Creating inclusive spaces in the electronic music scene

by Meg Wilhoite

Naming and understanding a problem makes it a potentially solvable one, right? If, for instance, you perceive that the electronic music scene excludes certain types of people, chances are you want to name the problem: The electronic music scene is not inclusive. You might also want to understand why it is not inclusive. Who is making it exclusive? Why are they making it exclusive? You might also have some suggestions for how to fix the problem.

This was the impetus for the creation of the FACTS survey by members of the female:pressure network in 2012. Members collect data on gender in electronic music festival line-ups to highlight the disparities in who is getting booked for festival sets. The survey report includes analysis of world regions, year-on-year data for individual festivals, and an overall analysis. The report also features a comparison with other contemporaneous gender studies and suggestions to festival organizers for creating a more inclusive culture.

Though the survey, performed every two years, has shown that festival organizers have made lineups more inclusive—in terms of gender—between 2012 and 2020, the latest analysis reveals that female and non-binary artists still only make up less than 25% of all lineups analyzed.

Thinking about inclusion

Before I continue with my story, I want to address the gender terminology used here. Though the FACTS survey uses three categories of gender—female, non-binary, and male—female:pressure defines itself broadly as a “network of women*, AFAB, transgender, transfeminine, transmasculine, intersex [+gender optional], genderqueer, gender nonconforming, a-gender and/or non-binary” artists working in electronic music and visual art.

As the volunteer project manager for the female:pressure FACTS survey, I spend a portion of each week thinking about the issue of gender inclusion in electronic music festival lineups. This work puts me within a large circle of other groups doing similar work in other fields. To be honest, I sometimes forget that not everyone is thinking about gender disparity on a near-daily basis, on the systemic level in particular.

Because of my focus on systems, it is often a nasty shock when I encounter an individual person in the electronic music scene who—consciously or subconsciously—does not consider people who identify as women and marginalized genders as full human beings worthy of consideration. Being a member of female:pressure and working several years now on the FACTS survey, I have cultivated my own network of people fighting against gender bias; there is no space in my network for people who aren’t grappling with the vile idea that one gender is superior to any other.

The truth is, working towards a more inclusive electronic music scene requires both a systemic-level and an individual-level approach, as I was reminded recently when I reached out to female:pressure members for their thoughts on inclusion.

Talking about inclusion

I recently asked several members of the female:pressure network to comment on exclusivity in the electronic music scene. Through FACTS currently focuses on gender data, I asked these artists more broadly about exclusivity: What problems have they encountered, and what changes would they like to see?

Kelli Frances Corrado, a songwriter, and producer from the U.S., wrote to me that, “the biggest obstacles I have witnessed [are a] lack of diversity within positions of power. I think if you have more BIPOC, female identifying and non-binary folks as bookers, promoters, and curators it would create more inclusivity.”

Tulpa Dusha, founder of Modular Moon | Modular Synthesis School, also noted systemic issues, citing the, “narrow-mindedness of politicians that are in charge,” and pointing out recent acts of police brutality on young people, many of them artists, in France.

SciFiSol, a female artist and live electronic performer from the U.S., also pointed to government failures, noting the, “complacency as to the importance of creating more diversity, and gatekeeping,” as well as a “lack of public funding available to promote initiatives for more diversity.”

Kleine Pía, a Latin female electronic music producer from Chile, wrote emphatically that the problem is, “the normalization of the status quo!!” She expounded on this, saying, “For many, it’s not convenient to take a deeper look. How people are hidden in their own privilege and blinded about patriarchy, abuse, harassment, colonization, cultural appropriation, etc. I guess the biggest obstacle is the fear of sharing, perceived as a way of loss.”

Aiko Okamoto, a visual artist, and DJ, also pointed to this fear of sharing resources, saying the problem originates with the objections “of privileged people, [who] try to protect” their position, or simply “just don’t give their space.”

Ramya Patnaik, a nonbinary trans independent sound artist who performs as “crylighter” and “holidaywife”, highlighted the problem of privilege in the way that it isolates the individual: “There are a number of obstacles at different stages that make the scene difficult for groups of people. Issues such as ignorance about gendered violence, isolation of survivors due to lack of trust and empathy in our accounts,” as well as “a lack of redress where unionizing is not seen or doesn’t itself have an inclusive agenda.”

Jacki-E, a DJ / Producer from the UK, also mentioned privilege and gendered abuse, noting that a big part of the problem are, “promoters who don’t acknowledge there is a need for inclusion,” and “people (almost always male) who drink too much alcohol and think it’s acceptable to try to pick up women by harassing them.”

Mediatrix, a London-based British-Indian composer, producer, and engineer, mentioned the music industry’s failings, saying the industry, “is not the easiest one to navigate and it’s challenging for everyone because it’s so competitive. However, the fact that only a minuscule amount of female identifying producers are breaking through and working commercially is a particular problem. This lack of opportunities and representation then perpetuates the problem and it becomes a cycle.”

La Mer, an Electronic Music Producer, DJ, Cellist and Composer, from Tel Aviv and based in The Hague, also highlighted the problem of too little representation in the industry, referring to her own childhood. Raised by parents who taught her to believe she could do anything, and exhibiting excellence as a musician from a young age, still, “somehow anything that had to do with creation remained ‘in the drawer’. After all, even when I was a teenager, I loved writing music, and I did, but at no point did I think it was something I could really do…It wasn’t until my friend invited me to join him in college for music production studies, only then I realized that it was possible.” Before this college experience, the idea of creating music wasn’t so much an unattainable dream as “it just wasn’t a dream because I didn’t even think of it as a possibility. Up until I started studying and creating, I didn’t even know any female composers or producers.” She concluded, “there’s no reason…for all women in the world to have to fight tooth and nail to get to the places they want, or at least not more than men have to. Personally, I’m exhausted of having to prove every time that not only I’m good at what I do, but that I’m the best at it. Because if you’re not the best, there are enough men who do the job as well as you do. And they’re men.”

AGF/poem producer wrote most succinctly about the root of the problem of exclusion in the electronic music scene: “self-involved white men.”

Making inclusion a reality

Now that we have described the problem, let’s consider how to move forward into a more inclusive electronic music scene. Notably, three of the respondents quoted above focused on creating safer spaces for marginalized voices. These responses resonated strongly with my experiences of harassment at live music shows, particularly when there is dancing involved, and echoed a need that groups like Safe Gigs for Women and Girls Against are endeavoring to address.

Jacki-E writes that events should have, “a zero-tolerance policy on people who are drunk and on harassment of women,” as well as, “bouncers to look for and clamp down on this behaviour by ejecting those who exhibit it,” and “publicity to shame these types of behaviours.”

Relatedly, Ramya Patnaik wrote, “I would like for there to be a more widespread and nuanced understanding of trauma, the layers of intersections that add to it. I would like to see more organization amongst marginalized voices where solutions that are survivor-centric are prioritized.”

And La Mer wrote that “the first thing that I dream of is that womxn would be treated better, personally by their colleagues, and be less judged as womxn and more as an artist. I used to work in several different fields and genres and the difference was very prominent—the more ‘mainstream’ you go, the worse women are treated. I say women but I mean flint and bipoc as well.”

Three members also mentioned diversity:

Kelli Francis Corrado wrote, “I would like to see more genre diversity at shows. The most successful shows I have seen and/or participated in incorporate many styles of music from many different communities. Music and art have the power to bring people together, I wanna see that embraced more.”

Similarly, SciFiSol wrote that she would like to see “proactive initiatives by promoters to ensure lineups are more diverse. Same for labels, publications, and other music industry venues,” and, “a development for the appreciation of alternative voices [i.e., not only white cis male] in electronic music as a way of understanding unique artistic perspectives in marginalized cultures.”

This sentiment was shared with AGF’s encouragement to, “center all marginalized people,” and Kleine Pía expressed a desire for, “the fall of the gatekeepers, so we can have a more global community.” Tulpa Dusha also referenced the problem of gatekeepers and the rights of artists, writing: “I want official acknowledgment of the underground scene as culture and complete stop of repression of tekno festivals, artists and performers. There must be a law protecting our rights.”

Mediatrix had advice for individuals in the scene: “I think it is important to help each other within our existing communities and at the grassroots. It can be seemingly simple things that have an impact such as sharing opportunities you hear about or recommending someone for a job or gig they might be suitable for. Also, try to connect with more people in a similar position to yourself. I’ve never really considered myself much of a joining person when it came to groups, but I have since realized the importance of this kind of connection in promoting further inclusion in the arts.”

Aiko Okamoto similarly wrote that individuals in the scene should, “keep believing in allies and support each other.”

A call for inclusion

What is clear to me—and perhaps you as well—after reading these artists’ responses, is that those in power must think about whom they include and exclude and work to make their spheres of influence safer and more equitable. Indeed, one of the intentions of the FACTS survey (and female:pressure itself) is to provide proof to those in positions of power that the electronic music scene is not equitable. And I mean any kind of power, whether you govern a city or run a small venue. Perhaps that is where to start if you are reading this and wondering how you can create a more inclusive scene: Ask yourself, over what do I have influence? Who trusts my recommendations? Many of us have more power and influence than we realize. This systemic reckoning, in addition to individual artists lifting each other up and standing up for each other in the scene (when it is safe to do so), will get us closer to an electronic music scene in which no individual is marginalized.

About the artists quoted in this article:

AGF poemproducer is a vocalist, musician, composer, producer, and new media artist. She was born and raised in East Germany. Her work explores speech and spoken word combined with electronic music. She also works on sound installations, moving images, audio visualization, and real-time video processing.

Jacki-E is a DJ / Producer from the UK. She has two weekly radio shows, A Darker Wave and Draw The Line Radio Show, and has had releases on Get Physical Music, Platz fur Tanz, DeepDownDirty, and Dead Groovy Music.

Kelli Frances Corrado is a Kelli Frances Corrado is a female identifying songwriter and producer from the U.S.

Kleine Pía is a Latin female electronic music producer from Chile.

La Mer is an Electronic Music Producer, DJ, Cellist, and Composer, from Tel Aviv and based in The Hague, The Netherlands. She combines her classical roots with her passion for electronic music and creates her own unique sound. She cherishes the idea that genre isn’t the important part of the music, but the flow and progress.

La Mer is one of De Zee Music’s founding members, a group that emphasises the focus on creative collaboration, rather than genre perfection. They hope to spread the word that genre isn’t the foundation, but the outcome.

Mediatrix is a London-based British-Indian composer, producer, and engineer.

Aiko Okamoto is a Berlin based VJ and DJ performing under the name Mo / Mo Chan / DJ Kohlrabi.

Ramya Patnaik is a nonbinary trans independent sound artist who performs under “crylighter” and “holidaywife”, and produces, composes, and mixes for a variety of projects both solo and collaborative.

SciFiSol is a female artist and live electronic performer from the West Coast, US.

Tulpa | Dusha are two audio projects, created by Anna Martinova, original from Baltic shores. Tulpa audio stories are night dance-oriented psychedelic techno improvisations. Dusha is the music, composed and sung by the girl. Both projects are played live with modular synthesis system and additional instruments. Tulpa is the founder of Modular Moon | Modular Synthesis School and co-author of the educational system, described in the Modular Sound Synthesis On The Moon, the book.

Author bio: Meg Wilhoite is an electronic musician and writer based in the U.S. She runs the eclectic music label death pillar records.

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