The Strong Issue contributor Megan Wallace takes a look at the world of EDM, and the place of females within it.
With the rise of big-name female DJs like Maya Jane Coles, one might gain the impression that women are ‘finally breaking through’ in dance music. There seems to be no lack of female talent in pretty much every field of EDM — take radio DJs like Annie Mac and Eclair Fifi, producers like TOKiMONSTA and vocalists like ANOHNI. However, against this backdrop of seemingly abundant female talent, only 10% of DJs on festival and club line-ups are women. This story isn’t new: for decades it’s seemed like women have been on the brink in dance music, but have always somehow been lost before reaching the final (ever elusive) destination of equality.
Undeniably, there is still truth behind the claim that overwhelmingly male lineups are a result of the fact that there just aren’t enough female acts to choose from. While EDM is a genre as rich in creativity and expression as any other type of music, its dependence on technology means that it carries more technical, or even scientific, connotations. Considering that girls are, as we all know, discouraged from pursuing crafts or sciences, it’s not too much of a mental jump to see why they wouldn't think they were capable of producing tracks. On another level, the EDM world can still be a bit of an inhospitable environment for women and girls. Crowds can become suspicious upon spotting a woman behind the decks, and downright incredulous when they learn that a remix has been made by a female producer. The anti-female atmosphere stretches beyond discrimination against female musicians, to women in the crowd. It’s evident in Boiler Room comments laying into women who ‘dance for the camera’ and in the blatant disregard for girls’ personal boundaries at DJ sets. Furthermore, in addition to the struggle for recognition which women in dance music must undergo, their success can be partially dependent on their looks —and not just their talent. While it’s pretty widely accepted that no-one is paying attention to what the man behind the decks looks like, female DJs are often subject to excessive scrutiny when it comes to their physical appearance. Just take Nina Kraviz and Honey Dijon; despite being two world-class DJs, media coverage of them consistently focusses on the fact that they are fashionable and attractive, rather than emphasising that they are exceptional musicians.
There exists a tangible double standard — men can get breaks based on their potential whereas women are actively working against the stereotype that they are not good enough, meaning that they need to have more experience to recommend them. Therefore, as an industry with no real support network — due to the freelance nature of doing club slots — even if there are increasingly high numbers of women in dance music, the problem isn’t going to go away naturally. Women not only need to be encouraged to get into dance music in the first place, they need to be taught how to navigate the sexism in the industry and how to sell their skills in order to give their career any form of longevity. This is why all-female collectives, like Super Jane which started in the ‘90s and is still going today, are a good idea; they create a sense of solidarity and community, and give women more confidence to enter into predominately male spaces. The Black Madonna has been a fundamental figure in recent years for the promotion of female talent — in her Creative Director role of the legendary Smart Bar in Chicago, she has repeatedly championed diverse lineups and started Daphne, a women-focussed club night.
Perhaps sexism has been rampant in the EDM scene for so long because it seems like something a frivolous issue for feminists to tackle when compared to sexism and discrimination elsewhere. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that we’re not adding women into the narrative of dance music — they’ve always been there, from the very beginning. Take, for example, Wendy Carlos who was fundamental in the creation of the Moog synthesiser, despite the fact that Robert Moog alone went down in history as a dance music pioneer. Pivotal female figures — like Maryanne Amacher and Laurie Spiegel — have been repeatedly overlooked in favour of their male contemporaries. This phenomenon fits in with the overarching white-washing and queer-erasure of the EDM narrative — while dance music is a now a multi-million dollar industry, it is a music genre that came out of the margins, namely the black, latino and queer nightlife of ‘70s America. Rediscovering the role which black, queer and female electronic musicians played in the development of dance music, as well as actively promoting diversity within the current panorama of EDM, is nothing if short of a powerful act of reclamation and defiance.