“If you worked for me, I’d put you on a podium”
This is just one of the things a man told me in snatched conversation between my mixes at work. He claimed to be affiliated with one of the most famous clubs in the country (which I shan’t name), and was basically trying to tell me I was better than the club I was playing. Except he wasn’t. “If you worked for me, I’d put you on a podium,” he purred. “You’re a good-looking girl. Everyone would want to see you.” He praised my skills, but every compliment was soured with insinuations that my crowd-pulling power would be based on looks first, talent second. He volunteered Lisa Lashes as a DJ he’s worked with. Lashes is certainly a household name, with good reason – she’s the first and only woman to be listed in the top ten DJs by DJ Magazine – as well as being stylish and beautiful. Do I have a problem with that? Of course not. What I do have a problem with is with the marketing of female DJs in general – all too often presented as eye-candy instead of ear-candy. This in itself has propagate a culture of models-turned-DJs, for whom a history of Playboy modelling is considered a valid musical credential (or so I gather from so many female DJ roster bios).
As my chat with the promoter that night progressed, his view of me became increasingly clear. Instead of a DJ with a well-honed skill set and a varied taste in music, I was a product. He assured me, in essence, that people would come for my face and stay for the music. My knee-jerk reaction was to reject this immediately. If being a woman in a competitive and largely male-dominated field has taught me anything, it’s that skills come first: I have to be on-point, 100% of the time. The smallest slip-up is all too quickly seized as a ‘girl DJ mistake’. Fucked up a beat-match? Girl DJ. Got your levels a bit wrong? Girl DJ. They’re errors we all make, and I’ve seen the best fall foul of them. One career-affirming moment for me was seeing Zane Lowe battling with a faulty CDJ. Was I annoyed or disappointed? Did I scoff? Nope, instead I was filled with a sense of camaraderie, this was a feeling I had known all too well. However, when my equipment failed me, I was booed, whereas Zane’s crowd laughed and cheered. Admittedly I know Zane’s in a whole different league to me, but I have to wonder what my crowd’s reaction would have been, had I been a man.
Evidence is but a Google search away for the objectification of women in the DJing industry. Regular agencies put women in their own category rather than listing them under genre. A plethora of female-only agencies exist, but I can’t help but feel like these fetishise rather than empower. The roster photos depict impossibly glamourous women, most in various states of undress. The only difference between these and a soft-core magazine spread is an obligatory set of headphones. Of course these women should be able to wear what they damned please, however I get the impression that not adhering to this unspoken standard might affect offers of work. It’s incredibly widespread, presumably these women are playing up their sexuality to get a foot in the door. I want to explicitly point out here that I’m not outright shitting on the skill of the women who choose to market themselves in this way. I ackowledge many of these women are intelligent, committed and above all, talented. I’ll wager a lot of them could run me to the ground. However, we seem to have a saturation of female DJs whose skills are being overlooked as they compete to be the prettiest. Articles such as this are rife, reducing these women to a wank-mag listicle, whereas a search for ‘hot male DJs’ is more likely to turn up results of ‘up-and-coming’ musicians rather than aesthetically pleasing ones.
But what if I don’t want to get down to my underwear to get gigs? I generally DJ in jeans and a t-shirt, am I missing a trick here? I would feel like a fraud, inviting the male gaze, hoping some of the music sticks. In my head, it’s 100% music and to hell with anyone’s opinion of my appearance. I’m torn – half of me believes that we should all be able to wear as much or as little as we like when DJing, and the other half is questioning if women like this are setting a ‘bad example’ and perpetuating a negative stereotype. I get the impression that DJing is seen as a trivial side-project that’s easy to slip into with a pretty face, whereas the reality is that it’s a long hard road that doesn’t always end in fame and fortune.
It’s a labour of love – you do it because it flows through your veins, not because it’s an opportunity to be seen. It comes from the heart.