Brooklyn’s own techno-feminist collective DISCWOMAN – showcasing “the wealth of female-identified talent in the electronic music industry – hosted a panel at roaming digital art pop-up PWRPLANT last weekend to discuss the current state of women in the music industry.
The hour-long discussion brought together DJ and GHE20G0TH1K creator Venus X, Katie Garcia of Bayonet Records, Michelle Lhooq of Thump, and Electric Punnany co-founder and DJ Jasmine Solano, with Discwoman’s own Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson moderating the conversation.
With the lack of inclusion of feminine voices being persistent as ever, here are four take-aways from the discussion that move the ongoing conversation forward – toward a better understanding of the complexities of the issue, and what steps can be taken next. You can watch a full recording of the discussion below.
THE NUMBERS ARE STARK
Michelle reminded us of some depressing numbers that illustrate the current state of the music industry: women represented on music festival lineups falls between 2-9% of bookings, and they make up 9% of agency rosters. The reality is that this is not a coincidence, but rather could be seen as an industry by design, or in the very best light as a tradition that’s gone unquestioned for too long.
“There’s a hierarchy of tradition, and white boys club, and everyone’s helping people that they already help.” –Jasmine Solano
“It’s the [festival] network itself– it starts a year before, through a network of power thats previously dictated, that has very little do with popularity or talent itself. It has to do with managers, and a one hand washes the other mentality. You’re my boy, I’m your boy. You’re gonna put my artist on, we’re gonna manufacture success.” –Venus X
TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS AND BE A PART OF THE DISCUSSION
Right now is a powerful time to be a part of the discussion. High-profile artists like Bjork and MIA have spoken out recently about their struggle with sexism and their fight for visibility (check out Pitchfork’s interview The Invisible Woman: A Conversation with Bjork, and Rolling Stone’s ‘Arular’ 10 Years Later: MIA Reflects on Globe-Shaking Debut). Battling for recognition or for credit for your own work is a shared experience, regardless of fame levels, and speaking out to reaffirm your experience can empower and work toward carving out spaces for feminine qualities to thrive, without having to be labeled as over-demanding.
“Is this an issue or am I crazy? There’s a constant questioning of yourself if what you experience is really sexism or if it’s in your head. It’s such an insidious problem that it’s not always apparent.”
THE FEMINIST DJ MOVEMENT IS COMPLICATED, AND THAT’S FOR THE BETTER.
In terms of self-determination and how artists represent and market themselves, it’s (hopefully) a thing of the past that they have to pick one street to walk down. Venus, who self-identifies as Dominican, queer, and a woman, says her identity is “something that is way too complicated for the music industry.”
In this sense, understanding the feminist movement in DJ culture does not necessitate a catch-all solution. Michelle, who is Singapore-born and grew up in Tokyo and New York, summed the complexities of breaking down access and opportunities in the industry when she said:
“When we talk about race and feminism, we have to remember that feminism is diverse, just like any other field is diverse. There isn’t one type of feminism and that there are a lot of different struggles; for example, looking at that white female DJs will have a lot easier time than women of color DJs and so there’s a lot of complexities and multiplicities within this movement.”
CREATE THE HYBRID SPACES YOU WANT TO THRIVE IN.
On the topic of complicating things (for the better), the discussion toward inclusion in the industry doesn’t stop at gender identification. While there are NY-based examples like Jasmine Solano’s Electric Punnany party or Venus X’s Ghetto Gothik rave establishment, the movement can happen anywhere and can include any aspect of yourself, regardless of whether it’s valued by the traditional industry structure. It’s possible to build and connect according to your own rules, and there’s some amazing groundwork that’s already been laid outside of the boys club.
“When I started Electric Punnany with my partner Melo-X, we had kids from Brooklyn, hipsters, skaters; it was a time when culture clashing was really interesting in New York. Everyone felt free and just let go of their inhibitions, and it didn’t matter where you were from. The party really developed into adding different elements like Nigerian hip-hop and African house, UK funky, and now we’ve been trying to really blur these lines globally with music that’s coming out rooted in dancehall and reggae. I think New York is an absolute testament to that.”
“Everybody needs what we have here [in New York]…wherever you have people, you have this exact possibility…I created my space because it’s very personal; it’s about me and my friends, people that are very complex and wanted to exist equally in all the parts of their lives, whether it be downtown, uptown. You just want to be fully realized, so I had to make my own space in order for that to even work. Being able to represent your intersectionality is the hardest thing in the world because people want you to just be that one thing, and they want you to be that one thing really well so that it doesn’t disrupt anything else. I wouldn’t be successful if I was just one thing; I have to be Dominican, urban, futuristic, really obsessed with philosophy of feminist, queer theory, I also have to love fashion; it’s all these different things but this makes me me, and if I don’t do it like this then I wouldn’t be me, and I want to be me. I had to make the environment I want to exist in.”