Journalist Annabel Ross talks to Attack Magazine’s Harold Heath about misogyny and sexual predators in dance music. 

Journalist Annabel Ross writes for Resident Advisor, Mixmag, The Guardian, Billboard Dance, NME, GQ, Beatport and many more. She describes herself as “a freelance journalist mainly writing about music, culture, lifestyle and just recently I’ve been focusing on sexual assault in dance music”. In particular, Annabel has written about the Erick Morillo case and the music industry’s reaction to his death. It’s a subject that we take extremely seriously at Attack Magazine, so we chatted with Annabel over Zoom about the issues raised by the Morillo case. 

Attack Magazine: So tell us about your work over the last twelve months.

Annabel Ross: It’s actually only been the past five months which feels insane to me because it feels like it’s been an eternity in some ways – but yeah obviously it started with Erick Morillo and the opinion piece that prompted the investigation and it kind of snowballed from there. I was just receiving more and more emails and with each story or even with every phone call I would realise just how deep and wide the problem was. 

So was this just calls about Morillo or about other people?

Both. Morillo’s history is very deep and wide on its own, but also  across the industry, the amount of predators that exist and the different ways in which they’ve been enabled and how we’ve sort of turned a blind eye for such a long time.

So it was like your piece kind of opened the floodgates?

Yeah without intending to, or without realising that that would happen, but it made me realise that there really is a need for [reporting on] it and it’s something that hasn’t happened before, it’s this huge issue that’s been under the rug for such a long time and like you say, it’s like the floodgates have opened and now it’s all coming out.

Money and power – they’re the main reasons

So why do you think that this issue has remained ‘under the rug’ for so long?

Money, mainly. I think DJs who are successful are making people money, people don’t want to do anything that interferes with that so they keep quiet. Money and power – they’re the main reasons. 

And someone used the term ‘toxic male solidarity’, this kind of brotherhood, and attitudes of not ‘dobbing in’ your brothers and ‘bros before hoes’. I think that has a lot to do with it also. 

Was there much kick back from the industry once you started writing on this subject?

Yes, but not much, not too much. I mean there’s been the odd troll or hater or Morillo or May supporter who will say some abusive trolly stuff but by and large, no. I’m sure a lot of people are saying things behind closed doors and not to my face but you also can’t really get away with it [abuse] anymore and I think that’s the thing that people are realising. This kind of work and actually talking about this stuff means there’s nowhere really to hide anymore. So people have to be careful with what they say and how they act which is a good thing. 

We often see quite a bit of what you might call low-level misogyny online when publications cover female DJs and producers. While we can’t expect activists to have all the answers, I wondered if you had a take on why there seems to be such fragility from some men when faced with a successful woman?

I was thinking about this and again I think it really comes back to power. It has been a really, really male-dominated arena for such a long time and because it’s so unusual to see a woman in the scene, obviously male DJs outnumber female DJs and even the sight of one, I think that some men see it as a threat – and so their immediate thought is “Oh it’s only because she’s good looking” or “She mustn’t be very good, she’s clearly not good because she’s a woman”. And because there’s so few of them, it seems so improbable that a woman could be out there doing this and actually be any good.

So do you think therefore that publications have a responsibility to cover a diverse range of DJs and producers?

Absolutely. I 100% agree with that, in the same way that we have a responsibility to represent black and brown people, it’s the same with women and transgender and non-binary people. I complained about a festival line-up online the other day and one guy said “It’s not a Benetton ad!” and, it’s not, but also, if this is the message that we keep putting out, it’s what we’re going to get back. We have to make a change in order to see change.

So in terms of tackling misogyny in dance music, what isn’t happening at the moment, what needs to change?

I think even things like, the other day, I was complimenting this guy on his mix and then I stopped for a second and realised it was entirely male and not that there’s anything necessarily inherently wrong with that, but also, would it kill people to include a couple of tracks from women in their mixes? The more that we seek out these women and different artists who are different to who we’re usually promoting then the more they’re discovered – and people discover different artists and different music and not just white dudes making the same kind of thing.

So what might a good ally look like?

I think it’s pretty basic. If you see something, say something, do something and don’t just look away. If you know that someone is doing the wrong thing or if someone needs help, do something about it. I think a lot of the time even that doesn’t happen and that’s obviously going to make a huge difference.

And I guess just being a bit more conscious in our decisions about the type of events we attend, who’s running them and who’s playing – are they good people and are they the sort of people that we should be supporting? Do they reflect what we want the scene to look like?

It’s like common decency…

Pretty much. Which seems a bit sort of twee and naive  but it’s like, “Just don’t be a dick”! 

We have to make a change in order to see change

So the dance music community has certainly been talking more about these issues in the last few months, do you feel we’re making progress?

I feel like it’s hard to say while we’re still in lockdown. I mean we’re talking about these things a lot more than we ever had before and people are taking notice and hopefully taking some of this stuff on board – but it remains to be seen how that will look on dance floors and in clubs across the industry when we return to business as usual. And I think that will be the real test as to how much progress we have made. 

If money and power are at the heart of this, then that’s quite a large foe to take on…

100 percent, and I guess as well there will always be some parties, promoters and events that are all about that and probably attract a crowd that that’s where their interests lie as well and they’re not so concerned with the other stuff. Maybe there’ll  be more segregation, and I guess with business techno moving closer and closer to EDM as it gets increasingly commercialised, you sort of see that happening already. But where we can do something about it and stop some of that from spreading, you would hope that we would.

I guess we can all feel a little powerless at times, but you think there’s value in doing small things?

Yeah I do, I really do because a lot of small things add up to something big and we need individuals doing their bit – because lots of individuals will make a collective change. So I think it’s easy to be a bit defeatist and think, “Oh, what can I do”, but we need people to do what they can to help, if it’s what they believe in.

So looking forward, is there anything positive here?

The positive is that we have started to talk about it and to think about it and things are being done about it – and that is going to continue to happen. And now that it has started, as long as we can keep up the pressure and momentum then there’s no going backwards. And I don’t think there is any going backwards from here, I think there does need to be something industry-wide: a pledge, a code of conduct… But yeah, I do feel like we are on the road to creating a safer, more inclusive space and that’s the kind of party that I want to go back to.

Annabel Ross is on Twitter.

22nd February, 2021

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