In the past three years, one woman has ranked in DJ Magazine's yearly Top 100 DJs poll. (Lisa Lashes, #75, 2009). The international EDM circuit is dominated by men like Justice, Diplo, Skrillex, Swedish House Mafia, Tiësto, David Guetta and Avicii, and the underground scene is as much of a boys club. Check the lineup for most any electronic festival and you'll generally find just a handful of female names, usually near the bottom of the list.
So, where are all the women in electronic music?
“It's a hard question to answer; I don't fully understand it myself,” says Colette Marino, who has performed as Colette since 1997 and was a member of the all-female DJ collective Super Jane. “The only thing we can all agree on is that it's 100 percent correct to ask the question.”
“There's no doubt that the scene is dominated by men,” says producer, musician and Ableton Certified Trainer Laura Escudé, who has worked with artists including Jay-Z and Kanye West and does live electronic shows at clubs including Low End Theory under the name Alluxe.
Still, there's plenty of female DJ-producers on the come-up, and the numbers seem to be increasing. Maya Jane Coles will be performing at HARD's upcoming Day of the Dead. Tokimonsta is Brainfeeder royalty, and Grimes blew up on the power of her electro-tinged Visions, which was produced entirely on Garageband. Alpha Pup's Dot is emerging out of the Low End scene, and Magda, Misstress Barbara, DJ Rap and J-Phlip are all similarly well-respected.
One theory is that the rise of the female presence in EDM seems to have been spurred by the proliferation of technology. As access to digital composition platforms like Ableton and Cubase has increased, the barrier to entry for any aspiring DJ has waned.
“Growing up, I wasn't interested in technology until I had to learn it in order to keep doing what I wanted to do,” says composer and producer Tara Busch, who also runs the website Analog Suicide. “Technology now is so in your face. It's much easier for women to learn and not be intimated. ”
“My first audio engineering class was me and 50 guys. I dropped out the first time,” says DJ-producer and recording engineer Michele Darling, who serves as the director of education at New York-based DJ school Dubspot. “Technology can be intimidating if you haven't had exposure to it.”
Musician Steve Nalepa, a former professor of music at Chapman University and current Dubspot instructor, says that despite an increased access to technology, male female ratios in his classes remain skewed. “We've got 15 to 20 students per class and within that there are usually one or two girls. The imbalance definitely exists.”
In regards to this disparity, Steve Aoki conjectures that EDM is basically a continuation of the male “nerd culture” that often defines the tech world. “The electronic world is really a bunch of nerds,” Aoki says. “The true producers are really geeks. If you talk to Joel Zimmerman, he's a nerd. He knows his gear and tech. You walk into his apartment and it's all gear. You talk to Soulwax and the Pendulum guys and they have crazy gear. They're nerdy engineers. I'm not saying girls can't be, but that's the world. You go to a college of engineering and it's all these nerdy guys talking about nerdy shit.”
“The women, traditionally, have fit in by singing over it,” Aoki continues. “Everyone loves a really strong female vocal and an interesting female rap vocal. Everyone loves Nikki Minaj and has respect for Lady Gaga. That's something a male can't ever do.”
Still, the increased female presence is creating a J curve of growth for women as technical savvy is combined with an expanding pool of role models. “When you see other women performing and working with the technology,” Darling says, “it gives a feeling to other women that it's feasible, that it's something that's open to them.”
“When I first started going out I didn't really see any women playing,” says Colette, “It's clear how many more women there are just in the past five years because they saw women on the decks.”
While women are clearly gaining traction, the fact remains the no female artist has ever headlined major EDM festivals including Ultra, EDC, Electric Zoo, and Tomorrowland. Not only does the male dominance mean that the men are more famous, it presumably indicates that they are also better paid. The fact that female DJs are typically labeled as such is indicative of the challenges still faced.
“That distinction needs to go away,” says L.A.-based DJ-producer and label owner Fei-Fei. “You never hear anyone say, 'Swedish House Mafia are my favorite dude DJs.' Above all, we're all artists.”