Presenting this year at London’s Printworks, the Smirnoff Equalising Music initiative takes on the task of doubling the number of female and non-binary artists performing at the iconic club space in 2018.
One reason often cited for the gender imbalance on club and festival line-ups is the smaller pool of female talent to choose from. To this end, the global initiative recently launched a brand new DJ mentorship programme with internationally renowned DJs such as The Black Madonna, Artwork, Honey Dijon, Peggy Gou and Nastia to select, coach and mentor 10 talented aspiring DJs throughout the summer, all 10 of whom are given the opportunity to perform at Printworks.
Having been in the clubbing scene for 10 years, I was very curious about this event and its overall effectivity. On one hand, the idea of big names mentoring aspiring DJs and giving them a chance to perform on such a far-reaching event increases the visibility of female-identifying artists. However, there is an underlying sense that the project’s mere existence suggests that truth lies in the industry’s gender imbalance stemming from the lack of talent among female artists – an argument far from accurate.
Pushing my doubts aside, I reached the venue which had been arranged over multiple levels with a maze of corridors and rooms boasting the original machinery throughout which had been retained from its time. So far so good.
The first delusion was the Dark Room where the emerging artists were performing: it was not at all signalled and the few times I stopped by, there was a small crowd of what I can only imagine were friends of the DJs. It seemed that despite the mentoring initiative, not one of the DJs were up to the task of playing in such an event and I was left with a bitter feeling in my mouth that rather than a springboard for talented musicians, this was little more than a marketing stunt by Smirnoff to credit themselves as a company interested in gender equality. This was only further confirmed by the fact that half the DJs playing in the main room were male artists. At an event dedicated to and celebrating female empowerment in the electronic music industry, why were artists like Artwork given so much performing time?
Bright rays of hope were the sets of Honey Dijon (a black trans woman DJ and activist), The Black Madonna and the incredible Peggy Gou, all of whom were a friendly reminder that there absolutely are kickass female DJs and they are not difficult to find.
If we are to take anything away from this initiative, perhaps it would be that it is not necessary. Instead, we should be able to consider an artist for their merits and their performance only. Because in the end what really makes us equal is the love for music and the need to shake what our mamas gave us.
ELEONORA PAESANI, MSc DEVELOPMENT STUDIES