The world of dance music differs wildly. It varies in tone, speed, style, rhythm, subject, production, and performance. Countries favor different sounds. Cities spawn different movements, yet most of the electronic world has one unsettling denominator in common: women are missing.
Some people are tired of hearing about it. Some wonder why it matters. Some think it's just the natural order of things. There are less women making electronic music, right? It stands to reason they'd be outnumbered. Some women say that's a load of horseshit. There are thousands of women working in the electronic arts, and the only way to rid the world of such misguided notions is to keep banging the drum. If the horse is already dead, it won't mind the beating, and there's a lot at stake.
"I've been watching it for like 20-plus years now," says Antye Greie-Ripatti. She's a Finnish producer, composer, engineer, and leading member of Female Pressure, an international network connecting women in the electronic arts since 1999.
"In the beginning, I wasn't a feminist," she continues. "When I was in my 20s and doing electronic music, I was always the only girl in the festivals, and I was feeling special. There wasn't so many [of us] back then, and I was so sure it was going to change. I was sure."
"After a while I didn't feel special anymore," Greie-Ripatti says. "After a while, I started to feel really lonely. I was sick of it, and I started to look for more women to collaborate with. Since then, I mainly work with women, and it's really fun. I have many female friends who do similar work as me. It's not so lonely, and I know they're out there."
Greie-Ripatti had that feeling in the early 2000s. In 2014, THUMP collected data on seven of EDM's biggest North American festivals. From sometimes hundreds of performers, the most women on a single bill were 13. Canada's Mutek led the pack with a diversity ratio of 9.6 percent with nine women out of 85 DJs.
In 2015, change is slow. Mutek retains the diversity crown with 13.4 percent female representation, followed closely by Mysteryland at 9.2 percent, and Ultra at 10 percent. Including bands or groups with female members, the Miami-based fest showed the most growth, nearly doubling in gender diversity. Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas, the largest lineup in the country, includes eight ladies out of 199 acts. As was the case in 2014, many of these female artists are a revolving cast of familiar faces, the same handful of women as the token "girl DJs" at different festivals.
The highest percentages match Female Pressure's own global statistics. Its surveys, available via the network's blog, find an average of 10.8 percent female representation on a global scale, not including 6 percent mixed groups. At the national level, Sweden shows the greatest gender diversity with 30.1 percent female festival bookings, followed by Norway at 18.2 percent, and the UK at 15.4 percent.
For Greie-Ripatti, the woman behind the global surveys, growth isn't coming fast enough. "[Festival organizers] have found this trick, this quota; one woman there, or two," she says. "I think it's also happening in race, like one black woman or black person to justify that you're diverse, but you're not."
On this survey, Greece and Australia's pie charts are entirely green. That means the countries' major festivals surveyed were booked without a single female artist, or at least not enough to make a statistical difference, not even as part of a group.
"I really think it's systemic," Greie-Ripatti says. "It's about money and it's about competition. They don't want to give us the space – not everybody, and not on purpose always, but they don't want to give us the space. Most of these [organizers] are my friends. I'm not saying they're evil, I'm just saying, this is just how it goes."
Greie-Ripatti has been a member of Female Pressure since the early 2000s. She created and released the first survey in 2013 as a sort of PR stunt. She hoped the jarring clarity of her findings would start a wider conversation in the international electronic scene.
Björk joined that conversation in a Pitchfork interview headlined "The Invisible Woman," in January of 2015. Many applauded Björk for stepping to the plate; Greie-Ripatti felt "she could have said that ten years ago."
Nevertheless, she was inspired by the Icelandic maestro's strong stand. Female Pressure revisited that old survey of labels and festivals from 2013, curious to see if anything had changed. A new survey for 2015 revealed that little had.
"Labels started bragging that they have one female artist now instead of zero," she says. "It started to be really in people's minds more and more, and that was good, but still we thought 'well, we didn't really think that much had changed.'"
The women's equality issue is a hot topic throughout the dance music industry, yet the opinion that women can't or simply don't make electronic music without the integral help of a male counterpart continues to clog comment sections and forums around the web.
"Maybe it's about visibility in terms of people need to see that women work in studios," Greie-Ripatti says. "Maybe that's the Instagram generation. They need to see it in a glance to understand. Maybe they don't read anymore or look at surveys. Maybe we should just post pictures of us in the studio on International Women's Day [in March] and try to get a viral reaction."
She sent an email to the Female Pressure listserve and everyone loved the idea. Some sent in portraits of themselves, and some pictures she gathered of the many women she knows. In a few hours, she threw them onto a Tumblr page, and wouldn't you know it, the Instagram generation responded. Greie-Ripatti took the submissions and soundtracked them for a video.Soon, the Female Pressure Tumblr was covered by LA Weekly, Flavorwire, The Fader, and more, once again sparking a conversation across the web and beyond.
"I personally see it as activism," Greie-Ripatti says. "I'm standing for it. I'm a female producer and that's something I can do, so I do that in my free time. I care for it, and I'm really pissed off that it's so slow. I think it's really interesting that it became so popular right now with Beyoncé screaming 'feminist' on the VMAs and now finally Björk opening her mouth."
She says it's not enough for celebrities to speak or for women to wait on the sidelines. Ignoring the issue or distancing oneself from controversy doesn't beget change. Greie-Piratti is on the side of action and long term commitment.
"We just have to keep telling them because it seems to drip slow in the brain," she says. "I have gone to every festival for at least five years, and I'm talking to the main curator and I'm saying 'why are there so few women? It's not right.' This year, I sent an email to everybody, 'I'm expecting at this point for you to book 50/50. Consider gender diversity and all sorts of minority diversity.' It's not okay anymore to have white male festivals. It's just not."
To date, Female Pressure's network connects more than 1,400 female electronic artists spanning 65 nations. There is no central leadership and no formal agenda. There is no membership fee and no limit to what the group can be or do. The group invites interested artists to visit their site to sign up. Once enlisted, anyone can pitch an idea to the group directly and you make it a reality. Members share technical advice, frustrations, accomplishments, or just their latest mixtape. The guiding principal for participation is simple: female visibility matters.
When her career first started, Greie-Ripatti used to sing. She also used to compose, produce, and engineer her own work, in collaboration with partners but always as the bandleader. When reviewers credited her only for singing, her response was to stop singing altogether. According to her, it did away with the public's chance to denounce her producing talents, though she admits it also limited her creativity.
Greie-Ripatti's story might be an experience that is specifically her own, but it makes one wonder how many other women have had their creative voices silenced by disrespect, fear of being misunderstood, or by not having a safe space to be heard?
"I often hear that [women] can't make beats. It's really unbelievable," she says. "It's important that this has to be pushed, and I'm just gonna insist on this now. If we would stop our activism now, nothing would ever change. I think it really needs a global kick in the balls to stop that."
Kat Bein is based in Miami and provides a global kick in the balls on Twitter.