In a country known for the influence of longstanding traditions like cumbia and vallenato, Medellín has become a surprising new playground for experimentation in electronic music. In the past few years, electronic record labels have popped up at a thrilling rate, and in June, AMME – the country’s first academic conference focused on the future of electronic music – saw the light. All these milestones are reasons to celebrate, but despite the progress, one issue remains unaddressed: women are still woefully underrepresented in the paisa electronic scene.
But NÓTT, a woman-first electronic collective inspired by the formidable, Norse goddess of the night, sees a future for women producers in the city. In response to their personal encounters with sexism in the scene, NÓTT co-founders and DJs Julianna Cuervo, María Arango, and Andrea Arias banded together this summer to bring more talent to the forefront through workshops, conferences, showcases, and a podcast.
While the project has been a long time coming, the collective didn’t take shape until Cuervo, Arango, and Arias noticed that women’s voices were absent at AMME’s long weekend of electronic workshops and talks in June. The conference, they had hoped, would be a place for them to connect with like-minded female producers.
“The three of us were there,” Arango says in an interview with Remezcla. “But we saw there weren’t any other women, not even the other DJs who exist in the city.”
The electronic music scene in Medellín continues to be dominated by men, and Arango, Cuervo, and Arias explain that this can be discouraging for women interested in participating and establishing a career in the field. But instead of challenging these notions, the status quo rages on. Newcomers are often scrutinized more harshly than their male counterparts, Arango explains. She recounts the all-too-familiar tale of male venue staff assuming she can’t connect her own equipment at events. In a Thump Colombia op-ed, Cuervo decries the fact that women are often removed from the booth without warning before finishing a set. Arango remembers the time a male promoter who booked her for an event canceled her show because he had a bad experience with another female DJ in the past.
“They use gender as an excuse to judge us,” Arango says. “We don’t find it valid to categorize someone because of their gender or to judge a groups of DJs because one of them didn’t do well. That could have happened with a man too.”
“They use gender as an excuse to judge us.”
Women are simply not given the same chance to experiment or the leeway to make mistakes. Even the careers of established artists are regarded with suspicion and distrust; Bogotá-based DJ and producer Aleja Sanchez is a leader in Colombian techno, having released a number of EPs and collaborated with international labels, yet her credibility is still questioned. According to Arango, labels have asked Sanchez’s friends whether she actually produces her own music.
All things considered, it’s no surprise that so few women have made it in Medellín’s electronic community. Frustratingly, Cuevo reveals that only three women have walked into DOCE, the Medellín-based electronic record store she founded in 2014.
It’s the reason why NÓTT has made it a priority to center mentorship and education in their work, including free workshops on Ableton Live and mixing vinyl. Next year, a new workshop will teach VJing to beginners. Arango, who previously moved to Barcelona for courses in DJing and production, attests to the power that workshops can have on an aspiring creator.
NÓTT also has plans to finalize a database that collects the names, musical interests, and contact information of women producers throughout Latin America. It’s an effort to counteract critiques from male promoters who claim there are no women in the region’s electronic scenes. The database adapts the model of Female:Pressure, a similar undertaking based in Europe, and currently includes about 50 women. Arango hopes it will expand with its public launch early next year.
“We plan to send the database to promoters, clubs, and venues to force people to at least do their research,” Arango says. “Don’t say we can’t put women [on lineups] because there are no women. Here are 50 women. Investigate, and find out what they do. If you don’t like them, then don’t put them on. But at least inform yourselves.”
Until more women grace these lineups, NÓTT is counting on the power of collectivity to break old patriarchal lines. Instead of competing and undercutting each other, NÓTT sees a future in the shared knowledge and experiences of women from diverse fields. In their Medellín-based showcases at Mansion Club, a venue owned by friend and promoter Natalia Ríos, NÓTT reveals what the future could look like.
“[At our showcases,] we feel like we’re giving it our all,” Arias says. “It’s a huge opportunity to demonstrate the [female] talent that makes up NÓTT, each woman mastering her own genre, techniques, know-how, and demonstrating that all of them distinguish themselves with something in particular.”
In the past, Arango and Cuervo have both left DJing and explored other professions, though they ultimately returned to their passion. Despite the sexism and injustice they face in the industry, Arango encourages women to be persistent. “In those moments when you take a break from the profession, you reflect and you realize that what you really want to do is this,” Arango says. “And if that’s your [calling], nothing can stop you.”
Update, 12/15/2016, 11 a.m.: A previous version of this post misattributed a quote to María Arango. The post has been updated to reflect the proper attribution to Andrea Arias.