Take a look back just 10 years down the line and count how many female acts you see on lineups and club residency rosters. Now look back five. There are certainly more, but still not enough. Fast forward to 2021 and while the line on the graph of female representation is still steeply climbing upward, there remains a very long way to go. And while there exist the Alison Wonderlands, REZZs, and Nicole Moudabers, dance music still reps a boys club in both numbers and perception. Simply put: until the distinction of “female DJ” no longer needs to be made, the scales are out of balance. But at least as a culture we’re addressing this.
Women’s representation in dance music is shifting towards positive change, with powerhouse label heads like Nina Las Vegas, TOKiMONSTA, LP Giobbi, Charlotte de Witte, Sofi Tukker, and The Blessed Madonna paving the way alongside a plethora of talented acts like TSHA, Jayda G, Hannah Wants, Ela Minus, Mija, and more. Femme-identifying artists have taken front-and-center across a multitude of spaces, from renowned imprints—Aluna on Mad Decent, J.Phlip on Dirtybird, Amelie Lens on Drumcode—in diverse genres—Yaeji for hip-hop influenced electronic, CloZee for organic, WHIPPED CREAM on experimental bass, UNiiQU3 in jersey club, and around creative intersections—Honey Dijon and Peggy Gou in fashion.
Despite these diverse placements, women in prominent spotlights are ultimately far and few in between and for those who have “made it,” discrimination and sexism are still factors that mire aspects of every women’s career; accusations of being ghost produced to having their skill integrity scrutinized, and being falsely boxed as a vocalist contributor all encompass a small scratch on the surface of biases inherent in the untold stories. The bottomline is the industry standard and consumer perception still have work to be done. Fortunately, there are producers, players, and brands within the industry proactively looking to take meaningful and inclusive actions. And in terms of looking at the future of dance music, thankfully, Anjuna is laying a heavy emphasis on a female future in dance music, and working to balance those scales, especially as they continuously promote, sign and discover talent.
On both the Beats and Deep side, Anjuna’s programming has taken an inclusive and holistic approach towards highlighting women at all points in their careers—with seasoned producer Wanderlust head honcho Pretty Pink and newcomer Egyptian-born Nourey making their respective Anjuna debuts in the last year alone while label synonymous names like Qrion are continually integrated into mix compilations, original releases, and lineups. Using spotlight opportunities like Twitch stream initiative #AnjunaUnlocked in combination with mix series The Anjunadeep Edition and Anjunabeats Worldwide as vehicles for promotion, the imprint has made consistent efforts to introduce and re-familiarize their audience with talented female artists. The key has been tapping into a devoted listenership that trusts the brand as an authority on dance music. This has primed the stage for artists like Olan to have minimal concerns regarding non-creative processes and to do what they do best: make music. Olan shares,
“Anjunabeats has a very committed and loving fan base, so as far as I’m concerned my only job is to make music and spend time with anyone who’s willing to listen. At the minimum, the team has given me a deeper belief in what I’m doing. I’ve been making music for a really long time, so it’s just nice to have people around that care as much as I do. I feel like I’m in a position to make the music I’ve always wanted with a team that will help tie the vision together.”
Not only has Anjuna’s strong community bond created a space for women to share their craft, but also the label’s vast engagement range in the events and live streaming space also provide abundant opportunities. UK-hailing producer Just Her reveals,
“Anjunadeep is an amazing platform, not just for releasing your music, but also for being a part of a huge community of truly dedicated music fans. I had the opportunity to play at a number of label showcases pre-covid, including the incredible Explorations Festival in Albania, and during the pandemic I have taken part in some great live streams and have even taken over the Anjuna Instagram account for the day! It makes a huge difference to be able to really tell the story around your music, and the response from their followers is always so positive and loving. I’m just so glad to be part of the family!”
For Pretty Pink and Nourey, two distinct artists, their first Anjuna touchpoint lands seemingly close, having both remixed Gabriel & Dresden’s Remedy LP, with “Remember” from the former and “Something Bigger” from the latter. Despite operating in separate spaces, their experiences as women in dance music resonate intimately as well. On hers, Pretty Pink divulges,
“I have always felt very comfortable as an artist and person in the creative scene, from which I originally come as a multimedia designer, and also in the music scene and music business. I think in every field you also meet people who don’t treat you with enough integrity. But I have to say that I have only had positive experiences with fans and people from the music business.”
Nourey echoes similar positive sentiments, sharing,
“I was very fortunate to have a massive support system from fellow male producers who have really pushed me throughout my journey. Working with other female producers has been a true blessing for me as I had the chance to learn a lot from their experiences and be part of their journey. I am happy that things are changing in the music industry, with more female artists coming with an inspiring message to say backed up with great music.”
However, multifaceted challenges within the industry still exist and prevalently so. And while we try to give women in dance a platform, artists have expressed they do not wish to be associated simply with their identity as a “female producer,” which can dilute their artistry in a way that has never affected their male peers. Qrion, who has grown to become an Anjunadeep mainstay since her 2019 debut, shares,
“It can be difficult to be recognized as just a music producer and not a ‘female music producer.’ I’m always working on my own music and believe that by continuing to produce tracks and release music, I can show who I really am to my fans and audience without having to have my gender be a part of it. I see more and more women artists starting to come into the scene though and that makes me feel good about the future of women in dance music!”
The question of identity and its impact on the perception of women as creators and their work is one that also strikes Olan. On her thoughts, the Atlanta singer-songwriter states,
“I think my experience has been unique to say the least. I’ve been very lucky to have people around me that push my work ethic further than I imagine for myself and although I’ve taken longer than I’d like to get where I wanted, I try not to attribute it to my identity or else I start to think a solution is out of my control. At the moment I’ve had the pleasure of working with a lot more women than usual, and the sense of camaraderie has grown a lot for me personally. As someone who can be put off by my femininity being pushed as a focal point for my music, I’m hoping that the development of these relationships and opportunities provided together will help us see real growth in the near future.”
For Just Her, the path hasn’t always been smoothly paved and even in the present, she encounters gender biases as a DJ and artist. She notes,
“I guess you could say it has been challenging but also hugely rewarding. When I first started DJing I was almost always the only female in the booth or on the line up, and there have been many moments when I’ve had to deal with sexism, both overtly or in more subtle forms, even as recently as last week! At times it has felt like a total boys club, but I suppose it made me work even harder to establish myself, so the feeling of achievement at having got this far is pretty satisfying. Over the years the tide has slowly shifted and it’s great to see so many strong female artists breaking through, but we still have a long way to go before we have a completely level playing field.”
Keeping that in mind, a label home as well as male producers and DJs are integral support systems and catalysts for change. Parallely, the Anjuna brand and founders Above & Beyond have used their platform to amplify the voices of female artists. Nourey says,
“I have always looked up to Anjunabeats artists and label bosses, Above & Beyond. Getting to experience how it is to be part of the label and the support from the Anjuna family has been a true blessing. The team has been super supportive of my career, pushing me forward, and giving me the right space to explore where I want to go with my music, especially working with Gareth Jones, who has shaped my musical vision so far. I am excited to continue growing with them and exploring other musical genres in such an inspiring environment.”
Qrion also notes,
“The Anjuna team are so kind and supportive. They’ve never talked to me or treated me differently. They see me and other women equally and understand our hustle. It makes my heart warm. This is one of the reasons I feel so comfortable around them and love having them as an outlet to release my music.”
In particular, Mat Zo’s campaign for his third full-length album Illusion of Depth, has been an illuminating example of how male artists can uplift their female collaborators. Olan’s significant contribution has been emphasized as formative to Zo’s latest body of work, with presence on key songs including “Problems” and “Colours.” Often female vocalists are trivialized as a feature; however, Anjuna and Zo made a widespread distinction that Olan should be recognized as a crucial creative partner and gave her recognition where it was due. As the industry pushes for a more women-centric focus, consistent and genuine engagement is increasingly important. Offering a word of advice, Olan cautions,
“I’m not entirely sure how to word it honestly. I feel like we’re in a place where we need to address obvious hardships without it turning into some weird marketing scheme. Integrate women all year long and let’s focus on making sure artists are getting fair wages for their work.”
Within Anjuna’s 2021 release schedule, cross-collaboration between female peers has been a welcoming and empowering symbol. Just weeks into the new year, Nourey and ZOYA joined forces for their Anjunabeats Rising spectacle, “All Night,” gracing the first installment of the talent-highlighting vertical. Aptly timed for International Women’s Day, Olan and Nourey followed with a joint single “In Motion,” coming together in a powerful union of affecting vocals and grungey breakbeats. With regards to Anjuna’s ever-increasing emphasis on female talent, the future looks bright.
At the end of the day, the fight for equal representation in music comes down to proactiveness from all ends including labels, booking agents, event organizers, producers, and DJs. This means inclusive festival and event programming, label rosters, DJ support, and more—everyone is accountable. Qrion relays her call for change, stating,
“I would be happy to see bigger festivals having more diverse line ups and more of our male DJ peers playing and supporting tracks produced by women in their sets.”
Just Her believes in inclusivity at its most granular level can be a step in the right direction. She shares,
“Obviously a higher number of female artists would be great. But I also feel that we need to be kinder and more compassionate towards each other, especially in the online environment that we spend a lot of our time in. It feels like we really need to take the dance music scene back to its roots, where kindness, inclusivity, community and self expression are the absolute foundations.”
There is also room to push simultaneous movements as progress in women’s dance music advancement are made. Our spotlighted artists express open minds at the power of dance music. As not just women, but as powerhouse creatives, they acknowledge their art can be molded into various tools of change and activism.
Pretty Pink: “The international dance music scene is growing and thriving almost daily and has become an enormous community worldwide. I hope that this solidarity across national borders will give rise to further positive vibes and that people will come even closer together and understand each other better through music, despite their wonderful cultural diversity.”
Nourey: “I would like to see more engagement in climate awareness, environmental justice, and sustainability issues. I believe in the power of art as a medium to inspire people to take action and engage in the ongoing global efforts to combat climate change actively, and I think that we need to support science.”
On a final note, Dancing Astronaut closes out this feature in celebration of women in dance music with a simple question to our five guests: what empowers you?
Pretty Pink: “I get my energy and strength for working on my own two labels DeepWoods and Wanderlust, in the studio and as a DJ from healthy eating and lots of sport. I love endurance sports, yoga and fitness. When I work out, it reminds me of a good rave in the club. Sports inspire me almost as much as music – two passions I couldn’t live without.”
Nourey: “Finding solutions to problems that drive change in people’s lives or encapsulate a global impact, whether through music or science.”
Olan: “Seeing people that put in the time and work towards their goal finally receive their blessings. I love seeing people get their shine.”
Qrion: “The support from my fans, friends, and my team empowers me. Reflecting on tour memories on social media and in my Discord with my fans and knowing that I created special memories for them and not just myself! Sharing the memories together empowers me to want to keep creating more in the future. I hope 2021 will be a little brighter than 2020 so that we can come together again and dance.”
Just Her: “I don’t think there is anything more empowering than playing your own music to a packed dance floor and seeing people react to it and have a great time. But also supporting and amplifying other artists, especially females, is a real source of empowerment too. Even paying someone a compliment or just being kind can be a real buzz.”
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