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Whisky Kicks

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Backstage Sexism

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Backstage Sexism

Howdy! I’m Whisky Kicks- long-time music journalist and editor of UKF. I am also a woman. 

As International Woman’s Day approached I considered different articles I could write to celebrate the phenomenal females who reside in the bass music scene; “Women to Watch in 2023”, “Ten Women Who Are Killing It Right Now” or maybe I could focus a spotlight on the incredible work being done by groups like Dynamics and EQ50. I decided against it. It felt forced, and performative, merely paying lip-service to social issues which affect women. I believe as an industry all genders are working hard to create an equal and balanced space for everyone to enjoy and thrive in. We’ve made huge progress. I want to continue supporting women through our usual posts because they are talented artists with interesting stories which deserve to be told- on any day of the year.

I was so set on my decision not to post something for International Women’s Day, and content in my thinking that we’ve come so far on the path to equality, that what happened a few days after took me by surprise. I was backstage at Print Works talking to my colleague when an up-and-coming DJ interjected our conversation and made a comment about my age. Now it won’t come as a shock to you that as a woman who’s worked in the music industry for 15 years, I don’t look like the springiest of chickens, but should that matter? After my colleague pulled this DJ up, we made our way back to the bar and I thought about all the amazing pioneers that created our scene, how many times do you think Fabio has been made to feel like he’s too old to be at a rave? Hype? Ray Keith? Chris Goss maybe? I would bet my bottom bassline that older men don’t have this kind of commentary uninvitedly thrust upon them.   

This minor incident made me reflect on all the times over the years  I’ve been asked “who my boyfriend was” while I was backstage as if I’d have no other reason to be there other than to be a male DJ’s girlfriend. The times when it’s been creepily suggested that my job is equivalent to some kind of ‘Elite Groupie’ or that sexual favours were used in exchange for guestlist rather than my journalistic skill. At the very beginning of my career, I changed my pen name to Whisky Kicks because when a record label saw my real name on an email it was insinuated I didn’t understand drum and bass- being a female in bass music has always presented its challenges.

International Women’s Day was originally created as a focal point for the Women’s Rights Movement, including highlighting the struggles of working-class women in their working environment. Today we’re more likely to use March 8 to celebrate the achievements of women. And we love to see it! In the words of Fracture Big Up the Ladies! We also want to Big Up the many men who support females and stand against the inequality they see. But while we’ve certainly made headway, there are noticeably more women on line-ups for example, it’s important to note some of the injustices women still face being part of the industry, and the gender-specific hurdles they have to jump throughout their careers. 

Some women have shared stories of sexism while working in the industry. It’s a long and tough read. 

Ruth Royall

I’ve definitely had people mistake my manager for the DJ before but they were always absolutely mortified afterwards and not at all rude about it. I don’t find that it’s individuals that are the problem the majority of the time, it’s the overall sense of still being the only woman in the room and feeling like I’m lucky to be there.

Backstage areas are often full of men, predominantly white, who have been doing this for years, there have been comments like ‘the girls are doing great at the moment aren’t they’ or ‘women are really having a moment’. This is meant with the best intent, and I love that the guys are taking notice and getting behind the momentum but it still makes you feel somewhat ‘other’ and like it’s not going to last. If we balanced the playing field from the top, for example, promoters booking more women, more female A&R and tour managers and more women running the live tech side of things, encouraging more women to take degrees in sound design and engineering, we would stop feeling like a lucky girl with a golden ticket and feel like we belong. Which we do. We are getting more light shone on us than ever before, which is a great thing, but we don’t want to feel like we are being given permission to be there, we want to just do our thing and have a great time just like everyone else.

Amy Jayne

One story that stands out to me and I always refer back to was from Hospitality at The 02 Academy in Brixton 2014. I was Head of Promotions at the time and the team had pulled off an amazing sold-out event at one of the most prestigious venues in South London. It was early doors and I was standing on the side of the stage watching the venue fill up fast. I was having a proper moment in my own head, looking out and feeling so proud of the team. It was also one of the biggest events I’d been involved in at that time. The next thing some guy, a guest of someone playing the event, comes over and interrupts my moment by asking me if I was the DJ’s missus. I laughed sarcastically and told him I wasn’t – “Ok, so which one are you shagging then?”. I rolled my eyes and told him I worked for Hospital Records. “Ahhhh ok, well go get me a drink then.”

Obviously, I walked off and didn’t get him a drink but I do regularly kick myself for not standing up for myself – this wasn’t the first or last time I’d experienced this but the difference this time was the moment in which he interrupted me. I went from being so proud to so disheartened in a split second. 

Another moment that springs to mind that I can only laugh at given my age and experience was a comment made by a random guy backstage at a show: “You can’t be a Label Manager you’re too young….. and a girl”.

Maja C

Luckily in the 10 or so years I’ve been in the music industry I’ve been surrounded by incredibly inspiring and supportive men, both at events I’ve attended and within the company I work for, however, some moments have left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Often it’s just little jabs and comments undermining my authority and position, and once someone said to me “they allow women to do that these days?” with a wink when I told them what I did.

One moment I often think of though was back when I was at a high-profile d&b festival and an artist, who has a lot of respect and history in the scene, decided to interrupt me as I was saying hello to a friend and proceeded to tell him “she’s bloody fit though, isn’t she?” while I stood there feeling incredibly uncomfortable. I ignored the comment and later attempted to get into a green room that was allocated for us, only to be met by this same individual who then grabbed me in a forceful bear hug that I was unable to get out of and who placed his mouth against my ear and whispered “you’re trouble, you’ll get us in trouble”, as though I had been flirting with him, and then nuzzled his face into my neck as I squirmed until he let me go. I felt really weird afterwards and disappointed in myself that I didn’t say anything at the time, he just felt so strong in the moment and too “respected” so I didn’t want to make a fuss. I’d like to see him try something like that on me today, though. He wouldn’t get away with it so easily, that’s for sure.

Riya

There have been numerous occasions where I’ve been travelling with my partner to a festival I’ve been booked to play and as soon as I get there, the person picking us up assumes I’m the DJ’s girlfriend without even asking who is the artist. It’s really frustrating.

I’ve also been asked in the past if I’ve slept with people to get where I am. In the very distant past, I have occasionally slept with DJs because we’re in the same circles and it’s easy to fall for like-minded people, but then that story gets told over and over again and the story gets twisted from male producer to male producer like it’s proof that I’ve got no talent and that’s the only reason I’ve got anywhere. It’s pretty hurtful to be honest because I know a lot of men in this scene who sleep with a lot of women and nobody says anything about it. 

I’ve also experienced a culture where the boys look out for the boys. I have over 15 years of experience of being in this scene, working and releasing, yet still, I don’t get treated with the same respect, and find I have to work twice as hard to get the same respect or to be seen in the same way as my male counterparts. It’s starting to change now, but it’s mad how hard I’ve had to work to gain that respect or to be even considered in some places or conversations, and again, it’s so frustrating. 

I remember being interviewed at a music conference and I thought it would be a great opportunity to talk about my skills, my DJ/vocal show, my history, and my plans instead the male presenter just asked me about how I dress, and how I choose my stage outfits and things like that. I was gobsmacked and embarrassed. I wanted to crawl under a rock. I should have challenged the presenter, but at that moment, I didn’t know how to do that and kind of just went along with it. I regret that now. 

I’ve been called a ‘diva’ on numerous occasions just for having an opinion on my career. Whilst I can be strong in my opinion when I’m passionate about things, it’s the sort of thing that I’ve not witnessed a man saying to another man. If women are strong and assertive, then they are divas. Over the years it’s made me doubt myself and question who I am, which isn’t always a bad thing as I’ve grown, but now I reflect and think maybe the questioning should have been turned around on them.

Anon

I was working on stage at an event with an artist I used to work with. During his set, I was alone in the booth behind him playing, with his tour manager, who I also used to work with, who repeatedly made comments about the size of my boobs and asked me multiple times to go to the toilet with him to suck him off. A few months later, when I had to contact him for something work-related, he suggested I should send him naked photos and said ‘booooo’ when I said no. I told him not to talk to me like that and he immediately unfriended me on Facebook and unfollowed me on every single social media platform.

Laurie Charlesworth

A pretty big DJ once asked me how I got backstage at an event, threatening to call security, basically insinuating that I’d snuck back there. I was actually working in management for another artist on the lineup at the time, which was why I was backstage. I was the only woman backstage.

Georgie Riot

I’m a 26-year-old female who’s always been surrounded by men during my education and now working in the music industry. In college I was the only female on my Music Technology course, I found that I was treated with less respect, and it made me feel uncomfortable. I find that as a female, no matter how good you are at what you do there is always someone ready to chime in and say something to dampen your success some of the phrases I’ve either heard people say or read online are: “she didn’t make that track herself”, “she probably had a ghost producer” “she only got to where she is now because she’s a female”. 

Working in the music industry as a woman, it feels like you have to work twice as hard to prove yourself. even when you’ve proved yourself, people will always have something to say about you because of your gender. It’s something that most men will never understand because they won’t ever experience it. We are grossly misrepresented, not taken seriously as artists, objectified, and sexualised and it seems that our appearances are valued more than our skills.

A lot of people think it’s easier to pave a way for yourself in the music industry as a woman, but it definitely isn’t. Let’s stop pigeon-holding women, and try to re-programme people’s attitudes towards female artists. Let’s give women equal opportunities and support, after all music is supposed to be about peace, love and unity. 

Anon

Unfortunately throughout my career behind the scenes, I’ve had to deal with varying degrees of sexism backstage. This includes not being allowed into areas despite having the same access as my peers, being called a groupie to my face by random people when entering a backstage area, and artists I work with having to step in with security. But for me being repeatedly groped in front of a male PR team with no one stepping in was the most upsetting. I also can’t count how many times I’ve been accused of sleeping with DJs. A friend confronted a conversation like this he’d overheard, and the individual apologised to me because they were interviewing at a large dance music label and didn’t want this to damage their chances. I’ve had to step in hearing the same about another colleague, knowing this categorically wasn’t true. This is an insight into what women face within these spaces and online. I was asked ‘whose dick’ I sucked to get a position within a record label publicly on Facebook when I first started. 

With line ups becoming more diverse it does provide a safer environment for women. I feel like the younger generations are less tolerant of this behaviour too so the tides are changing. 

Averse 

I was playing at a club in Bristol, when I went to the front of the queue and told the male security guard I was DJing he laughed and continued checking IDs. When I got his attention again and told him I was, in fact, DJing and showed him my headphones and my name on the flyer, he looked a little embarrassed and let me in. I found it quite funny, to be honest, but it is a clear indication that in many people’s minds, DJ = male. This is further reinforced by being asked subsequently when I arrived inside the venue if I was a ticket scanner, and when I played another event earlier that day, if I was a member of bar staff, surely anything but a DJ!

Charlotte Devaney 

I have so many stories from over the years, I could probably write a book, but my main feeling towards where we are as women, in a still extremely male-dominated scene, is that although things are a lot better there’s still a long way to go. As a woman who’s been around for quite a few years and can say they have achieved a lot in that time, I feel I still, in some instances, do not get offered equal respect and pay to some equivalent male artists. There is still work to be done, and that is going to take time, but I am not afraid to talk about some of my experiences.

Although I feel very fortunate to have had some amazing opportunities, and am proud of all of my achievements, none of it has come easy, and none of it was handed to me on a plate. I do a lot of stuff online and did especially so during the lockdown. I was streaming and pushing out a lot of content. Sexism is still rife online, it almost becomes boring that the same old lines are being said by various males, things such as: ‘She’s only got somewhere because she’s Fabio’s partner’ (my company is behind everything Fabio & Grooverider have done in the last 10 years), ‘She can’t mix, she’s playing a mix CD, love to see her in front of a set of turntables’, ‘Get back in the kitchen women are not meant to be DJ’s’ and so on. 

I have experienced huge amounts of sexism online, stuff that would NEVER be said to male artists in a million years. There have been many times when I’ve walked into a club with my DJ bag, and the security has asked me if I’m one of the dancers or looked at me with surprise when I’ve said I’m the DJ. Perceptions have a long way to go until things are equal.  

During my time in this industry, I’ve heard stories of agents saying to legendary female artists that they are not getting booked more because of their age, but have no problem representing male DJs of the same age and would never dream of saying that to any of them. Also, I’ve heard of agents only wanting to take on one or two female acts at a time to push because there “just isn’t room for too many”. I feel this is also the reason there is a lack of unity among women, these kinds of situations just cause competitiveness. 

I’ve been fighting for equality since my entry into the scene, as a young dancer in 2001, when there were very few females to look up to. I’ve always felt equal to any man, and have always felt I could do anything a man can do and have battled through a lot of sexism because of this. 

In bass music, there is still a lot of work to be done, and I’m here to do my bit to change perceptions and push for more female unity. For Valentines Jumpin Jack Frost asked me to curate a female lineup for his Brixton Bass night, which was an amazing jam packed success!  I’m trying to include more females on my Hologram Sessions series and just did an episode with 3 talented female MC’s which UKF supported. I also have my 180 Society collective and as a female artist myself, I’m going to continue smashing down doors to change perceptions and have a load of fun doing it!

I’d love to see more of the amazing female artists out there getting booked and represented equally, and definitely see more female headliners in the future. The future is bright for the gal dem! Especially if I have anything to do with it! 

Happy International Women’s day to all my queens out there, ill never stop fighting for equality. 

MEL

Sadly I’ve had security tell me to leave the booth as “women aren’t allowed behind the booth”, they were fully convinced that I was a groupie not an artist about to perform, I’ve had my talent and skills completely dismissed and doubted countless times, yet if the same level of work is produced by a man nobody bats and eyelid, they just cheer him on.

Anon

The most prominent incident in my experience is getting propositioned for sex and being sexually l harassed by a pioneering artist whilst working for his management. The management enabled his behaviour and whenever I confronted them about his actions, I was just dismissed and was still made to work closely with this artist on a regular basis and this artist was never spoken to about his behaviour either. I also had a separate incident with my male boss at this management, who made me inappropriately share a room with him after an event, when I couldn’t get home, he sexually came on to me and tried to touch me sexually, I had to tell him to stop…not long after that I was let go from the company

Pinks 

I’ve been groped twice at gigs. The first time was before I was due to go on and was talking to a friend in the club and a guy I didn’t know ran up behind me and smacked me from behind like 10 times repeatedly and then laughed and walked away. Me and my mate were in such shock we didn’t react and then I think he left. The second time I was mid-set and a guy who I think may have been a friend of the MC’s, as I’ve got no idea how else he’d have gotten behind the barrier, walked past me and groped me from behind, I wasn’t really sure what to do at that moment so I kind of just carried on the set. I also had a guy come right up to the decks and move his hands up and down in front of his chest to resemble my boobs bouncing, literally something I can’t help happening because of gravity! I’ve got a really thick skin with that kind of thing but that last one has left me feeling a bit self-conscious about what I choose to wear when I play. I try to ignore that feeling because I should be able to wear what I like without worrying about being sexually harassed, but obviously, it’s still there.

I’ve also experienced misogynistic behaviour from some male DJs and MCs trying it on with me and being pushy trying to get me to do things that I didn’t want to sexually. Once someone has said no to something it should never be questioned.

Collette Warren-

Way before I was even an artist, me and my best friend Zoe used to go to all the raves and be at the front, the MC’s used to always shout us out so we were all over the tape packs, then one day we saw a thread on DNBA forum saying ‘Who are  Zoe & Collette?’ Do they suck DJ’s & MC’s off after the rave, they are massive groupies, do they even like drum & bass or just want to be seen’ all this crap, it really upset us at the time as we were so passionate about the music and raving.

Since being an artist, I’ve been shoved at the bottom of line ups, even though I know I’m more ‘established’ than some people above me, and I know it’s because I’m a woman, and I’ve turned up at events to play at, and if the people working there do not recognise me, they will look straight passed me and start talking to Ben (Soundscape), or another male if there is one there. I don’t let it bother me anymore, but it’s still an issue that needs to be recognised and rectified, even though it is getting better!

Rossy

I was the direct support on a multi-stop bus tour this past fall, and this was publicly announced & advertised. I was having a great time backstage with all of the artists and team who I had been touring with for several days, and a guy came up to me and asked “so are you with one of the guys, like an artist?” I politely informed him I was one of the artists, and he awkwardly mumbled something out and walked away. I can tell he meant no harm, but it just goes to show that even still today men have unconscious biases that lead their first assumption to be that women backstage have to be there because they’re seeing one of the artists, and not because they are the artist.

Anon

I have had quite a few experiences of sexism in the music industry and of the times I can recall, they pretty much have boiled down to one thing – people not believing I am someone of any importance because I am a woman in this male-dominated scene. Myself and my best friend were denied backstage access because a friend of the DJ playing at that moment in time didn’t know who we were so he blocked the entrance like an entitled bouncer, even though I told him that I played in this club in the main room the night before. He still didn’t let us past. Another time I recall, my best friend and I walked into a backstage area and asked where my drinks rider was, all the men in there looked at us like we had really offended them but then after they asked who I was, they couldn’t be any more helpful and accommodating towards us. Similarly, we were looked down upon by door security after we told them we are playing a DJ set and they didn’t believe us. And the last one that comes to mind is when I was playing an event abroad, I asked a sound engineer if they could get a fan on stage because it was so hot, he ignored me, so I told the MC, who was male, who then went back up to the sound engineer and asked him the same question, and he did it without any hesitation.’

Enada 

I was once playing at a club in London when the sound engineer came up to me to tell me I was redlining. Prior to him coming up I had been attempting to correct this without much success. I explained this to him and he stood there while I was trying to DJ explaining to me how I could stop this from happening. I explained to him I knew this information and he proceeded to repeat himself. This really infuriated me as I felt this was very ‘mansplainy’. He walked off and then went up to my boyfriend to repeat himself, who confirmed that I knew what I was doing. He then revealed the mixer was not connected to an amp- which is why it was redlining. The rest of the night all the other DJs were redlining, who were males, and he did not go up to any of them! 

pyxis

I’m 46 now, but even when I was in my 20’s and 30’s I’ve always been respected well and I’m lucky and grateful for it. I’m not sure if it’s because I have largely represented the more business-like side, being a publisher collecting royalties, but even as I stepped into producing in 2019, I was met with the same support. That said, I’ve not been DJ’ing, so it’s hard to say what exactly I’d be met with under those circumstances.

Back when I was in my late teens and early 20’s I was working in the hardcore and U.K. Garage scenes though, I was an events organiser so I was backstage at a lot of raves and even then, I was never disrespected at any point. I have no negative experiences to report, either I’ve been extremely lucky or I’ve just always been in the right place at the right time.

A lot of my friends haven’t been quite so lucky and I’ve found it so hard to stand by and watch that shit go on around me. The horror stories I’ve heard are sickening. I just want to end a very positive story with a side note- a message to any men treating women like some sort of toy. They are people, with feelings, and it’s never down to you to make them feel like shit, or treat them with such disdain that they are scared to go out! We look out for each other, we protect each other and if you are part of this problem, learn some control or stay at home!

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