Since its origin as a music genre born from the generations of struggle that have plagued the African American community of Detroit following World War II, electronic dance music has pioneered inclusivity for POC and LGBTQ+ communities. Detroit techno, while uniting the dark and heavy atmosphere of the city at the time, would go on to build the foundation for a music scene that would grow to global-levels. Yet in 2021, the music genre that arose out of a call for unification faced grave inequalities, specifically in its female representation. In fact, the 2021 International Music Summit Business Report highlighted that female DJs only account for four percent of demand globally. Although women have always had roles in the community, they have not been taken as seriously as the majority of white men who have dominated the industry.
In the 1990s, women began to gain more visibility for their roles in the electronic music community, but as explained in “Dancecult”, an academic journal for electronic dance music culture, advertisers took advantage of the trending music genre, profiting off of the shallow image they created of female artists. From “Playboy” to “FutureMusic” to “Mixmag,” publications frequently featured scandalous covers of bikini models juxtaposed with EDM technology.
Jumping ahead a decade, the International Music Summit named electronic dance music the largest growing music industry in 2016, but the same year, Forbes’ list of the 12 highest paid EDM artists did not include a single woman. Furthermore, females only comprised 20.05% of all festival acts from 2017-2019, according to the female:pressure FACTS survey of 2020. In addition, only 37 of 660 headliners among 14 major festivals in the UK were female, according to a 2017 study by BBC. From the struggle to be taken seriously as artists to the lack of economic demand and recognition of women on the mainstage at festivals, women have been unfairly excluded from the global success of the industry.
It’s important to recognize, however, that the most productive way to move forward is to bring awareness to the women and initiatives that have both met success and are paving the way for future women to succeed in the genre.
Honey Dijon and The Blessed Madonna are two artists who fit multiple intersectionalities of race and gender identity amidst a male dominated industry. Born and raised in Chicago, Honey Dijon, a black trans woman DJ and producer, has met success internationally, performing in the world’s most renowned nightclubs and even fashion shows. Meanwhile, The Blessed Madonna, a DJ and producer from Kentucky, has achieved immense success in her career, which like Honey Dijon, started in the underground scene in the 1990’s. Although she faced bullying in high school for her gender-noncomforming appearance, she has had a huge part in drawing attention to the importance of gender and racial equality in the dance music realm.
In Berlin, famously known as the capital of electronic music, Nina Kravis, Russian-born techno producer, has gained immense respect, despite having her fair share of discrimination as well. In 2018, the NYTimes featured her in the article, “In the Capital of Electronic Music, Women Rule the Scene,” highlighting how her talent has often been overshadowed by sexist media attention, including a time when she was featured in a 2013 documentary covered by bubbles in a hotel bathtub.
She fought back against the criticism she faced for this in a facebook post, claiming, “You can't control artists and their creativity…And the first step to it is to let artists be who they are regardless of their gender, skin color, sexual orientation etc.”
Kraviz has since started two labels of her own and gained headliner positions at internationally renowned clubs and festivals.
In the festival world, managing directors are recognizing the lack of gender diversity in their line-ups and many have begun to push initiatives that will turn around the inequality. According to their participant application for 2022, the Keychange initiative, started by the PRS Foundation, plans to break the barriers that have held back women and other marginalized groups from participating in and profiting off of the music industry. The initiative has garnered the support from partners in 12 countries and over 500 organizations.
Meanwhile, UK-based events manager, promotor, and club consultant Laila Mckenzie and author Ian Snowball have created “Lady of the House,” a book which promotes the profiles of women in the dance music community. Released in November 2021, the book has contributed to the much needed documentation of female representation in the community through a collection of short essays and interviews by over 120 women, including previously mentioned Nina Kraviz.
Despite all the efforts that are being made, the data is loud and clear– the marginalization of women in the electronic music community in media image, earnings, and overall global demand does not live up to the inclusivity-focused marketing of electronic music. The electronic music community is supposed to be a place where all groups of people and all walks of life can coexist in the spaces between the layered melodies and ceaseless baselines of the genre – women are vital to this definition.
As explained by The Blessed Madonna in a 2018 interview with the South China Morning Post: “We have to think globally about our sisterhood with other women because dance music is global. It exists everywhere now.”