At this point, it's almost a cliché to acknowledge what an awful year 2016 has been. But it's not all shit: in the world of underground dance music, Brooklyn-based booking agency and DJ collective Discwoman has cut through this year's darkness as a blindingly bright light, challenging some long-standing assumptions about who can succeed as a DJ along the way.
The all-female and female-identified organization formed two years ago, but 2016 saw Discwoman's founding trio of Frankie Hutchinson, Emma Burgess-Olson and Christine Tran, and their affiliated artists, quickly rise to the forefront of the club scenes both in their hometown of Brooklyn and around the world. Their established roster of DJs had an explosive year as the collective added new talents. Philadelphia's DJ Haram—who plays a sort of club music that draws on bounce, noise, various styles of Middle Eastern music and a whole lot more—was signed at the beginning of this year, while SHYBOI—a Jamaican-born multidisciplinary artist who is part of the queer arts collective KUNQ—brought her experimental sound to Discwoman in July.
The collective began the year with a massive two-day takeover in Mexico City featuring parties, panels, and workshops. On their first European tour this fall, Discwoman founding artists and techno innovators Volvox and Umfang ascended to one of dance music's highest peaks by playing concurrent sets at Berghain and Panorama Bar. Discwoman also put on their second event at Detroit's Movement festival and their first show for Boiler Room, celebrating Black History Month. Through this momentum, the agency continued to support female-identified people, queer people, and people of color, even as the world around us seemingly regressed into intolerance and hate. "We've been going against the current in a lot of ways," says Hutchinson.
In the face of an increasingly scary global reality, Discwoman has spent the last year spreading education and inspiration for women and marginalized people in electronic music. To look back on their whirlwind year, we asked Hutchinson to give us a guided tour through a few of 2016's highlights. Below, check out photos of some of their favorite parties that they've thrown (and others that Discwoman acts have played) alongside a few of Hutchinson's memories about each of the special moments.
1. Mexico City, January 8-9
Frankie Hutchinson: That party was probably almost a year in the making. Midway through planning it we started doing a collaboration with Smirnoff who did a short video on us. They filmed us and followed us around on our adventures. So they were able to help fund a bigger event so we could put more money into it. Oh my god, it was crazy. We did a two day party, and workshops, we integrated the local Mexican talent that we met through Lucia Anaya who is from Mexico City. [The show] was so mental. I remember being stressed out the entire time, so it's hard to say I had the best time of my life but it was really one of the best things we've done, and the biggest thing we've pulled off so far. We learned a lot about how to organize.
2. Boiler Room, Brooklyn, New York, February 16
In February, we did our first collaboration with Boiler Room. We decided to celebrate Black History Month by only booking black and black-identifying DJs. We had UNiiQU3, Julianna Huxtable, Bearcat and SHYBOI. That was a really special event. We'd never been able to do a Black History Month event on a large scale like that in the US before, so that was a really powerful one.
3. Fine Time, Los Angeles, California March 25
That was a powerful event—even more memorable now as Cherushii, who played, passed recently in the Oakland fire, the tragic event that happened a few weeks ago. It was such a beautiful night and the first party we did in LA.
4. Movement, Detroit, May 28
We did an event at Detroit's UFO Factory during Movement festival. It was weird timing, from 9 pm to 2 am, but there was so much competition for parties that night that it ended up working in our favor. The place was packed, it was awesome. It was our second year doing a party in Detroit, [and] our second year donating a portion of our proceeds to a local nonprofit too. This year we had Aurora Halal, Umfang, Volvox, Stacy Hotwaxx, and Abby and Molly Soda (who are based out of Detroit). Detroit is obviously where this music we love is from, so it was really great to be part of that scene and that moment.
5. Baltimore, Maryland, June 25
Baltimore was great. We invited the collective GRL PWR and did a takeover at The Crown with local acts, headlined by TT The Artist, DJ Trillnatured, Genie, Isabejja, and Sunatirene, and we brought up our DJs Bearcat and DJ Haram. They have a really strong DIY scene there.
6. Output Roof, Brooklyn, New York, July 23
It was so hot that day. But then I'd take that over cold weather. We had our whole roster play except for Volvox who was in London. It was just fun, family vibes on the roof chilling drinking frozen drinks, as you do, in Williamsburg.
7. Berlin, Germany, August 13
That was our first stop on our European tour. Bearcat and DJ Haram were booked to play a Creamcake party, which is a Berlin-based collective. Prior to that we did a free CDJ workshop. Umfang led the workshop. It was so awesome, so many young women came through. They all brought USBs, so afterwards they all took turns practicing and they kept going for a few hours, up until the party started. The party itself was great, OHM was a really awesome venue.
8. De School, Amsterdam, Netherlands, August 19
Volvox and Umfang played De School in Amsterdam, which is really the afters club to play. I wasn't physically there but I know it was a really big milestone for them to play the club. It was just them two playing, switching off sets for nine hours.
9. Paris, France, August 20
DJ Haram and Bearcat played Flash Cocotte in Paris and prior to that they went to Rinse FM and had such a blast. They told me Paris was one of their favorite gigs they did, everything went really well.
10. Corsica Studios, London, England, September 9
We did a two-room takeover or Corsica with a mixed line up but it was really great. Asquith who runs Lobster Theremin booked us. I'm from London, I grew up there, so coming back and doing an event was a really nice moment of pride for me. I was like "Oh, I used to go to these clubs when I was younger and now I'm doing an event here." People really came out and showed love.
11. Berghain, Berlin, Germany, September 11
Having Volvox and Umfang play Berghain was a really huge milestone for us this year. It was one of the biggest bookings to date for both DJs. It was a moment of pride for us. We have loved the club for a long time, and it was a really big deal to have them play there together. Going to Europe was just so cool, spreading our wings on that kind of global level was awesome.
12. Video Club, Bogota, Colombia, September 23
Photo courtesy of Discwoman
We played in Bogota when we came back from Europe, it was one of my favorite gigs that we've done. We were invited by a club called Video Club, a beautiful space. We did a panel too, about women in dance music, prior to the event. Honestly, you just have to go there, it's so gorgeous. They were so accommodating and so sweet. It was a really magical place.
13. Two Year Anniversary at Sugar Hill Supper Club, Brooklyn, New York, October 8
We had such a cute line up, Quay Dash, Papi Juice, CL, Bergsonist, Turtle Bugg, Jlin, who is amazing. Sugar Hill is an amazing space, an untouched gem in Bed Stuy. That was our two-year anniversary, it definitely felt appropriate to put it there. It was a milestone for us, having been around for two years. I don't know what we thought was going to happen when we started this thing, but we got to two years. I think it's important to let people know you're still there.