A shift in the electronic music scene has been well overdue for a long time. Imbalances in festival line ups in general have been prevalent, but the scale is tilted even more when it comes to house and techno events. 17 per cent of artists on festival bills in 2016 were female with just five per cent being female producers. In the digital realm things are not much better. Journalist Angus Finlayson commented in 2011 for The Quietus “it’s almost a Boiler Room cliché that members of the chatroom will complain about the distinct lack of kinesis on the dancefloor (also that they will pass comment on any unfortunate young female close enough to pick out)”.
However, it came to a head in June of 2016 when Glasgow artist Nightwave was on the receiving end of waves of abuse aimed at her gender when she appeared on Boiler Room. The streaming behemoth took to Twitter in the aftermath saying, “Talking smack on genres or tech is whatever, lame but par for the course. Misogyny / transphobia / racism / anything else personal is 10000% unacceptable”.
They then announced they’d be hiring people “specifically to shut down the abuse & obviously we’re gonna keep booking people irrespective of any racegendersexbelief factor. no retreating to safe white tech house”. It’s clear misogyny is rife in house and techno, and perhaps that’s dissuading women from joining the (boys?) club.
One campaign this year spearheaded in Ireland by ELLLL and Gash Collective, supported by Smirnoff, kicked the fight against gender disparity up a few notches. Move the Needle is an initiative aiming to double female headliners by 2020. Irish producer ELLLL was instrumental in the success of the campaign, overseeing workshops, gigs and discussions, and she says even though the campaign is over they’re far from finished.
“Move the Needle is wrapped up now and it’s a bit of a downtime for me, but it’s nice to see people filtering through. We’re still getting emails from people that are interested and progressing more with mixes or productions. Even in a year’s time I’m interested to see who will really have stuck at it and is still making tunes or DJing on the regular.
“It’s definitely going to be a rolling thing. We’re really committed to it, all of us involved and the response is always good. Every time you do a workshop people are so enthusiastic, there’s so much support out there.”
Gash Collective is more of a community than a group of individuals, but ELLLL says the core team is made up of the likes of Laura O’Connell, Cait Fahey, Lolz, Joni, Dreamcycles and more.
“When I started Gash it was from a few things – my own experiences I had involved in scenes in Ireland, gigging, playing live, conversations I had with other people involved – friends of mine and people I met doing gigs and promotions.
“Also I had recently joined the female:pressure network. It was set up by Electric Indigo who is this amazing techno DJ and producer. It’s this network that’s almost like a giant mailing list of women involved in the art all over the world. You can talk about different stuff, everything from ‘hey, I’m going to be touring in New York next week, could you advise me to somewhere that’s going to book me, I play this kind of music’ to ‘hey, there’s this job opportunity’. Advise, or sharing terrible or great experiences. It’s massive. People all over the world, it’s an amazing support system.
“I got involved with that and read all of the emails and was thinking, why don’t we have an equivalent in Ireland? Why for such a small country are we really dispersed and not helping each other? That’s what Gash has become. A place where we could hit each other up whether it’s for questions or playing gigs, so we could establish that connection. It’s a support system for anyone, whether they’re just getting started or have been at it a while.”
The concept of Move the Needle was to take this to another level, but it was also to promote transgender and non-binary involvement in electronic music, a community that often get overlooked during these conversations. ELLLL said the reaction from the trans community was overall very positive.
“Dublin was the most responsive with that. We had a really diverse group of people for the two workshops we did there. I think it’s just because it’s a big city, of course it’s going to be that way.
“Of course, there were a couple lads who were like ‘is it no boys allowed?’ and I’ve always been really explicit in saying that’s not the case either. We’re trying to create a safe space for minorities in electronic music but we’re not going to exclude anyone. But the push is to include people who are on the fringe, people who wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise.”
There are of course voices, often online and predominantly male, that either don’t see the imbalances or don’t want them changed. I was curious to hear ELLLL’s thoughts on why some people want to ignore the problem or flat our refuse the inevitable progression it will bring.
“Some people look at it on the surface and think ‘that’s just filling quotas’, which is not true. I’ve always said everyone should be on the line up based on merit, their talent and nothing else. I’m also a realist. I know Smirnoff have this pledge, but I know that in an Irish context the numbers aren’t there yet. To have a 50/50 split for a large festival is completely unrealistic because we’re not there yet. That’s going to take time. I’m totally against quotas, I think a 50/50 split is great in theory but unrealistic, and if you’re going into that territory then you are just filling numbers for quotas.
“It’s just about women being fairly represented. Over previous years we weren’t. Women, people of colour, non-binary people, they were just not appearing on line ups. Especially for women starting out and young girls to see them, you think it’s something you can’t do. It comes back to visibility.”
Being a realist, ELLLL is unsure how long the process of levelling the playing field will take. She is optimistic though that Ireland being a small country will benefit as word might get around a little quicker.
“I have to say since the workshops have been brought to life a lot of the promoters and festivals in Ireland have been really receptive. I’ve had people contact me and say ‘look we’re running this stage, and I know in previous years gone by we haven’t had any women play but I’d love for you to point me in the right direction of people who might be suitable’.
“Once you begin to notice it you can’t un-see it. Especially if you’re male and working in the scene because it’s never affected you, of course you’re not going to pay attention to it. It’s only if you have female friends, or friends that are affected that you realise ‘oh shit, it’s a real problem’. People are changing that attitude. They’re changing, realising, casting a wider net and looking further than just a really boring top ten of whoever’s touring.”