SIREN: changing the face of white, male, cisgender dance music
05 Mar 2016
If 2015 and 2016’s festival line-ups and club nights were anything to go by it would appear the only DJs making waves are all very straight, very white and very male. The average number of female DJs booked for global events barely scrapes the 10% mark, and all-male line-ups are all too common.
Out of the frustrations felt by the underrepresentation of women in the dance music scene came SIREN. We are a collective of DJs, journalists, A&Rs, producers, live performers and radio producers; yet despite coming from such different areas of the industry, we have all directly experienced the extreme lack of diversity in dance music. And together we feel that now is the time for change.
‘If we see the same thing over and over again it becomes normal.. If we keep seeing only men as heads of corporations, it starts to seem “natural” that only men should be heads of corporations’ – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
We are sick of excuses. Year-on-year we’ve heard the same tired justifications used to defend the predominantly white male line-ups we see. The music blog Crack In The Road recently challenged this by removing all the of male artists from Reading and Leeds 2015 Festival poster. Once the men were removed from the original list of 95 artists, the number of solo female artists or bands with at least one female member stood at a just eight. Female:pressure’s 2015 research showed that male artists make up 82% of music festivals worldwide. What we can take from this is that (unsurprisingly) discrimination sees no genre.
One of SIREN’s aims is to normalise diversity in line-ups, in order to challenge the current culture in which it seems natural to see line-ups that are almost always completely white and male. Not only do we want to change the face of the line-ups and enable a platform to showcase talented women, we want to change the back drop too and organise events without the need for the involvement of cisgender men. People who attended our first event remarked how uncommon, but great, it was seeing only women working behind and around the decks.
SIREN’S slogan is “NO BULLSHIT, JUST DANCING”. We want to create an environment which is exactly that. With physical and vocal harassment in dance spaces unacceptably common today we are making a point of having a zero tolerance to any discrimination or harassment at our parties or on our online spaces. We have our safer spaces policy pinned up around our venues and ensure all members of staff are aware it is to be upheld.
‘There Just Aren’t Enough Woman DJ’s’
‘We tried to book x and x but they weren’t available’
Recently, US based DJ Justin James posted in the “Support Female DJs” public group that he was looking for woman DJs to come on tour with him. Posts like this convey how ingrained the sexist attitude towards female DJs is.
It highlights the need for women run spaces and create visibility in the scene. For many it may be easy to dismiss James’ post – “he’s just an idiot”, but what is concerning is how deeply embedded the views he expressed are. DJ Annie Mac stated in her piece for Thump, where she expresses her frustration that she has never done an interview where she has not been asked questions about her gender. And although many club owners and promoters are not as explicit as James, these prejudices still remain. Ultimately this serves to highlight the difference in how female DJs are treated, not based on ability but on appearance and gender “roles”.
At SIREN we wish to be inclusive of all marginalised genders outside of the current cis male dominated scene by creating a platform that gives visibility to systematically underrepresented women.
Going beyond gender discrimination there is a second layer of exclusion that needs to change. For me as a woman of colour (WoC), tackling misogynoir and the fetisiation of WoC within dance spaces is specifically important. Being a woman of colour in predominantly white spaces often comes with verbal and physical microaggressions from unwanted comments like “Yeah, but where are you from, from though?” to unwanted hands right up in your hair.
Juan Atkins recently called out DJ Magazine’s Top 100 DJs list, as their No1. to No.98 weere all white men. Atkins’ comment highlighted the lack of diversity in the DJs considered at the top of their game and the disregard of many DJs of colour who have shaped the scene and continue to do so today. Although having a diverse line-up alone will not solve the problems faced in the scene, SIREN wants to highlight and address an imbalance.
Through the artwork in our zines, contributors and DJs playing our parties, it is key that we challenge this norm so that we can get to a place where dance music reflects the diverse group of people who are enjoying it. Both on stage, at festivals, clubs and those running the scene.