The secret life of a DJ: a joyous job in a grimly misogynistic industry

Illustration by Michael Driver

The entertainment industry is a difficult place in which to carve out a career, and attempting to navigate this patriarchal, charlatan-filled landscape is all the more trying as a young female. I am a successful DJ, play all over the world and have won various awards for my work. I love what I do. But I loathe the music business.

Dance music for the most part is a boys’ club: tech geeks pressing buttons in darkened rooms, or ultra-macho pseudo rock stars strutting their stuff, accessorised by half-naked podium dancers. As such it is an unregulated, unadulterated hub of misogyny. Of course a few token women break through but you only need to look at a festival or club lineup to see how infrequently it happens.

I am relatively well-known and have worked in the business for almost a decade, filling clubs, doing the festival circuit and touring with some of the biggest names on the scene. And yet I have experienced repeated incidents of chauvinism and condescension, especially when trying to discuss my fees and terms with those behind the scenes. It’s a dog-eat-dog industry and although there is a veneer of camaraderie, it is merely that. If you don’t fit into the lads’ gang, life is much more difficult. And there’s no such sorority among female DJs.

You may ask why I continue to work in a field in which I find the conditions so unpleasant. Simply because nothing compares to the buzz of mixing tracks, bouncing around on stage for hours on end, and the energy and oneness I feel with the crowd. Engaging with thousands of strangers who are “having moments”, transcending social barriers, and making memories through the joy of music is my high. Of course I enjoy the afterparties too, but I don’t involve myself in any negative aspects of the scene. Drugs are out there and young people are prone to experiment but they’re not as prominent as they once were.

I eat, sleep and breathe my career. I follow a strict regime of running, resistance training and yoga to ensure that I am performance-fit and have the stamina to keep up with a young and energetic crowd. The late nights and travelling take their toll but I can always catch up with sleep on my time off.

I don’t have children yet and certainly have no plans to in the near future; I don’t think kids would exactly fit my lifestyle. In a competitive industry you are often forced to make sacrifices. Usually it’s friendships and relationships that suffer, although thankfully most of my social circle is understanding and supportive. I’ve missed quite a few weddings and birthdays due to work commitments but I always try to make it up to people. Fortunately I have a partner who works in the industry too so we know how to deal with each other’s hectic schedules.

There has been a huge upheaval over the last few years, in which many serious female DJs have been displaced. It used to be your sound rather than your looks that mattered. Now as well as battling institutionalised misogyny, the few of us that do exist have to contend with a gross sexualisation of the job.

There is now an array of glamour models flooding the market as “DJs”. As a result of technological advances, such as the use of laptops and USBs, many of these pseudo-DJs don’t need to know anything about music or mixing in order to get a gig. They can turn up and press a button on a prerecorded mix that will play for them all night – the disc jockey equivalent of Milli Vanilli. This devaluation of genuine skill, and the sexualisation of a career that people like me pursue due to a passion for music rather than posing, is seriously depressing and has led to some awkward encounters.

At the beginning of my career, my technical ability was often called into question but after many years in the business and a proven track record, it would now be difficult for anyone to contest my skill. I started out on vinyl and was a total purist before moving to CDs, which I’ve stayed with ever since. It often costs a small fortune in extra baggage charges to bring my CD wallets, but at least they are lighter than lugging around my vinyl collection.

I hope not to dissuade any wide-eyed young hopefuls about venturing into a career in entertainment, but rather forewarn them. For all the negative aspects of working in the industry there are a multitude of perks. Aside from the fact that you are doing something you truly love, there is the travel, the five-star hotels and the excitement of meeting your musical heroes. It is rarely boring, but you do need a seriously thick skin to survive.

In fact, due to the barrage of misogynistic nonsense and less than preferential treatment, I recently constructed an alter ego for all my business dealings. Prior to this, my own negotiation attempts were perceived as “bossy” and I have been referred to as a “diva”, both behind my back and to my face.

So I conjured up a representative in the shape of “Dave”. Since the creation of Dave I’ve more than doubled my fee and have significantly bettered my terms and conditions of work. Dave is a blokey, white, middle-aged man who speaks in a way I should be able to but the industry makes impossible. Dave has become renowned among my peers and associates as a wonderful manager. After seeing my success, some fellow artists have even approached me to ask if I could put in a word for them, in the hope that he might represent them too.

As much as I would love to reveal to the world that I am the orchestrator of my own success, I think I will have to wait, either until I am retiring from music or there is a radical feminist revolution. But my contemporaries should keep in mind the age old adage: behind every great man is a great woman.

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[source :-theguardian]

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