We are all too familiar with the gender stereotypes that pervade society. Pre-school teachers and nurses are typically female, chefs and police officers are mostly male.
Being female in some societies is even seen as a social handicap. Dubner & Levitt (authors of Superfreakonomics) cite the instance where women in Cameroon have their breasts ironed out by a wooden pestle to make them less sexually tempting. In the workplace, it appears that many women have been haunted by the glass ceiling, an affliction that has plagued modern society which sees few women taking on high-level positions in companies.
As for music, we see a fair amount of female and male talent spread across various genres, be it jazz or pop. When it comes to DJing though, industry sentiment is that the spheres are typically male dominated, as seen from the heavy percentage of male DJs fielded in Boiler Room acts, or at major European and American festivals. Even the most Resident Advisor Top 100 DJ list features only 6 female DJs.
We wonder why this neutrality does not extend to the realm of DJing, and why many female DJs with large followings all seem to have a fashion-forward image. This question had been on our cards for a while now, ever since DJ Tenashar, a Singaporean ‘model-DJ’ ranked #87 on DJ Mag’s Top 100 DJs in 2013, signed on to Universal Music Singapore earlier this year.
No doubt Tenashar was seen as marketable or a commercially viable asset, having been known for her provocative, cleavage-bearing image. Could it be that she is riding on the apparent ‘novelty’ of being female?
DJs like the svelte and stylish Mia Moretti and Harley Viera-Newton, either started off as models or are presently models. Similar to DJ Linda Hao of Singapore, they cater to the fashion crowd, and get booked for specific industry events predominantly because of the image they portray.
EJ Missy, who sports a smart cropped haircut, has first hand experience of such a selection process: “I was once offered a gig by an event company for a launch of a fashion brand, who thought my downtempos and bar grooves would fit the event. But then they had to reconsider me cos they felt my “plain image” didn’t fit the brand.”
Will female DJs always remain a fashionable novelty, and not be treated seriously?
EJ Missy, a staple in the local dance scene for two decades and resident DJ of Club Kyo, lets us in on her thoughts of why the DJ industry is largely male dominated.
“Part masculinization of technology and part perceived marketing. DJing requires above all, the technical skills and technology has always been seen as a masculine thing, which position women as the secondary target of end-users.”
This perception is shared by a number of prominent male DJs.
“The DJ mag Top 100 mostly consists of people who produce, and sitting behind a computer programming music is not something that generally appeals to women, I believe. With this in the back of people’s minds, they tend to be sceptical towards women who DJ, with a few exceptions of course. DJing nowadays is, in my opinion, more of a showcase for the producer, and isn’t very technically challenging. So when you take away ‘producer’ from the showcase, you’re left with something that practically anyone could pull off.” – DJ Headhunterz, to Thump
Some of whom still believe that females have superficial priorities in life.
“Because maybe they spent too much time in Sephora and too little time on producing?” – DJ Frontliner, to Thump
It doesn’t help that women sometimes place each other in imaginary boxes, and shortchange the potential accorded to their fellow females. That being said, it is encouraging to see influencers like Zuckerberg acknowledging this unfounded cognitive bias by subtly addressing it.
Such strands of thought don’t augur well for female DJs. But these strands are mere trends and have no hold on EJ Missy.
To EJ Missy, “like all trends that it’s claimed to be, it’s only representative, not definitive of the world’s mindset.” Aside from managing club bookings and marketing at Kyo, honing her craft takes up much of her free time: “I spend countless hours digging for new music, hours of reviewing my existing ones and how I can possibly mix the new and old together in a way that makes sense. Also hours of listening to DJ sets/mixes which speak to me.” This ritual would be familiar with all good DJs, male and female alike. Hard work certainly pays off, as seen from celebrated female DJ Nina Kraviz’s Top 20 position in the Resident Advisor list and countless bookings for international music festivals.
EJ Missy, who clinched Juice Magazine’s Singapore DJ quest awards some years ago, receives her fair share of compliments, sometimes, fielded in a backhanded fashion – “You don’t play like a girl at all”, a promoter once said to her. What does it even mean to play like a girl? With all that devotion to her craft, one would think she would be able to shake off the ‘female DJ’ reference.
Thankfully, such myopic views are isolated to a small community.
EJ Missy has observed that tides are changing, and most bookings in reputable clubs around the world are premised on the DJ’s craft, rather than a DJ’s image or gender. With support of the community, the playing field for males and females will definitely be evened out in time to come.
“I think DJing has historically been a very male dominated area of music, but this is perpetuated by the idea that there aren’t many female DJs — but there are! I think its up to promoters to book them, for journalists to cover them, and for people to buy their tracks.” – DJ Fedde Le Grand, to Thump
The key then, may be for female DJs to distance themselves from the chatter and forge forward creatively. Whatever EJ Missy feeds into her craft, is returned to her. This symbiosis of energy is heightened by being open to the sounds of countless DJs she hosts and/or shares the decks with.
Riding on this positive momentum, she is beginning to plan for the years ahead, and has hopes of one day running a DJ booking agency that manages a roster of promising talents locally, regionally and beyond. Till then, she is working hard to shake off the stereotype of a ‘female DJ’ and helms the fort of Modal Wednesdays, a movement dedicated to push the envelope of alternative soundscapes in Singapore.
Catch EJ Missy live this Wednesday, 6 Jan at Kyo. If you can why not pass her a shot, to spike her creative juices during her marathon 5 hour set.
Featured image: EJ Missy by Colossal Photos