With club nights and rave lights in darkness for much of 2020 so far, it is a time of reflection for many involved in the music industry, from artists, to promoters to ravers. All of this extra time allows us a chance to evaluate what it is that draws us to drum and bass, and who defines this beloved genre.
There is no doubt that the bass scene has always been rich in diversity and culture, with DJs and producers from all backgrounds filling dances and selling records. Diversity is celebrated in this scene arguably more than any other, yet there is still a definite lack of female talent reaching the spotlight.
This is a topic as old as the genre itself. While representation has improved throughout the decades, we would still love to see more and more talented female artists breaking through as DJs and producers in the future.
In this stressful period, in which music seems to have taken a backseat, many artists are re-evaluating what it means to be a DJ or producer in the bass scene. No raves, festivals or even humble house parties means that people have more time to consider what makes a successful artist.
This also opens up the opportunity for a regeneration of line-ups and labels, not just for cis white women but for trans, non-binary and women of colour as well. We can often see the same names on the same bills, with some events not including any female artists at all.
There is a balance between fair representation and performative gestures to place women on line-ups or labels because of their gender. We have spoken to a small sample of a huge pond of talented female artists in drum and bass with the hope that we can highlight the female experience, and truly understand what makes a difference in fair and equal representation.
Take exciting new prospect Spectral. She specialises in the darker, more minimal side of drum and bass.
“The last few months have been strange,” she explains. “I definitely miss being able to go to raves and festivals. It’s been good to have so much time to focus on music and personal goals.”
Spectral’s musical journey may only be just beginning, but her confidence in this scene has grown due to the support that she has received from others. “It’s been amazing, I’ve had so much support already and this is only the beginning! When I first started out, I was worried that being a woman in a male-dominated scene would make it harder to succeed, but now I don’t feel like that at all. I feel super empowered!”
The Bristol-based artist continues to discuss the pioneers of drum and bass and reminds us that the scene was founded by strong female characters: “Just look up Kemistry and Storm for example, they co-founded Metalheadz! Women have always been a huge, influential part of the scene, despite the fact it is so male-dominated. We’re not new to this!”
While the focus has always been on the artist’s talent – and always will be – newcomers like Spectral believe that promoters and those running labels need to put more time in to researching talented female artists.
“If the thought of diversity and equal representation makes you feel as though events will have to sacrifice how good the line-up is, then you obviously aren’t paying attention,” she states. “It shouldn’t be all about gender, but right now it kind of is because we’re not being represented.”
Another artist making a name for themselves is Something Something, who has used the lockdown as a chance to delve deeper into production. Her online content over the last few months has proven her to be a talented and charismatic young artist with a bright future ahead.
She shares similar disappointment to all artists right now, in terms of missing out on gigs this spring and summer, but highlighted how, “the music never really stopped” because of the influx of online streaming and content from artists. When it comes to breaking through as a woman in the scene, she says that she “never really approached it from a mindset of there being obstacles due to gender”, as it was purely a matter of following her passion for music.
“Making a name for yourself as an artist is hard enough,” she explains. “But rather than comparing myself to other artists, I stayed true to who I am and dedicated myself to the craft and found ways to share it with others.”
Something Something – real name Steffi – also mentioned the domino effect of more women getting involved in bass music, as greater representation encourages greater involvement. “If all you ever see are male DJs on stage, then mentally I think that sends a signal that women shouldn’t get involved. A breakthrough has happened now, so I think a lot of heads will be rewired and more women will get involved” she added. The attitude becomes one of “if she can do it, I can do it”.
She attributes the lockdown for a lot of personal development as a creative entirely, with improvements in production, live streaming and even creating her own shows like Drum and Bass Bingo and D&B News. It’s refreshing to see so much productivity and individual artistic innovation coming from a period of struggle.
In terms of how the lockdown can help on a more widescale basis for female artists, she believes that the break “has helped to even out the playing field for women” due to how accessible the online content is for artists of any size. “It will be interesting to see what happens when clubs open up again, and whether new DJs, who have built a fanbase from streaming will see that translate to real world shows.”
More and more female newcomers have broken into the scene in recent years due to the hard work and talent of many artists. Euphonique has well and truly made her mark on the scene as a standout jungle artist for over a decade. An established DJ and producer, she has set the standard for many female artists with her dedication to the genre.
“There have been ups and downs”, Euphonique explains. “Dealing with the standard comments of ‘you’re wicked for a girl’ or ‘you DJ like a dude!’, as well as seeing memes that play the woman as the one that finds music a bore or doesn’t ‘get’ music.”
Euphonique, real name Nikki, explains how while these are often throwaway comments or meant as jokes, they further isolate women from the genre that outwardly boasts about its inclusivity.
“There have been times in the past where I’ve had to deal with inappropriate sexualised behaviour and manage it professionally,” Nikki admits. “I feel for the younger women coming through that have to deal with that too.”
Image plays a significant part in a female artists career with the pressure of not being over or under dressed in fear of being judged. Toxic recent reactions to Indika and Medusa mixing in bikinis during last week’s heatwave are an extreme example of how dangerously entwined image and sexuality are when discussing or contextualising female artists. That is an extreme case, but from any perspective the unhealthy relationship between image and talent is still an endemic issue that needs addressing. Nikki Euphonique agrees: “There is always a risk that a woman will be told that people are only watching or following them because of how they look or dress, or just because ‘they are a woman’”.
The proof will always be in an artists successes and actions, something Euphonique has shown since her earliest steps into the industry. She highlights the benefits of networking and projects in the real world over internet and social media promotion. “I launched Subwoofah events, and later the record label. I’ve presented on numerous radio stations – I got involved as a presenter on Unity Radio pretty much as soon as I started in 2009 – all whilst studying music, music management and broadcasting, so I had a good understanding of what I was doing. I want to help young women, or anyone coming through, to overcome and keep pushing too. I think by promoters, brands and labels recognising and pushing more females, we will inspire more young women to come through.”
Euphonique sets a high standard for how women should be respected in the industry, but also how they should be individually strong-minded, determined and well-rounded artists. She believes that we are on the right track to fair and equal representation, but it is in the hands of all involved in the scene to unite for the right cause.
“It’s definitely getting better; big brands have taken on board what the people have said, and you can see it reflected in their line ups and hopefully in their future label releases too, but it’s a long process – even if they are signing women to their label now it might be a year before they are released. I think there are fewer female producers coming through because of the amount of sexism and stigma around female producers still flying about.” In general, the right steps are being taken from a practical perspective, but there is still a culture shift needed to eradicate the sexist stereotypes and create “safe spaces” where artists can talk and gain confidence to enter “male-dominated environments.”
The next artist I speak to in this feature is Katie Koven. A double threat as both DJ and vocalist, Katie’s success reflects how far female artists have come in drum & bass and she doesn’t feel that her gender has ever impacted her journey.
“I’ve not once considered my gender being a factor that could hold me back, and I’ve never met any challenges caused, to my knowledge, by my gender,” explains Katie. Instead, she believes that “it’s incredibly hard for everyone. If I have come across any challenges, my first thought process was never to believe it was due to my gender, but more due to the fact this is a tough industry for everyone.”
Like many others, Katie believes that the root of inspiration for young artists is seeing people like them on line-ups and making good music. “If I didn’t see vocalists or song writers like Belle Humble and Ayah Marah absolutely killing it back when I first started writing and recording, then I might not have had the motivation or inspiration to believe I could do it too.”
The opportunities are becoming more available for women, but often it is the cultural attitude of misunderstanding women in the bass scene. “There are some incredible female DJs killing it right now”, Katie says. “It’s nothing to do with their gender, it’s because of their talent and work ethic. The balance definitely needs to improve, and I think it will as more women continue to smash it. I do believe we are finally getting rid of this weird stigma of ‘women can’t DJ or produce.’”
She believes that the lockdown has given many artists the chance to provide top quality sets and music online. “I’ve seen insane sets from Something Something, Charlie Tee, Lens, Becky Saif – but if they now appear on more line-ups it won’t be because they are females, it will be because they are incredibly talented.”
Another artist with killer vocals and a talent for mixing is Charli Brix, a solo female artist who has made huge waves in the drum and bass scene with her ear for song-writing and soft liquid sounds. When asked how her career has been as a female artist in drum and bass, she replied, “To be honest, I had never thought about gender until the first time someone commented, ‘wait, she’s a girl?’ on one of my track uploads.”
“I remember thinking, ‘why does it matter that I’m a girl?’, but at the time, I wasn’t really thinking about the politics – I just loved D&B and wanted to sing over it.” Charli’s passion for bass music led her to search for more female inspiration, which unfortunately highlighted a lack of representation at the time.
Like most women in the scene, Charli has also experienced some level of sexism whilst on the job. “I’ve had a few instances of blatant sexism, like being asked ‘which one’s your fella then’ whilst I was waiting behind the decks for a set.”
However, she also has a large support group of men and women and has noticed “an increase in visibility for women” in the last decade.
With the lockdown hindering the creative process for many, it is nice to see artists showcasing their talents online and encouraging a release through music. “I think if people choose it to be, now could be a time of great learning, honing of one’s skills, and self-development”, Charli adds, hoping that some good can come out of a dry period musically.
In terms of making further change in the scene, Charli says that “It has to start with the promoters and labels. These organizations need to be making a conscious effort to seek out more women and BAME producers, vocalists, DJs and MC’s.” Female representation is only one of many crucial steps to inclusivity – people of every gender, sexuality, colour and background need to receive the same celebration through the music.
It isn’t just homegrown UK talent doing the work either. There are women all across the world representing drum and bass. Mizeyesis is an American DJ and producer with heavy jungle influences and a love for drum and bass.
The lockdown has been difficult for everyone in different ways, but Mizeyesis explains how “it’s been interesting as there are so many layers to my experience living through a global pandemic as an artist, black woman and an American”. After losing her day job and most of her DJ bookings, she has spent her free time going “back to basics”.
When she first came on the scene back in 2004, Mizeyesis was the only woman in her state that was passionate about jungle, as well as being the only black woman she knew with an interest in D&B. “I experienced a lot of resentment from some of my male peers who then saw the fruit of my labour as me just being put on line-ups because I was a woman, or because I was a black woman or because someone was infatuated with me sexually”, she explained. As a black woman, she tells how she was emotionally abused in the early years of her career and relied on her allies and other crews in the scene to pull her through.
She also mentions the frustrations of DJing with male artists, particularly black men, and being either romantically paired or told they looked like family. This ignorance has remained apparent throughout her career, with many seeming to refuse the idea of a simple friendship between male and female artists.
“Most line-ups on face value mostly show cis-white males, and for many who don’t fit that demographic they might feel this isn’t a place for them. Then when they see me, they are shocked. And then when you show them the history of this music, they get even more shocked that it came from marginalized groups.” The history of drum and bass is what has made it so rich and exciting. The jungle roots in black working-class communities are what birthed an apocalyptic genre that has infiltrated all cultures and genres since.
Working to inspire others to get involved with music is clearly the driving factor for many female artists like Mizeyesis. She has worked closely with people in the US and the U.K. to unite female artists. She manages the US side of the D&B Girls collective, who “now have about 10 members for the US Team and will be expanding more.” In her own performances, she explains how she gets “women, people of colour and other marginalised communities feeling safe and inspired to begin their own journeys.”
“I feel like if it weren’t for the sexism, the animosity, blacklisting, blackballing, having promoters treat you with disrespect – I would have never taken that energy and transformed it into something greater,” she explains. And as difficult as it is to comprehend that a woman must work harder to achieve the same success as male counterparts, it is inspirational to hear stories like hers so that we can understand why the mission for equal opportunities is so important.
A group that takes this mission more seriously than anybody else is EQ50, a community of womxn* aiming to create more fair representation in the drum and bass scene – not only for cis women, but those of *trans, non-binary and BAME backgrounds too.
Launched in December 2018, EQ50 was created with the gender balance initiative to get more womxn involved. The aim is to target the inequality at an industry level to promote gender inclusivity. They believe that the labels and promoters in D&B need to be held accountable and “make change to reassess on a personal and industry wide level”.
EQ50 are interested in the legacy of drum and bass, and how this legacy should reflect a comprehensive cultural pool of people from all walks of life. When speaking to Mantra, co-founder of EQ50, she said that improvements in diversity in D&B have been “a very recent thing” and offers of support for womxn can often be “tokenistic” in nature in order to meet a certain diversity quota.
“The music has to be the driving force for any label or promoter” says Mantra, who was also inspired by the likes of DJ Flight and Kemistry and Storm. She believes that all-female line-ups are not the answer and should only be put on “if it is authentic and there’s a similar sound.”
EQ50 have recently announced their new mentorship project, in which a five womxn producers will get the chance to work alongside some of the biggest labels in bass music. This 12-month mentorship offers opportunities to womxn that may not have previously been accessible, as well as encouraging influential labels to promote a more diverse talent pool.
Mantra describe this lockdown period as one of transition. “It is not good enough just to focus on womxn”, she adds, highlighting the cultural history and heritage of drum and bass with its black musical roots. She is right. As important as it is to promote fair representation for womxn, she enforces the fact that “music should always be accessible to anybody.”
The legacy of drum and bass, and all of its sub-genres, should be one that celebrates each individual for who they are, their love of the music, and the immense talent that they behold.
Discussing music and representation with these women was eye-opening. As much as we may understand female artists and their talents, it is important to keep listening to voices that may go unheard. The main mission should always be to enjoy the music, unite communities and spread positivity, which can only be wholly achieved when everybody is fairly included and represented.
Whether it may be following or supporting a womxn online, telling a friend or attending their shows (when we can), any and all support helps. Open conversations about inclusive line-ups should be held freely and without conflict, as the aim is to unite, not divide. Encouraging and celebrating female talent will only create a healthy environment to breed bigger and better DJs and producers in the future.
We can only hope that the lockdown and a rough 2020 so far will encourage reflection on who we support ,and how we treat each other in the scene. While things have progressed so far, there is work to be done before we can reach a truly equal community.
Thanks to every artist who contributed to this feature. Follow them: