We’ll call her “DJ Emily”, because that’s not her name and she really doesn’t deserve to be slandered again like she was slandered that day.
About ten years ago, I was talking with a friend about Emily one of her records which you’ve probably heard before.
Emily had put quite a career together, to the point where she made a living exclusively from music. That’s really the most that people in this business can ask for, right? She had the same opportunities many of her peers in Chicago had, with the key difference that she didn’t piss most of those opportunities away.
“But do you know how she learned how to DJ?” my friend asked me. “I do. I was there. See, she dated a guy who DJ’d, learned everything she could from him. And when she couldn’t learn anything more, she just threw him away. Can you believe it?”
I could, actually. I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know that a fair percentage of the industry basically viewed women through the lens of the clip art on their shitty Beatport records – big boobs, wind-swept hair, long legs – and their heads often cropped entirely out of frame.
Over the years I would hear this story over and over again, applied to each and every female DJ and producer from Chicago that achieved significant renown or credibility. Can you believe it? Every single female in this industry met a guy, sucked his talent through a straw and threw him over her shoulder like an empty beer can when she was through.
No, I really couldn’t believe it anymore. This isn’t some cosmic coincidence. This is what institutionalized misogyny actually looks like. The story kept being repeated – I heard it over and over again through the years, applied to people who weren’t even on the scene back when I first heard it applied to “Emily”.
I really need to emphasize that I’m not taking artistic license here. The same story has been fitted over nearly female Chicago House Music DJ like a straightjacket custom cut for dangerous women.
I also don’t mean to imply that this is a “Chicago thing”. It’s just conceivable that having been on the cutting edge of electronic music for three decades, we were trailblazers in being misogynist assholes too.
SO IT HAS NOW BECOME a rite of passage for a woman in this industry to tolerate groundless slander that she slept her way to the top. I can’t even imagine how irritating it is to be asked in interviews “how it feels to be a woman in this industry” and yet being unable to address this particular aspect of it without giving credibility to a slur.
Take Krewella. The sisters in the group, Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf, recently parted with their third (male) member. Suits and countersuits are flying back and forth. Immediately the knives came out: they’d grown too big for their britches, and their egos had gone so out of whack that they had cast out the actual “brains” behind the band (one that one of the sisters had a relationship with).
See, this is what underlies the toxic slander: the idea that a woman can’t do what a man can. The misogynist looks for a man behind her pulling the strings and – the ratio of men to female being what it is – eventually he’ll find one. The “real” talent identified, he can now piece together for himself the story of how a female artist managed to leech off their Pygmalion like an insect.
The misogynist can now assure himself that women still can’t DJ, produce music or do anything really other than sing and dance and look nice on the headless clip art of their shitty Beatport releases.
Jahan Yousaf held her own “Mean Tweets” segment, posting just a handful of the dozens (if not hundreds) of comments suggesting the sisters should quit the industry and go into porn because they weren’t good for anything else.
Maybe that sort of public airing is what it takes to burn this out of the scene, and frankly she should be congratulated for having the courage to do so. This is why I’m writing about this, despite not really giving much of a fuck about Krewella’s music. You could change the name “Krewella” to any of a vast number of females in this industry and you bet it’s been said about them before. Hell, it’s probably been said about them TODAY.
And while we’re at it, let’s be honest about who’s saying it too. Not everyone who talks shit is an anonymous troll or 19 year old candy raver with molly-curdled eyes that’s going to look back at this portion of their life with equal amounts of confusion and regret. I’ve heard the same slander directed at female DJs and producers from people who ought to know better. People with decades in the game. People who are all smiles to their faces. People who might not be able to survive if their name were hung with these words.
If you agree this is a problem – again, I’m not sure you can know female talent in the industry and not heard this story told at least once – I’m not sure what we can do about it. Call it out? Shut it down? All good things.
On an industry level? This isn’t a fair playing field, it never has been, and that’s without insinuating that every female in the business built her career on casual sex and the craven manipulation of clueless men.