Gender Balance in Electronic Music: Does Separation Really Work?

Gender Balance in Electronic Music: Does Separation Really Work?

James Maidment considers the glaring issue of gender imbalance in electronic music

I often find myself browsing YouTube when trying to find something to listen to whilst working or getting ready to go out. I normally spend a few minutes scrolling quickly down playlists, searching for names I recognise or thumbnails that look vaguely interesting. However, the vast majority of faces I see are male, and it worries me.

It seems these days that every student knows a mate of theirs that dabbles in DJing, yet that mate is rarely a girl; it begs the question, where are all the female DJs?

On the face of it, the electronic music scene embraces the notion of complete freedom of expression and identity: everyone is welcome at raves, every fashion is accepted and everyone supports each other. Nonetheless, here I am talking about gender balance. We always think of music as barrier free, but people continue to point out that a lack of support and role models has led to a gender imbalance. In truth, I don’t understand all of the reasons why, what matters most to me is what we can do about it.

When it comes to tackling the issue, DJs are unanimous in their support for extra funding for workshops to get more people involved and provide opportunities to meet with female role models and gain experience working in the industry. What divides people’s opinions is the issue of line-ups. It’s the most visible sign of gender imbalance; for example, this year only three female Hip Hop acts were booked for Wireless Festival, a festival that lasts three days.

Some are of the view that the best way forward is to create female only line-ups for club nights; in their view, this would allow female DJs to gain the much-needed experience in a friendly environment surrounded by people around them in a similar situation. I disagree. Whilst it would certainly facilitate the development of female DJs, the creation of female only line-ups presupposes an acceptance of the current male domination of the industry. It also fails to solve all of the problems females face.

I would instead argue that the integration of female artists, done in the right way, is the best way forward. Artist bookers and venue managers need to re-think how they create line-ups: firstly, new female DJs need to be put on the same footing as male DJs. Secondly, new platforms need to be created to develop this talent. Thirdly, bookers need to re-think their priorities; they know that well established male DJs sell tickets, so normally tend to prioritise them over lesser known but equally talented female DJs. By no means is this universal practice, but it is still highly prevalent and has perpetuated the imbalance that we see today. It needs to end.

Bookers say that they agree with these ideas, but, in reality, they are reluctant because of worries about damage to ticket sales. This saddens me the most; it shows quite how far the industry has moved away from promoting creative output on an equal basis. It is my belief that if line-ups were created with the music always as the first priority, not the money, nights would actually become more successful anyway.

All of these reforms require a risk to be taken by the music industry, especially when creating new platforms for new talent and re-thinking how to design line-ups. Having said this, they’re only risks when your number one priority is money. Investing in female DJs can only be a good thing, and integration, not separation, is the way forward.

Image: Peggy Gou performs at Fuji Rock Festival

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