Ash Lauryn on women in dance music, then and now.
Let's take it back to 2011, my first time back home in Detroit for Movement Festival since moving to Atlanta (the last time I had attended was in 2005). While living in Atlanta I got hip to the local scene through their famous House In The Park festival, and my first experience at House In The Park in 2010 inspired me to take the voyage back to Detroit for Movement in 2011. That particular year was the first time I experienced the festival as an adult and as someone who was well versed in the history of electronic music made in Detroit. My early festival years were about fun and games; the latter years about passion and a deep desire to contribute. Those latter years, beginning with my experience in 2011, are exactly what inspired me as a (black) woman to want to get more involved.
After doing a quick search of 2011's festival lineup, it's quite mind-blowing to see the ratio of men to women performers. Out of the dozens of names listed on the flyer, fewer than ten women were included. At the time, though, this was the norm for almost every single electronic music festival out there, and despite the lack of women on the lineup, Movement 2011 still felt incredibly authentic and featured tons of Detroit artists. I do remember thinking to myself that there was a noticeable lack of women, and "next generation" black artists DJing and producing music, which is when I started toying with the idea of DJing. I was asking myself questions like, "Who's going to be the future DJ Minx or DJ Cent?" These questions inspired much of my career, as I felt like it was my civic duty to get involved. I wanted to represent for not only women, but for black women, as our experiences are not always one and the same.
As the decade progressed, slowly but surely conversations about women and visibility in the industry came to the fore. That lack of visibility helped catalyse the rise of DJ collectives created to empower women, minorities and members of the genderqueer and LGBTQ communities. Discwoman, founded in 2014, was the first of those collectives that I became familiar with. I later learned of other groups that popped up around that time, including Detroit's Saraphine Collective. Fast-forward to today and we see many other trailblazing collectives on the scene, like BBZ out in London and Berlin's Room 4 Resistance.
Personally, I always felt like I got involved in DJing at the perfect time, a time when women were finally being uplifted… and booked for that matter! Getting the opportunity to work with crews like Discwoman, first contributing to their mix series, then playing their event in Detroit, really helped boost the early days of my career. Working with my Atlanta-based DJ crew Deep South, founded by Vicki Powell, was also another factor in my success story. These opportunities made me realize how important their roles as women in the industry were, because they weren't only helping me, but also many other women and artists coming from marginalized groups. Women in electronic music were finally staking their claim.
Following the rise of collectives and the active rise of women in the industry, 45 music festivals vowed to book gender-balanced lineups by 2022. Some found this refreshing, while others questioned why the initiative needed to take place over the course of years, when (in their opinion) it could be accomplished in much less time. This I agree with, as there is truly no shortage of talented women, trans and non-binary artists out there. The fact of the matter is that the industry is still run by privileged, white, cis men, and to make effective change we need to see more women and minorities in high places—and not just as producers and DJs, but also as club bookers, booking agents, marketing managers, music writers, etc. As I mentioned, as much positive change as there's been, there is still work to be done.
I know that some of you will read this thinking that music isn't about gender, sexuality or race, but not all of us have had a fair shot at this thing we call house and techno—including those of us coming from the very communities that created this music. While the world has indeed seen a rise of women in electronic music, it is still mostly white women in the high positions (besides the obvious non-white favorites like Jayda G, Peggy Gou or Honey Dijon.) Now I will not lie and fake like my personal experience as a black woman and DJ has been a bad one, because it hasn't been, but I also know not everyone's experience has been or will be like mine. I've been blessed in my short career, but also know that I am not exempt from the bullshit. Trust me, I've dealt with the typical "she only gets booked because she's pretty" nonsense, which doesn't really bother me as it comes with the territory of being a woman in a successful position. Shame that some can never admit when it's simply talent.
Do I think my gender has helped my career, seeing as I emerged at a time when people were finally starting to pay attention to women producers and DJs? Yes, but I also know what I bring to the table aside from just being a woman, and I sleep well at night confident in my skills as a DJ, writer and woman in dance music. The energy and vibe that women bring to the table is simply unmatched, and I think many realized that over the past decade. It's important that we remain visible because visibility can inspire future generations. When I first got hip to dance music it kind of went without saying that basically all of the DJs were men (this went for DJs in others genres as well). The 2010s gave DJ culture a much-needed shift, and now women, trans and non-binary artists all have relatable heroes to look up to. It's a beautiful thing.
As we proceed into 2020 and beyond, I have high hopes for the future of women in the industry. I've seen and experienced first-hand women supporting and advocating for one another in droves, and this will be a key to our future successes—simply supporting one another. It also appears that some of the people in power are finally pulling their heads out their asses, and that too is a plus. If you happen to be a woman, trans or non-binary artist trying to break into the industry, don't ever let anyone discourage you or tell you something isn't possible. Use that awesome tool that is the internet to connect with other artists such as yourself. From radio stations to mix series, booking agencies and more, there are opportunities out there readily available to you. That is a lot more than we could say at the beginning of the last decade, so go out there and get it.
The time is now.