Being a woman in electronic music is no easy feat. Everywhere you turn, you hit roadblock after roadblock of discrimination and misogyny. A devastating amount of industry personnel, sound engineers, and other musicians, believe that your skill set is somehow lesser than theirs, simply because of your gender.
I've seen a great deal of conversation recently about how even being labeled as a "female artist" is detrimental to your craft, because it is a form of othering and puts you as a woman first, an artist second. This topic it a slippery slope in music journalism where you can begin with good intentions, and end up at the bottom of a pit having lowered the artist you meant to praise down to a subordinate level, by focusing solely on her womanhood instead of her artistry.
I've been in New York's electronic community for about two years now, first (and presently) as the front woman of dark synth pop band LANTRNS, and recently have also gotten involved in the community as a DJ, under the moniker alice.km. In all of my artist circles, I've encountered nothing but support, encouragement, and enthusiasm for my craft from collaborators and friends. However, the second I step outside of that bubble, I start amassing stories of disrespect, misogyny, and, frankly, degrading encounters.
Last week provided me with one of the worst experiences I have ever had working with another artist. I had been hired to DJ at a mixed media event featuring visual artists, vendors, and comedians performing short stand up sets. The event coordinator had an incredibly laid back attitude about the event, not telling me until the day before when my set was or how long I was expected to spin for. Less than 36 hours before the event, I received a message saying "you and another DJ will switch off back and forth the whole evening, you two can figure out details when you arrive tomorrow."
This was problematic firstly, because the venue was not providing any gear besides the house PA system. I had to coordinate with the other DJ to see what setup he had, if he was bringing it, and try and determine if our two differing set ups could be supported simultaneously. Despite being told all our gear would fit in the booth, and that the sound system had enough inputs for both of us, that is not what transpired.
I arrived at the venue, only to find that "DJ Pumped Kid" had already set up and taken all of the available space in the booth. When I asked how we would fit my gear as well, his answer was "pull up a side table and set up next to the booth." From the very start, he was dismissive of me and pushing me out of the way. The event coordinator arrived with a very low bar table, which would have been impossible to spin off of (I'm 5'9'', I can't be doubled over a tiny table, straining my back during a set). Regardless, I tried to be cheerful and find a way to make this work.
Then the owner of the bar (who was functioning as the sound engineer for the evening) came over and informed me we could not set up a second controller, because their system only had one set of inputs. This meant I had not only been misinformed by the production staff, but also had lugged my extremely heavy gear all the way from Bushwick to Tribeca for nothing. Most frustrating of all, I had to use Pumped Kid's software and gear since he was already set up and spinning, and it was a set up I had never touched before.
I'm trained on Traktor + Trakttor Kontrol S4, as well as Rekordbox + CDJ 2000s. This guy had Serato running through CDJ 1000s. At their core, there are not huge differences between what the programs and hardware accomplish. Mainly the layout, and logistics what varies, but none the less, I had a bit of a learning curve going into this gig.
I asked basic questions to quickly try and familiarize myself with the programs I was being forced to use, such as "where can I adjust the BPM [beats per minute] of the song?" Pumped Kid looked at me like I had three heads and said "WHAT?! YOU CAN'T ADJUST THE BPM OF A SONG!" He then went on to lecture me on how, "you gotta just feel it, you can't change the tempo of a track, you just need to watch the grid lines and make sure they match up when you stop one song and start the next."
If you know anything about DJing, you know that at a very base level, the DJ is mixing tracks together. That means, when two songs are not the same BPM, you need to adjust one or both so they seamlessly flow into one another for a clean transition. This guy was literally hitting start and stop at the same time on two separate tracks, often in the middle of phrases, not attempting at all to create a transition between the two. He then had the audacity to boast to me that he had years of experience and I had no clue what I was doing.
He also had somehow managed to finagle the CDJ so that the Master Tempo feature purely adjust the pitch and not the BPM. Troubleshooting on the fly while spinning, made it nearly impossible for me to solve this issue at the time. No matter what buttons I pressed to try and remove this setting, the side meters on the decks would not adjust the BPM. My set was doomed from the start, because I had prepared a house set that increased in tempo over time.
I managed to find a handful of tracks from the USB drive I had quickly thrown a playlist onto that blended well together, and played for about 30 minutes. Then Pumped Kid kicked me off the decks saying "here let's switch off for a minute". That was fine by me, but then when I returned one full hour later to try and hop back on, he actually yelled at me saying "No, I just got started. Come back in 45."
At this point, I was extremely frustrated and on the verge of walking out. I went and found the two event coordinators (who hadn't sought me out to check in at all throughout the night) and informed them of the situation. Both were appalled by my recount and swore they had no idea this was happening (how would you know unless you check on your talent, fellas) but completely had my side and said they would kick Pumped Kid off the decks for the next hour so I could spin. I watched as they spoke with the DJ, and walked up to take over when they departed the stage.
"Okay, you have the next 30 minutes" Pumped Kid growled at me without even making eye contact. Incorrect, I had been given the next hour. When I said this to him, he barked "No. If that's what you think, go get the coordinator back up here." For the second time in a ten minute window, I was angrily pushing through the crowd trying to hunt down the person running the show. I finally found him, relayed yet again what was transpiring, and he swore he would handle the situation while I was spinning.
I returned to the booth, and spun for about 45 minutes. Not my best set by any means, because the gear was configured to such specific and unintuitive settings, but there was a group of people enjoying what I was playing and dancing (on the non existent dance floor). Pumped Kid returned exactly at the 45 minute mark and shouted "You happy? You got your extra half hour. Now give the decks back, you made all my people leave."
What. An. Asshole.
We were both hired to play at this event. We were both brought on because the event planners liked our (drastically different) musical styles. We were both here as a backdrop for an art show, not the main attraction.
But this guy thought it was simply his show. Throughout the night he told me I was "playing music for myself" and actually said "you can't play house music for crowds of Black and Hispanic people", referencing our fairly diverse audience.
Not only is that incredibly racist, but the event planners knew that I gravitate to deep house/tech house, and asked me to do this event anyway. They thought it was a good fit. Also, it was an art show without a dance floor, we weren't exactly there to make the room move.
Had I been a man, and not 10 years Pumped Kid's junior, I guarantee he would have treated me differently. He definitely would not have called me "sweetheart" disdainfully, and wouldn't have said such absurd things like "just because you're a female DJ doesn't mean I'm going to kiss your ass."
Please, don't do that. But more importantly, don't tell me that I don't know how to do my job simply because I'm a woman. Your "years of experience" did not make a good set, nor did it show any knowledge of the gear you were operating. I'll admit that I'm still learning and very early into my career, but I will not tolerate being disrespected by men in this field.
In fact, I'm going to own the controversial title I'm a female DJ, and incredibly proud of it.
P.S. I got Pumped Kid blacklisted by the event planners because of how he treated me. They swore to never hire him again.