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'If you are DJing in Dublin while pregnant, bookings start to dwindle' - Female DJs reveal challenges in industry

Do music festivals have a woman problem? Only a small percentage of the performers on this year's line ups are female. Now a new campaign entitled #MovetheNeedle is aiming to change that


Women go vinyl: DJs Cailin Power and Aoife Nic Canna pictured at Roberta's on Dublin’s Essex St East. Photo: Frank McGrath

Women go vinyl: DJs Cailin Power and Aoife Nic Canna pictured at Roberta's on Dublin’s Essex St East. Photo: Frank McGrath

Dua Lipa performs at Longitude

Dua Lipa performs at Longitude


Women go vinyl: DJs Cailin Power and Aoife Nic Canna pictured at Roberta's on Dublin’s Essex St East. Photo: Frank McGrath

Just under a quarter of the acts performing at Longitude, the hugely popular music festival kicking off in Marlay Park today and running all weekend, are female. Electric Picnic's line up features 33pc female acts, while Forbidden Fruit's line up, this past June Bank Holiday, had just 17pc.

As galling as the latter figure is, it's also the exact number of women, transgender and non-binary artists who got to headline electronic music festivals around the globe in 2016.

"We were shocked at the statistics," says Leila Fataar, head of culture and entertainment at Diageo Europe. "I don't think anyone realised it was as bad as it was. We want to find out what the root causes of this are and double that figure by 2020."

To that end, Smirnoff have launched the #MovetheNeedle campaign across Ireland, running a series of free DJ and production workshops for women, as well as putting a short documentary of the same name online, which explores why so few women hit the decks.


Dua Lipa performs at Longitude

Dua Lipa performs at Longitude

Dua Lipa performs at Longitude

Lack of representation seems to be an ongoing theme that comes up. "It's an industry where there are not that many women visible," says Joni a producer and DJ who is featured in the documentary. "Guys might think, 'that looks cool, I'll give that a go', but girls don't because they don't want to make a mistake. If they do, they think people would be like 'ah, she can't do it, she's a girl.'"

Internationally, many female DJs get trolled for their technique or their bodies, which can dent their confidence. Sweden is set to hold a "man-free" music festival next year after its largest festival, Bravalla, was marred with dozens of allegations of rapes and sexual assaults.

Amongst women DJs in Ireland, self-censoring of clothing and appearance is another issue. "Girls don't want to turn up too girly," says Joni. "They want to be taken seriously so they feel like they had better dress down as people might think they are looking for attention if they wear a low cut top."

There are slight signs that the industry is embracing the message that misogynistic attitudes are unacceptable. When the co-founder of the prominent dance music label Giegling, DJ and producer Konstantin, claimed women were "usually worse at DJing than men", both he and his label were taken off the line up for the London festival Sunfall.

And after DJ Nightwave faced sexist trolls following her appearance on the online music broadcaster Boiler Room, the site enlisted a raft of moderators to ensure the problem wasn't repeated.

"With some promoters, when I worked with them for the first time, I felt I wasn't taken seriously, initially," says Cailin Power, a resident in Dublin's largest nightclub, District 8. "But that made me strive to make sure that every time I played I swayed them. It was good motivation.

"Usually afterwards I have people stumbling all over me saying 'I wasn't expecting that out of you."

Occasionally they report men quizzing them on their song selection or the way they mixed a record. "But you get that off of women as well," laughs Aoife Nic Canna, who has been a prominent face on the Irish club scene since 1993.

In fact, most of the sexism they have faced comes from within the industry. "When you are doing sound checks, you have techies coming up to you and asking if you want a mic. They presume I must be singing, that I couldn't be using the technology myself," says Elll, DJ/producer and founder of the GASH Collective who run showcases and training events around the country for women. "They think its funny, and it might be. But then when it's said, gig after gig, it becomes exhausting. They wouldn't say it to guys carrying the same equipment."

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Leila also highlights pregnancy and maternity leave as an issue. "If you have children and you are in clubs while pregnant, bookings start to dwindle. Women start asking, 'is that a career I really want to take on board?'

"When I was pregnant I had high notions," says Joni. "I told myself 'I am going to do loads of gigs', which I did… for six months. I was just really tired. And that's an issue facing any working woman in any industry. Do I have the time to do this anymore? Can I just stop? Can I come back? It's a pressure that's added to by super-wealthy feminists like Beyoncé who do gigs while several months pregnant and put out this unrealistic message that you can do everything."

Perhaps one of the biggest problems facing female DJs in Ireland is club closures and the state's prohibitive licensing laws. The smaller the pie gets in terms of places for people to go, the more promoters want the DJs they think will draw in the crowds.

"There is no doubt about it. It's having a detrimental effect," says Elll. "We have so much talent in the realm of electronic music, it's so rich, so skilled and yet they have to play hard and fast because we have to be out of the club by x time. It defeats the purpose of the music."

The curfew for Irish clubs poses another problem.

"It's like a parent telling a child when to go to bed," says Cailin. "And the scene is deteriorating because of it. How can we develop as DJs without getting proper set times to play? You will never be noticed on an international level because you never get to showcase yourself. You get warm up slots, an hour long and then you have to go home."

"A venue should decide what time they want to finish," Aoife adds. "Club culture has changed and grown up so much but they're still not able to operate here in a manner that works best for the music, or for the people who invest in night time culture."

The more female artists speak out, the more conscious festivals become in booking them, which leads to the inevitable claims of tokenism.

"They know they need to get women on the line up and they know I have spoken out about this issue, so they remember me, instead of booking me because I play great tunes," Joni surmises.

"But the more of us that get on the line up and the more of us that speak out, the less of a problem that becomes. I want to get to a place where I will be asked the same questions guys are asked and not always focus on my experiences as a woman."

For more information on the workshops and the movie visit thisgreedypig.com/movetheneedle

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