Owning The Title Female DJ

Owning The Title Female DJ

And being proud of it.

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.

Cover Image Credit: alice.km

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A Letter To My Humans On Our Last Day Together

We never thought this day would come.

I didn't sleep much last night after I saw your tears. I would have gotten up to snuggle you, but I am just too weak. We both know my time with you is coming close to its end, and I just can't believe it how fast it has happened.

I remember the first time I saw you like it was yesterday.

You guys were squealing and jumping all around, because you were going home with a new dog. Dad, I can still feel your strong hands lifting me from the crate where the rest of my puppy brothers and sisters were snuggled around my warm, comforting puppy Momma. You held me up so that my chunky belly and floppy wrinkles squished my face together, and looked me right in the eyes, grinning, “She's the one."

I was so nervous on the way to my new home, I really didn't know what to expect.

But now, 12 years later as I sit in the sun on the front porch, trying to keep my wise, old eyes open, I am so grateful for you. We have been through it all together.

Twelve “First Days of School." Losing your first teeth. Watching Mom hang great tests on the refrigerator. Letting you guys use my fur as a tissue for your tears. Sneaking Halloween candy from your pillowcases.

Keeping quiet while Santa put your gifts under the tree each year. Never telling Mom and Dad when everyone started sneaking around. Being at the door to greet you no matter how long you were gone. Getting to be in senior pictures. Waking you up with big, sloppy kisses despite the sun not even being up.

Always going to the basement first, to make sure there wasn't anything scary. Catching your first fish. First dates. Every birthday. Prom pictures. Happily watching dad as he taught the boys how to throw every kind of ball. Chasing the sticks you threw, even though it got harder over the years.

Cuddling every time any of you weren't feeling well. Running in the sprinkler all summer long. Claiming the title “Shotgun Rider" when you guys finally learned how to drive. Watching you cry in mom and dads arms before your graduation. Feeling lost every time you went on vacation without me.

Witnessing the awkward years that you magically all overcame. Hearing my siblings learn to read. Comforting you when you lost grandma and grandpa. Listening to your phone conversations. Celebrating new jobs. Licking your scraped knees when you would fall.

Hearing your shower singing. Sidewalk chalk and bubbles in the sun. New pets. Family reunions. Sleepovers. Watching you wave goodbye to me as the jam-packed car sped up the driveway to drop you off at college. So many memories in what feels like so little time.

When the time comes today, we will all be crying. We won't want to say goodbye. My eyes might look glossy, but just know that I feel your love and I see you hugging each other. I love that, I love when we are all together.

I want you to remember the times we shared, every milestone that I got to be a part of.

I won't be waiting for you at the door anymore and my fur will slowly stop covering your clothes. It will be different, and the house will feel empty. But I will be there in spirit.

No matter how bad of a game you played, how terrible your work day was, how ugly your outfit is, how bad you smell, how much money you have, I could go on; I will always love you just the way you are. You cared for me and I cared for you. We are companions, partners in crime.

To you, I was simply a part of your life, but to me, you were my entire life.

Thank you for letting me grow up with you.

Love always,

Your family dog

Cover Image Credit: Kaitlin Murray

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From One Nerd To Another

My contemplation of the complexities between different forms of art.


Aside from reading Guy Harrison's guide to eliminating scientific ignorance called, "At Least Know This: Essential Science to Enhance Your Life" and, "The Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer" by Charles Graeber, an informative and emotional historical account explaining the potential use of our own immune systems to cure cancer, I read articles and worked on my own writing in order to keep learning while enjoying my winter break back in December. I also took a trip to the Guggenheim Museum.

I wish I was artistic. Generally, I walk through museums in awe of what artists can do. The colors and dainty details simultaneously inspire me and remind me of what little talent I posses holding a paintbrush. Walking through the Guggenheim was no exception. Most of the pieces are done by Hilma af Klint, a 20th-century Swedish artist expressing her beliefs and curiosity about the universe through her abstract painting. I was mostly at the exhibit to appease my mom (a K - 8th-grade art teacher), but as we continued to look at each piece and read their descriptions, I slowly began to appreciate them and their underlying meanings.

I like writing that integrates symbols, double meanings, and metaphors into its message because I think that the best works of art are the ones that have to be sought after. If the writer simply tells you exactly what they were thinking and how their words should be interpreted, there's no room for imagination. An unpopular opinion in high school was that reading "The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne was fun. Well, I thought it was. At the beginning of the book, there's a scene where Hawthorne describes a wild rosebush that sits just outside of the community prison. As you read, you are free to decide whether it's an image of morality, the last taste of freedom and natural beauty for criminals walking toward their doom, or a symbol of the relationship between the Puritans with their prison-like expectations and Hester, the main character, who blossoms into herself throughout the novel. Whichever one you think it is doesn't matter, the point is that the rosebush can symbolize whatever you want it to. It's the same with paintings - they can be interpreted however you want them to be.

As we walked through the building, its spiral design leading us further and further upwards, we were able to catch glimpses of af Klint's life through the strokes of her brush. My favorite of her collections was one titled, "Evolution." As a science nerd myself, the idea that the story of our existence was being incorporated into art intrigued me. One piece represented the eras of geological time through her use of spirals and snails colored abstractly. She clued you into the story she was telling by using different colors and tones to represent different periods. It felt like reading "The Scarlet Letter" and my biology textbook at the same time. Maybe that sounds like the worst thing ever, but to me it was heaven. Art isn't just art and science isn't just science. Aspects of different studies coexist and join together to form something amazing that will speak to even the most untalented patron walking through the museum halls.

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