Scrutinizing Vienna’s nightlife – let’s talk about sexual harassment, diversity and visibility. Hannah Christ is facing and challenging the status quo of techno culture.
When it comes to gender equality, techno culture seems to remain reactionary since decades to a great extent. There is a serious shortage of female DJs and producers present among both line ups and music media, even though women have been making electronic music since its very beginning.
You might think that this is simply based on merit rather than tokenism, that artists should only be selected based on their music and not on their gender. But first, we would need equal selection opportunities which currently do not exist. Often enough patriarchal structures, ignorance or simply the lack of knowledge, awareness and role models lead to the disregarding of female identified and ethnically diverse talent. Furthermore, there are fundamental differences between female and male experiences when it comes to djing, producing and going out. From personal experience and conversations with other female DJs, producers and music lovers, I could present endless stories of sexism, harassment and assault.
Just recently, performances at Boiler Room from Toxe and Nightwave were accompanied by a shitstorm of sexist comments. The good news is that following both of these incidents, Boiler Room stated that they will no longer tolerate this type of behaviour and in response they will hire extra staff to crack down on such comments. The bad news however is that these sexist opinions exist in the first place and that the majority of music events don’t book equally at all, as you can see for example here, here and here.
Let’s face it: dance music has a sexism problem. And I wondered, how does my own little cosmos look like? Does the booking of Viennese event collectives look any different from that? My feelings weren’t good, but I wanted proof. So I started to analyse Viennese nightlife.
A statistic about the booking behaviour of Vienna’s leading event collectives
First of all, it is important to understand that I couldn’t analyse the entire nightlife of Vienna. The choice of where to go out in Vienna is often down to which event collective offers a party and not so much which club to go to or which DJ plays. So the results only apply for some crucial event collectives of Vienna which include: Alles wird Gut, Ascending Waves, Basic Rhythm (Discus Throwers), Bande à part (Prasselbande), Bliss, Canyoudigit, Deep Baked, Erdbahnkreuzer, F*cken Plus, Funkroom, Gassen aus Zucker, Glow, Kanal Royal, Kein Sonntag ohne Techno, Maschinenraum, Meat Market, Meuterei, Mode Talking, Pomeranze, Salon 2000, Scheitern, Struma + Iodine, Techno Sonntag, Turbo, Verkehrte Welt, Vihanna, Wechselstrom, Wiener Endorphine and Zuckerwatt.
The criteria which had to be fulfilled to be incorporated into the statistic were: (1) the event collective has to have a Facebook page with more than 500 likes, (2) the event collective makes parties on a regular basis, (3) the event collective focuses musically mainly on house, techno, wave, bass, experimental electronic music and some subgenres in between.
Furthermore, I didn’t want to analyse music scenes where I personally don’t go (like the goa, drum and bass or tek scene) as I can’t write about something which I’m not familiar with. So please consider: this is a subjective selection of a scene I am more or less familiar with since 2010.
The statistics were calculated by counting male and female main and local acts in the Facebook events published by the event collectives over the last two years (July 2014 – July 2016). In the end there were 2966 counted artists. Locals were defined as “artists who perform regularly in Vienna, are based in Vienna or are members of a Viennese collective.” Main acts were defined as the “headliners of an event who are not based in Vienna or are not members of a Viennese collective.” A drop out quote of 3.1% has to be considered, as the gender of all acts couldn’t be identified. The analysed Viennese promoters booked only 9.3% female identified artists, thereof 1.6% main acts and 7.7% local acts. Please click here to see the more detailed results for all 29 event collectives.
Interestingly, the booking of event collectives that booked zero or almost zero (≤ 5%) female identified artists was done exclusively by men. Incidentally, this is the case of every second event collective. The three event collectives which booked a more or less equalised have also or exclusively women in their team. May this be one reason why the numbers look like that? This would be tragic, as an equalised booking shouldn’t only be the concern of women. Resolving the gender gap is a mission that we must all undertake.
The general excuse for the dominant male booking is: “There are not enough women, there are just much more men we can book” (…“especially for our genre”). It might be true that there are more popular male DJs, but most of all, the statistical numbers are symptoms of an iniquitous system. And relatively speaking, this ’excuse’ is not logical at all: on average each event collective has booked only 20 main acts in the last two years (570 total main bookings divided by 29 event collectives). Looking at these numbers for Vienna, the task to have a more equal booking seems ridiculously easy and manageable – a 50% quota would be reached by finding ten female identified artists. This is why I also want to refrain from the common opinion that developing equal line ups would be difficult.
The much appreciated event series “Bliss“ booked almost completely equalised (49 % men and 51 % female identified artists) and thereby prove that this is realisable and doesn’t lead to a lack of line up quality. Talking to the main woman behind Bliss (Marlene Engel), I wanted to know if this quota emerged intentionally. It might be surprising to many people that it was never Marlene and her crew’s intention to reach this kind of result. Creating the line ups for their events they would never think specifically to book a certain number of female identified artists. It rather emerges from the musical aspiration for the evening and the homogeneity of the line up. Marlene claims that if you devote yourself to contemporary electronic music it would be almost impossible to not book female identified artists. To create exciting events, you would always need to look further – behind the hyped, Eurocentric and male dominated system. The most interesting content she finds in minority artists who stand at the edge of this system.
I will continue to analyse selected events on a regular basis. This shouldn’t come across as a hateful threat; this is one step closer to making this issue more visible. A step to encourage you to think more about contemporary electronic music, diversity and equality. And of course, I want to see if there can be some change during time.
“There are not enough women to book” or the creation of femdex
“There are not enough women to book” – the justification of many bookers is in my opinion misleading, ignorant and not true. But how can I prove this and how can I enable change? I can’t persuade every booker personally. This is why I started to research and do a list which should disprove this quote. The list is more or less based on the genres the different event collectives offer at their parties; considering the bookings of the last two years. Every single event collective should find at least 10 female identified artists fitting in their musical cosmos. Furthermore, it was important to me that the list involves Viennese and a lot of “small” or overlooked acts to support their talent and fight for their visibility. The list grew very fast and the discoveries were striking, which is why I thought it would be a shame to just be left with a simple document of that. The list should become a tool, which is convenient for bookers and so www.femdex.net evolved: a database where you can easily explore these artists by searching for names, labels or genres, listen to their sound- or mixclouds and directly write an email to their booking contact. On Facebook, femdex introduces you to mixes and tracks of the listed artists and keeps you updated about different female identified content in the music cosmos.
At this point I also need to thank my friends for their support with everything concerning the work of this article; the contribution of statistics and the website. Furthermore, I want to indicate that Susanne Kirchmayr aka Electric Indigo established with female:pressure a similar but much more extensive project already in 1998, which should be used for this purpose as well. With her kind encouragement, femdex serves as yet another medium to boost visibility and more diverse booking.
Sexual harassment in the electronic music scene
Besides the exclusion of female talent in line ups and media, I’d like to talk about another issue which is ubiquitous in the electronic music scene. Unfortunately nightclubs still seem to be a hotspot for unwanted sexual advances. It actually happens so often that many women feel it’s just part of the game of going out and that complaining is futile. A Nightclub offers an easy job for harassers, as it is dark, loud, crowded and people are there for having fun. When I’ve rebuked guys they pretend that it was unintentional, react with shaming or become even more penetrating. Almost every time I need to state very clearly that I want to be left alone. This means I am forced to use aggressive language, need the help from my friends or change places several times. I also often feel I just shouldn’t “make a big deal about it”, it’s not worth to argue or report it as I am there for enjoy dancing and do not want to destroy my night.
Nevertheless, me and everyone else should report sexual harassment to the staff. The venue should thereby offer an atmosphere where this is easily possible, for example train their staff or hire extra guards and making it very visible that sexual harassment is not tolerated.
Sexual harassment is defined as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that tends to create a hostile or offensive environment”. I asked 68 persons between 18 and 32, who go out regularly, if they were ever sexually harassed (by this definition) at an electronic music party. 98% (!) of the women answered yes and about one in two experiences it on a regular basis (47% = every time/almost every time/often; 53% = sometimes/rarely). Worth mentioning, 53% of the men answered yes as well, but they experience it less frequent (0% = every time/almost every time/often; 100% = sometimes/rarely/one time only).
Many people I’ve talked to about sexual harassment tell me that the boundary between harassment and a simple hit on are minor. I do hold against that. There are respectful ways to make a move on somebody and it is also not hard to understand if your counterpart is flattered or irritated by your advances. And yes, even if you are on drugs, as this should never serve as a decent excuse. “No means no”; anytime, anywhere. So what also really needs to change isn’t just how women respond to harassment or how clubs deal with it, but how some people behave in the first place.
Techno culture advocated from its very first years love, unity, equality and sexual freedom. Reading through quotes of the book “Techno” by Philip Anz & Patrick Walder, I could sense the immense relief of women at the time techno evolved. Finally it was possible to go in a club, just dance and not fear the touch, patter or gaze of men. Back then techno used to change the stereotypes of how men and women behaved in a nightclub.
But unfortunately, with the popularity of a scene the initial values often get lost. The techno culture got bigger and bigger, and simultaneously the number of people who do not appreciate these values and the music grew as well. That is not anyone’s fault; the fault is not do anything against that. It is important to remember that techno culture has been inherently political. So when do we start to bring back social responsibility to raves? Is it just me or have really good parties become a rarity? Unfortunately, even a high-quality booking doesn’t guarantee anymore that you’ll get a high-quality night. Because besides the problem of sexual harassment, the dance floors also became infiltrated by all those people killing vibes by standing around, talking nonstop, taking pictures or looking at their cell phones etc. This is both disrespectful towards the artists and the dancers. There is enough space in a club besides the dance floor made for such things, why not use it? I will never understand this.
I personally just know one club where the majority usually still appreciates the initial values and where the dance floor is still somehow something sacred. There, I can dress and dance like I want, but not fear unpleasant advances or that I am reduced to my gender and physical appearance. This provides a tremendous freedom which is the key ingredient for a proper rave.
However, to undertake the whole issue it would go beyond the constraints of this article. I remain wondering why there haven’t been more serious actions taken against that. Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that Werk, Fluc and Rhiz managed some steps in the right direction against harassment and that such consequences are urgently necessary.
All-female line ups
Now and then you can see all-female line ups popping up in the event jungle. On the first hand you might think that this is an empowering and cool thing, but if you look deeper this is not always fostering equality. Recently Courtesy broached this issue in the Telekom Electronic Beats Magazine, together with some colleagues as you can read here.
Furthermore, Elissa Stolman claims in an interview with Sasha Perera that it is important but not always easy to distinguish between tokenism and an honest effort to foster equality. Most of all, women shouldn’t feel alienated and being booked only because of their gender. As feminism becomes more popular and promoting events with that is easy and trendy, it often seems like a calculated move to appear progressive but only when it will benefit to do so. There’s a huge danger that the issue will be exploited without really helping in the long run. But line ups with many female identified artists shouldn’t be an alien, exotic or trendy thing. It should become a norm.
Discjanes and discjohns
However, exploitation can also sometimes be easily recognized, for instance when the female DJs are promoted as ‘djanes’. This buzzword should be deleted from the vocabulary but I still read it over and over again although it is both sexist, misleading and makes no sense. The word ‘DJ’ emerges from the word discjockey. Even if not every DJ is automatically playing with discs (records) anymore, female DJs are certainly just as little discjanes as male DJs are discjohns. Language has a tremendous impact on our way of thinking and by using this term you automatically sexualise and minimise female DJs.
“Visibility is everything”
Marea Stamper aka The Black Madonna was just recently speaking about her personal experiences and thoughts of women in dance music during a movie of the Resident Advisor series “Between the beats” and said: “Why didn’t occur to me to start djing until I was old enough to drink? [21 A/N] I was partying since I was 14. I loved dance music more than anyone. I knew more about it than most of my guy friends. I was always, always completely invested in that universe. It never even crossed my mind. Why? Because I just didn’t see it. I didn’t see images of women doing it.”
After saying this from the off while you can see her djing, after this gig a young woman comes towards her, hugging her and saying: “That was such an inspiration”. Something which is familiar to me as well (as guest and as DJ). The Black Madonna goes on saying: “Visibility does matter (…). If we grew up in a world where little girls have seen a black president and a woman president, that is gonna change – regardless of the policies or what you think about them – that is gonna change how those little girls view the whole world. (…) Because visibility is everything. And if you hadn’t had it, you know how important it is.” Solaris, resident DJ of IFZ, mentioned the same on a panel discussion: although she always was obsessed with music, went to techno events and hung out with (male) DJs, the idea to start djing herself came much later after she saw a female DJ for the first time and was asked explicitly why she doesn’t start to spin her records.
It is important to understand that specific positions always need visible role models because “you can’t be what you can’t see” to quote American activist Marian Wright Edelman.
The professional beauty qualification
Later in the Resident Advisor movie you see Marea washing down her make up and speaking about another problem women still have to deal with these days: “For women in this industry, as in all industries, there is an additional component, which is the professional beauty qualification, to quote Naomi Wolf. (…) In addition to have all those other skills that men have, you also kind of expect that women will keep up a certain facade and beauty. (…) I am not conventionally pretty. (…) I’m fine with it but the world isn’t fine with it. When I did open up the mail and I see a picture of myself on the cover of a real honest to god magazine [Trax A/N], (…) it was a heavy thing for a lot of women who are not good at that game that we’re supposed to be good at. (…) Seeing images that look like many different body types and many different ages is a very powerful thing.”
But as always the opinions and consequences about how women look or dress are manifold and contradictory. Because what if you look too feminine, too sexy, too pretty? You often get reduced to that or even told that you are just successful because you look a certain way. The profession, dancing or other behaviour of women gets sexualised and objectified all the time. Personally I try to dress not too sexy when I’m having a gig because I want the music and not my physics to matter during my performance. Nevertheless, I actually like to dress feminine or sexy and if it gets really hot I like to wear less. But I always have to fear the responses while both djing or dancing. Sometimes I imagine how awesome it would be just to have the freedom to play topless and it would be totally fine and normal (as it is for my dear colleagues from Herrensauna for example). But this seems so, so far away from now. I remember that a friend of mine once told me even if she goes record shopping, she doesn’t dare to dress feminine. Asking her for the reasons, she said she would fear that people don’t take her seriously, that they would think she’s faking something. Other women told me that they repeatedly got hit on by their male DJ colleagues or that collaborative music projects failed because of that. The list of similar stories would be endless.
I do not want to say that all men involved in this scene are sexist, but still – all these thoughts and stories do have their roots. They refer to a severe double standard and show that women are still under an enormous pressure how to behave or dress.
I just doubt that many men had to fight with responses and issues because of their appearance or gender during their music careers. Or can you imagine men asking themselves: “Am I too ugly to be marketable; to be on a cover of a music magazine? Do I dress too sexy for this gig/to go dancing? Do I look too masculine to go record shopping?”
Creating a new future
So what can we do to change the circumstances and create more equality? I doubt there is a master plan to change a thirty-year-old male dominated music history. But there are certain aspects which are important, if we’ll try:
To create a stronger visibility for female identified artists, they need to be booked and promoted. In the best case this will additionally result in the rise of female newcomers as one barrier is a distinct lack of role models. But therefore the aspiration of the bookers (of events, radio shows, interviews, etc.) must change first. Even if assembling line ups can be complex and involve many different and often competing factors, bookers should be aware of their power and thereby be committed to take a step forward – also if this sometimes might increase the work load and risk-taking. Social transitions were and are almost always linked with ambition, effort and risks.
There are many ways of taking action. What would be important is that people will offer platforms for things like: workshops, panel discussions, open decks sessions, rehearsal rooms, (for example the club Conne Island in Leipzig offers a rehearsal room for female DJs and VJs), establish a elaborated, proactive and visible zero tolerance policy against sexual harassment, etc.
Furthermore, this should not go unmentioned: plausible but controversial would be a female quota. Deterrent for many people I’d like to give you an example where the quota works quite well: The line up policy of the Berlin club ://about blank requires at least one female identified artist per event. This quite manageable and unaggressive quota led to a strong establishment in the scene of many extraordinary artists who might have been overlooked without that.
During my research and work for this I talked to many women. What I’ve noticed were especially three things: Anger (of the prevailing circumstances), relieve (that someone is doing something against them) and the wish to talk to and connect with other women. Solidarity and networking have always been important key ingredients for minority groups to achieve something. It can be really encouraging to speak up and get engaged once there is a platform to do so. This is one reason why I founded a Facebook group where we can connect, support each other, discuss ideas and share music. Search for the group “femdex” on Facebook or click here if you want to get involved.
Information usually creates awareness. So the first step to approach something is to get informed, acknowledge the problem and start to spread the word. There are tons of magazines, blogs and other websites or tools which you can use to stay updated. Therefore, www.femdex.net also offers a collection of links and updates you on Facebook with interesting hints.
(5) Extinguish patriarchal boundaries
I dispute that there are less talented female identified artists. I think that there are just less people to book and promote them. Because many night clubs, event or other organisations in the music industry are patriarchal structured or work after the buddy-system. And ask yourself: who is mainly sitting at the box office, toilets or serving drinks at the bar and who is sitting in the actual office? Stop the nepotism and hire or involve women not only for the dirty jobs. A diverse program emerges easily when there is a diverse team standing behind it.
“Can you imagine if movies only had men in them?”
Not only I want to offer the femdex project; I also gladly offer my knowledge which I gained in the last 3 months to any promoter who would like to have guidance. After all, I also need to admit that I am much wiser than I was before. There are so many artists, collectives, platforms and tools I haven’t known. And we all make mistakes; admitting and learning from them is the key. Going through my records, playlists and mixes at the beginning of this, there were rarely female artists involved. And now there are still more men. Making a change will be an ongoing process. So finally I want to quote Marea Stamper again, as she puts the issue in a nutshell by saying: “Any of us that are lucky enough to be part of the underground electronic dance music, we do have our responsibility to share certain values about race, class, gender, economic equality, everything. All of those things are built into dance music. (…) Can you imagine if movies only had men in them? What if movies only had two percent women? It would make for a completely strange story. And right now, when you look at these festival line ups, they have almost exclusively men participating. That means, we’re missing out on all those songs. Whatever we can do to get women into the process of making music. That’s gonna change things. (…) I’m really looking forward to what the next few years look like. When those songs come to be.”
Nevertheless I’ve also noticed that a dialogue of this has become more present and the advantages of social media and platforms like Soundcloud are crucial to promote visibility. The time couldn’t be better for a change and there are already marvellous collectives like Discwoman, Siren, Apeiron Crew, Salt + Sass, TGAF, Mint, Uniti and Creamcake, which are encouraging equality.
Also high-quality festivals such as CTM, Norbergfestival, Volt, TodaysArt or Tuffest prove that presenting a great number of female identified artists is a thriving venture.
And in the end, when female identified artists and promoters are included equally in the music business this yet can only enhance and foster the electronic music scene.
Text by Hannah Christ
Illustrations by Valentina Brković
Edited by Claire Mouchemore
Photos: Solid Blake, Mama Snake and Smokey (self-made); Félicia Atkinson by Miriam Bettin; Kate Miller by Sarah Chav‘; LCC by Albert Miralles; Paula Temple by Gaétan Clément (Photographe Lyon); Chikiss (self-made); Lena Willikens and Sarah Szczesny by Benedict Lohnert