FEATURE: Invisible Skin: Gender Inequality in Modern Music: Does More Need to Be Done?



Invisible Skin:


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IN THIS PHOTO: Janelle MonaePHOTO CREDIT: Aaron Smith


Gender Inequality in Modern Music: Does More Need to Be Done?


WE, as a collective, are having to consign too much hate and mourning…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Chvrches lead Lauren Mayberry who, in an open letter to The Guardian, asked: “Is the casual objectification of women so commonplace that we should all just suck it up, roll over and accept defeat? I hope not
PHOTO CREDIT: Paige Margulies

into the Room 101 of 2016. The last thing society needs and can handle is age-old discrimination and sexism rearing its ugly head. It was the famed Anglo-American columnist-essayist-orator-literary critic-journalist Christopher Hitchens – how his wit, intelligence and social awareness is sorely missed! – who proffered men are, in his words, funnier than women because there is an evolutionary and biological need to make women laugh. It is coded in the D.N.A. and the number one attraction for women (towards men) – although I suspect most still favour a certain beauty and sex appeal. There is some truth to it: most men have to create a funny personality to be seen as attractive to the opposite sex. Not that women are unfunny (far from it) but men, aside from humour, look for other characteristics – maternal warmth and outward beauty are still favoured above more important, deeper merits. Are these inherent ‘flaws’ responsible for a gender imbalance in the music industry? It might be a stretch but one still sees too much sexism in music. It may be an issue more blatant and emblematic in wider society but one should not have to see it is an artform as glorious and unifying as music.

Are we (men) truly culpable of such oversight and archaic attitudes or is there an unavoidable genetic component that is responsible? I believe musicians and music lovers as a whole yearn to see more women behind-the-scenes and promoted in the mainstream: have their work and voices featured as prominently as their male counterparts.

The trouble resides, as I speculated in a recent piece about race in the music industry, down to voting demographics and the men making decisions. In the same way voting committees – awards like The Brits for instance – are still defined by the white middle/older-aged man who does not consider homogenisation to be an issue – there is that cigar-scented whiff of old-school values and masculinity other areas of music.


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A lot of the larger record labels and radio stations have these types; some of the bigger clubs and venues promote these ideals and values. How far have we, as a planet, evolved since the Stone Age? I may be employing hyperbole but there are things we should not be discussing and seeing in 2016. Aside from racism and national divides – both Britain and the U.S. feeling they would be better off without the rest of the world – we are seeing so much rampant and unapologetic sexism in the music industry. Before I come onto look at sex, modern music and the women making their voices heard; I wanted to look at the technical side of music. It may not seem vital to the wider picture but vocational considerations should be addressed. Aside from the fact Laura Marling just dropped a tantilising glimpse of her forthcoming album, Semper Femina (in the shape of the alluring and bass-heavy, Soothing) she has not been idle and dormant. In fact, her series Reversal of the Muse addresses gender inequality in music – how few women are seen in studios and working behind the microphone. The interview series sees Marling talk with women in music and their views on the subject. As was explained by the creator herself:

Reversal of the Muse began as conversations between friends about female creativity. In reversing the muse it became an experiment. As a small part of the global conversation about women in the arts, it became an obsession. It occurred to me that in 10 years of making records I had only come across two female engineers working in studios. Starting from my experience of being a woman I began to ask myself what difference it might have made had I had more women around, if any. I wanted to know why progress has been so slow in this area and what effect it would have on music.”

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Below, I have included my three favourite podcasts from the series – which has just published its final instalment (with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris) – as an example of what is discussed and the range of artists included. Shura is featured in the ninth instalment and is synopsised thus:

Laura recorded this podcast just after ’Nothing’s Real’ was released, and Shura explains she made a conscious effort to construct her album cohesively, with the aspiration to create records in the way she consumes them: listening in their entirety from start to finish. However, Laura and Shura share the same difficulty when they’re in the midst of making records and travelling, as they find themselves detached from listening to other music which inspires them”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Marika Hackman

This edition features Markia Hackman. Since the release of her debut album We Slept at Last, Hackman has hit the touring beat with Marling, The 1975 and alt-J. That gorgeous, critically-acclaimed album should have put her on an equal par with her male peers: free from any struggle and an instant place in the upper echelons. As the duo war stories of being on tour – how they adapted to the male-heavy tour buses – they discuss what it would be like were more women employed in recording studios. They talk about the way women are sexualised in the industry and whether these attitudes are creating a negative culture of fear and submission – where women are reticent to share their ideas and being pushed to perform (so they can be seen) rather than being heard.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Amanda Ghost

Not only do the musicians talk about gender and equality in music but what bonds them and their inspirations – essentially, putting womens’ voices in the forefront to inspire and compel others. Another chapter I have to include is the time (fourth edition) Marling sat down in conversation with Amanda Ghost – the C.E.O. of record label Outsiders and a successful, award-winning musician in her own right. Here is how the episode was described:

…Amanda discuss the clear absence of female executives in record labels today. Amanda recalls her experiences of being the anomaly in a heavily masculine environment, and also her realisation of how differently women are treated in the work place when they reach executive level. Amanda and Laura consider how the role of the record label has evolved over the decade, and share their frustrations about today’s pressure to write manufactured hits at the expense of creativity and quality”.

Not only has Laura Marling’s Reversal of the Muse brought together women from disparate and unconnected areas of music but has created a togetherness and common voice. By tackling issues of sexism and posing important questions, they have helped bring to the surface issues that need to be tackled.

Whilst many are keen to incubate and cultivate negative stereotypes and transgressive views – here is an informal and lively symposium that is accessible and serious at the same time. The interviews are noble and articulate; the subjects raised fascinating and under-heard whilst the conclusions raised will raise eyebrows (in a good way) and help propagate change and evolution where it is needed most.


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IN THIS PHOTO: Canadian singer-songwriter Grimes has faced sexism and “refuses to be sexualised

Many might be saying, and circling to my opening statement, how there is a certain history and inevitability of these attitudes. If the world at large is inflexible when it comes to discriminatory practices then how is music going to conform more readily? I feel music is much more open-minded and bridled than the rest of the world; more pliable and concerned with promoting positivity and creativity. If it is just a case of transposing the 1950s’ attitudes of boys’ clubs and providing a swift, if educating, boot to the posteriors of inflexible men then we should all come together to fund a new pair of Dr. Martens and a tin of Kiwi shoe polish. I will move onto female D.J.s and musicians and their importance, I will bring in a few articles that pose similar questions to me. Back in 2010, Nashville Scene ran an article with the shocking headline: “Women account for less than 5 percent of producers and engineers” I have included an ellipsis because the remainder of that headline read “…but maybe not for long”. In the piece, one of the first paragraphs contains these words:

So why the imbalance? “There’s certainly sexism, but that alone doesn’t seem to explain the incredibly skewed numbers. Talk to some of the women who have worked as producers and engineers around Nashville, and there is no shortage of theories. But one thing they all know is that they don’t know — they don’t know why, exactly, there are so few women producing and engineering”.

The remainder of the article, a frank and full piece that interviews multiple women in the industry, explains how there are prevalent sexist attitudes and old hangovers that need to be eradicated. The article is hopeful and states how changes are occurring, if slowly, but you glean a sense (even in 2010) how prehistoric and sexist the music industry is.

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IN THIS PHOTO: British talent Laura Mvula stated, in a recent interview with Radio Times, how “racist” and “sexist” this music industry has become – fearing women have a diminished role.

A couple more pieces released in 2010 perhaps contradict the hopefulness of Nashville Scene’s expose. The Guardian’s headline ran: “Behind the music: the gender gap shows no sign of closing.” Its sub-header was a befuddlement of anger and confusion: how can these attitudes and issues still be prevalent and inextinguishable in this day and age?! Helienne Lindvall wrote eloquently and passionately on the subject; exploring how child-rearing and domestic responsibilities perhaps play a part – both in the way women shy from protestation and how reluctant men are to employ women. It looks at how the issue is not black-and-white. A particular segment caught my imagination:

When it comes to the executive and management level it’s almost all male. Jon Webster, chief executive of the Music Managers Forum, tells me that only around 15% of their members are female. Only 6% of women in the business earn more than £29,000 compared with 22% of men.

I’ve discovered that I’m not the only person bothered – and puzzled – by these figures. The other week, Alison Wenham, CEO and chairman of the Association of Independent Music (AIM) called a meeting at London club Cargo to address the issue. At the event, she interviewed Jeannette Lee, co-founder and joint director of Rough Trade (the company has been integral to the careers of Pulp, the Smiths, the Strokes, and Duffy, among others). Most people still think her business partner Geoff Travis is the sole head of the company, which she partly attributes to her reluctance to be in the spotlight. “I don’t like to do interviews. I just like to get on with things,” said Lee.

I think quite a few women can relate to this lack of desire to be the centre of attention, and it may partly explain why women like Estelle Axton, the co-founder of Stax Records, rarely get proper acknowledgment. But to this day there’s also a certain sexism that exists in the music business. “When I walk into a room, people naturally assume I’m Geoff’s PA or his girlfriend,” says Lee. I can relate. I’ve stood with a group of men at a music convention when a female artist approached us, giving everyone except me a copy of her CD. Another attendee who worked at a label said she had been told they wanted female A&R scouts as they could “flirt their way into tips“.


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IN THIS PHOTO: Björk recently told PitchforkIt’s tough. Everything that a guy says once, you have to say five times

The reason behind me writing this article is twofold: whereas pieces decrying racism in music have found white/non-black writers willing to present their outrage; there are few articles where male voices are highlighting the issues of music’s sexism. Is that part of the problem?! Were more prominent male journalists (not that I am among them) willing to share their outrage, should they feel inclined, and give a more gender-balanced weight to the arguments would we start to see redress? Whilst prevailing methodologies, six years ago anyway, seem to feel there is too much work to be done; have more-recent articles suggested improvements? In 2015, my former Impakter colleague Jessica Brassington explored the topic in more depth. She opened her piece by tackling the problem head-on:

These prejudices exist within many industries to the point of being so entrenched that it is rarely questioned. This embedded inequality is a major factor when we consider the statistics surrounding women in the music industry because it is still controlled by predominantly, white men. That is not to say that women haven’t made their mark on the industry and contributed considerably to the creative and technical world of music, but when we look at their recognition, pay and overall status, the work of women remains in the shadow of men. This gender prejudice in the industry is by no means ignored and there are plenty of projects and institutions that have been set up to conquer these inequalities directly, but there is still a long way to go, especially in technical and managerial roles.

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IN THIS PHOTO: U.S. sensation Taylor Swift has fought sexism – reviewers unwilling to believe she writes/produces her own music. She states that type of prejudice is hard to fight.

Jessica brought in some startling statistics:

  • Only 3 solo women have won The Mercury Prize award in its 22-year history.
  • Less than 5% of recognised producers are women
  • Only 14% of the Performing Rights Society members are women.
  • At the 2010 BBC Proms,  just a mere 4% of the works performed were composed by women
  • Brighter Sound only receives one in four female applicants for their music residencies.
  • In 2010, 47% of women in music earned under £10,000 a year, compared with 35% of men and the gap has barely changed in 2015
  • Only 6% of women in the business earn more than £29,000 compared with 22% of men

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Those statistics might not shock some but they do me – is that really true?! Not only is it fact but it seems unlikely to budge. How many men are rushing to the conversation pits and mahogany meeting room tables out to hammer-out a fairer deal for women; create equal profiling and bring about an equilibrium?!

Reading Jessica’s article and, when sourcing songwriter Jesca Hoop, the following (very relevant) argument was raised:

“…unlike a man [a woman] is never simply and gloriously a musician. She is a ‘female guitar player’ or ‘a female drummer’. Her gender precedes her.” This notion of profiling women, often considered normal, and at times indisputable, only helps to undermine a woman’s place in the industry

The think-piece concluded by underlining the key issues and stating they will not simply dissipate overnight. With artists, producers and influential women pushing for better terms and a fair hearing, there is a fight being waged – one that will not fade with time or be quelled by token compensation and false promises.

The most-recent article I can find that accentuates gender imbalance in music was from Marie Claire in April of this year. In the piece, there are echoes of the aforementioned articles: there is still a proliferation of men behind-the-scenes and calling the shots. By talking with working women and those in the industry (the article) suggests changes are occurring and constructive recommendations being implemented. While there has not been a complete overhaul, since the fraught and wary voices of 2010, there seems to be a mood of optimism and hope.

Whether there is further electioneering sargramostim or not one cannot ignore the facts: we are still seeing far too few opportunities presented to women; the pay divide is chasm-like and there is an inherent sexism that seems to be stronger than ever – the way women are objectified and demanded in the industry.


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IN THIS PHOTO: Ariana Grande

I will come to look at D.J.s and musicians in the industry and those we should take notice of; those who work behind the dials and microphone – perhaps names we skip when looking at album credits, for instance. Before I do, and another spark that ignited this piece was hearing how U.S. singer Ariana Grande was recently the recipient of unwanted comments and attention from a male fan (of her boyfriend). If you read this article; Grande states how she was approach and addressed in the most reductive and demanding terms. She felt like a piece of meat and sickened by the encounter: how the ordeal has made her question people and how vital tackling such mealy-minded opinions is.

Some commentators – across Twitter and the media – have asked whether Grande’s sexualised image (in videos and press shots) has helped put fuel on that fire – whether she has been culpable of creating a sexed-up brand. She responded by stating how celebrating femininity and sex is okay in music; it is valid and widespread; that does not give a stranger the right to use such appalling and degrading language.

Whilst Ariana Grande’s videos and press shots show plenty of cleavage and skin; her videos are alluring, sensual and suggestive: does that mean such portrayal and imagery is a natural invitation for men to say and behave how they wish? Of course not but it does get me thinking about the way issues of sex and sex appeal are holding back progression.

I would not, for one minute, blame female songwriters and artists for exacerbating the situation: a lot of the videos and shots are pitched and dictated by male professionals. It is too complex and issue to explain in this piece but it does make me wonder whether biological imperatives (or base desires) are a natural commodity? Is that all-important dollar of suggestiveness and tease hindering reappropriation? In music, as has been the case for decades, there is a wave of female artists who seem unconcerned with sexism and all-too-happy to show everything but the kitchen sink for attention and YouTube views. We see, all too often, people like Kim Kardashian happily posing naked in an apparent moment of ‘pride’/feminimity. Is the Instagram culture and people like Kardashian setting the movement back and betraying feminism? She might find such pictures freeing and natural but it is helping perpetuate negative stereotypes and foster sexism and carnality among men. This kind of ill is not helped by many musicians who use visual promotions as a way to sell their bodies rather than music. I feel there is still a case of male directors and bosses having this view: if you show a bit of t*t and sweat in a video that is going to get people viewing and buying the music. We all know the kind of artist, usually your mainstream Pop stars, who conform to this folly – from girl bands to U.S. R&B stars; it is really not helping bring about real change. If songs look at sex and indiscretion then surely a music video needs to reflect that? Perhaps that is another issue that needs to be addressed: encouraging more wholesome and positive subjects to come into music? I am not suggesting music becomes a pure and holy temple but discouraging this kind of blatant sexual exposure is a positive step forward.

Music is not the only culpable industry. For decades, the film industry and T.V. has had a certain reputation for placing a woman’s body over mind: ignoring the fact they are human and should not be reduced to meat-and-bones. As I said, there are performers that revel in and lust over this kind of attention and sworded fame – they account for a minority that is being unfairly exposed and promoted.

Those female performers that are uninterested in seediness, and want their words and music to speak, often struggle to gain respect and appreciation. I opened by looking at the parallels between attraction and music might be interlinked. Is there an unerasable part of the male psyche that looks at a woman’s sexuality and physique before it focuses on her words and actions? Perhaps so but that is not excuse in any situation. I feel channels like Vevo and YouTube need to place less emphasis on the cheap and shallow side of promotion. A whole new generation are going on the Internet and led to believe this is the way women should be portrayed – scantily-clad and writhing around in ecstasy; winking to camera and ensconced, by their own will, in flagrante delicto. The video above shows what we want to see less of in the music industry – although I do have a lot of respect and time for the artist in question. The video below is a much more positive and affirmative depiction from a woman that has been on my mind a lot. Beyoncé is renowned for her strong values and putting women right where they belong: equal to men; not having to struggle. Her album, Lemonade, not only looked at infidelity but looked at problems like racism and sexism. She is someone who can look at love and relationships but ensure her videos promote strength and courage over submissiveness and luridness. Like I have said; this is a whole side of the debate that warrants greater discussion and proper investigation but is a subject worth addressing.


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IN THIS PHOTO: Susan Rogers

A couple of years-old articles have asked the question as to why there is a small percentage of women listed as producers, engineers etc. The first paragraph of a BBC piece stated “only three women have ever been nominated for best producer at the Brits or the Grammys. None of them went home with the prize”. The article went on, and reflecting arguments already iterated:

It’s a renegade profession, it’s an outlaw profession,” says Susan Rogers – one-time studio engineer for Prince, and now an associate professor at the Berklee College Of Music in Boston…Women who want to enter the field face “a boys’ club, or a guild mentality”, she says…”You have to have a lot of swagger. A lot of swagger. If you don’t, you won’t be successful.”

These are important point and it is that issue of the ‘boys’ club’ and that ingrained mentality that is still prevalent. There are too few men promoting and encouraging women to get behind the decks: it is (sadly) down to women themselves to raise the slight and bring about reversal. Cuepoint, in a more-recent article opens with this paragraph:

It would be easy to mistake the music industry as anything other than a man’s world. Indeed, the sheer domination of artists like Beyoncé, Adele, Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, and Miley Cyrus—not only on the charts but in the news cycle—is nothing to sneeze at. The front-facing side of the music business finally looks like a place where women can not only thrive, but also lead and, possibly, earn as much (and sometimes more!) than their male counterparts”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Wondagurl

Kat George wrote that nearly a year ago and it truer now more than ever. It goes on to underline that statistic about the Grammy Awards: how few female producers have been nominated since 1974 (six) and how none of this year’s nominees were male. Is it, as the previous article asks, down to people not looking at credits and taking a vested interest in what a producer does? Is it cooler to be a singer and less fashionable being a producer/engineer?

At school, you hear people yearning to be musicians, fighter fighters and actors – more stable and education/humanitarian-based vocations like (being) doctors, social workers and scientists are not promulgated in the same manner. It seems like (a lack of) education is to blame for this problem.

If we are to see A) more women in studios and B) a larger proportion recogniosed at award ceremonies then we need to start emphasising the importance and validity of these music roles. Long working hours, and how off-putting that reality is, is also explored by the article:

So why are women still so notably absent from music production? Massy, speaking to LA Weekly, blames the work environment. “A career in music production means a lot of 14 hour days in a dark studio with little outside contact. Women can find it hard to meet new people in that type of environment, and most eventually gravitate into fields that allow them to grow socially,” she said. Indeed, the prospect of being shut away from society in a dark room, hunched over a mixing deck for days and weeks on end doesn’t exactly seem like an enticing prospect for anyone, regardless of gender”.

Coming back to education: like science and women in politics, awareness should be raised at middle school levels and not wait until university, for instance. Maybe music reviewers (such as myself) should, if a woman has produced or engineered a track, highlight that work – thus creating greater awareness. Whilst this might be seen as patronising, we all need to do more to rescind the twisted and discriminatory practices that are seeing fewer women go into the studio. True, long hours and heavy demands have a certain physicality to them – which is putting many off – but there the inspirational side of studio work should be clear. The article ends by backing my concerns of education and the role schools play:

Encouraging women toward production rather than performance should start as early as possible — from childhood, even. It means putting meritorious emphasis on skill (the way we do for boys), rather than on being seen and admired. By offering and actively encouraging alternative profiles in music where young girls can begin to see themselves as more than just clothes, pretty faces, and style icons, we might start to see more women work behind the scenes in the art of music making. Who are the next generation of young women to follow in the footsteps of Lazar, Massy, Perry, Robinson, and others?

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IN THIS PHOTO: Crystal Caines

Aside from the heavyweight and legendary male producers like Quincy Jones, Mark Ronson and Dangermouse; there are the likes of Sylvia Massy, Linda Perry and Sylvia Robinson who should not be overlooked. If you look at the respectable and well-known female producers emerging: their efforts and work will help bring about changes and create more awareness and opportunities. Cooly G, Wondagurl and TOKiMONSTA are joined by Crystal Caines. Here is just a sprinkling of the women who have been producing since they were young and are fighting to get their names included in the most prestigious award ceremonies. It is not like female artists are sitting back and let others produce their work. A lot of modern artists, whether it is for a few songs, have a production hand – Taylor Swift, Alicia Keys and Britney Spears have been heavily involved in that side of things; so too have Sheryl Crow, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga.

Should it, therefore, be down to the established and high-profile producers to do more than promote their own music? We see the likes of Lady Gaga talk about the inspiration behind songs but not their role as producer. Whether they feel those soundbytes and quotes will be removed from an interview holds some truth but the way to provide the problem some stealthy clout is getting famous, mainstream artists talking about it with pride and without reverence and modesty.

We all hear about the likes of Dangermouse and his producing caliber: why do we need hear Alicia Keys mentioned alongside as an inventive and equally important figure? There does need to be self-promotion but it is not like these women are hiding and shirking the limelight. It is down to the media to do more and help toppled the Berlin Wall that is the ‘old order’ – the boys’ club that should be fossilised and overhauled. Maybe it will take several years before the figures start to become less alarming. If modern studios are 95% male then it should be galling enough to get school and governments involved. Music and production is an important and wonderful profession that needs to be put on the same parapet as performing and singing. Only when that happens will we see the equality we so desperately crave.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Nina Kraviz

Before coming onto my conclusion and recommendations – this is turning into be a dossier of sorts – I wanted to look at three female D.J.s who have not only inspired me this year but are near the top of their field. On mainstream radio, there are plenty of wonderful female D.J.s that are trying to reduce sexism in the industry and are acting as great role models for those looking to follow their lead. Whilst there is, compared with studios, not quite the same level of sexism in the D.J. community is still does exist. If commercial stations like BBC Radio 2 and ‘6 Music house some of the best female D.J.s in the world; London stations such as Hoxton Radio are fostering some mainstream-ready D.J.s. Away from the radio, and in the clubs and small venues, there is not quite the balance one would like. Even some radio stations are too male and promote fewer female D.J.s. This year, we almost witnessed the closure of the legendary fabric nightclub in London. Because of various factors – safety fears and drugs-related deaths – it has had to comply with new guidelines and is being monitored more closely – essentially it breathes to live another day. Nina Kraviz was someone who reacted to the news, of the closure and its rebirth, and compiled the album fabric 91. As Kraviz explained:

This mix is of course where I am as a DJ and record collector, but it’s also where I am as a listener and it’s what makes me groove at the moment. People call this a brain dance … This mix is a trippy acidic dream with a lot of different emotions along on the way. And as it was recorded at different times and places, under different circumstances, it’s naturally absorbed all these very different emotions…”

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IN THIS PHOTO: Nina Kraviz

Kraviz is a Siberian-born, American/British-based D.J. and producer who is a lover of all kinds of Electronic music: the kind you will find scurrying and pilfering crates of dusty vinyls – in the hope a serendipitous moment will see a rare record come into her hands. She is one of the busiest and hardest-working D.J.s in the world and, in 2016 alone, has played across several continents and seems reluctant to slow any time soon. Having released her own eponymous album in 2011; she released the compilation DJ Kicks in 2015 – a series of singles proceeded her debut album. The album Mr Jones followed in 2013 but fabric 91 seems the most personal and electric work of her career. As the fabric’s website explains:

fabric 91 is pieced together from a series of live takes and careful listening will reveal two narratives, separated by a breath, weaving together techno, IDM, electronica, ambient and lots of acid. The mix includes many collectors’ rarities like Bedouin Ascent, Frak, Torul V and DJ Slip, as well as underexposed Russian 90s IDM and electronica from Species of Fishes and New Composers & Pete Namlook. Some of Nina’s favourite but less known acid stompers feature in the mix including Woody McBride aka DJ ESP, Air Liquide, I-f, Unit Moebius, DJ Tuttle, Thomas P Heckmann and Aphex Twin, displaying Nina’s personal take on acid and acid trance drawn from practitioners across the globe. The mix also introduces numerous unreleased tracks from трип (trip) – in fact, the mix features no current releases at all. Every track is either a classic rarity or unreleased treasure from the future. Nina’s depth of musical imagination and subtle deftness behind the decks elegantly bridge decades, genres and beloved influences on fabric 91, proving her once again to be a master of the unconventional ride”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Nina Kraviz

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Kraviz is a D.J. that is not only as inspirational and talented as (the finest) male peer but someone who brings her own stamp to the craft.

I have been to clubs and seen club night promoted: the heavy focus on male D.J.s is quite upsetting and unnecessary. There is a wave of female producers, D.J.s and talent emerging that want to be seen behind the decks and lay down their late-night soundtracks to the public.

Kraviz is someone whose itinerant performances will inspire reluctant female D.J.s to come forward but she is not the only wonderful young (female) D.J. of the moment. Before I come to my next example, and someone I admire hugely, I have been following the work and words of La Fleur. She is Swedish-born but resident in Berlin. A multi-talented D.J. and producer, she has spent the last few years establishing herserlf as one of the most dynamic, original and characterful creative in the music world. It is best, to back up this case and show how unique she is, to take some words from her official website:

La Fleur defies categorisation; A dancer turned DJ, a technician fuelled by artistic instinct, a pharmacist who found alchemy in creative control. Hers is a story that is constantly evolving, and one that she insists on telling her own way. Music is at the core of everything that La Fleur sets her mind to, and it’s the native tongue she uses to articulate her voice as a DJ, producer, label owner, fashion designer, radio host and mixed media artist

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The Swedish-born, Berlin-based talent was tipped as the artist to watch at the beginning of the decade, and she has excelled herself with each passing year. From the launch of her own label, Power Plant Records, and its smash debut EP Flowerhead, to her triumph at Sweden’s Grammy Awards equivalent, P3 Guld Awards, La Fleur has cemented a reputation as a unique multi-talent whose creations leave their imprint on you long after you experience them. In five short years, La Fleur’s crowning achievements have included being hand-picked as the debut release artist for Whatpeopleplay’s influential inhouse label with Flowerhead Revisited, a coveted DJ residency with acclaimed Berlin club Watergate, a chart-topping first outing for their inhouse label with the Nightflow EP, plus a session at the controls of Watergate’s acclaimed mix compilation series, becoming the #1 charted artist on Resident Advisor, a tour of the United States, first-time performances for Panorama Bar and Boiler Room, and the launch of her fashion capsule collection, Power Plant Elements.

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Sanna La Fleur Engdahl’s life-long love of music and movement started early, with eight years of training as a dancer in her native Örebro, Sweden. While electronic music captured her imagination, she forged a different vocational path, graduating with a Masters Degree in Pharmacy. The call of music proved too strong however, and La Fleur began DJing in Stockholm soon after she graduated, securing residencies with the city’s key spots like the legendary Grodan Cocktail club, and running her own club nights Sunday Secrets and Suburbian Wasteland. By 2007, La Fleur ranked at number 6 in Sweden’s Top 100 DJ’s list, the following year she was nominated in the ‘Best DJ’ category at the Scandinavian Music Convention. For three years La Fleur hosted the high profile electronic dance music show ‘P3 Dans’, on Swedish National Radio, and a steady stream of bookings in Europe and further abroad allowed her to focus full time on DJing. By 2007 her focus had shifted towards her own productions, and a decision was made to relocate from Stockholm to Berlin. 2008 saw La Fleur’s first forays into the studio, with her remix of David Ekenbäck’s “Nairu” on Trunkfunk Records”.

This year’s rework Flowerhead is La Fleur’s current work but she has a back catalogue that would put most to shame – not just in terms of work ethic but the variations and range one experiences.

Overlook La Fleur at your peril for she is one of the most intriguing and passionate D.J.s making her way through the ranks.

Whilst we hear about the successes and achievements of world-class male D.J.s; there is not enough being done to highlight the sterling work being done by the best female D.J.s around. A last word, from her website, about La Fleur:

Through all of La Fleur’s successes runs a common thread of dedication, detail, and determined independence. A DJ set at one of the world’s best clubs is as crucial a statement as the artwork illustrations that adorn Power Plant’s record sleeves. A painstaking production or remix is reflected in the intricate details of the PP Elements collection. The early inspirations of music and movement drive the one-woman enterprise on her ascendant path. No longer a breakthrough artist, La Fleur has well and truly arrived”.

IN THIS PHOTO: Carly Wilford

One of the most-viewed and talked-about pieces on this blog in 2016 was an interview I conducted with London-based entrepreneur/D.J. Carly Wilford. I say ‘conducted’ but, in truth, the questions were mailed to Carly; she completed them waiting for a flight – beats doing a quick Q&A at a local Costa Coffee, right?! Aside from asking about her music and how she became a D.J.; she talked about how her projects I Am Music and SISTER Radio  are her lifeblood. The former was set up (by Carly) to break the best musicians and link them with A&Rs, D.J.s and record labels. It is a matchmaking service that has helped eager and talented musicians come to the attention of the music industry’s movers-and-shakers.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Carly Wilford

Carly conducted an interview with Nina Kraviz in fact: she asked about the freedom D.J. work provides and how she (Nina) conserves energy; how her work is designed to bring people together and how she dealt with (around the time of the interview) press criticism and negativity (see the official website to see the interview). Like Kraviz; Wilford is a ball of energy who is happiest when traveling the world and immersing herself in the rush, dance and jubilant circus of a night – where anything goes and the atmosphere is indescribable. Look at Carly’s official website and you learn more about her:

Her natural energy and lust for life shines through in her interviews. With millions of views across her YouTube videos you can see why the music industry is talking about her and why she is on speed dial for artists, manager’s, PR’s and key media figures within the industry.

On the Red Carpet she has interviewed Tom Cruise, Russell Brand, Eve and Usher to name but a few. Kicking back with some of the music industries finest. Carly has put the world to rights with Danny Brown, hung out with Rudimental, bantered with Bastille and had a heart to heart with Alison Wonderland, Nas, Nile Rodgers and Kendrick Lamar.

Seen backstage at some of the Worlds biggest festivals she has covered Glastonbury, SXSW, Snowbombing, Sonar, EXIT Festival, V Festival, Wireless, BBC Radio 1 Big Weekend and Secret Garden Party to name just a few. Hunting out the hottest artists, chatting to the crowds and dominating the press pit she has also presented at the MOBOS for sponsors HTC, The Brit Awards for VEVO and The Capital FM Summertime Ball.

Carly is at the forefront of everything music related – from new artists to secret collaborations, if you need to know about it she has already got it covered. She films, edits, produces and presents all her own work as well as writing for Hunger Magazine and Wonderland. Currently standing as Music Editor for Viber’s ‘Viber Presents’ Music Channel she updates 1.8 million people every day on the music that she rates. With big aspirations and infinite drive she is one to watch very closely. No ear piece, no ‘note cards’ and none of the fake attributes the industry is often full of – just raw ambition and real talent”.

Not only does Carly perform sets around the world – in addition to regular slots on SISTER Radio – but she gives talks about music and how she started in life – as we can see when she attended the Finding Balance Summit in London:

Carly, as this video shows, started out in a rather modest cottage and in a comparatively humdrum life – married and living life in reverse in many respects. Something clicked and she knew music was that calling: a beacon she could not ignore and changed everything in her life. That experienced was stressful and unsure but she has immersed the other side a butterfly of immense passion, commitment and importance. Her talks and discussions have looked at women in music and how she got started in business: she is always looking to compel and motivate people to do more – if you have a sh** job quit it and do what you should be doing. I will include segments of her work in the footer but she is a human being that blows me away.

I have no idea where she gets her energy and how she manages to remain so resolutely upbeat and determined. Her unwavering passion for music can be heard at her sets and seen in the flesh: she exudes huge movement and intensity and really immerses herself in music.

I know Carly has created mixes and remixed others but I would like to see her compile her own version of fabric 91: something that brings together her favourite work and provides it that distinct, Wilford-esque stamp. Aside from being a D.J., Carly interviews musicians and is always keen to hear about musicians and what they are up to.

Your enthusiasm and passion for music (and artists) is boundless. Where did that deep love of music begin? Was there a particular moment you knew music was going to be your career path?

Music has always played a really important part in my life. I was a dancer from a really young age so music naturally becomes part of you. Growing up we were surrounded by it. From jumping around in the front room with my mum and sisters to Phil Collins; to driving in the back of my dad’s car with the roof down to The Pogues. It brought our family together. My grandad played the piano & me and my sisters used to stand around and sing. It’s always played such a pivotal part in the decisions that I have made. Music speaks when words can’t. My main move to working in the industry happened when I realised its power.

Above snippet from https://musicmusingsandsuch.wordpress.com/2016/07/29/interview-carly-wilford/

She also writes journalistic pieces about serious issues and topics in music. She is a multitalented human that is constantly putting herself out there and looking to inspire others. Go to her website and you can read her pieces but Carly, like the D.J.s I have just mentioned, is not only as talented and important as her male colleagues but is engaged in a lot more outside of music. I know Carly gets regular gigs but one feels there is still a culture where she is not given the same footing and prominence as male D.J.s. You only have to hear her speak and witness her at work to know just how much Carly belong in music. She has uprooted an old way of life to follow her dreams and help others. It is only a matter of time before she is a household name and appearing on national radio. I feel the need to champion these D.J.s because there are not many others doing it. Of course, Carly’s supporters and patrons do their best but how many D.J.s like her are being afforded any publicity and features? I was lucky to interview her and the fact it resonated with so many people is indication she should be under the microscope of other journalists. Of course, she is happy working hard and performing but she shared my views on sexism in music – the need to make sexist views and practices extinct and create a more balanced and gender-blind industry.

IN THIS PHOTO: Carly Wilford

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IN THIS PHOTO: U.S. Folk songwriter Angel Olsen whose current album, My Woman, has been lauded by critics

Almost there, peeps, but before I do – and wrap this thing up – just look at the albums and songs that have defined this year in music. If you need a prevalent, in-your-face example of female musicians shining you only need to look at the end-of-year polls and rundown of this year’s best albums.

I have explained and represented Beyoncé’s Lemonade is depth but the fact she seems to be the critics’ favourite is no surprise. Her album addresses women’s rights and racial issues; looking at infidelity and her own marriage through a spectrum of anger, defiance and bravery.

Inside the top-twenty albums of this year (according to the critical wisdom of crowds) Solange, Angel Olsen and Rihanna made the list; as did Mitski and Jenny Hval. Whilst the overall list is still male-heavy there have been shifts in terms of race: many more black artists making the list and being fairly represented. My favourite 29016 album was created by a female artist (Billie Marten’s Writing of Blues and Yellow) whilst efforts from Bat for Lashes, Tegan and Sara and Shura make my top-twenty of the year. The next year will continue as this has left and see some incredible female singer-songwriters create stunning work. They, compared to the men of music, are provided fewer opportunities and festival slots. There are still fewer spots going to women and the festivals are still band-heavy. Even if you are an established artist like Beyoncé, you are still going to be on a festival bill with more men than women. Whereas bands still pull in the biggest crowds and have traditional been the natural headliners for festivals that needs to change. How many times have you seen the line-up to Reading and Leeds (Festival) and been staggered by the amount of women on the bill?

Maybe Glastonbury is a bit fairer with regards its top spots but it is criminal seeing the comparative lack of females on bills.

One only needs to look at the finest albums of this year and the past few to see how many fantastic female artists are in our midst. Again, like other sub-sections and diversions, this is a topic I could explore in a single, full-length piece. Sexism is not just reserved to studios and in clubs: festival oragnisers need to do a lot more to give female musicians an equal billing – even if that means losing a few supporters in order to make real, effective changes.


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IN THIS PHOTO: Perfect Pussy singer Meredith Graves has faced hostility and feels, like her female peers, she has to prove herself and prove her credentials

Time to go, but before I do, it is worth stating movements are occurring and people are getting involved. In his published journal, Kurt Cobain wadded into the argument about sexism in music:

It’s up to men. … I still think that in order to expand on all other -isms, sexism has to be blown wide open. But there are thousands of green minds, young gullible 15-year-old boys out there just starting to fall into the grain of what they’ve been told of what a man is supposed to be and there are plenty of tools to use. The most effective tool is entertainment”.

Two vital points are raised: how important entertainment is a tool and how men should be making moves. That was written in the early-‘90s but it is no less relevant than it is in 2016. Nearly every article you hear about sexism and discrimination against women is made by women. Artists like Kate Nash has their eyes opened to sexism when getting into music; Jack White explained how it is almost a novelty seeing a woman with an instrument – many presume they should be at a microphone and that is all. Neko Case implored women to realise they are equal and not to accept any discrimination and s*it. Meredith Graves stated how women have to fight for their right to participate in music – let alone be given equal rights.

There is something fundamentally screwed-up about seeing a female musician as a chanteuse: you can’t play an instrument or rock like the boys; stand there and look pretty and don’t try to mix it with the men. It is a caveman mentality that is still prevalent and toxic. There are changes occurring and restitution being paid but nothing on the scale we should be seeing.

It may be a case of a long-term solution: tackling each corner of music and making grassroots changes from the ground up. To start, reverse employment policies at studios and change the climate and environment of them – less a boys’ club and a more neutral and supportive environment for women. The same needs to happen at small venues and clubs: impose rules where D.J.s and talent are not hired based on gender but on talent alone. Men really need to get involved in order to add weight to these proposals. Having (theoretically) 50% of the music population seeking new conventions will only be effective to a degree – you need 100% of the population invested and committed. I know men like me who are dedicated to providing a bigger voice to women but my gender needs to be more proactive.

Maybe launching an awareness day or hashtag might be viewed as misguided – women as a minority faction who need charitable donations? – but that is far from the mark. You would not need to do anything more than participate in a hashtag/viral (#womeninmusic perhaps?) and those who are making a difference. That is not to the detriment of male musicians or those struggling to get attention: it shows sexism is a problem but also show how many phenomenal women there are in the industry. That would be one way of engaging social media and connecting with a wide range of artists. Accompanying videos and promotions could go alongside it. I see no reason why that could not be an annual event – until such time concrete, visible improvements can be seen. It is a small step but it should not just be down to those in the industry to address a subject as universal and common as sexism. We are all responsible and must be more aware, engaged and forthcoming with objections and disgust. There was a recent discussion between Laura Marling and Nemone (BBC Radio 6 Music D.J.)  as to whether sexualisation in the music industry was a good or bad thing. I guess Marling came down on the side of the fence that abhors over-sexualisation whereas Nemone took a more casual but well-reasoned approach.

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IN THIS PHOTO: BBC Radio 6 Music D.J. Nemone

I feel it is a sticky discussion point but we can never eradicate all sexualisation in music. Even those artists that fight for equal rights do, at times, bring a certain degree of sexuality to their music. We should not become puritans and episcopalian and shut our ears to the ‘sins of the flesh’. Neither should we think sexuality nor is nudity/exposure an effective way to convey a message or sell music. We should not be in a position where musicians are acting as, albeit the Disney version of, prostitutes who are being guided by record label bosses – get your clothes off and give the public (men) what they want. It is about striking a middle-distance and balance; limiting the glut of young Pop stars who are promoting a rather unwholesome image unnecessarily and embracing a more empowering and PG-13 idea of sex.

Imagination is as a powerful tool that is blunted by such obvious and overt forms of ‘expression’.  A woman/man is able to convey sexuality and seduction throughout means other than stripping and gyration.

Instead of banning all forms of sexual representation in music we just need to cleanse the scene a bit and reign it in. Even artists that have been affected by sexism – I mentioned Ariana Grande as a recent victim – uses her body, feminine wiles and beauty to represent their music. It has always been the way of things and can, if done with a mixture of modesty and tease, result in eye-catching and memorable works.

I’ll try and end this and not exceed the 9,000-word mark (up to 8,669 so far) and say, in tandem with tackling racism, sexism in music needs to be tackled and erased in our lifetime. There is no reason why women should struggle for equal rights and be discouraged from working in studios and coming into the industry. If we create a culture of fear and discrimination it risks young women not entering music through fear they’ll be ignored and dismissed. That sense of diminishment is being felt right across music but there are positive things happening. Whilst more women are working in studios (still a vast minority) and forums like Reversal of the Muse are providing thought-provoking parapets – how far are we to actual change and betterment? In the next few years we are going to see more female talent proffered and fewer issues of sexism but there is still too much of it around. This is 2016 and the so-called ‘modern age’. The image of women being ushered into the shadows should have died decades ago – feeling it is an issue too large and complicated is no excuse. The problem and solution, rather worryingly, lies with men. The only way to flip a masculine, discriminatory mindset is to get men speaking out. It seems like an enigma and impossible feat but it can happen! When that happens, as I am not the only man lending my voice to the debate, we will all be on the same page and working together. When that happens, whether it will be months or years, we will replace the current landscape with a music industry that is balanced, fair and…

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MUCH better for everyone.

One thought on “FEATURE: Invisible Skin: Gender Inequality in Modern Music: Does More Need to Be Done?

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