Are the tables turning? Return of rave culture promotes gender equality

Photograph: Brandon Erlinger-Ford/Unsplash

As the rave culture is celebrating a comeback among millennials, more and more female DJs are behind the decks, pushing the boundaries of a male-dominated industry.

In 2019, the ratio of female to male DJs in festival line-ups was 1 to 12. However, the electronic music scene has been undergoing some change. Female DJs are increasingly headlining at major dance events. Paul Grimmius, creative director at Paradigm, an alternative dance club that is located in an abandoned sugar factory in Groningen, confirms that the increase in female artists is indeed “a big thing”.

For Ilse Niessen it has been four years since she started out as a DJ. “Just before the Corona pandemic I started to play at bigger events more regularly,” she says. Ever since high school Niessen has been collecting records. “When I would go out with my friends as a teenager I was always really fascinated by what the DJ was doing in his booth,” she says.

With techno music having moved into a somewhat more mainstream realm, it seems that the gender inequality among artists behind the decks is being challenged. Expert Aaron Friedman, who is a DJ, producer, and event manager himself, recognizes that somewhat of a revolution  with regards to gender equality in the DJ booth has been set into motion.

However, there is still a great deal to be done. “Certainly there is still an underrepresentation of the female gender in the scene”, Friedman says. He clarifies that the root of this imbalance links back to gender stereotypes that are deeply ingrained in society as a whole. “There is still a double standard in terms of sexuality, which affects different areas of society, including the electronic music scene,” Friedman says. “Many successful, female DJs have to take a lot of criticism.”

Niessen confirms that female DJs are often reduced to merely their looks . “As a woman you get more sexualized in this industry,” she says. “One time I got asked by an event organizer to play for them because they felt like they needed a female DJ in their line-up.” In the end Niessen didn’t play at the gig. “I don’t want to be asked to perform just because I’m female, I want to be booked because people like what I do.”

However, at this point there doesn’t seem to be a satisfactory solution. “It really is a dilemma,” Friedman admits. “The issue is not going to be resolved simply by artificially boosting female representation. When I book artists I try to make the line-up as diverse as possible but in the end what it comes down to is talent. If there are no female DJs available, what’s the alternative?”

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