, is that by nature, Electronic music should be a haven for female-identifying people in music. It is one of the only genres which disregards the cultural icon and allows the creator to construct whatever identity they desire through sound.
Music is an inherently social industry, with information and opportunities often passed down in social circles. Circles that are impossible to access without invitation or recognition from someone already within them. Outside of the classroom, nightlife industries can feel like feeding frenzies of misogyny. Stepping into a nightclub can feel like entering a lion's den for patrons and professionals alike. When women are allowed to exist as DJs within these spaces, they often open themselves up to criticism from men on the dancefloor, with unsolicited song suggestions, critiques and interference interrupting their work. Having spoken to female-identifying DJs, it is disheartening to hear that this is ongoing in 2022, but I think it is best summarised in the concept that whether consciously or not, these men feel they have an agency over women, non-binary folk and trans people where they think their opinion weighs heavier than our existence.
One of the most powerful tools against oppression is unity, something embodied through the rise of Female/Non-binary DJ Collectives. Groups such as Sisu Crew, He.She.They and Pxssy Palace have reinvigorated the familiar concept of the DJ collective and rebranded it as a force for change. Encouraging women and gender minorities to get involved in Electronic music of all genres through running classes, hosting safe-space club nights and workshops - the value of these groups cannot be understated. More locally, we're fortunate enough to have groups like Spin Suga, La Collectif and Bbygrl Brighton doing amazing work to eradicate the gender gap.
Of course, it is not all bad news. As a society, we have championed many women in electronic music, and there are male allies who continue to uplift and support their female counterparts. From historical trailblazers such as Delia Derbyshire or Lisa Loud to cultural powerhouses such as SOPHIE and Honey Dijon - electronic music history is laced with stories of exceptionalism. It also appears change is on the horizon, with the COVID-19 pandemic ushering in a rise of bedroom DJs and eliminating the educational barrier, more women than ever are trying their hand at producing music. Celebration of women in the genre is also seen at a high level, with Nia Archives taking home the award for Best Producer at the 2022 NME Awards. It certainly feels like we are making huge steps in the right direction. It's up to us to unlearn societal scripts we may have within us and engage in conscious musical consumption. Now get out there and shake it, sister!
Photo Credit: Nia Archives By Zoe McConnell | NME 2022
Written by: Alice Hingley of South Lanes Studios