AVA Festival recap: Women in Electronic Music

Reflections from a shesaid.so-curated panel discussion

Shesaid.so proudly hosted a thought-provoking panel at this year’s AVA Festival & Conference held in Belfast, UK on June 4th. Moderated by our own Halina Weilogorska who works as a Music & Entertainment lawyer, shesaid.so brought on experts from diverse sectors of the music industry to discuss the ever-evolving topic of women in electronic music. Panelists included Shanti Celeste, a Bristolian DJ gracing the impressive lineups of several European festivals and clubs; Dresden Leitner, Press Manager for BIGBOX; Marcus Barnes, a successful music journalist with over a decade of experience; and Grace McCracken, Head of Press for Listen Up.

The conversation covered a wide range of topics, including the speakers’ career “tipping points”, opinions on how to foster change within electronic music culture, and advice from their own experiences working in the industry. Watch the full panel here & read on for a recap of the discussion!

Pictured from left to right: Shanti Celeste, Marcus Barnes, Halina Weilogorska, Dresden Leitner & Grace McCracken.

One of the most polarizing subjects in the discussion of equality in the music industry is hiring policies, specifically the ethics of making a special effort to hire women. Grace shared that her team is made up of 90% women, which she said provides a strong support system (and joked that they need to hire more men). Halina mentioned the uneven proportion of males to females in previous jobs she’d worked, which she said could feel isolating at times — but also noted how that proportion is changing now. Although it could be viewed as discriminatory to give women priority in job hunts, Marcus said he feels that diversity is something that should be strived for. He mentioned a female colleague who said she usually only hires women and should probably seek out male candidates; but he countered that it’s a good thing to have that representation to inspire other women to achieve their goals. Shanti on the other hand has worked a lot with men, which she felt was motivation to push herself further in her artistry as she has a healthy competitive drive and strives to find obscure music her peers haven’t heard.

The panelists discussed how Marketing and PR are fields which have been dominated by women, while more male artists and journalists appear in popular media. Furthermore there is a stereotype of female managers and male artists that still persists. An audience member asked how we can combat these existing gender roles; Dresden said “starting from the bottom” through education is key, and mentioned a producer called E.M.M.A. who teaches workshops on Ableton for Radar Radio. From the artist perspective, lineups that are strictly curated based on gender are viewed by some as tokenism — Shanti says she doesn’t play all-female lineups because she wants to be booked for her talent rather than “because she’s a girl”. Halina thinks women need to have confidence and the idea of change shouldn’t be to make women more “aggressive”, but rather to have a strong sense of self. This is why female mentors can have a great impact in inspiring younger people, and Marcus discussed the need to teach kids that they do not need to conform to the gendered roles that we have been brought up with.

“We need to work on breaking down preconceived gender roles from the time we are kids” — Marcus Barnes

Another audience member questioned why there are so few women running parties in Ibiza and asked if it’s because they don’t want to; Halina countered his claim by mentioning Annie Mac’s successful run of AMP parties, as well as Nicole Moudaber’s Mood series, but she also pointed out that it starts with clubs wanting to sell tickets first and foremost. In Shanti’s opinion, culture is headed towards equality when it comes to artists — she mentioned there are many women who are finding great success as both promoters and DJs, such as Helena Hauff and The Black Madonna.

To close out the panel, the group discussed the idea of safe spaces, and the need to educate bouncers on how to improve club atmospheres. According to Marcus, it’s important that women don’t feel as though safe spaces need to be places where men can’t be around, which highlights the overarching theme of the discussion — that education is integral in fostering cultural progress. Change begins with teaching younger generations that they can strive to achieve goals regardless of gender. Particularly in music, young people need to be taught that women can be producers, DJs, journalists and so on just as well as men, and that men can be successful in communication-heavy jobs like marketing and PR too. A huge thanks to our speakers, and to the women and men helping to make the industry a better place for all!

Written by Melina Powell.

Shesaid.so is building a network in Belfast — those interested in joining & keeping up to date on events, please contact info@avafestival.com.