DJ Betti Forde returns to Vancouver in March to co-curate the W2’s first annual women-specific electronic music showcase. (Image: Femke van Delft)
Utopia Festival, a new annual electronic music unconference and festival at the W2, makes space for women in Vancouver's male-dominated DJ scene
“Excuse me, Mr. Bouncer, I’m with the DJ.” Fifteen years have passed since dance-pop-artist-turned-fashion-publicist Katalina released “DJ Girl,” an earworm as pesky as the DJ’s girlfriend portrayed in the song. The single itself is (thankfully) well past its prime, but one truth remains: so-called “DJ girls” still dominate the dancefloor while men mostly master the mixing decks.
Despite considerable gains in gender equality in other cultural industries, the DJ world persists as a boys’ club, with few female participants.
Maren Hancock, who performs as DJ Betti Forde, has been working as a Vancouver DJ since 1998.
“People would come up to me, asking 'Are you the DJ? Is anyone helping you out?'" Hancock recalls. Patrons weren’t used to seeing women on deck, and neither were club owners.
“It's symbolic interactionism,” she says. “If we don't see women producers, we don’t become women producers.”
After more than a decade of watching and helping Vancouver’s female DJ community grow, Hancock is now based in Toronto, where she’s working on the second year of a PhD at York University. Her dissertation will explore the history of female DJs in Canada, an area that has seen little to no research.
Hancock will return to Vancouver March 5, 2011, for Utopia Festival, the first in a new annual women-specific electronic music showcase, which she's co-curating alongside local DJs Niña Mendoza, Andrea "The Librarian" Graham and Irwin Oostindie, founder of the festival and executive director of the W2 Community Media Arts Society.
W2, a DTES-based community arts and culture hub, is hosting the event at its provisional live performance venue at the W2 Storyeum space.
The inaugural event, which coincides with International Women’s Day, will focus on electronic music and VJing, with subsequent years expanding into all areas of digital culture.
“My goal is to have an intervention and make some room for women,” Hancock says.
The so-called “digital divide” between genders, she adds, is a myth. “Women are not biologically less inclined to fucking use technology.”
Andrea Graham, a.k.a. The Librarian, is a bass music specialist. (Image: HOLLIS)
Festival to break down barriers to female participation in Vancouver's electronic music scene
While women may be less visible on the Vancouver electronic music circuit, they’re no less influential than men.
Andrea Graham, an event promoter, producer and DJ who performs as The Librarian, is co-curating W2’s Utopia Festival and co-founded Bass Coast Project, a four-day Squamish electronic music festival, with two other women. Bass Coast is now in its third year.
Reached at her home in Brackendale, BC, Graham sees Vancouver as welcoming to female DJs, but the problem lies in the numbers.
"There are a lot more male DJs and producers in Vancouver than female ones," she says. "I think the barrier is at the entry level."
It’s more common for men than women to have exposure to DJ and music production equipment, Graham says.
She hopes the W2 digital music festival will help break down some barriers to involvement by offering workshops and a welcoming environment to aspiring female electronic musicians of all skill levels.
DJ She: 'Female DJs in the industry are just as good as male DJs'
Back when she worked as the manager at Beatstreet Records, Tara Reeves, best known for her musical work as DJ She, recalls a male-dominated record store with occasional female customers.
“From the inside, it’s definitely dominated by men,” she says of Vancouver’s DJ scene. “That said, I feel like my peers that are female DJs in the industry are just as good as male DJs.”
While skill sets between genders may be similar, male DJs tend to hold more regular club residencies than women, she adds, resulting in higher male visibility.
Reeves doesn’t feel like she’s at a career disadvantage because of gender, but she acknowledges that women often need to work twice as hard as men to get to the same place. And she’s no stranger to hard work.
At 27, she’s opened for major North American acts like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Jurassic 5, and Cut Chemist. When she’s not making music, she hosts and directs Grounded TV and runs Jane Blaze Productions.
“There’s more of a spotlight on men in any industry, whether it's the music business or fashion industry. We have to work twice as hard to get the same position,” she says. “It doesn't mean we couldn't rock a party just as well as a male DJ.”
Just as this story was going to "print," DJ She confirmed that she will be participating in the showcase. Other DJs who've signed on include Peaches, Tanya Tagaq, Rye Rye, Lynx, B-Traits, Isis Salam, Betti Forde, Librarian, Niña Mendoza and Tank Girl, with more to be announced. Media artists will include VJ Electrabelle, Julie Gendron, Sebnem Ozpeta, Claudia Medina and Krista Lomax.
Utopia Festival early bird tickets go on sale February 4.
*** Granville Online is a proud media sponsor of the first annual Utopia Festival. ***
DJ She competed as the only female DJ at the Red Bull 3Style 2010. (Image: courtesy DJ She and Red Bull 3Style)
Win tickets to Utopia Festival via Granville Online
To enter to win, register and log in to Granville Online, then post a comment below with the name of a favourite female DJ and and a link to their website, Myspace, Facebook, Sound Cloud or whatever page where other readers can hear their music and get inspired.
The winner will be announced after 12 p.m. on Friday, March 4.[Updated: 2 Mar 2011]