Women in the ‘Werk’ Force

I’ll admit that I was way too close to adding to the glut of thinkpieces on Rihanna’s ANTI. I’m not trying to imply that it’s a bad record (on the contrary, it’s mostly sick, save for a few awful elements—I’m looking at you, Drake), but this column could be used for a better purpose than describing RiRi’s solemn turn.

It’s my last semester in Claremont, so I feel a bit more urgency to cover topics that actually need local coverage, and indeed something quite urgent came up this week.

If you follow music publications like THUMP or FACT Magazine, you’ve almost definitely come across a number of articles about a human pile of garbage known as DJ Justin James and his post in a Facebook group called “Support Female DJs.”

In the post, he asks for female DJs to contact him, but only if they meet a number of criteria, including age, height, and weight requirements. It’s not worth describing his full list in detail (it’s readily available all over the Internet by this point), nor is it worth explaining why every bullet point is gross, awful, and a textbook example of misogyny.

James himself makes this misogyny clear when, in a private message that circulated along with his post, he refuses to apologize for or take down the list, justifying his actions through his understanding of “the current state of the industry” (ewww), and making the offhand comment that if venues wanted talented DJs, “then they would just hire men,” naturally followed by a winky face.

What you might not have noticed about these stories is that Grace Lamdin PO ’17, Table Manners’ very own DJ Frruitbat and Assistant Music Director at KSPC, was the one who prompted the private message when she told him that she was “offended and disgusted.”

Which brings me to why I’m writing this. In a brief interview with brilliant journalist (and sick promoter) Michelle Lhooq of VICE, Lamdin explained why she felt a need to confront someone like James: “After DJing on campus this past year, I had to deal with a lot of bullshit with guys, because the majority of the DJs at my school are men. Dudes who didn't know what they were doing would try to give me tips and sexually harass me.”

It’s of course great that the James story has blown up in the way that it has, even getting coverage from non-music outlets like Yahoo! News, but Lamdin’s comment makes an important point: the way that gender discrimination pops up in the world of music is, more often than not, subtle. When people like James come along and are unapologetic about it, it’s only as a particular condensation of a more general pervasive attitude that manifests itself in far more insidious ways than weight requirements.

Lamdin is absolutely spot-on in her diagnosis of the campus dynamic (in which, full disclosure, I am certainly implicated as one of those male DJs constantly occupying the SCC Social Room). During her set for Table Manners last year, for instance, there was a disconcerting gray area between people hollering in pure support and people hollering because of a perceived gulf separating her heavy-duty tracks from her gender, like there was something cutesy or precious about the whole thing.

On one hand, it’s obviously a good thing to support women behind the decks; on the other, if the form of that support seems to highlight the impropriety or novelty of a woman DJ, is that really any different from a guy like James?

But more to the point, the “solution” to this problem, if I can use such a term, isn’t to make obvious instances of sexism into scapegoats for the status quo. It’s to actively, honestly support female musicians and give them the respect they deserve as artists.

So I figured the only natural end of this article is to give shine to some of the incredible female-identifying musicians in our own backyard of LA.

Some of my personal favorites have already performed on our campus this year. Astronautica, whose incredible record Gemini dropped this week, mashes hip-hop beats with silky smooth pop atmospheres. Sha Sha Kimbo, co-runner of club night CyberSonic, has been making moves with the launch of her new record label, Nature Tones. And of course, MA Nguzu, half of Nguzunguzu, is always killing it, her most recent effort being the production on Kelela cut “Gomenesai.”

Then, there are those who haven’t made it out to our little bubble yet (but again, full disclosure, are perhaps coming to a Friday Manners near you). Ducky, Suspect Bitch, and Bianca Oblivion recently started a label/collective called Club Aerobics, and if high-powered anthems are your thing, they’re unmissable. Their first release, Ducky’s “Work” came out a few days ago, and it’s a pure banger. They’ve also been affiliated with ballroom masters Knightwerk Records for quite some time, so they’ve had time to hone their craft. Expect big things.

I’m running out of space so I can’t keep going with this list endlessly, but this isn’t the last you’ll hear from me on the subject. If you’re interested in more thoughts on women in electronic music, I’d suggest checking out the Nap Girls collective’s recent chat with Nylon Magazine, the Black Madonna’s Facebook post about the Justin James debacle, or Ducky’s recently published Facebook list of her favorite female-identifying producers in the game. Incredible women artists are out there, and we need to support them.

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