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The Need For Collectives: Why You Can’t Just be a Female DJ

By Megan Hannaford

The DJ scene has been a sausage party from the offset and despite recent advancements for female DJ’s this male-domination persists.

There is a demoralising stigma surrounding female DJs, where their talent is undermined by the assumption that men are simply more talented. They are never labelled as just ‘DJs’, but always ‘female DJs’, and this highlighting of gender sets up the idea of low expectations where people are less inclined to give their support. In this sense, these women find themselves cast as ‘pick-me’ girls who are not respected for their talent.

But why is this the case? Seemingly, other areas of the music scene do not display this same level of sexism. Yet as a whole, the backbone of the industry is certainly male-dominated, with females making up a mere 2.6% of music producers, hence why female DJs remain so under-represented. This has led to the perception that there aren’t actually many women interested in DJing, when in reality the industry is not actively trying to give these women visibility.

The result has been a drive for all-female collectives. Paving the way for this collaborative stance was Nancy Noise and Lisa Loud in the UK’s Second Summer of Love in the late 80s. With the rise of acid house and the electronic scene, these DJs stood out as two of the few women visible within this culture.

Rather than being a lone DJ, a trend has emerged where women’s success as DJs is dependent on these collective strategies.

Female collectives seek to be an empowering force, focusing on diversity and inclusivity for women in the scene and highlighting the importance of strength in numbers for representation. These collectives have initiated conversations that have been crucial to change yet also highlight the sad reality that they are needed in the first place.

This need for female collectives can be contrasted to the unspoken collectives which male DJs partake in. Whilst male hegemony has meant male collectives are not a necessity for their visibility, male DJs nonetheless form gender-based alliances. Upholding their dominance in the scene, these DJs tend to publicly support their male friends, which contributes to all-male set lineups. This exclusivity has been acknowledged by many female DJs who claim these unspoken male collectives are what dominates the field. Often, being a DJ proves to be about who knows who, and an unwillingness to branch out in recognition of new female talent.

In light of these all-male lineups there is an overwhelming need for balance as it is not enough to just have one girl on a lineup where they become the ‘token’ female DJ.

MC Lioness has spoken out on this issue. As one of the leading ladies in grime, the self-named Lioness argues that although her skills match that of any of her male counterparts but in being one of the only female MCs she is often presented as a ‘token’ female MC.

To be the singular woman on an otherwise all-male lineup is not only daunting but leaves these DJs exposed to verbal and sexual harrassment when performing. London born-and-raised Sherelle exemplifies the need for collectives in order to battle this tokenism and to feel safe and supported when playing events. Until recently Sherelle was part of 6 Figure Gang, a collective joined together by friendship and a mutual affinity for all things bass. It is this collaboration which helped Sherelle to find her own voice in the scene.

However this has not come without its challenges. As a queer Black woman, Sherelle has experienced a combination of racist, homophobic and sexist discrimination during her time in the game. Notably, her set at Dekmantel was criticised by festival-goers, who rather than actually looking into her simply assumed she was going to play a certain type of music. She argued:

‘If you had Ben UFO playing the same things as me you would be completely mind-blown. But when I play it, all of a sudden it’s an issue. There’s a clear thing there that I’m not gonna say but, read the fucking room.’

After seeing Sherelle last week, I myself can confirm that her set was the best that I've seen in a long time, as well as the only DJ memorable enough after god-knows-how-many shots of tequila – which says a lot!

In a similar fashion DJ Shy One, a broken beats artist, has struggled to combat the stereotypes attached to being a female DJ. Originating in West London, broken beats came to prominence in the early 2000s through male DJs and recently the scene has witnessed a resurgence of this genre. Shy One has been at the forefront of this resurgence and is undeterred by those calling her beats “weird” or “different”. To push forward this genre, Shy One has also been involved with the Touching Bass and BBZ collectives. These collectives particularly aim to create safe creative spaces for Black and queer female DJs, and where those two collectives overlap is all about community and building up this trust and respect.

As Boy Better Know once said, we ‘need some more girls in here’, as women should be able to enter the DJ scene as individuals without feeling ignored. And so, whilst these collective spaces have been pivotal for female DJs, it is also frustrating that women feel dependent on these spaces. Therefore, whilst all-female line-ups and collectives are essential for bringing about visibility, gender equality should instead exist as a given rather than a novelty.

Considering the importance of collectives as the grassroots of inclusivity, workshops have been key to installing confidence into the next generation of female talent. I learnt more about this system of support and education by speaking to my friend Kisa, a female DJ new to the scene. These workshops have helped inspire upcoming DJs like Kisa, who partook in the Adidas sponsored workshop by Girl’s Can’t DJ, a community encouraging women to challenge the predefined conceptions of being a woman in the field.

By putting these conversations into practice, it will be interesting to see how the scene continues to break-down inequality this summer, and I hope the return of the festival season will showcase some of our rising female talents. Be sure to look out for artists among the likes of Sherelle, Shy One, India Jordan, Anz, Girls Don’t Sync, and DJ Mina.

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