Where Are All Of Australia’s Female DJs?
50 percent of the population makes up 10 percent of our DJs. So why aren’t more women impelling us to shake our shit around?
DJ J'Nett in action
In the great pantheon of disk jockeys who impel us to shake our shit around, women are underrepresented. Quick! We must all craft blog posts that will reach to the heavens with towers built with bricks made of male privilege, bound with a concrete hysteria (the word used in a non-gendered way). Or—and I'm just spitballing here—we could ask some female DJs that do make themselves represented what they make of the whole thing.
The underrepresentation of women in Melbourne's DJ community really is a problem. Women made up less than 10 percent of the top DJs of 2013 in Resident Advisor's annual readers' poll. If we're taking Stereosonic's word that they're Australia's "most loved" electronic music festival, not a whole lot of that love is directed towards women. Their 2013 national lineup (110 people, 80 acts) included four women, and only one—Nina Las Vegas—was a solo act.
When we mythologise dance music we imagine the clubs and places it's played as everyone-created-equal utopias. Personally though, I don't have any time for a utopia where half the population is doing over 90 percent of the talking. So what do female DJs and producers think about how to leve' the glowstick-littered playing field?
In most dance music circles there's an absolute acknowledgement of male domination. Or as Fletch of the late Hip Hop Hotties and Golden Syrup on 3RRR puts it, "beatmaking in Melbourne is a total wiener dog fest".
Despite the disparity, everyone I spoke to was pretty sanguine—choosing to focus on the work, not the patriarchy. Chiara Kickdrum, who's making and playing some of the best techno in Australia, says: "I don't really think about being a female while composing or producing, right? Basically if I start thinking that way, I will limit myself, but I am aware that 'the problem' exists in a way."
But dark synth producer and DJ Simona Kapitolina reflects that it's not always as easy as out of sight out of mind: "Getting access to musical communities is incredibly difficult, it's probably 90 percent of the fucking job." Any access is hard won, "a lot of female DJs have to work bloody hard and as a transgendered DJ I've, perhaps, had to work a little bit harder".
Co-founder of the long-running Grouse queer parties in Melbourne, Romy released her first 12" on LA-based 100% Silk's new House of Silk imprint but still hit walls. "I felt like I wanted to branch out of the queer scene, and focus on being more of a house DJ, rather than someone who plays bits of everything." It's worth noting that if you can release a record like 'Home' and still not get booked to play house music, something is up.
Much of the disconnect is a product of misinformation around women's relationship with dance music. As J'Nett—ex-record-store owner, bedrock of the self-explanatory Strictly Vinyl parties—said of the male domination of vinyl fetishism that: "the idea that a woman doesn't really instinctively have a natural drive to be a collector, whatever the medium we are talking about, just sounds like a load of bollocks to me… I have encountered many a personality (and yes, most of them male) who have felt a need to comment on what they have, and how rare it is and how no one knew about it until they played it! Splaying their feathers in a peacock-like manner. I could assume that it is a male thing, but I won't and I don't. The impulse is a need to stroke nothing but an ego." In short, nobody on a dancefloor cares much about how much you paid for your private-press, proto-garage 45 from Estonia.
Katie Pearson (aka Whiskey Houston) goes as far to argue that women are the naturals, as their instincts are, "generally more empathetic than men. A female's DJ set is going to be more in tune with what a crowd wants, more reactive. They pick up on what their crowd is feeling at the time more than a man who is likely play purely based on men's traits. Likely to do what he's doing regardless of what anybody is thinking or feeling."
Her sentiment seems to be the core of what DJing is about. But how do we, as Katie asked, "get more women in this industry more confidence to become something they're told they shouldn't become?"
For YO! MAFIA—just about the best, most hard-working party DJ Australia has—old-fashioned self-confidence got her to a record deal and support for countless internationals: "Whether someone thinks differently of me because I'm a woman, because I'm chubby, because I look/dress like a boy, because I have short hair, what does it matter. That's for everyone else to worry about, not me."
But it's not a totally personal process. "Some festivals have maybe two ladies added to the lineup over ten stages if you're lucky! Which is appalling and anachronistic. There are amazing female DJs out there and are beyond talented. They need to be seen, heard and put on the bill," laments local legend DJ Kiti.
For many young artists the Internet helps. As Fletch's experiences, "I am a huge fan of SPF420 which is an online community much like Boiler Room that hosts DJ sets from incredible producers. The vibe in this kind of realm is so inclusive and post-gender almost. Everyone is just into cool shit and there is also a sense of anonymity."
Like most things, the simplest answer is usually best, and in this case the universal message is to chill the fuck out. As Fletch reflects, "I think taking the focus away from gender is hard," she says, "but it's something we can all give a crack but also be really mindful of how our certain privileges affect those around us. For example if you're a dude and you think it's kosher to talk about how hot a girl who produces is maybe read some bloody books and talk about her snares or her sequencing instead you little turd."
Kane Daniel is a Melbourne writer and friend to DJs of all sexes. Follow him on Twitter.