Women in Electronic Music: How Far Have We Come?
Part of the “Women in EDM” feature series.
Fans of electronic music may be surprised to learn that the genre’s roots can be traced back to the 1970s, when artists first began using electronic sounds as a significant component of songs (not to be confused with electric instruments, which of course had been around much longer). We often like to think of the 1970s as a progressive time, not just for music, but for society—a time when experimenting with edgy fashion came in tandem with a new wave of women’s rights activism and the continuation of the civil rights movement. But the ongoing conversation about feminism, even today, is evidence that equality was not completely established then and it still isn’t now. Electronic music got its start in a time of progress, but the genre is not exempt from the gender inequality that seems to plague the music industry as a whole.
That said, it’s not as though there aren’t female artists (and producers, and marketing geniuses, and so on)—and lots of them—in the industry. The problem rests more on the venues and festivals that book a dearth of female artists, and on the press that covers women in music as though they were sexy objects and not human artists. And in spite of all that, there are a lot of women out here succeeding in a world that questions their motives and abilities when it needs to just shut up and listen. The factors that influence how many women make it to the EDM industry, and how well they fare once they do, are complex and nebulous. There is no easy answer to the question of why it’s still difficult for women to succeed in this industry, although a few clear reasons stand out.
I was inspired to look into the struggles women face in the electronic music industry while writing my “From the Outside” column, which was the biweekly column I kept for about a year to document my journey of learning about electronic music. “Electronic music” is a term so broad that many people hate it, but it’s a sector of music that I think is worthwhile and interesting to talk about as a whole even though it can be broken down into countless subcategories and genres, just like hip-hop or metal. But while I was exploring the new-to-me world of EDM, I noticed that the vast majority of the conversations I had with electronic music fans centered around male artists. When I was recommended a new artist to listen to, like The Disco Biscuits or Shpongle, it was nearly always a male artist. When I explored the history of electronic music, the artists that were foundational to the genre seemed to be almost all male—at least, the ones that got credit for it were. It wasn’t until I specifically asked for information on female artists that I learned about some of the non-male talent in the industry. So I decided that I should start seeking out and celebrating the women who are improving the EDM industry, while also questioning the reasons why they rarely get the recognition they deserve.
One reason is the fact that since the tech industry is historically unwelcoming to women, a tech-based music industry is going to be unwelcoming as well. It starts in childhood: toys and entertainment aimed at boys often feature machines and electronics, while the girls’ side neglects the wonders of science, math, and technology. (I could get into a whole diatribe on the issues with gendered entertainment for kids, but I’ll save that for another post.) Schools, teachers, and parents lacking a progressive viewpoint tend to reinforce the idea that technology is for boys. For girls, it’s an uphill battle from the start.
Plenty of girls do see through the false rhetoric that says women and technology don’t mix, and go on to foster a career they were steered away from initially—but things don’t get easier from there. Women who decide to get into historically male-dominated sectors like anything involving computers—including electronic music—are often judged more harshly or by a different standard than men are. For women, physical appeal can be seen as a crucial factor for success, where as for guys good looks may be a plus but aren’t an essential factor. Hence the many lists of the “sexiest women in EDM” that get published. I refuse to link to any of those posts here because I don’t think they deserve the attention, but if you want proof, a simple Google search will do the trick.
Women also struggle to get the stage time they deserve once they’re in the music industry. Just as female comedians are often called “unfunny” for no reason other than their gender, female musicians are often considered novelties or pretty faces rather than genuine talent—so venues and festivals tend to overlook them when it comes to booking shows. And behind the scenes, women are less likely to receive the respect they’ve earned by working in the music industry at music magazines or record companies. Because we still live in a sexist society, everyone from fans to employers are indoctrinated in a system that sees men as more competent and important than women. It doesn’t mean that every individual who goes to a show or interviews a male artist over a female one is sexist. Society itself is the problem, but everyone is influenced by society, and women suffer from it.
But even in the face of all those challenges, many women are out here not just working, but succeeding, in the electronic music industry. They aren’t asking for special privileges because they’re female, and they don’t believe that succeeding in the face of adversity makes them special—they’re just doing it because they love it. And because one of the best ways to support amazing artists is to highlight their unique talent and share their stories, I’m launching a series of feature interviews with some of the top women in the EDM industry. In fact, I’ve already begun with this fabulous interview from metal-tinged electronica sensation Heavygrinder. These ladies are busy making art for the rest of us to enjoy, so the interviews will be largely short and sweet, but they will also be deeply personal, insightful, and unique to each individual. If you’re curious about all the different talent that’s out there and want to support women in an industry that often seems to exclude them, you might want to follow along.