Loose Lips

Credit and concern: reflections on non-male DJs


Credit and concern: reflections on non-male DJs

So here we are. After just over 16 months, raves are set to return to England. It’s funny for me that everyone is saying ‘it’s coming home’ about the football, as a different ‘it’ is really coming home, an ‘it’ that lights up every fibre of my being. I’m so excited. I have taken a Friday off work in order to see Jayda G play Brixton’s Phonox on the 22nd of July, and then the weekend after that I’ll be catching my favourite DJ crew play Ministry of Sound; Moxie, Saoirse, Peach and Shanti Celeste (aka SASS). 

I might write a review of one of these events. This can be a bit tricky as - moreso than gigs - DJ events aren’t just about the names on the poster and the music performed, they are about your experience of the crowd, the venue, the feeling of safety, the internal chemistry that somehow keeps you dancing late into the night. Writing a formal review that just talks about the music played can feel a bit awkward and unnatural - ‘it was really good, they brought the vibes up, it made me want to dance' - unless the DJs are extraordinary, unless they take you on a journey that is so full of life and energy that hot takes spring to mind.

In my time writing for Loose Lips, I have only reviewed club events whose lineups happened to be all-women/non-binary; Room 4 Resistance in Berlin, Josey Rebelle’s night with MarshmeLLo and Fauzia, Ciel and D.Tiffany and CCL’s Planet Euphorique, Moxie’s On Loop instore with Saoirse and Peach (I would have reviewed their SASS set at Bloc but I was simply too fucked, this guy did the job though). It’s not that I haven’t had other great nights dancing to male DJs, but for some reason I didn’t feel the need to review them.

Outside of said line-ups, a lot the sets that have totally blinded me and raised the energy of an event have also been from female or non-binary DJs; Honey Dijon at Melt festival, Ifeoluwa at our Deep Cuts event, Jossy Mitsu opening Fold, Barely Legal/Chloe Robinson’s closing set at Four Tet’s Brixton Academy night and again at Lost & Found festival (also Moxie and Barely Legal at fabric back in 2014, at the event that properly got me into dance music). These DJs make the speakers perform, refreshing the ear with cross-genre blends and putting us all in a new space.

In my 2018 review of that Room 4 Resistance event, I suggested that non-male DJs often seem to have a distinct sonic personality that travels across genres. As a fan, you can really tell them apart from other DJs, tell when they’ve come onstage by the structure of that first tune's sound. I suggested that misogyny in the scene forces non-male DJs to work harder to get noticed, so developing distinct sonic identity is a good way of fighting that. I sent this review to the DJs mentioned within, one of them responded by saying that she had also thought this for some time. Developing a distinct sonic identity might feel like the obvious way for any DJ to get bookings, but dance music is often more about the scene than the individual; people will go out to hear the genre that they like, DJs get booked if they can find new tracks that fit into this established sound, and moreover find a way to hold onto that space. Misogyny forces non-male DJs to make their own space.

Way back in the darkness of December 2020, I took a morning walk around my local park, and my thoughts moved from this era of excellent non-male DJs, onto a harrowing essay about the prevalence of sexual assaults in American universities, in Jia Tolentino’s book Trick Mirror. Sororities - the female equivalent of frat-houses - aren’t allowed to throw parties. At all. As I write this in mid-2021, American students are flooding back into parties, dancefloors located right next to male students’ bedrooms. This, combined with American universities’ consistent habit of discouraging female students from pursuing court action against sexual assault, makes for a horrendous blind spot in American culture, an allowance for misogynistic crimes that destroy women’s confidence just as they reach adulthood. Discussing the issue in a podcast, Jia Tolentino stated that a simple solution that would drastically decrease the prevalence of sexual assault would be to allow sororities to throw parties. Walking across frosted grass, I thought about this comment, about the significance of a party's authorities; the DJs, the promoters, the people in positions of power who look out over the dancefloor. 

The UK doesn’t have a ban on female-run houseparties, but there is a significant tradition of boys starting their own clubnights, egged on by an overwhelmingly male dance music industry. I studied in Bristol, one of the UK’s dance music hotspots, and I remember one of my classmates unironically responding with ‘a female DJ ay? How about that’ when I used the word ‘her’ to describe Barely Legal / Chloe Robinson. 

Even as a male promoter who cares about gender equality and books female DJs, it’s all too easy for misogynist bullshit to infiltrate your space; I organised an event which involved a bunch of different artists, including a pair of guys who I knew only by their reputation of local respect. At the end of the event I discovered that they had catcalled one of the artists who was also a friend of mine. In the following weeks I discovered that these guys had been catcalling loads of women that night. I had been running around the event like a headless chicken, checking people had water, adjusting the sound levels, trying to get the little details right to elevate the event, but I missed this gaping hole of unrepentant negativity. I wondered if they would have pulled this shit if they were at a female-organised event.

Reflecting on all of this, and back onto this current generation of brilliant non-male DJs who strive on despite the dangers in their local scene. one more reference came to my mind. This one is a little more out-there; rogerebert.com’s scathing review of the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. It states that ‘the film's reluctance to deal with Mercury's sexuality is catastrophic because his sexuality is so connected to the art of Queen that the two cannot be separated out… Genius doesn't emerge from a vacuum. Mercury was made up of all of the tensions and passions in his life.’ The DJ’s job is to curate space, to guide the room, so maybe part of the reason we have so many amazing non-male DJs is that they are more aware of the tensions in that room, they are intimately invested in the party. It's not just about them expressing themselves, it's about creating a space that can allow others to feel safe in doing so. 

So where do we go from here? Check out one of the DJs that I’ve mentioned if you can, you won’t regret it. And lads, keep an eye-out for your non-male friends. If they text you asking where you are, respond immediately. Ask them if they're feeling ok. I’m a big fan of stretching my arms above my head and shutting my eyes on the dancefloor, of course we're all gonna have our moments of losing it. These parties are going to be wild, no two ways around it. Just remember that this wilderness can develop into something beautiful, or something horrible, and we all have a duty to steer this mutation in the right direction.