Beyond the Dance Floor: Female DJs, Technology and Electronic Dance Music Culture

Beyond the Dance Floor: Female DJs, Technology and Electronic Dance Music Culture

by Rebekah Farrugia


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A pathbreaking study of the women who create electronic dance music, Beyond the Dance Floor focuses on the largely neglected relationship between these women and the conceptions of gender and technology that continue to inform the male-dominated culture surrounding electronic music. In this volume, Rebekah Farrugia explores a number of important issues, including the politics of identity and representation, the bonds formed by women within the DJ community, and the role female DJs and producers play in this dance music culture as well as in the larger public sphere.
Though Farrugia primarily focuses on women’s relationship to music-related technologies—including vinyl, mp3s, and digital production software—she also deftly extends her argument to the strategic use of the Internet and web design skills for purposes tied to publicity, networking, and music distribution.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781841505664
Publisher: Intellect, Limited
Publication date: 08/13/2012
Pages: 130
Product dimensions: 6.60(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Rebekah Farrugia is assistant professor of media studies in the Department of Communication and Journalism at Oakland University. Her writings have appeared in Popular Music and Society, Feminist Media Studies, andthe Journal of Popular Music Studies.

Read an Excerpt

Beyond the Dance Floor Female DJs, Technology and Electronic Dance Music Culture

By Intellect Ltd

Intellect Ltd

Copyright © 2012 Intellect Ltd
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84150-566-4


Critical Connections: Gender, Technology and Popular Music Cultures

In her book Bedroom DJ: A Beginner's Guide (2003), Piper Terrett takes readers on a journey from her beginnings as an amateur DJ's heartbroken ex-girlfriend, to wondering if women could be DJs, to finally becoming a DJ herself. Her audience is privy to the frustrations and doubts she experiences over the course of her DJ education. Early on she describes the 'horrifying' task of putting together a set of turntables she has purchased. In this moment of exasperation, she reasons that 'maybe this was why guys were DJs and birds were told to stick to hobbies like knitting and trying to lose weight. After all, us girls knew it was blokes that like the fiddling with bits of metal' (18). In her frustration, Terrett expresses the widespread belief that technology is the business of men – a belief she goes on to defy by becoming a DJ herself.

The purpose of this chapter is to contextualize how this modern-day relationship between gender and technology – one in which it is normal for women to knit but not to fiddle with metal – first emerged and subsequently became naturalized. The chapter explores how the normalization of this relationship affects women's access to music technologies and the spaces and networks in which they circulate. To understand these articulations, this chapter traces the historical, discursive and material practices that have shaped technology and music cultures along gender lines.

I first articulate some broad historical connections between gender and technology before moving on to explore the specific gendered relationships that have developed in relation to audio and music technologies. Next, the male-centricity of music subcultures and women's response to their subordinate status in these spaces is examined. Specifically, a review of the early 1990s Riot Grrrl movement will reveal some of the strategies young women adopted to create spaces for their voices in punk rock music's male-dominated culture in the United States and Britain. To contextualize the experiences of the female EDM DJs and producers featured in subsequent chapters, the remainder of this chapter centres on the origins of and gender dynamics at play in EDM and DJ culture.

The gender-technology connection

In her foreword to Machina Ex Dea: Feminist Perspectives on Technology, Ruth Hubbard (1983) argued, 'there is no denying that women tend to be users of machines and men their inventors, makers, and repairers' (vii). Cynthia Cockburn (1985) echoed this sentiment a few years later when she stated that women 'may push the buttons but they may not meddle with the works' (12). Twenty years after Hubbard and Cockburn's commentary on women's relationships to technology, sociologist Judy Wajcman (2004) continued to argue that despite the expansion of women's independence stemming from paid labour and widespread public discourse about gender equity, the connection between masculinity and technology remains strong.

Feminist and cultural studies scholars alike agree that technology is not inherently masculine, but has been labeled as such as a result of socially constructed narratives, rhetorical devices and material practices. Over the course of the twentieth century such influences have narrowed the definition of what constitutes technology and systematically written women out of technology's collective memory. Previously, in the nineteenth century, the term 'technology' was readily applied to the skills of bakers, farmers and teachers, as well as engineers. In this context the knitters Terrett refers to would indeed have been considered technologists; however, in her contemporary context they serve as a counterpoint to technology tinkerers.

Beginning in the early twentieth century, a plethora of autobiographies were published that revitalized a middle-class identity for men and specifically linked their expertise and knowledge in science and engineering to technology, which in turn redefined the term (Oldenziel 1999). In Oldenziel's words, 'in the course of a century, technology had been turned into a product, engineers into producers, and women and workers into consumers who were mere onlookers of the technical enterprise' (50). Oldenziel goes on to discuss the ways in which these discursive practices worked specifically to position engineers as the new technological heroes.

Since the 1980s, numerous scholars (Wajcman 1991; Cockburn and Ormrod 1993; Ormrod 1995; Green 2001; Wajcman 2004) have argued that the meanings of both gender and technology are discursively and socially constructed through everyday practices, whereby 'technology is best understood as a social as well as technical process which blends seamlessly with the everyday' (Green 2001: 175). The power that technology affords 'produces knowledges, meanings and values, and permits certain practices as opposed to others' (Ormrod 1995: 35). The social construction of the relationship between gender and technology has created an atmosphere in which 'femininity is incompatible with technological competence; to feel technically competent is to feel manly' (Cockburn 1985: 12). Thus, the situating of women as always already outside invention and technology naturalizes and preserves a seemingly innate relationship between men and technology.

The framing of technological interests as not only natural but also defining features of masculinity is widespread in popular culture, beginning in early childhood. At the time of this writing a search for the phrases 'toys for boys' and 'toys for girls' on produced the following results: the top ten recommended toys for boys included a monster truck custom shop, tool kit, science kit and rocket kit. For girls, a jewellery box, tea set, cookware and bracelet-making kit were included in the top ten. These 'girl toys' foster the development of skills that today fall outside of the purview of technology.

A hopeful note may be found in the one item that appears on the top ten lists for both boys and girls: a Multi Voice Changer by Toysmith. Though it looks like a simple megaphone, its purpose is reminiscent of some electronic musician production gear; it features ten different voice modifiers that can create hundreds of voice combinations. This example notwithstanding, for the most part toys that speak to modern-day technologies are marketed to boys much more than to girls.

Audio technologies and gender

As a result of the historical, discursive and material practices that frame technology – including music and audio technologies – as men's interests, women's positionality and mobility across popular music genres and within the popular music industry have been restricted. This book contributes to the ongoing discussion of how and why popular music industries, scenes and practices continue to be male-centric spaces. Overwhelmingly, men occupy the powerful positions in these environments, dominating the lists of DJs, rock stars, critics, sound engineers and even avid collectors. The male-centricity of popular music can be traced back to early music technologies such as the phonograph and radio, which were themselves packaged, advertised and sold along gender lines (Carlat 1998; Kenney 1999).

When it was first mass-marketed to the public in the 1920s, radio's place in the home was uncertain, but it did not take long for manufacturers to perceive and reinforce gender differences concerning its use. From the earliest days when amateurs tinkered with wireless sets and used radio technology to explore aurally distant cities, such practices were considered to be the hobbies of boys and men, despite evidence of some female amateur operators (Anon 1916). In contrast, following the invention of broadcasting, radio came to be viewed predominantly as a technology to acculturate the family, which was regarded as women's work (Carlat 1998). However, compared to men women were already viewed as being more passive users, who desired simple radio sets. Consequently, manufacturers began to make easy-to-use, female-friendly models, but curiously, they were still advertised almost exclusively to men. Carlat attributes this seeming contradiction to advertisers' belief that women might be interested in radios as furniture or a source of entertainment, but men would be the ones to instigate and carry out the purchasing of radio receivers. Thus, for most of the 1920s radio ads in The New York Times for example ran in the Sunday sections that also featured automobiles and airplanes, two other predominantly male concerns. Another strategy the editors of the trade publication Radio Merchandizing suggested was for radio dealers to place female mannequins 'reclining in languorous positions' in store-front displays to attract male customers (editors of Radio Merchandizing 'The Female of the Species is More Attractive Than the Male', as cited in Carlat 127).

In addition to being labeled as passive users, women also experienced marginalization in the radio industry as executives and on-air announcers. Despite considerable success in these roles in the industry's early years, they were squeezed out in the 1930s as the pay and prestige associated with such positions increased (Douglas 1987). This occurred despite the success of announcers like Halloween Martin, whose popular early morning wake-up programme 'The Musical Clock' featured her playing phonograph records, making Martin one of the nation's first real disc jockeys. For the most part women's involvement in the production of radio was primarily relegated to turning out vacuum tubes by the thousands on mass-production lines. Thus, despite some exceptions, women occupied few powerful roles in radio as the industry's success increased; instead, they were viewed as passive consumers, whose control was limited to turning a dial.

In the 1960s, the advent of high fidelity (hi-fi) technology and its discursive construction in popular culture continued to solidify the seemingly natural relationship between audio and music technologies and men. It was not just hi-fi sound that was marketed to men, but more importantly, comple hi-fi technology, which came in separate components as opposed to the simpler, more integrated equipment geared towards women (Taylor 2001: 80). Advertisements in trade magazines such as HiFi & Music Review and mainstream publications like Newsweek portrayed hi-fi technology as a means for men to escape from domestic concerns and family life. In contrast to television, which was depicted as a passive, feminine technology, 'men used hi-fi sound reproduction technology (including its necessary adjunct, the Long Play (LP) record album) to produce a domestic space gendered as masculine' (Keightley 1996: 150). Further contributing to the masculinization of hi-fi technology, it was also common for such articles and advertisements to suggest that women considered the excessive volume of hi-fi systems oppressive (Keightley 1996). Specifically, the circulation of these discursive and material practices worked to distance women from cultivating an interest in using these technologies, which over time imprinted a cultural discourse of women's technical ineptitude that further dissociated them from these 'masculine' technologies.

This distancing contributed to limiting women's participation in music scenes to less powerful, more passive roles compared to those available to men. Keeping within traditional notions of femininity, women in music are still generally expected to participate in music scenes in ways that are already coded as 'feminine' (Green 1997: 28), for example, as dancers or singers as opposed to electric guitarists, drummers or DJs. Music education scholar Lucy Green (1997) observes that media coverage tends to focus on lead singers, and because more women sing than play instruments, these depictions affirm 'the correctness of the fact of what is absent: the unsuitability of any serious and lasting connection between woman and instrument, woman and technology' (29).

Similarly, Barbara Bradby (1993) comments that in dance music women are usually included in disturbingly traditional representations – as dancers and vocalists – and are not only objectified but often remain anonymous. They receive little or no credit for their contributions and are rarely the topic of conversation in the specialist dance music press, in comparison to the male music producers, who become known as the creative minds behind these feminine displays. This ideological divide between images of women as performers and men as producers devalues women's role in music making and casts doubt on female creativity in general (Lisa Lewis 1990, cited in Keyes 2002: 208).

Further preventing women from interacting with audio and music technologies is the association between femininity and classroom-approved music – such as classical – compared to popular music, which generally is not taught in the classroom and is considered masculine. This is important because in Green's (2005) words, 'musical experience itself, in the context of the school, actually produces and reproduces not only gendered musical practices but gender identities and with them, gender itself' (89). As a result, like the contexts discussed above, the classroom is another space in which gendered relations to audio and music technologies continue to be systematically reproduced. The following section details the ways in which music-based subcultures that transpire 'on the streets' or in other male spaces have historically marginalized girls and women and limited their agency and power. The Riot Grrrl movement is included as an example of an intervention in the male-dominated punk rock music subculture.

Women and music subcultures

The term 'subculture' has historically been used to refer to groups of young people and their positioning in opposition to the dominant culture or parent group (Thornton 1997). It also generally implies some degree of deviant behaviour. I do not consider women in EDM to constitute a subculture, not only because of the variation in their ages, politics and interests, but also because I do not believe they can be categorized as a single collective group with an interest in differentiating themselves from dominant society. Additionally, scholars (Stahl 2004; Muggleton and Weinzierl 2004) have begun to question the existence of subcultures in our global, Internet age. Nonetheless, an understanding of women's historical place in music subcultures is useful here for two reasons. First, it provides the context for examining the positionality of women in EDM culture; and second, it foregrounds issues of power, agency, identity and community that are central to this discussion.

Scholars at the Birmingham Centre for Cultural Studies were some of the first to study subcultures, most of which were rooted in music (Hall and Jefferson 1976). In response to these early studies (Hall and Whannel 1965; Arnold 1973; Clarke 2007), Angela McRobbie and Jennifer Garber (1975/1997) expressed concern over the Center's lack of interest in how girls negotiate leisure space. They argued that when girls appear in scholarly work on subcultures 'it is either in ways which uncritically reinforce the stereotypical image of women with which we are now so familiar ... or else they are fleetingly and marginally presented' (112). To be fair to the scholars they critique, McRobbie and Garber outline some of the practical reasons for this depiction of girls in subcultural studies in the United Kingdom at the time. For instance, girls' wages were lower than those of boys, which left them with less money to spend on subcultural activities or accessories such as music. Also, popular magazines perpetuated ideas of femininity that relegated girls' culture to the bedroom, at least until the emergence of mod culture in the 1960s whose embrace of fashion provided an opportunity for the recognition of girls' interests in style in public subcultural spaces. Young women were also directed to focus on the home and marriage as opposed to 'hanging out in the streets' and participating in 'authentic' subcultural activities that were predicated on challenging dominant culture. However, McRobbie and Garbner argue that in only studying activities that had an 'elsewhere' – that took place beyond the private space of the home – and were rooted in oppositional ideologies and practices, the Birmingham Centre's early research legitimated the notion that only such activities were authentic and research worthy. In effect, because girls' activities did not display the same kind of opposition, they were deemed insignificant and inauthentic. In turn, researchers ignored them despite the pleasure, participation and power they afforded girls.


Excerpted from Beyond the Dance Floor Female DJs, Technology and Electronic Dance Music Culture by Intellect Ltd. Copyright © 2012 Intellect Ltd. Excerpted by permission of Intellect Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

List of Figures

1. Critical Connections: Gender, Technology and Popular Music Cultures
2. Sex Kittens, T-Shirt DJs and Dykes: Negotiating Identities in an Era of DJ Commodification
3. Potlucks, Listservs and E-Zines: Networking and Social Capital in Action
4. Building a Women-Centred DJ collective: From San Francisco to Cyberspace to Sister USA
5. Producing Producers: Exploring Women's Place in the Production of Electronic Dance Music

Conclusion: Are the Tables Turning?

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