You don’t need a doctored poster of a festival line-up to know that there are less women on the bills of the vast majority of music festivals and club line-ups. While the visual aid is a useful shorthand for highlighting the problem, it won’t bring about a reasonable level of gender equality in music promotion if there aren’t changes at the grassroots level. The gender disparity issue is even more pronounced in electronic music, which is very much a male-dominated space.
That’s one of the many reasons that Gash Collective, a platform to encourage women to get involved in electronic music, exists. Gash puts on workshops, and events and creates a safe space for women and LGBTQ to learn and create music of an electronic nature.
"People think that women don't want or have no interest in music technology, even in terms of sound engineering, production or setting up their decks," says Cork woman Ellen King.
King started Gash with some female friends (and makes music under the name ELLLL) and was inspired by similar collectives around the world, such as SIREN in London, Discwoman in New York and Apeiron Crew in Copenhagen, along with Female:Pressure, an international resource of talent and mailing list for multi-disciplinary women who share knowledge and advice.
Visibility and welcome spaces
King figured that a small country such as Ireland could enact some change in the area with some organisation and open spaces for female DJs and producers. Even when male DJs are inclusive and encouraging, in a music culture where women are barely visible, it's understandable why women may not participate with male DJs due to feeling intimidated or self-conscious about giving it a go.
“It’s not like anyone is saying ‘no, you can’t do this’, but you do feel like a bit of an outsider because it’s so male dominated and there’s so few opportunities,” says King. “It comes back to the the visibility aspect. If people saw more women on event line-ups, it would become more normal. But at the moment because you don’t see them – especially early on in your music career, you feel like you don’t belong or you’re intruding. There’s this weird sense that maybe it’s not for you.”
Irish dance festivals such as Life, Metropolis and Higher Vision have been criticised for the under-representation of women DJs and producers on their bills in recent months. King suggests that the lack of female representation isn’t intentional on the part of the promoters but they should be more considerate in their booking.
"They're just not aware," she says. "It's not even on their radar. But the issue is being brought to their attention more. Some deal with it better than others. When Life Festival was criticised for their lack of female DJs last year, they asked for recommendations. This year, they tried really hard to make up for their past line-ups which is the right way to handle it. "
Merit not quotas
In response to highlighting the issue, a lot of people have incorrectly read the criticism as a call for a quotas on festival bills. King is among those who does not advocate for an equal split of male and female acts because the numbers are not there yet.
“That seems to be the general consensus of people on the defensive,” says King of the quotas idea. “One of the reasons Gash exists is that in an Irish context promoters can ask us for recommendations for their line-ups. So it serves as a kind of a network database for someone to hit us up. I don’t think anyone should be on any bill unless it’s based on merit is my bottom line.”
Males who get into DJing and producing get an easier pass than females. Women have to work harder to establish themselves, and often deal with harassment, have their motives (and track choices) questioned and face misogyny.
“It can be really hard especially if you’re into dance music and none of your friends are into it. You’re going in on your own and it can be very daunting. It can certainly deter people from the get-go because again you have this sense of feeling like you don’t belong.”
When King first started playing live gigs, she downplayed her gender. She wouldn’t wear a dress or a skirt, she would tie her hair back and dress plainly. Now, she says she doesn’t care what anyone thinks.
King has also dealt with the sexist remarks from those in positions of power and relays the response of a festival promoter when she asked how she could get on the bill.
“He actually made a ‘joke’ repeatedly that I wouldn’t get a gig unless I slept with him. It was really upsetting. Everyone else there when I told them was like ‘oh that’s just his way, he says that to everyone’.
“In my own scenario, I just had to develop a thick skin. And unfortunately I think that’s the only advice I could give to someone at the moment is – no matter what anyone says, is to go with your gut, do your practice, put in hours into your craft so that no one can tell you that you’re not good enough.”
Gash’s central support for female DJs and producers is their DJ and production skills workshops and there are three more planned in conjunction with Smirnoff and This Greedy Pig (whose involvement means the classes are free to attend) under the title Move The Needle on Saturday, July 15th in Belfast, Saturday, July 22nd in Cork and Saturday, August 12th in Dublin.
The more ignorant of the male dominated music scene often claim that women don’t have an interest in music production. King’s response is that all the workshops so far have been full so that’s simply not true.
The workshops are informal, suitable for beginners with no experience and offer basic training in production and hands-on experience with CDJs that are standard in all the clubs.
“It’s very rare you can go into a nightclub and have a go when no one is watching. So we offer a casual environment space where you don’t feel someone is looking over your shoulder and you can make loads of mistakes and no one cares. It’s just really important to have a go.”
TO sign up to the workshops, see thisgreedypig.com/MOVETHENEEDLE/