It’s Different For Girls: Women In Dance Music

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Why is electronic music such an overwhelmingly male-dominated industry? Are women discriminated against, or is it just different for girls? Lulu Le Vay meets some of the world’s top female dance producers and DJs to find out.

Lottie handshake

Dance music is dominated by men. Despite the presence of a handful of female producers, engineers, DJs, artist managers and songwriters, the industry is overwhelmingly male. Is that a problem? Not everyone agrees. “I’m so over this debate about being a woman in dance music,” opines DJ Heidi Van Den Amstel. “I don’t feel discriminated against and have done well in the industry on my own without any help from anyone. However, it is naturally good to see more women involved.”

Heidi

Heidi

Although Heidi raises a fair point – plenty of female musicians, DJs, journalists and managers have succeeded with (pretty much) equal respect and support from their male peers – this is still a debate that surely needs re-airing based purely on the evidence. According to PRS for Music, just 12% of writers on its books are women, a drop of 4% from 2011. 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 figure that hasn’t changed for three years. Only one spot on this year’s DJ Magazine Top 100 was taken by women, in the form of Australian blonde model twin sisters Nervo. There were none last year.

Just Not Nerds

Despite the hackle-raising statistics, is it possible to argue that there is currently a shift taking place, particularly within electronic dance music? Although we’ve witnessed in recent years mainstream female dance-influenced pop artists envelop the charts, the writers and producers behind them have been men – Florence (Paul Epworth), Amy Winehouse (Mark Ronson), Lily Allen (Greg Kurstin).

The more underground electronic scene now boasts numerous talented female producers who who write and perform their own work – Hyperdub regulars Cooly G and Ikonika; Cassy Britton, whose debut album is about to be released on Planet E; Kim Ann Foxman of Hercules and Love Affair, who is currently launching her solo career; the ubiquitously hotly tipped Maya Jane Coles; Kate Simko; Nina Kraviz…

Lottie

Lottie

This credible emerging talent is inarguably a positive spurt, but the representation of women in this arena in contrast to men is still minimal. Are women simply not interested in the technical side of production? Or just not good at it? “Girls love music, but they’re just not nerds,” explains DJ and producer Lottie, who has been DJing for 20 years. “I was always the nerdy one amongst all my friends, male and female. They would dance around to a great record, I’d be the one to go and find out what it was and go out and buy it the next day.”

Despite a long career as a DJ with productions and remixes under her belt, Lottie has only just embarked on embracing the technical side, having just completed a course in Ableton so she can work without relying on an engineer. “I’ve made loads of tracks, but not by myself on the computer, which is what I now want to do,” she continues. “I’m working on mastering Ableton several hours a day, which is hard but not a chore. I’m a 40 year-old mum and never been so excited! It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”

According to the Sub Bass audio school, 40% of the course attendees are women, a figure that Lottie finds unsurprising. “I can see a growth happening before my eyes, literally!” she says. “Production is nerdy and a bit tricky, but so many girls following me on Twitter are sharing tracks they have made. I can see over the next five to ten years a real explosion of female producers.”

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  • Words: Lulu Le Vay
  • Date: 20th December 2012
  • sas Wrote:

    Good article.

  • SubBass Wrote:

    Wicked article. We like how it looks at a few different views. We are seeing more and more girls getting in to the scene recently which is great. Although it’s funny to see how some are in it for the right reasons and some unfortunately aren’t, same case with guys though too. If you’re in it for the right reasons and have the right attitude then you will do well.

  • truth Wrote:

    only difference is girls got the option of sucking dick to book the gig

  • sas Wrote:

    @truth. Um, Is that option not open to guys too?

  • blood Wrote:

    Great read.

    The fact that we still have morons like ‘truth’ around shows why this kind of article needs to be written and this issue needs discussing.

    There’s way too much sexism in the world of dance music, too many blokes groping girls in clubs and too many dickheads who think female artists ‘suck dick’ to further their careers.

    And, in case you’re wondering, I’m a man……

  • M Wrote:

    Female or male, unfortunately more often or not, it’s still who you know. Not what you know.

  • jon Wrote:

    @ Truth I’m sure there are women and men that have “sucked dick” to get a gig but those kinda people really wouldn’t last long in an industry of this nature.

    I think the reason why women don’t find it as easy to access is because men hold them back, possibly scared because generally speaking its easier to market a woman than a man.

    Simply put sex does sell and a nice looking young lady would sell much easier than some hairy french dude. once we get a girl in the same place as deadmau5, tiesto, guetta or any of those well marketed guys then you’ll see a real shift in the number of female producers, DJ’s and Live acts coming through.

  • cooptrol Wrote:

    I find it funny that in developed countries where dance music has a long tradition, there are still this kind of issues. In southamerican countries like Uruguay (mine) and Argentina, there are many women DJs and producers, almost 1/3 of the total. I have never seen a guy harassing a female DJ here, they are all pretty respected, and many very skilled technically. I guess our societies rely much more on the importance of women in every aspect, and especially dance music has always been a genre-welder here. I’ve seen much more chauvinist vibes at UK and German venues, for example.

  • Attack Wrote:

    cooptro – Fascinating insight. Thanks for that. Sounds like Europe and North America have a lot to learn from South America.

  • +13 status quo Wrote:

    Female or male, unfortunately more often or not, it’s still who you know. Not what you know.

  • e. Wrote:

    as a female audio engineering student, i’m genuinely disgusted by the sheer quantity of dumbing down and outright badly researched “information” in this article. cool and all that you want to call out how women in electronic music are a minority/ novelty/ grossly underrepresented, but it makes it SO MUCH WORSE to see an article on the subject that relies heavily on a complete LACK of understanding about what actual musicianship/ production/ engineering entails (not to mention the sad fact that those three terms are used so interchangeably in this article it leaves me questioning whether the author has ANY knowledge of how music is made). it makes me sad to read that the entirety of what i’m working toward is simply swept aside as “the technical side” because it is that glossing over of hard details that perpetuates the myth that women aren’t technically oriented. next time, please hire a writer who knows something about what this “technical side” really is so that perhaps your interviewees might be inclined to directly discuss their relationships to the music-making process in ways that DO break barriers, rather than reinforcing them.

  • a Wrote:

    yeah kinda silly to say women aren’t or can’t be nerds. and tbh, screwing around with drum machines, synths, samplers is just good fun for anyone that’s actually making tunes. i mean, the only thing i don’t see women do often is argue over trivial minutiae online and that has more to do with the fact that’s it’s difficult enough without wasting time.

    doesn’t really help to start off saying dance music is dominated by men either. a lot of men and women don’t really give a shit about “dominating music” and just wanna make kick ass tracks…besides there are plenty of women that were pioneers in electronic music.

    in terms of women that have made electronic music, the ratio of good stuff to crap is way higher than with men, which likely has more to do with the motivation required to overcome adversity than anything gendered. that is to say, anyone can do it if they aren’t half assed about it.

    also, with the number of great anonymous techno releases, who’s to say that it even is men and why assume that as the default?