Women Behind the Decks

Posted on August 1st, by Tamara Warren in 20. No Comments

THE UNDERGROUND IS...Track talk:  the hobby of trading facts about artists, bands or labels. Regardless of musical genre, this sports-like mentality is dominated by one gender, and, generally, it’s not the women. But what do facts have to do with the art of making music?  Nothing, except that this attitude has spread and is causing frustration across the spectrum of dance music.

Worldwide, women are seen on dancefloors or heard in background vocals, but not very often behind the counters of record stores. Women who do represent and play out at parties and clubs have to fight the same stereotypes and prejudices that are present in the global economy and corporate America.  In order to be taken seriously, they are expected to be tough or sexy.  No matter their skill level, they are perceived as women DJs, not just DJs who happen to be women. They do not receive the support, the prime bookings or widespread recognition that men do.  URB Magazine listed only two women DJs in its top 100 Up and Coming International DJs.  The chart-topping dance music acts worldwide are all male. Only a handful of women are known across the international DJ circuit.

Why has this happened in a musical genre that proclaims itself underground? Underground movements generally are about fighting for an ideal that is one step ahead of the dredges of mainstream society. It seems logical that a female perspective should be equally represented in the global scene.  Yet, women’s names are scarce on both fliers and record labels.

Women in the field are indeed out there proving that it is not a deficiency or a matter of gender differences. Minx, a Detroit DJ, was a regular at the legendary Music Institute. One day she jokingly said she wanted to start spinning and friends bought her turntables. “The first club I played at gave me such a hard time, that they wouldn’t let me in,” Minx says. “They didn’t believe I was the DJ.  As I was playing people were running up to the stage because I was a woman.”

Minx gained exposure after hosting the Deep Space radio program in Detroit.  She says, however, that it was frustrating that women DJs were getting stuck with the worst time slots and not getting any exposure, so she formed the Detroit-based company Women on Wax. Her idea was to generate attention for the female DJs she knows.

After taking a two-year break from playing out to start a family, Minx returned to the scene last year. Since then she has started an all-women club night in Windsor, Canada. The Amsterdam Lounge had to remodel for the Friday night gig, moving the turntables to the floor. “Some of my girls are short and,” she says with emphasis, “We must be seen,” Minx says.

Minx juggles DJing with a full-time job and being a single mom. She remembers people’s shock when she DJed during her pregnancy. “This is the first pregnant DJ they’ve seen, but I was like, I’m still a woman,” she says, “I’m still me.”

Many women who are making music or playing music admit that they have had frustrations with their male counterparts. Codec is Lisa Ross, a 22 year-old recording artist who is currently working with Carl Craig on re-releasing “Innerzone Orchestra” and creating remixes. “I started musically playing drums when I was really young. I started listening to techno music — getting into electric drums and music technology… then I had a kid.”

Lisa says that people assumed that her musical aspirations would end with the birth of her daughter, Zoe. “That is the whole key to it. A lot of people thought I would stop, when I got pregnant… I don’t see myself as any different.  There’s no reason I shouldn’t do what I want to do.”

She feels strongly about the frustrations of being a woman interested in the production side of music.  “Women in audio are not equally paid, she says.  “I hate when guys talk about gear — it’s a guy thing.  No one ever looked at me, but I’ve gotten over that fact.”

She thinks that more women should try to learn about making the music.  “There’s no reason we can’t do it. It’s about sitting down and learning it. It’s taking that step and dedicating yourself to it. You have to put in your time and dedicate yourself.”  She sighs, “Women are seen as going to the parties and dressing real nice. I wish it would stop.”

Production is more of a behind the scenes spotlight, whereas female DJs are on show and face different pressures to perform. Women have also played a role in the business side of independent dance music. Laura Gavoor operates Yin-Sight Management Inc. and has represented many dance music superstars, including Derrick May, Kenny Larkin, Stacey Pullen and a Guy Called Gerald.  She says that the artists are to blame for not supporting women on the business and artistic side.  “I’m angry.  These guys are disloyal.  I’m not a man and I’m not European.  Their heads are so easily turned by opportunity,” she says.  “Women in the business are unheralded.  Women do the nitty gritty work.”

Gavoor believes that if dance music is properly marketed, women would play a larger role on all sides of the spectrum. “There’s a group of untapped artists, of women, who are emerging in New York.” She thinks that the intellect involved in the New York music scene has helped women there, but that it needs to grow and happen everywhere.

At the same time, she says, music can be alienating to women if it is segmented into strict genres. “I liken DJ sets to sex: There has to be some foreplay before you bang, because otherwise women will run from the club.” Gavoor says that the response from women in Europe reflects the effects of segmentation.

“I think women like different kind of music. More women like ambient music,” says Jacqueline Klein, an ambient DJ and recording artist from Cologne. “In Germany there are more men. More men are clubbing, buying music.”

She expresses the same frustrations as American female DJs and producers.  “The women DJs are not getting any respect.”  Klein is getting more attention in Cologne and Europe.  She recently was booked to play at a large festival in Barcelona.  “There’s a good and bad side to it.  I’m seen first as a woman and then as a DJ,” Klein says.  “In the stores people will talk to me only because of my boyfriend and sometimes there is envy.”  She has seen a decline in women making music in Germany. “Until a few years ago, I thought there would be more women.  And then they tried it for a year, they went to the record stores, which are totally dominated by men, and they were pushed away from it and they stopped.”  She says she is proud that she has stuck with DJing after seeing a lot of other women drop out of it.

Ideally, women should be out there gaining attention, selling records and getting booked based on their talent alone. But, they are not and no one seems to have a clear answer as to why there is a lack of female presence.  Clearly, support on all ends from men and women in the music community is needed to pull women into dance music. Women do not have to remain shut out and limited in the advances and pioneering of new  sounds. When they are given encouragement, acceptance and at least a chance to be participators, as in all music they have the ability to perform as the small number of successful women DJs and producers are showing the industry.

It is too bad that the global dance music scene is letting age-old stereotypes fester in a genre that is so new and supposedly  revolutionary.  The decline of rock music most certainly had something to do with an exclusionary mentality and limited cultural involvement.  Why?  It became boring and stagnant.  Perhaps, those who have vision in music should turn on the radio and learn from a sad example.