Our newest resident takes over this week's blog and speaks her mind around the current challenges on diversity and intersectionality within the modern-day club scene.
When I stand behind the decks, I’m judged long before I load a track. I’m not saying that the crowd in front reckon I’m a bad DJ just because I’m a girl; many of them may think it’s a refreshing sight, happy to see me there. But I’m noticed in a way that male DJs aren’t, many people loving the fact a girl is finally behind the decks, others eagerly awaiting a slip up so they can feel justified in their thoughts that I’m only there because of my gender, not to do with my talent. I can’t say I’m not guilty of this myself - I do catch myself thinking how great it is to see a girl behind the decks, rather than focusing on the music they have to offer, a habit conditioned by attending years of events where a female DJ was a rare sight.
- Not Bad For A Girl Manchester
Beyond my name simply being on a line-up, the way I’m treated during a set is noticeably different. Most sets, I have people staring directly at my hands on the decks, watching every twist of a dial and slide of a fader, analysing my mixing and selections. I’ve had people chat into my ear, mid set, about how it’s “surprising” I’ve got a good music taste, whether I know their auntie’s mum’s dog who’s also a girl that DJs, as well as people simply being too close, too overbearing and too ominous in ways that make me feel unsafe. I am regularly congratulated for my appearance rather than my set, both directly to me and comments overheard by friends and myself in the crowd. On too many occasions I’ve texted my friends an SOS, or made a meaningful side eye to security, because I can’t do my job in peace.
Importantly, I can only speak of my experience as a white woman, privileged by my race and as a cis-gendered individual. I dread to think of the experiences of those from an ethnic minority, or members of the LGBTQ+ community. In a report by the True Music Collective, headed in part by Honey Dijon, it was found that 1 in 3 music lovers have faced some form of discrimination whilst out. But I’m convinced change is happening.
If the electronic music industry is to become an inclusive and diverse environment, we need to take action from an intersectional standpoint, that is, ensuring that we do not focus on one underrepresented group at a time, but understand the interconnectivity between us. Work must be inclusive of all characteristics, acknowledging the privilege members of these underrepresented groups may have over others and ensuring that once we see change for one group, the fight doesn’t end there. For example, I am much more privileged in my position than a black, trans woman is.
Putting one white woman on every line up is not enough. We regularly see line-ups with the same girls over and over, promoters not showing any attempt at widening their circles, boosting new talent or considering other underrepresented groups. We also see majority male headliners and only ever girls as support, rarely the headline spot. And while I love all-girls collectives and the safe, inclusive spaces they create, I worry that promoters may see these collectives as a free-pass to book girls all at once and then never again. Some of my favourite collectives at the moment are Newcastle’s own DFTL, Not Bad for a Girl in Manchester and Foundation FM. Though, I really hope the existence of these safe, inspiring and knowledgeable platforms doesn’t mean promoters simply ignore us as we have our own spaces. Minorities represented on one occasion does not equal inclusion and consistent diversity across the full industry.
In my opinion, class is also often overlooked in these conversations. DJing, production and involvement in the scene is costly, and not accessible to those on low incomes. Even the most basic controller can cost upwards of £100, which not everyone has spare to splurge, considering a minimum wage worker in the UK has just £64.50 disposable income a month. Spending £4-£6k on a CDJ set up seems like a far-fetched dream for most. I play nearly every week, and yet my set up at home is still the first controller I bought for £180. Beyond this, buying tunes is expensive, taxis to and from clubs add-up, the drinks bought when networking seem small at the time but become a large proportion of weekly spending. I don’t even wanna think about the cost of production, with software, hardware, plug-ins….
I truly believe that an intersectional approach towards the electronic music industry must not overlook socioeconomic class when diversifying events. I am very lucky to have a musical background, with an introduction to the arts through my school at a young age (one of the lucky, and few, state-schools to have an incredible music department). It is this arts experience that enabled me to pick up DJing as a hobby quickly, as rhythm and performance came naturally. But the chance for low-income kids to be introduced to the arts is slim, especially as years of austerity and government cuts dismantle the limited funds in place for arts lessons in schools. So what? In 2018, only 18.2% of music industry and performing arts workers were from a working class background. I would happily give up my spot on the line-up to allow a white lad from a working-class family a chance at being involved in the arts.
I believe investing in grassroots projects is a necessary step in ensuring the progression of the electronic music industry occurs in an intersectional and healthy manner, avoiding tokenism. For me, this means truly building the skills and knowledge of those who are interested in the craft but have no means to start. Even before this, children of all backgrounds must be introduced to the arts in an accessible manner that makes them believe it is an industry they can be part of with a job they are proud of. I’m personally inspired by Jaguar’s Future1000 scheme, giving schools and women, trans and non-binary students ages 12-18 free equipment, software and lessons. I’m really proud to see this grassroots investment building in Newcastle with DJ workshops and mentoring schemes. Elsewhere, Sisu Crew do an incredible job of grassroots education and inspiration for those in underrepresented groups.
I’d love if none of this mattered, and events were curated based on talent alone. But this isn’t possible when the talent pool to select your line-ups from is limited, when fresh talent isn’t nurtured, and diversity isn’t celebrated. Yes, if they could afford it, more members of underrepresented groups could start DJing, yet, the space is not exactly inviting. DJing, from the perspective of a minority on the outside, is a boys club. It is for those with the confidence to play in front of their friends, to make mistakes. For myself, and I imagine many people in my position, this is a confidence I didn’t gain until I was thrust into the position of regularly playing sets. I still won’t be in charge of the music at pre-drinks when there’s lads around, even when it’s me playing the club set an hour later. Quick diversification of an industry that has for so long been dominated by white, straight men can be risky if we do not develop the confidence and self-esteem of those that are going to be included in this process. The scrutiny you are under, with every move watched as one of the first, can be really damaging. A few nasty comments may mean they never want to DJ again.
I know the people who go to events, and personally, the support I get far outweighs the nasty digs. But I still hope this blog has made you think about your interactions, whether compliments may come off as back-handed, and the subconscious judgement you may have when we’re seen behind the decks. Most importantly, think about the courage it takes to be one of the few.
Words by Becky Woodcock