3 Female DJs Respond to DJ Magazine’s Womanless ‘Top 25 DJs’ List
Last month, DJ Magazine celebrated 25 years of reporting on dance music trends and news by honoring 25 pioneers of the genre. Controversy erupted when music sites pointed out that women were notably absent from the list. The magazine staff confessed that they were also upset by the lack of women, but “made a conscious decision to avoid tokenism.”
But why aren’t there more notable female DJs out there? Is it harder for women to establish themselves in the industry? If so, how foolish and frustrating is that?!?
I started angrily skimming through article after article about women in the DJ world, but I realized I should ask actual DJs what they thought. I gathered Kimmy le Funk, Elaine Denham and e’Lish, three kick-ass San Francisco-based DJs, and asked them about being women in the DJ community.
Michael: In my research for this chat, I kept coming across this ridiculous term ‘She-J’ to define a female DJ. Some wear it as a badge of honor and others feel like it’s embracing the rampant tokenism in the industry. Would you ever label yourselves as She-Js?
All Three: NO!
Kimmy le Funk: First of all, it’s pretty cheesy. I don’t think I would rock it. Second of all, it’s drawing even more attention to the obvious, which I really don’t need to do. There’s already enough stigma that comes with being a female DJ that I don’t need to add a title to it as well.
Elaine Denham: It’s funny, actresses right now are trying to be called just actors because there shouldn’t be a difference, especially if there’s no reason for it.
e’Lish: I had someone at a party tell me I shouldn’t play up being a girl at all and I was like, “I don’t actually think I play up being a girl.” She-J is kind of fucking weird. I want to be taken seriously for the music I play and a label to further separate me from everyone else is not going to help me at all, especially on top of how hard it is to get booked.
Michael: Yeah, I’ve noticed whenever I see invites for parties in San Francisco, I don’t see very many female DJs billed to perform. Men dominate the dance music scene around here and seemingly all over, which is ridiculous. Why is it so difficult?
Elaine: Even as a female DJ it’s hard to find other female DJs, which is a little surprising, because I actually think females have it even easier because we’re a niche that people are interested in. I’ll have people that come up to me at gigs and say that they were so grateful to see a female up in the booth, but I know I’ve been billed specifically because I’m a girl.
Kimmy: Oh I got a lot of gigs when I first started, especially because I was a girl. Guys who were as new as me got overlooked and I got those opportunities for that reason. I know that. But it’s a double-edged sword. The general public turned on me because they were pissed I was getting gigs that they couldn’t, so there’s that resentment in the community that exists from the guys that can’t get what I got so early in my career.
e’Lish: That’s the line you have to balance on, unfortunately. You get gigs because you’re a girl, but because it’s a boy’s club you’re not always booked for your talent. And if you start playing better than the boys who’ve been playing as long as you, you’ll get ignored.
Elaine: They just wanted “the female.” They wanted that one part filled.
e’Lish: And It’s always confusing that there aren’t more, because the reality is if you put a female DJ up there and they’re good, more girls will go to the dance floor. Generally speaking, women are comfortable around other women, so they will come and dance on the dance floor, which is really the goal of every promoter in this city.
Michael: So you’ve all started years ago and are well into your DJ careers. Do you think it’s improved for women trying to break in nowadays?
e’Lish: It’s actually not getting better for girls in San Francisco, because now there’s even more girls trying to get into it but can’t.
Elaine: Yeah, it’s becoming a more welcoming space for women, but that just makes it more difficult to get any gigs. It’s not available to them at all.
Kimmy: But to play devil’s advocate here for a second, there have been girls over the years who got gigs really fast because they were girls but stopped getting gigs because they weren’t good. They trainwrecked in front of the crowds and that sort of solidified their fate — that they were hired simply because they were girls and not for their talent.
e’Lish: And when you see that it’s a bummer because there are so few of us as it is.
Kimmy: The three of us keep getting gigs because we know what we’re doing. So we were lucky to get here quicker but the pressure to maintain and improve is intense.
e’Lish: Every time I get hired and play, I get so nervous that I’m not going to do well and end up looking bad. Because I’m not only doing this for myself but for other female DJs who want to show their love for music. This door is open to me and if it continues to be open I can leave the door open for other females who want to step in and deliver. I take that very seriously.
Michael: So what would you say to a woman who wanted to get started in the DJ world now?
Kimmy: When I got started, all of these guys were telling me how it was done and what I should and shouldn’t do, even when it came to calling myself Kimmy le Funk. I considered listening to them but instead I went with my gut and it all stuck. My style stuck. Don’t let their input feed into your insecurity.
Elaine: I’d say don’t expect that you’re going to get the world right when you start, because people will be so excited to get a new female DJ. There’s going to be lulls, really long lulls. Be patient and have a real knowledge of music and constantly grow that knowledge base. But even when I go on Traxsource to research and find new music, 20% of new album art is hot or naked photo shopped women on every cover.
Michael: So even when you aren’t performing and you’re trying to source material…
Elaine: We’re constantly reminded we’re not welcome, yes.
e’Lish: But just like in everyday life, you can’t allow misogyny to stop you from doing something you want to do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told I couldn’t do something because I’m a girl. I would just go and do it anyway. It’s so much more liberating to do it and to do it really well.
When I play an awesome gig, and I know there are other DJs there that are judging you and they see people tell you you’re amazing after you’ve finished, there’s just no better feeling.
Note: This article originally appeared on Ripple.co, which has been acquired and now appears on Hoodline.