Women DJs Are Out There — Clubs and Festivals Just Need to Book Them
This year Alison Wonderland, seen at EDC 2015, and Anna Lunoe became the first solo female DJs to play EDC's mainstage in its 20-year history.
Last week, Fuse TV released a short film in which it asked many big-name EDM and dance music DJs, men and women, why there aren't as many well-known female DJs as there are male ones. It's a question that gets asked a lot lately, but it's the wrong one.
The "Why aren't there more famous girl DJs?" question just leads to stereotype-based answers about women and technology or women not being tough enough for the job. It allows people to name-drop the very few women who have entered the elite group of superstar DJs while overlooking the many who stick to their regional scenes or embark on smaller-scale tours.
Women are on the decks. Some, like DJ Heather, Sandra Collins, DJ Rap and Ellen Allien, have been playing longer than this latest generation of kandi kids has been alive. So a better question might be: Where are the girls playing? And, if they aren't playing the same type of gigs that guys are playing, why not?
This month, the women aren't at Sound. I went through the July listings for the club, checking out all of the DJs announced so far on its calendar. Not one was female. That's not always the case for the Hollywood nightclub — there have certainly been women on the decks here in the past — but this month, it's a dude fest. Exchange is only slightly better; Cocodisco is booked on a July 16 bill led by Audion. Avalon has a few more, including Australian DJ Nina Las Vegas, who will headline Control on July 15.
Gender diversity isn't a strong point at any of these clubs, which is a shame because booking gigs at them is a big deal for anyone looking to have a career in dance music. These are essentially feeder clubs for the festivals. Look at any EDM festival lineup and you'll probably recognize both touring and local DJs from the parties at these venues. Those who have residencies at these clubs can go on to greater renown. Lauren Lane, who was a resident at Sound and is now a globe-trotter, is an example of this.
Maybe that's why electronic music festivals seem so short on female talent. Electric Daisy Carnival actually showed some signs of improvement this year. Anna Lunoe and Alison Wonderland were the first two solo female performers to make it to the mainstage. That's a triumphant first, but it's also sad when you consider that this was Electric Daisy Carnival's 20th anniversary.
Though Wonderland and Lunoe certainly weren't the only women on the bill, the overall number still wasn't that high. Moreover, the women playing EDC tended to be pretty well-established in their respective genres, and the lack of female up-and-comers seems like a missed opportunity for a huge festival that routinely books fresh faces along with bigger names. Coachella this year actually seemed to do better in this regard, despite the fact that it's not exclusively a dance music festival. Its lineup included local underground DJ Masha and international heavy-hitters such as Nicole Moudaber (who also played EDC), Cassy and Ida Engberg.
For some, this is a sign of changes to come. "I think that more and more women are being booked on festivals because the music industry is growing and changing, allowing more and more artists — especially women — to be active within the electronic music world," Emma Hoser, an agent at AM Only who represents both Moudaber and Engberg, said via email. "I believe festivals strive to book amazing talent and there happens to be a ton of great female talent right now. I think you can expect to see more female artists playing festivals because, quite simply, women are kicking ass!"
Maybe the mainstream is catching up. But for now, as you venture deeper into L.A.'s dance music scene, away from the big festivals and major clubs, there's still a better chance that you'll see women on the decks.
At downtown's Ace Hotel, the monthly party 808s & Heartbreaks is home to three resident DJs, all women. Kate Ellwanger, who DJs and produces as Dot, promotes the night. For Ellwanger, who also runs women-centric Unspeakable Records, having a platform like this helps her provide opportunities for other women in the DJ world. "For nights when I am in control of the booking, I want to do everything that I can to get more women involved, because it's such a male-dominated thing," she says.
Even in Hollywood, the parties aren't always centered around a guy on the decks. Take Unity as an example. The weekly Thursday night party in Hollywood focuses on house music and has booked a good number of women, including Chicago house star DJ Heather and local singer-DJ Kelly Divan. "I wouldn't say that we necessarily actively pursue [female guests], but we consider them equal and no different than their counterparts," says co-promoter and resident DJ Christi Mills. "As a result of giving them the same amount of respect, they are automatically frequent guests of Unity."
Christi Mills, left, and co-promoter Chris "Mr. Bootsauce" Nalbandian cheer on DJ Heather at Unity.
Mills herself has been DJing since the 1990s and says that, back then, people would ask where the DJ was when she was wearing her headphones behind the decks. "With more women in the profession these days, it's not that extreme," she says, "but it still takes a little more convincing to show that you know what you're doing."
Unity isn't the only Hollywood party that consistently books female artists. Over at Couture on Cahuenga Boulevard, Clinic has been quietly developing a reputation for mixing quality, international guests with homegrown talent, and a good number of those DJs are women. Some nights, you might see more than one woman on the decks, like when local Tara Brooks was booked alongside French DJ Chloé. You might even see women booked at the club two weeks in a row, which is a stupid thing to have to point out in 2016.
For promoter Cyril Bitar, often female-led lineups happened organically. "It doesn't happen because they're women," he says. "It happens because we appreciate their sound. We like what they're doing. That's how we book all our artists."
Bitar also promotes Minimal Effort, the massive, multiroom party that goes off on Halloween and New Year's Eve in Los Angeles. Both of last year's events also had very strong female representation from top to bottom of the bills. When asked why we're not seeing that same kind of representation on a mainstream level, he answers, "The underground is more interested in the kind of music they play. The kind of productions they make. When they're on the mainstream, it's more about name recognition and ticket sales than anything else, in my opinion."
And maybe that's where my own industry, the media, becomes part of the problem. Right now, "woman DJ" stories are the equivalent of '90s "women in rock" pieces. They're everywhere, and sometimes they happen in the place of just regularly interviewing women in the DJ world — you know, as we do with men. It's helpful in the respect that people do need to see that women can DJ just as well as men, but it also does a disservice by contributing to tokenism.
Good DJs are good regardless of gender, and when I think about some of the best sets I've ever seen, a lot of them were performed by women. They're out there. Big clubs and festivals just need to make more of an effort to book them.
Liz Ohanesian writes about DJ culture, electronic music and other subjects for L.A. Weekly. Her work also has appeared in Playboy, Noisey, Village Voice and a number of other publications. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.
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