Women DJs reject idea that EDM world is a boys’ club
The notion that electronic dance music DJs are mostly male has been a hot issue in the music business lately, but women performers say they don’t face obstacles because of their sex
David Guetta, Diplo, Avicii and Calvin Harris are holding fast as the kings of the clubs, with women still a rarity among popular electronic dance DJ-producers.
Last weekend’s Electric Daisy Carnival in New York – the annual ultra-popular electronic dance music extravaganza - featured six women among the 80-plus performers.
“I think that sounds like a higher than normal number,” says Miriam Nervo, one-half of the Australian EDM duo Nervo, which includes her sister Olivia, lest you think that number seems low.
Other festivals have featured one or two women, while some don’t have any at all.
Beyond the DJing booth, women feature in other parts of the dance music world. They appear as vocalists on most of the thumping tracks that have been spun over and over for decades and they also work as songwriters as well as managers of top talent, such as Caroline Prothero (Guetta), Amy Thomson (Swedish House Mafia) or Stephanie LaFera (Kaskade).
Nervo, who also has had success as a songwriter with her sister for acts such as Kesha and Kylie Minogue and even co-penned Guetta’s breakout pop anthem, 2009’s When Love Takes Over, says that while on paper the EDM world looks like a boys’ club, that’s not the case.
“Our experience has really been so positive from the boys,” Nervo says.
Other women echo that, including Nicole Moudaber, who performed and hosted her own stage, dubbed “MoodZONE”, at Citi Field for EDC New York.
“I never even thought about it; it never really crossed my mind. I do what I do and I live in my own club in my own world, and I never had obstacles as such – never,” says the performer, who was born in Nigeria to Lebanese parents. “It’s really something that I haven’t experienced to be honest. At the end of the day the music that you make has no gender, no colour.”
Nervo and Moudaber say they haven’t faced uphill battles in EDM because they are women, unlike in other fields. But the lack of women DJs has been a part of the EDM conversation for the last year. It reached a new height when DJ Magazine - the definitive source for news and info on DJs, dance music and its culture - released its 25th anniversary issue last month, featuring 25 male DJs on its cover and zero women. The British-based magazine’s 2015 top 100 list of DJs only included three female acts, with Nervo in the highest position at No 24 (the female duo Krewella were at 81 and Miss K8 at 94).
“My guess is maybe there’s the thought that it’s more challenging for women so less women go for it because maybe they’re intimidated by it,” says Pasquale Rotella, the CEO of Insomniac, which produces EDM festivals around the world. “And I would hate for that to be the case. If that is, I’d love to help change that.”
In 2007, Tatiana Alvarez was so over being ignored that she transformed and became DJ Musikillz, a male performer. She wore facial hair and loose clothing, hid her breasts and booked more gigs as a man. Warner Bros. is turning her story into a movie.
“There were prejudices toward women, definitely back then. It was a different industry, it was a different time,” says the Los Angeles-performer, who disguised herself as a man for a year. “It was definitely ’cause I was a girl, ’cause I was a sexy girl.”
Writer and former Beatport editor Katie Bain said there may be a lack of female DJs because “women historically have not been as involved in computer engineering and all of that stuff that one needs to know how to do in order to make electronic music. Women haven’t been as prevalent in those areas”.
Bain, who will moderate a panel at the EDMbiz Conference & Expo in Las Vegas next month called “Beyond the Boys’ Club: What’s Next for Women in Dance Music”, says that as the topic of woman DJs “has gotten more attention, I feel that women are getting booked more”.
Moudaber encourages other women to grab the bulls by the horns as she has done in her six-year career as a DJ and producer.
“If women want to take to that path, it’s out there and it’s available. It’s down to the women to choose if they want to or not. It’s not easy job and it’s not cut out for everybody,” she says.