Opinion | EDM: Where the women at?

Lambposed

You only have to glance at DJ Mag’s Top 100 DJ list 2014 to know that electronic music is still very much a boys’ club. Scrolling through the likes of the albeit brilliant Hardwell, Martin Garrix and Showtek, it’s not until number 21 on the list that you reach eclectic Aussie twins Nervo, American sisters Krewella at 33, and… oh, that’s it. Take a moment to let that ‘sync’ in. Only two women were considered hyped enough, creative enough, crowd-stirring enough or whatever enough to qualify for a list that deemed 98 men more deserving of a place. Even more frustratingly, two is actually an improvement: in 2011 no women DJs featured at all.

Lou Rhodes – one half of legendary duo Lamb – bemoans this lack of recognition for women electronica artists: “There are so many awesome female producers in the scene but it tragically remains a bit of a boys’ club with a few token head-nods in the direction of women and their essential creative role.”

Surely the representation of women in EDM specifically has progressed since Lou started out, though? She disagrees, stating that it’s “taken quite a dive over recent years … the nineties felt like a bit of a re-birth in many ways, and with that freshness came an openness to challenge old ideas about women.” So why has it all gone a bit stale? Lou blames the current ‘flavour of the moment’ mentality, which right now champions the “superficial”. She says the scene is “image-led” and specifically cites “sexually charged images of women” as being the only accepted representation of women across the whole business. It’s all getting a bit depressing, isn’t it?

When you consider pop act Taylor Swift’s naming in Forbes’ World’s Most Powerful Women list (Beyoncé and Shakira also feature), the recent revival of Riot Grrrl and the rising prevalence of female rockers – we’re talking Alabama Shakes and HAIM – the situation perhaps doesn’t seem all that bad. Plus, in an interview with Dazed magazine, Factory Floor’s Nik Colk Void is said to be “optimistic about the situation at large”. The feature cites the “growth of non-traditional routes” such as the internet as offering a “platform and a voice [for girls to] get [their] stuff out there”.

Lamb-hi-res

Overblown’s Siobhan Smith has questioned many critics’ claims that 2014 and 2015 were the ‘Year[s] of the Women’, however. As Smith points out, it’s only really when you dig into female line-ups on, for example, the UK festival circuit that the gravity of the under-representation is obvious. At this year’s major UK festivals, male acts take on a combined 89.6 per cent precedence – which isn’t far off the 98 per cent of men on that dreadful DJ list, and is highlighted by this powerful image created by music blog Crack In The Road, which swept Twitter:

On seeing the poster, Rhodes responded succinctly: “Wow, that says a lot!” It does, but she points out: “Reading’s a rock festival, and rock has traditionally been an incredibly male-dominated genre. It’s really difficult to find a way to make a difference, but [as women] we need to constantly challenge the stereotypes … and reassert our role in making music a 360 degree human experience”. But as we’ve discussed, and as that ruddy DJ list suggests, it isn’t just rock that suffers from male domination. How can female musicians ‘reassert’ themselves in the industry if they aren’t even in the line-up? Are segregated women-only festivals, that showcase female talent, the only progressive solution?

Dazed’s Aimee Cliff visited Space-Time festival last year, which featured an all-women line-up, and was convinced that it was: “a resounding argument against anyone who says it’s not possible to pack rooms with an all-female line-up in 2014”. Performing at the event, progressive electronica maestro Karen Gwyer argued that segregation is key to “achieve the overhaul the system needs”, while DJ Helena Hauff bluntly suggested: “I think [women-only festivals] can be a really good thing … if it’s about the music, more than about the fact that someone’s got a pussy instead of a cock”.

Interestingly, Gwyer also suggested that the real question is whether male promoters are including more women. Her answer: “There have always been guys who happily include women without too much thought, and guys who don’t. The fact is that the guys who don’t … vastly outnumber the rest”. Siobhan Smith also asked the same question to Reading and Leeds booker John Mac, who argued that this is a “historical precedent that needs to change … In the rock, indie and dance worlds there were more boys than girls trying to make a go of it and therefore more breaking through. Things need to, and I believe are, changing”. We can’t see the progression in a line-up like yours, Mr. Mac.

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Lou Rhodes’ sound advice? She says that women and girls starting out should put their “whole heart and soul into what [they] do. Be proud of what makes you female and don’t be sidelined by men’s (and even some other women’s) assumptions of what you can and can’t do”. Luckily the fabled pro-girl bookers that Karen Gwyer mentions do exist, and this summer is showcasing a fabulous line-up of woman-centric electronic music. But the real crux of the matter is that we want to see more of it – and we want it now.

Lucky for us, it’s summer – and that means we can take our pick from a festival line up featuring some of the best and most badass women in electronica performing on the global stage this summer.

Iceland has led the way so far this festival season, with June’s Secret Solstice Festival showcasing the talents of the spellbinding FKA Twigs and MØ, who blasted crowds with her electro-pop punk. At July’s ATP Festival, meanwhile, Chelsea Wolfe performed her mix of experimental electronic psychedelia.

The Netherlands weren’t far behind with the electro-heavy Wish Outdoor festival featuring fantastic Aussie twin act Nervo. Dutch DJ Daani also played her freestyle sounds to fans in an electrifying set. And let’s not forget Glastonbury which, despite a lack of women headliners featured house hound DJ Honey Dijon on the bill.

Although you may have missed those class acts, there’s still plenty to look forward to. Here’s a round-up of the best of the rest to come:

UK

Cambridge’s Space-Time (5 September) is taking on an end of summer slot and features fabulous Factory Floor member Nik Colk Void and Helena Hauff’s pumping techno. The legendary Portishead are headlining Latitude (16-19 July) on the Saturday while the entrancing Santigold is playing relatively high up the line-up on Friday. Radio One’s Annie Mac is taking on the mainstream massive at both V Festival (22-23 August) sites, with Hannah Wants headlining the Dance Tent. Somerset’s aptly named Farmfest (31 July-1 August) is celebrating its tenth year this summer and you can catch Lou Rhodes’ Lamb headlining. Other awesome female-fronted acts you can catch there include Lonelady and Submotion Orchestra. Wilderness (6-9 August) will see the brilliant Björk taking headline glory in the Oxfordshire countryside.

Croatia

Croatia seems to be one step ahead of the game when it comes to pushing women into the line-up limelight, and in particular this year’s Stop Making Sense and Sonus festivals are ones to head to. Stop Making Sense (16-19 July) offers a free-spirited family vibe, but with house, disco, techno, electro and funk beats. This summer you can catch acclaimed DJ and label owner Anja Schneider, uplifting tracks from The Black Madonna and mish-mashed London-meets-Berlin vibes from Miss Jools. Sonus (16-20 August) labels itself as the “cream of the electronic crop”, and boasts a party next to the sea, in the sun and under the stars. Watch out for the legendary Monica Kruse and the sought-after rhythms of tINI.

Austria

Sibling successes Krewella and Nervo will be playing massive sets at Austria’s key electronic music destination, Lake Festival (19 – 22 August). Although still vastly male, Lake does feature a comparatively strong female EDM line-up from the decks of Ukrainian hardcore techno from Miss K8, classic progressive house from Petty Joy and enthusiastic electronic from Dominique Jardin.

Jessica Lever
Photos of Karen Gwyer and Nik Colk Void: Mike Cameron

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