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  • Writer's pictureLippy

Female DJs in Leeds: A Wave of Opportunity

A recent surge in Hyde Park and Leeds-based initiatives are broadening the horizon for Leeds women by encouraging participation in the DJ scene. Rosie Gilmour explores these for Lippy, via interviews and discussions surrounding the social obstacles women and folk face in the DJ scene.

In 2019, Billboard’s Top 100 DJs list consisted of: Just. Five. Women. Similarly, Salon Magazine reported just 6% of DJs in the top 150 clubs were female. To add insult to injury; Permission to Dance (an exciting new Leeds collective) stated that in 2016, just 12% of DJs were female. We can gather from these data that this means the top clubs and music publications under-represent female DJs by 50%.

I’m shocked but not surprised, but for many it’s just the former.

While I join the swathes of people gloating about Peggy Gou and other amazing female talent like DJ Mell G and Carlota, there’s no denying that peers more frequently talk about the amazing looks and artistic aesthetic of these women rather than their music itself. On the other hand, it’s evident male DJs aren’t held to as high a bar; great looks are not a requirement nor mentioned when present, and artists with sexual assault allegations continue to reign the dance scene. This is a result of the percolation of intrinsic misogyny that is rife in all instances where women become fresh ‘competition’ in a male-dominated scene.

It’s never stopped me from entering this scene, but I would be lying if I said this fact hasn’t made me apprehensive. Of course, for the sake of common sense, I should say I am not aiming to disrespect any male DJs writing this. In fact, I am amazed and so grateful to the men in the Leeds DJ community for using their platform to actively encourage me, offer opportunities and share their talent. The problem isn’t necessarily individual males in this community, rather the air of exclusivity that surrounds it.

The social pattern of those learning to mix happens exponentially, in a domino-effect. For example, a woman (like me) comes to Leeds and wants to DJ, so she buys decks. It’s sociologically and culturally likely a bulk of her friends will also be women. Most DJs start out by being given the opportunity to get involved by friends, so this person teaches her friends. Therefore in short; the more women that DJ, the more women who will want to DJ, the more encouraging DJing will be to marginalised groups, and the more diverse and rich the Leeds music scene will be. Thankfully, we can tap into this pattern to encourage more women with relative ease.

While the issue of exclusivity and misogyny is far healed in DJing compared to even 10 years ago, the current skew towards male DJs is a remnant of time passed. So, while no one has ever said to me “oh, but you’re a girl?”, and have rather actively encouraged and supported me, it’s not much of a reach to ascertain why many women and non-binary folk are so apprehensive to enter a male dominated area. What are the expectations of me? What if I don’t have any friends who already DJ so can’t enter the scene with skills? Will I be brushed aside, mansplained, or on the contrary only appreciated because I might be seen as a ‘bruh’ girl?

My first streamed set as Sleepy Jean at Sheaf Street, Leeds, March 2021.

Of course, the way to increase group engagement is through offering more opportunities to these groups; we see this in initiatives targeting low-income postcodes and BAME communities and it works somewhat well. It’s easy to argue that women entering DJing may feel like they are then chosen to fill a quota and not on merit, though this undermines the fact that talent is equally distributed throughout the population and can only be nurtured by experience opportunities, and distracts from the real issue.

This is why it’s so thrilling that, in the past few months, local venues and collectives are confronting this issue by openly seeking more female talent. A month ago on Leeds Student Group, a friend tagged me in a post by Old Red Bus Station, who exclaimed their dismay that out of over 100 mixes sent to them, only 2 were by women.

Permission to Dance is a new event series coming to Leeds who noticed this issue, and promise equal gender representation in all their line ups. I interviewed them to find out more:

First of all, what is Permission to Dance?

Permission to dance is a new event series coming to Leeds aimed at promoting equality in the music scene while trying to give female DJs a platform to work from. We’ll always make sure that female DJs contribute to at least 50% of all dj sets played.

We also just want to throw some banging parties at the same time and make sure our events are a fun, safe space for everyone!

What’s the motivation behind its creation?

I’ve been a student here in Leeds for 4 years now and I’ve been involved with another events brand called Hyde House, so I’ve been helping throw some events in the past. I also got the opportunity to DJ at those events. I sort of landed on my feet there and got extremely lucky, getting the opportunity to play in a club when at the time there were much better DJs who’d been playing for longer than myself who would never get the opportunity to play out at a club.

Then, over lockdown I decided it would be good fun to get my own brand going. I did a lot of thinking about how best I could throw some parties, but in a way that provided opportunities to others. I did a bit of Googling and came across a stat that really shocked me; in 2016 it was estimated that female DJs only made up 12% of acts at clubs and festivals in the selection of line-ups they sampled. It was quite a shocking stat for me to read. I always knew that women were underrepresented behind the decks, but I didn’t realise it was to such an extent.

So it seemed like the perfect fit - I could throw some fun events while trying to tackle this problem of equality in the scene, and give some female students a platform to maybe get playing in clubs when in the past they wouldn’t have been given the chance.

I’d been sitting on the name Permission to Dance for a while, as it felt fitting for coming out of lockdown and getting back on the dance floor. The concept and ethos fit well with the name as well, so then it was time to get the ideas down on paper and before you know it we’ve got our first event booked in and arranged!

Why are you pushing for a 50/50 DJ split and what is your perception of women in music in terms of representation?

As I say, the 12% representation is a really shocking stat. I know it’s from 5 years ago, but I couldn't find a more up-to-date stat, which doesn’t really tell a great story in itself!

I know Lost Village have a 50/50 split this year in their line-up, and I just think it’s really great to be seeing girls being given equal opportunities especially on as big a stage as that! There is often quite a ‘laddy’ culture associated with DJing, and I completely understand it because that’s how the scene has been for years. But there are some really talented female DJs out there. Some of my favourite DJs in the game at the moment are female, such as Peach, Monki and Haai.