Meet The Girls-Only DJ Collectives That Are Taking Over The Scene

Sexism in music is the oldest story there is. Still, sometimes it takes us by surprise when we look at the lineups of the big upcoming summer music festivals, or ads from local clubs, and how few women (if any) appear. What century is this?

Ask any female DJ how their work differs from their male counterparts, and it's almost like you can see them playing back Samantha Bee's Full Frontal opening skit in their heads while your question drones into, "What's it like to be a female woman?"

"As a DJ who happens to be female, we often get this question, and we just freaking — aaaah! It kills us," Sky Deep, an American-born, Berlin-based DJ and audio engineer, told Refinery29. "In general, you just want to be respected as a technician and as an artist. It's not cool for some guy to reach over and touch the decks or touch the mixer while I'm working, as if I don't know what to do. It doesn't happen all the time but it's annoying."

Lately, however, groups of female-identifying DJs have been taking matters into their own hands. All over the world, they're forming collectives to provide each other with the support they're not receiving from a largely patriarchal industry. Some are small, local groups who perform together, and help each other book gigs or organize club nights. Others exist solely in the virtual world, hosting mixes by female artists on streaming radio sites. And some reach across all borders, connecting DJs in real life and online for a variety of projects, both musical and political.
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"I find that we have to support each other, work together, pool resources. Because in most cases, no individual artist has a full set of resources needed to make the impact that we want to," Sky Deep said of belonging to global collective female:pressure.

The groups listed ahead aren't just supporting each other; they're making noise. Soon, no festival or talent booker will be able to say they don't know of any qualified women who deserve to share the bill.
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Photo: Eli Eichler.
female:pressure
Who They Are:
Started in 1998 by musician and DJ Electric Indigo, female:pressure counts 1700 DJs, producers, composers, visual artists, musicians, journalists and researchers among its members from 65 different countries. They're all in a database on the site — take that, lazy talent bookers who can't find any women — as well as on Tumblr.

How They've Experienced Sexism In Music:
Just take a look at these pie charts showing the ratio of men to women represented in music festivals.

How They Help Each Other:
"A lot of the projects that pop up are very spontaneous and individual, and whoever wants to jump on can jump on," Sky Deep explains of the collective, which communicates via an email list. "In some cases, because we're a network which we hear about what each other is doing, if the vibe matches between two parties, cool things pop up like DJ bookings or joint events. Sometimes we're just volunteering and helping someone else out with their event." They've organized the Perspectives Festival twice in Berlin, and on a smaller level, Sky Deep says, "We all stay in touch and give each other advice and have coffees when we can if we live in the same place."

Where To Hear Them:
Sky Deep is one of the members involved in the group's efforts to raise money and awareness for the women of Rojava, in Western Kurdistan. "We're raising awareness about the women fighters there who are creating their own society in like a stateless democracy," she explained. Hear several of the compilations members have made for the project here. You can also find Sky Deep's music on her own label, Reveller Records.
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Photo: Courtesy of BORN n BREAD.
BORN n BREAD
Who They Are:
Five childhood friends from South London (pictured from left to right: Chika Wilson, Stephanie Sesay, Abigail Jackson, Olivia Jackson and Adelaide Lawson) who first began their group as a zine. "We formed Born n Bread in 2013, during a time when we just didn't see ourselves in media, so we created our zine to have a space where we can discuss everything from nostalgic moments to current issues and music," they told Refinery29 via email. Being young, Black women is integral to the hip-hop, R & B, grime, and trap they spin. "It's innate within us. Growing up in our generation and surroundings, we were automatically immersed by these sounds, we love it! We had our cousins sharing grime beats with us, our parents blasting hi-life, slow jams and jazz and Choice FM and MTV Base (The Late Lick Show), introducing us to the best in commercial R & B and hip-hop."

How They've Experienced Sexism In Music:
"We feel as though when you're a female DJ, you're expected to play all the bubblegum pop, R & B, and hip-hop, instead of the hard-hitting underground trap and grime," they wrote. "You're expected to wear tight fitted clothes, look delicate and sweet, and people don't expect you to sweat. It's always a surprise to the crowd when they see us in the booth. We love to get down, move with the crowd and sweat along to our jams, enjoying the music. As female DJs, staff members and managers sometimes think you can't set up your own equipment. It's that feeling like women always need help, when in actual fact, we're fine."

How They Help Each Other:
All five women work together on their zine and are always billed as one for their online and live events.

Where To Hear Them:
The BORN n BREAD show streams live on NTS.live at 12 p.m. GMT one Saturday a month, you can find them on Mixcloud.com, and check their Facebook page for gigs at venues like London record store Rye Wax.
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Photo: Courtesy of Discwoman.
Discwoman
Who They Are:
Christine Tran, Frankie Hutchinson, and Emma Burgess-Olson (pictured, left to right) founded their New York-based platform and booking agency in 2014, beginning with a party at Brooklyn, NY's Bossa Nova Civic Club. They represent only cis female, trans, and gender queer DJs, and have brought their talent to parties in Boston, Detroit, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Montreal, and most recently to Miami's Winter Music Conference and a four-night stint in California. Their clients include DJ Haram, Volvox, Umfang (the DJ name of founder Burgess-Olson), and Bearcat.

How They've Experienced Sexism In Music:
"Most of the misogyny I experience is very subtle, like people being surprised I'm smart and that we made Discwoman, LOL," Hutchinson told Refinery29 via email.

How They Help Each Other:
"We can nourish each other, growth without fear of being laughed at when we make mistakes," Hutchinson said of the benefits of being an all-female collective. Since Discwoman started, "Things have definitely improved, but the women we rep and work with have been working for years, so they really formed Discwoman and inspired us to create this." For things to change further, however, Hutchinson said it's not just up to the artists. "Bookers need to book more women and stop seeing that as risky," she said.

Where To Hear Them: The question might soon be, "Where can't you hear them?" In the meantime, find their mixes on Soundcloud and upcoming parties on their Facebook feed, and Discwoman.com.
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Photo: Courtesy of TUF.
TUF
Who They Are:
They began as a Facebook group of nine women in Seattle just over a year ago, and have grown into a collective of female and non-binary promoters, curators, visual artists, DJs, producers, sound engineers, writers and designers. "The [Facebook] group was a place for us to share music and information about females in electronic music — we would share thoughts, tracks, and articles," Sharlese Metcalf, host of KEXP's Audioasis show, and Cecilia Corsano-Leopizzi, the marketing director and co-curator of Decibel Festival Action Potential, told Refinery29 via email. "We all were adding our friends into the group and at one point, we noticed that we went from nine to 20. Then someone saw a need for it to become a serious collective. All of us in the group were not only interested in music, but working in the NW music community in some way, so it seemed like a nice fit." Now they organize events, workshops, and skill shares. Some of the artists involved are Raica, Natasha Kmeto, Bardo:Basho, and Emily Cripe of Youryoungbody.

How They've Experienced Sexism In Music: While in general, Metcalf and Corsano-Leopizzi say that Seattle is much more welcoming of women, and less competitive than other cities' music scenes, sexism is still there. "For every three people that think a female non-binary person is awesome, there is always one in the bunch that says or does something that isn't right — that can be anything from going up to the person playing and touching the mixer, telling them their highs are too loud, to being told that they’re not a DJ for some various reason," they wrote to us. "It’s almost as if females are not even looked at or maybe they’re just forgotten about or just not respected enough to receive the due diligence that is deserved. A female non-binary DJ has to prove themselves before [being] respected, whereas men are honored on their 'potential.' It is not just given, and without gender meaning to play a role, favoritism and lack of awareness automatically falls into a male-dominated scene."

How They Help Each Other:
"We all come together to provide strength in numbers and lift up one another, because the voice of many is louder than one," they said. "The kind of support that female DJs need is to share experiences, to teach [each] other the things they want to know more about, to give each other experiences in the field and advice on how to handle personal and business experiences that we may have questions or concerns about. To find out about the things we have in common or to just show up to a show that one of us has curated or is playing to offer support and soothe nerves. It’s about camaraderie, love, respect, and admiration, mainly because it feels good and helps strengthen, inspire, and motivate to be more and fly!"

Where To Hear Them:
Though they say TUF tries to inhabit "DIY, non-official spaces in order to maintain the ability to control how safe the spaces are," you can find members performing at several official venues, such as Kremwerk, Chop Suey, and Re-Bar. Hit up their Facebook page for the latest.
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Photo: Via instagram.
Siren London
Who They Are: With the motto, "No bullshit, just dancing," this London group of DJs, musicians, producers, journalists, and other industry professionals seeks to "normalise diversity" in lineups and behind the scenes, according to member Eve Fairley-Chickwe's recent essay on Gal-Dem.com. "At Siren, we wish to be inclusive of all marginalized genders outside of the current cis male dominated scene by creating a platform that gives visibility to systematically underrepresented women." They have a zine, host parties, and stream mixes online.

How They've Experienced Sexism In Music:
Siren echoes the same frustration as their fellow collectives at the lack of female and female-identifying representation in clubs and festivals. Fairley-Chickwe adds that there's another layer of exclusion experienced by women of color in the industry. "For me as a woman of colour (WoC), tackling misogynoir and the [fetishization] of WoC within dance spaces is specifically important. Being a woman of colour in predominantly white spaces often comes with verbal and physical microaggressions from unwanted comments like, 'Yeah, but where are you from, from though?' to unwanted hands right up in your hair."

How They're Helping Each Other:
By hosting parties for female artists, publishing their thoughts on the zine, and publicizing their "Safer Spaces Policy," which offers zero tolerance for harassment or discrimination of any kind.

Where To Hear Them:
Listen to their Radio shows on Mixcloud and watch their Facebook for gigs at spaces like London's Rye Wax.
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Photo: Courtesy of
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