In the first of a new series called Tribes, Smirnoff Sound Collective are diving into some of the world’s most interesting collectives fostering diversity and inclusivity within dance music. In this first Episode we meet DISCWOMAN – an NYC based all-female DJ collective promoting gender diversity in electronic music.
The trajectory of dance music culture has often assumed the behaviour of a set of lungs, expanding and contracting into both micro and macro scenes through a rich tapestry of diversity (and sadly, lack thereof).
In the 1970s gay minorities propagated the New York disco scene by creating small pockets of space to let loose in the city’s harsh urban landscape. The following decade brought the birth of house music, flourishing in the hands of Frankie Knuckles and Larry Levan; DJs who went from spinning records in the bathhouses of Manhattan to the black and gay clubs of Chicago. Further down the map techno had also begun to thrive in the social clubs of Detroit where a booming car manufacturing industry spawned a significant middle class black population looking to unwind in the evenings. This cross-pollination of tribes of colour, gender, sexuality and class has helped form the bedrock, the ‘patchwork DNA’, of dance music culture, unified by an openness to all and a simple, yet impassioned, love of rhythm.
But just as the human lungs expand and contract, many micro-movements in dance music have truncated in diversity over the last decade, evolving into something white, male-dominated and hetero-normative. This is something many dance music devotees are aware of and are working to curb in creative ways; in particular, gender diversity in electronic music. According to PRS for Music, just 12% of writers on its books are women and only 4% of Music Producers Guild members are women. The Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts says just 6% of the students enrolled on its sound technology course are female. A more recent study has shown that the bookings of female DJs at festivals never exceeds 10%, and for listeners at home women have become sexualized stock art on YouTube videos. Our own tally of RA’s DJ Poll for 2015 found just 8 out of the top 100 DJs to be female.
But whilst it is hard to ignore the current climate of industry-led male-dominated apparatus who, consciously or not, contribute to institutionally-enforced sexism in electronic music, it’s also important not to think of the gender disparity we find in such prosaic terms. There are actually many female DJs and producers out there doing great things, and it seems that the challenge today is more about finding a nuanced approach that increases visibility without tokenising the idea of a female artist in electronic music.
A number of grassroots initiatives started by young women in cities around the world have already begun doing this in order to change the industry’s gender imbalance. Over in Berlin an event series called Salt + Sass is connecting and bringing visibility to women working in the music whilst across Europe and America more and more creative collectives are cropping us such as shesaid.so, SIREN and female:pressure.
Across the pond, New York-based platform, collective and booking agency DISCWOMAN has become an incubator of sorts, representing and showcasing cis women, trans women and genderqueer talent in electronic music. Working with over 150 DJs and producers to-date, DISCWOMAN are holding the torch for female collectivisation in dance music, imbuing the philosophy that talent should always transcend gender. Uncovering their movements and taking a closer look, Smirnoff Sound Collective have produced a documentary as part of a new series diving deep into some of the worlds most interesting collectives fostering diversity and inclusivity within dance music.
Alongside getting to know the founders, the film includes interviews with Chicago’s Black Madonna, Mumbai-based producer Sanaya Ardeshir and Lebanese-Nigerian DJ Nicole Moudaber. Watch it in full above.