It’s no secret that London’s (and the world at large’s) electronic music scene is still largely dominated by men. From Bloc founder George Hull proclaiming safe space policies “the opposite of fun” to DJ Justin James using a ‘Support Female DJ’s’ Facebook group to scout female talent with a list of ridiculous weight, height and hotness requirements, huge issues surrounding both how comfortable women feel in nightlife spaces to the lack of line-up inclusivity continue to remain rife in the scene.
However, the tide seems to be slowly shifting. With Facebook groups such as Sister facilitating safe environments for females involved in music to connect, share work and ask each other for advice, more women than ever seem to be standing up against industry induced misogyny. One group bridging the gap of URL support to IRL community is London based SIREN, founded earlier this year and “kickstarted by a frustrated Facebook post about the lack of female representation and rampant sexual harassment in electronic music.” Made up of nine female-identified DJs and producers, the collective is a mere three months young. But their inclusive club nights, warehouse parties, zines and slogan “no bullshit, just dancing” offer a glimpse into a scene free from sexual harassment and filled with positive role models for aspiring female DJs.
Below we caught up with the collective to discuss the importance of the internet, persisting problems in music and the power of community.
What are your aims as an all-female collective?
SIREN: A big part of what we’re trying to do is to highlight the fact that it’s not an accident that house and techno are now so male, straight, middle class and white – when actually these genres were in fact started by communities that were the opposite. ‘Outside’ power structures are perhaps even more powerfully amplified within dance music right now, as relatively few people have vocally critiqued its homogeneity - at least not in the UK.
There are so many women who dream of DJing or producing, but don’t because of the inaccessibility of the scene. We want to empower these women by making the scene more inclusive and less homogenous; by putting on great events that showcase amazing (and often overlooked) DJs, who just happen to also be female. It’s also not just about the treatment of those running the nights – It’s really important to us that we challenge the idea that women and non-binary people are so often treated as sexualised objects when they go out to clubs. We want to create female & LGBTQ dominated spaces where everyone understands that harassment isn’t acceptable.
What problems currently exist in London's electronic music scene?
SIREN: In a nutshell: homogeneity and harassment. The majority of people running the events, behind the decks, and programming the radio shows are white heterosexual men of a certain privilege – and this disenfranchisement of everyone else then trickles down into the widespread harassment. There’s definitely a link between the paucity of women, non-binary people and POC in positions of power in the scene and the physical and verbal intimidation that they experience. One issue that we haven’t addressed enough so far as a collective is the underrepresentation of WOC, and this is something we have at the front our minds when thinking about future shows and zines.
And how do you aim to tackle them?
SIREN: Firstly, putting underrepresented talent on lineups and featuring them on our platforms. Some people are quick to dismiss all-female-lineups as tokenistic or as ‘PC positive discrimination’ – but right now, before we can reach equality, we need to reach equity. That involves making up for all of the missed opportunities for underrepresented artists that have previously been the norm. Also, the thought process underpinning tokenism critiques is the belief that women are lesser artists than men, and therefore if you’re booking them, then you’re scraping the barrel - but that’s bullshit, because there are so many talented female artists out there.
Why do you think some of the reasons are for hesitant to start producing?
The combined factors of females feeling illegitimate in a male-dominated sphere, lacking obvious female-identified role models, as well as being socialised as ‘consumers’ not ‘producers’ and being discouraged from technical pursuits from school-age.
What influenced the decision to create a zine alongside each of the nights?
SIREN: The action of carving out a space for yourself is political in itself, so we wanted somewhere to further articulate both ours and others’ specific thoughts about the current scene. It’s important to us that we normalise a safe and diverse space by putting on our nights, but that the reasoning behind that is still highlighted and discussed tangibly somewhere – while also promoting female visual artists and writers.
More and more female musicians are using the internet as a platform to push against industry misogyny. How do you feel the internet has helped women in music's voices to be heard?
SIREN: The internet’s been amazing for women in terms of connecting with each other. However, obviously we can’t speak for the global scene, but it seems like many of the music-orientated mixed Facebook groups are very heavily male dominated, and sadly rife with privileged free-speech whining, and even demands that survivors of sexual assault ‘prove it’. So, in some ways, it definitely has allowed women’s voices to be heard, but it also drowns them out in the sense of online cliques created solely for the purpose of trolling. There’s a lot of casual and not so casual misogyny online.
“It’s not an accident that house and techno are now so male, straight, middle class and white – when actually these genres were in fact started by communities that were the opposite” – SIREN
What advice would you give to a young woman looking to get into producing?
SIREN: Just to get started! A few of the girls in the collective started out by buying hardware and software (a good place to work out what DAW/hardware you want is to perhaps read some interviews with artists you like and what gear they use or recommend) and then teaching yourself through Youtube tutorials. E.M.M.A. has also started to run production workshops for girls with Radar Radio right here in London.
There are also numerous Facebook groups to join such as Sound Sculptress, Analog Ladies and Women in experimental music that provide a space to discuss sound production. One of the most important things is finding collaborators and feeling like you are not alone. These groups help to do this by giving women a communal arena to share audio production techniques, ask questions and connect in a safe, non-competitive space. If you want any advice or reassurance, feel free to get in touch with us – same goes if you’d like us to consider your tracks for our radio shows.
Where do you aim to see the collective going in the future?
SIREN: We’d really like to expand SIREN – there’s nine of us, so we figure there’s a lot we can do collectively! The ultimate dream is a super agency that not only puts on great events and promotes amazing artists, but that also aims to educate the next generation of DJs and producers that they can achieve their goals – so that we don’t have girls, non-binary people and people of colour growing up believing that they’re not good enough.
In the meantime, we’ve got plans to keep expanding our radio and journalistic output, and working against harassment and assault in clubs, as well as fun collaborations with other great girl gangs. There are bigger nights in the pipeline, but we’re keen to build up a crowd of people who really get the vibe before upscaling. Basically, we’re coming at the boys club from all angles.
SIREN’s next event is at Rye Wax with Apeiron Crew (London Debut), more info here
Follow Ione Gamble on Twitter here @ionegamble