Though they've had a heavy hand in popularizing EDM, we still expect women to sit in the audience, not rock the industry.
By Joe LaFond

Though they've had a heavy hand in popularizing EDM, we still expect women to sit in the audience, not rock the industry.
By Joe LaFond

It’s a Friday night, and that show you’ve had tickets for since the presale began has finally arrived. Euphoric doesn’t even begin to describe how you are feeling—dipping your pinky into mystery bags of powder and sipping on any drinks that make their way past your lips—pure, unadulterated happiness. You’re having the time of your life when suddenly from across the room, through a swirling haze of weed smoke and a gyrating tangle of neon-beaded body parts, you see her—a glittered-covered nymph with metallic star-shaped pasties over her nipples and her butt just barely covered with booty shorts that read “Party with Sluts.” 

While appalling to some, to frequenters of EDM shows and festivals this scene has become pretty ordinary. Being the half-dressed sexual ornamentation of the subculture has undeniably become the expected role for female twenty-somethings in the world of electronic dance music. Maybe it’s a reflection of our society’s larger issues regarding women, gender, and sexuality.  Maybe it’s because spending hours learning how to DJ or holing yourself up in a home studio producing music with a computer isn’t a very “girly” thing to do. Or maybe it’s because Paris Hilton just ruined everything for aspiring female DJs and producers. Your guess is as good as mine, but it remains an undeniable fact that women in the world of electronic music are generally kept out of the spotlight, limited to being the anonymous vocalists behind everyone’s favorite anthems at best, or being the equally anonymous and more objectified groupies/eye candy of the scene at worst.

 To be clear, I’m a fan of pasties and booty shorts as much as the next straight 23-year-old guy, but as a lover of electronic music and a believer in the ideals of spreading love, equality, and acceptance for everyone in the electronic music community, I find it a bit odd and even more disturbing that women and their potential talents are never really given a fair chance to succeed in EDM industry. Of course, sexism in music and entertainment is nothing new, and this isn’t quite the right venue to have a lengthy discussion of more serious inequalities between the sexes, but by keeping women out of the game, by keeping them in the place of adoring fan in the glitter and fairy wings making hand-hearts, we are doing everyone a disservice by eliminating the potential to add some variety and new creative minds to the often stale and repetitive realm of electronic dance music.

If you think about it, without cute Kandi-covered rave girls, EDM would probably have never exploded the same way it has, and it would probably not have been able to sustain popularity especially with the college/fraternity bro/sorority sis crowd. Seriously, imagine a rave without any women—all you have left is a room full of sweaty dudes in tank tops and flat-bill baseball caps, jacked up on Molly and bumping chests while the equally manly DJ tells them to put their hands up again. It seems unlikely that if this were the case, there wouldn’t be many repeat customers to EDM and the buzz around the scene would remain unheard. In short, without all you ladies EDM would be even more of a sausage fest than it already is, so for that, everyone owes you a debt of gratitude. But that is by no means the extent to which women have helped to make electronic music more popular, more appealing, and just better in general. Whether they are singing the powerful, uplifting lyrics in the most popular songs on Beatport or are actually in the studio or behind the decks, female performers hardly get their (over)due credit.

Here’s a little test: First, think of your five favorite EDM songs, or if you don’t have any favorites, think of some that you’ve heard on the radio or heard your friends talking about. Once you have those in your head, count how many of them feature a female singer, or, better yet, how many were actually produced by a woman. For the songs featuring a female vocalist, can you name this unknown singer, or is she simply referred to “that one chick who sings on Tiesto’s new song”? Do you have any songs in your head that were actually produced by women?

Presumably, the answers to the above questions would suggest that you are a terrible sexist pig, but they might also suggest female talents are overwhelmingly ignored while the men with at the mixers scoop up all the credit. Certainly, male DJ/producers like Avicii, Afrojack, Zedd, and plenty of others deserve credit for their work, but the problem is that women, whether they are singing or producing, should get the same credit as their male counterparts. Unfortunately this is rarely the case in today’s male-driven world of EDM, but there are, however, the occasional exceptions to the rule of the Y-chromosome.

Although they are generally few and far between, there are still a handful of the exceptionally talented women in both the mainstream and underground dance music scenes that are helping to break the mold of the male DJ/producer and hopefully pave the way for more women to step up to the decks. Take for example, Krewella or Nervo. Both are equally as capable as anyone of making men and women go buck wild on the dance floor, and both work with some of the biggest names in the industry in addition to having their own songs played by everyone from Armin Van Buuren to Calvin Harris. But even these successful acts and their underground sisters like Tokimonsta, Ana Sia, and Reid Speed (to name a few), are still un- or underappreciated because they are usually judged far more critically than their male equivalents. Instead of judging them on their performance, their track selection, and their technical skill (as it should be), women are judged by their on-stage appearance and sex appeal or in comparison to a man in the same position. Instead of saying, “she played a great set,” lots of concert and festival goers, when faced with the mind-boggling presence of a female DJ, will say “she played a great set…for a girl.” As if it weren’t enough that women are rarely even given the chance to get up on stage and play, once they actually get their shot, they are treated like more of a novelty act than the real deal. In an ideal world, we would be of a similar mindset as our more enlightened friends in the UK where ladies like Annie Mac and Annie Nightingale, both longtime DJs and hosts on BBC Radio 1, are legends and tastemakers in their own right, but sadly, it may take a while for our thinking to catch up.

In many ways we are all a little guilty of keeping women from becoming a real presence in EDM besides being some of the foremost fans of the musical and cultural phenomenon. Whether it is willfully ignoring the work that ladies do for the electronic music scene, or being indifferent or negative when they finally get their shot to take the main stage, we all contribute to keeping women out of EDM and squandering a golden opportunity to add some variety to the male-driven world of the DJ. And in the end, that’s what EDM is (or should be) about—variety, creativity, acceptance, and inclusion for all—not about who is behind the decks and what they have between their legs.

But, don't take our word for it. Here to tell us what it's like being a female DJ in a male-dominated scene, is EDM goddess Lea Luna.

How long have you DJ'd?

I started in 1999, but I wasn't really touring until about 2004 because I wasn't of age until then.

Why do you think female DJs haven't been as prevalent in EDM as their male counterparts?

There are a lot of theories about why females are less prevalent in EDM than males. Some say it's a masculine interest to mess with so many machines, as if it's akin to video-gaming. Some say the promoters are unfair; some say their male DJ peers are unfair. Personally, I just think men and women approach the idea of becoming a superstar DJ differently, and women are a bit less understood in their methods because they are outnumbered. If more women showed interest in producing and stuck together, this might not be a question I have to answer in every interview anymore.

Is that changing?

Technology has made DJing so much easier since the vinyl days, and the EDM craze has turned underground music into a worldwide fad, so you see a lot more "DJs" coming out of the woodwork of both sexes. I think women are gaining in staying power because the image of a DJ is becoming more a factor since the commercialization of EDM. There are modeling agencies pumping out female DJ archetypes now. The press about discrimination of she-jays has had promoters making public statements that they are trying to book more females in an effort to prove they aren't sexist; it really only shows what a minority we have been. We are becoming an interest of exotic rarity, although most of us want to be viewed primarily as artists just like the boys rather than a model or an obligation or an equal opportunity.

Have you ever dealt with discrimination being a female DJ?

Yes. Sexism is real. I worry that even claiming to have been discriminated against will bring discrimination. There have been too many times that a hater has trolled one of my magazine photos claiming that I use my image to get bookings. If I date another DJ, whether they are related to my work or not, I get pegged as "climbing the ladder." I've been tagged far more than once in sexist DJ memes that boast that a kitchen stove is a CDJ for women. You don't see men being discriminated against for what they wear or who they're dating or what kind of lifestyle they have. It seems DJ men can be the life of the party and put out promo photos of them covered in 20 half-naked women and get respect while women automatically have no talent in the eyes of purists if they have any sexuality whatsoever. I actually take screen shots of sexist messages because the average EDM fan is unaware of the jealous heckling that happens to women. Whenever this subject comes up, I have hard proof that I'm not being a whiney female about unfairness, but that sexism is real and needs to be stopped.

Is it harder to make it as a female DJ? If so, why?

It depends on who you know. Some people will tell you they aren't even interested in hearing your music and some will take the far opposite approach and give you extra attention.