10 Female DJs Who Ruled Before the EDM Brofest
Candy Talk Records (via Wikimedia Commons
We can't fault the person who thinks there are no female DJs playing this year's Coachella. After all, Annie Mac — whose affiliation with BBC Radio 1 makes her pretty high-profile — is buried one row from the bottom of the third-day line-up. (One other lady DJ, Alison Wonderland, is in the smallest font for day two.)
In 2015, U.S. audiences have come to expect that festivals will — maybe — book a couple female DJs and then list them somewhere in the flyer equivalent of fine print. It's an ongoing issue in contemporary EDM that has been repeatedly raised in some must-read articles by Thump writer Michelle Lhooq among others. Meanwhile, late last year, Forbes released a girl-DJ trend piece in the vein of stories that have been popping up since the 1990s.
Contrary to what the folks at Forbes may think, female DJs aren't a new thing. Women are a part of the history of dance music — not just as the vocalists, but as the people who produce tunes and play them at clubs and festivals.
By the late 1990s, women were making pretty good advances in what was, primarily, a male-dominated segment of the music industry. Some, like DJ Rap and Sandra Collins, were as well-known as their male peers. Others were becoming big names in underground scenes and releasing tracks and mixes that would go on to influence countless others.
That their accomplishments may now be overshadowed by the bro-centric EDM world of today is disheartening. So, let's take a look back at just a few of the women who helped bring dance music into the 21st century.
1. DJ Rap
DJ Rap was one of the leading names in the late 1990s dance scene when she played Coachella's inaugural event in 1999. That gig came when the drum & bass DJ/producer (real name: Charissa Saverio) was on the verge of pop success. A few weeks later, Billboard praised her ability to mix and sing in a "next big thing"-style article touting her Sony-released effort Learning Curve. (This was at a time when DJs rarely looked up from the decks.) Long before the advent of SoundCloud, DJ Rap was releasing mixes on compact disc as well as her own artist albums, both through her own imprint and other labels. She continues to make music, which you can check out on SoundCloud.
2. DJ Heather
House heads are no doubt familiar with DJ Heather, the Chicago-based DJ who has a long history of mixing genres with finesse. Back in 1997, the Chicago Tribune featured her in an article on — you guessed it — the rise of female DJs. That piece noted that Heather opened for artists like Jamiroquai and D'Angelo. (Both were kind of a big deal for the time.) Since then, she has contributed sets to high-profile series like Fabric and BBC Essential Mix. DJ Heather continues to play across the U.S., sometimes on her own and sometimes with Colette (see below).
3. Sandra Collins
A few months before the first Coachella, Woodstock '99 hit New York and became a symbol of everything that could go wrong at a music festival. That aside, Sandra Collins was one of the handful of DJs to play the rock-oriented event. Her bio still mentions the lengthy, middle-of-the-night set, which all seems kind of crazy now. How often do you see a DJ play more than an hour at a festival?
That's the kind of clout that Sandra Collins had during the 1990s dance music boom. She was a DJ whose name burst out of flyers on Melrose Avenue. That success continued in the early years of the new millennium. Some of her highest profile mixed CDs, like ones from Cream and Perfecto, came out after 2000. Sandra Collins still plays out and is featured alongside DJ Irene and DJ Rap in the new movie, Girl.
4. DJ Baby Anne
Calling herself "bass queen," DJ Baby Anne's signature track of the same name hit in 1999. The Floridian DJ's break-heavy style was particularly popular at the turn of the century, when she released a slew of singles and DJ mixes. She's still putting out music today. Check out her cut "Khal Drogo" on SoundCloud. It's worth a spin just for the title, more the fact that it absolutely captures the bass-heavy sound of today's festivals.
5. Andrea Parker
In the 1990s, British DJ/musician Andrea Parker earned the love of electronic music fans who liked their tracks a little dark. In 1998, !K7 included her in their fantastic mix CD series, DJ-Kicks. Her productions were released by Mo' Wax, the label owned by UNKLE's James Lavelle. Early in the next decade, she toured with Radiohead. Parker currently owns two record labels — aperture and Touchin' Bass — and continues to perform and release mixes.
Along with DJs Heather, Lady D and Dayhota, Colette is part of the Superjane collective. That's an all-female group of DJs who history goes back to the 1990s. Colette's house style, distinctive in part for the fact that she's also a singer, has earned her oodles of fans. With help from her audience, the DJ was able to fund her last album, When the Music's Loud, via PledgeMusic. Colette will be playing with DJ Heather at the Viper Room on Feb. 27.
7. DJ Irene
When Southern California native DJ Irene refers to herself as "Diva DJ Irene" on her website, it's not an understatement. In the mid-1990s, few locals were as well known as this purveyor of progressive house. She played Hollywood club Arena during its mid-1990s heyday and released an L.A.-centric mix CD when the rest of the world ignored the city's contribution to the dance world. Recently, DJ Irene turned up behind the decks at the Abbey and has been playing gigs in various cities across the United States.
8. Lady D
Like DJs Heather and Colette, Lady D emerged from Chicago's thriving club scene of the 1990s. In 2000, she released the romantically groovy mix, Naked Kaleidoscope, which captured the low-light, lounge-y feel of clubs at the time. Lady D has announced that she will be touring this year to celebrate her 20th anniversary behind the decks.
9. Miss Kittin
In the early 2000s, dance music went through a dramatic shift when DJs started working with '80s-inspired synth-pop and Italo-disco influences. At the forefront of this movement was French DJ Miss Kittin. Club kids of the time may be more familiar with Miss Kittin's voice, heard on her collaborations with Felix da Housecat, The Hacker and Golden Boy. Her DJ skills, though, are phenomenal. Her style is eclectic enough to sound timeless. In fact, Miss Kittin's mixes, including Radio Caroline Vol. 1 and her contribution to the Bugged Out series, remain essential listening. Check out SoundCloud to keep up on her mixes and tracks.
Ventura Mendoza (via Wikimedia Commons)
10. Ellen Allien
In the early 2000s, it seemed like Berlin was the center of the dance world and Ellen Allien, who actually started DJing years earlier, became one of the city's biggest champions. Allien produced one of the biggest hits of the electro-meets-techno era, "Stadtkind." Her label, BPitch Control, was responsible for many more 12-inch releases that made their way from Germany to hip clubs in the U.S. An astute DJ as well as a producer, Allien continues to tour. However, her gigs tend to be concentrated in Europe and Latin America.
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