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6 reasons why dance music collectives are essential

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Discrimination hasn’t gone away, so let’s celebrate the activists who are fighting it. All Hands on Deck, Co-Select, EQ50, Hospital Records: Women in D&B, Ladies of Rage, Meat Free and WXMB 2 are some of the dance music collectives striving toward balanced representation. We caught up with them to highlight why their work is essential, and got their tips on how you can start your own.

Following the recent brutal police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, and in the lead up to Pride Month, conversations about white privilege, racist and gendered injustice have dominated the media.

Dance music does not escape structural, intersecting patterns of inequality. There’s around a 70/30 male to female ratio within the music industry; the numbers of black/ brown/ LGBTQ+ women within dance music are infinitely fewer. So if, as D&B collective EQ50 declared on their socials, “equal opportunities should be at the heart of good professional practice”. Why is it still not on the industry’s day-to-day agenda? 

In the words of EQ50: “whilst nightlife is on hold, we need to harness that energy for equality, and implement it within club culture”. Now is the time to take action. And listening to DIY collectives, whose purpose is to champion diverse women, trans and non-binary people in dance music, is a great place to start.

1. Collectives have one common goal: equal representation in dance music

A collective is a group of artists: often all-female; from a range of ethnic and/or sexual orientations. Tending to specialise in DJing, promoting, producing, networking groups and workshops. All with the common goal of striving towards equal representation in their respective scenes.

Ema Badurina, member of WXMB 2 summarised it well. Collectives are about “empowering members of the community”, while “educating others about the disparity”. ‘N.E.GIRL, L.P.B, Emmy and D-Joyce (members of Co-Select, who’ve recorded an exclusive mix for us below), agree. “A collective can provide a place to be heard and for free expression”, but “it’s also a way of being political. Some people may not necessarily be activists but want to combat inequality somehow”.

Exclusive Data Transmission Mix by D-Joyce (Ayoub, left) b2b Emmy Bacharach (right). Co- Select are a London based collective advocating gender equality in DJ culture, by curating back to back sets with a focus on balanced representation.

2. Collectives carve out space in an industry not designed with women, trans and non-binary people in mind

Collectives create safe space for under-represented groups to build confidence. Helping them to feel more comfortable learning music skills and expressing themselves. Nikki Ellis, Hospital Records: Women in D&B organiser and Head of Label told us that “in a male-dominated industry like dance music, it’s imperative that womxn can support and empower each other”. She found that “from speaking to people at our events, confidence was a recurring issue”.

This work is essential, because our whitewashed industry takes up a lot of space. It’s not easily accessible to all. As Tracy from All Hands on Deck pointed out, this is ironic as “dance music comes from the liberation of minorities”. AHOD “believe that it is important that they [minorities] are on an equal playing level as those who have a lot of dominance and capital within the scene”. Reclaiming space in dance music, she continues, “can only be made possible if we actively provide support and resources to people. And this is what we try to do when we host our open deck parties, workshops and socials”.

Dance Music Collective All Hands on Deck
Tracy Duah (bottom right) from All Hands On Deck: a feminist DJ collective from Manchester. It runs open deck parties and DJ workshops for women, trans and non-binary people

3. Collectives make diverse, talented musicians visible 

Contrary to belief, there’s no lack of diverse female, trans and non binary talent in dance music. But more often than not, the talent hasn’t been actualised. Why? Because there’s still not enough visibility to motivate women, trans and non binary people. Alice Woods, co-founder and resident DJ of Meat Free told us that “it’s important for younger people in groups who are under represented to see people like them on the decks or behind the scenes”.

Techno Collective Meat Free
DJ aalice AKA Alice Woods (left) is one part of Meat Free: a Manchester based Techno party

4. Collectives decentralise biased music institutions

In the music industry – and in the wider business world – the higher up the power ladder you get, the whiter and more male decision-making becomes. As DJ Bcee, founder of Spearhead Records admitted in a DJ Mag interview, “our scene hasn’t had a fair playing field because it has been a bit of a boys club of ‘listen to this’ to sign stuff”. Since then, he’s committed to changing the way he “does things, to make more room for everybody”. To counter that, DIY collectives cut out the middleman (all too often quite literally). Looking out for under-represented groups, who may have a harder time getting their foot in the door.

DJ Sweetpea of EQ50 is optimistic for the future of dance music. “People in their 20s have grown up with diversity. It’s more normal for someone to be a different colour or fluid in their gender or sexuality. Which shows how amazing the young people are who will be taking over the scene in the future”. Dance music collectives are also professional networks. Building the foundations for diverse, forward-thinking talent of today, to become the executive decision makers of tomorrow.

D&B Collective EQ50
(left to right): Sherelle, MC Chickaboo, Robyn Chaos and DJ Flight after their EQ50 panel on women of colour in D&B. Captured by @melanchochlik

5. Power in numbers equals greater exposure 

By nature, collectives strengthen in numbers. By affirming each other on and offline, they can make a lot of noise. Knowledge-sharing is also crucial. Ema from WXMB 2 pointed out that “it’s not only about being surrounded by womxn representing this positive example. But also those who are willing to share the knowledge they’ve acquired along the way”. This collaborative attitude means real talent is more likely to get noticed and careers more likely to be spring-boarded.

6. Balanced representation makes for better parties

When taking on the challenge of navigating intersectional politics, diverse perspectives are essential. Meat Free explained that collectives are “about diversity, equality, and a level playing field, and that’s what music and creativity thrives on. Difference of opinion. Different faces, voices and sounds. So the more we can de-homogenize the music industry, the better”.

And who wouldn’t want a more diverse industry? It translates to broader representation, divergent skill sets and, above all, a richer variety of music. Replacing carbon-copy lineups with more nuanced, unpredictable and open-ended journeys through sound. Because ultimately, as Co-Select put it, “we think gender balance also means better parties”. 

This also applies to the essential work of encouraging allyship networks outside of collectives. Louise Foster Key, Co-Founder of Ladies of Rage Cardiff makes an important point here. “By understanding more about the barriers and experiences womxn encounter, we can support each other in the right way. This also helps us to educate and influence people outside of the collective, to become allies and change makers for diversity”.

Ladies of Rage is a Cardiff-based network for womxn in dnb, hip hop and grime, which holds monthly jam sessions and quarterly showcase events. Captured by @Bestbitsmedia

Tips on how to start your own dance music collective

  • “Put yourself out there! Go to any workshops, or open decks you can find, beginner or otherwise. Seek out any parts of the community that exist already and find people through that”AHOD
  • “Have faith! Be prepared to have some empty events, it happens to everyone. Don’t give up easily”. – Co-Select
  • “As promoters, be professional about it. From day one it was about setting up that profit and loss spreadsheet. Balancing that money we spent on advertising. Making sure we could pay our artists, venues and agents on time”. – Meat Free
  • “Positive discrimination is necessary when trying to change the norm. Avoid tokenizing by building a strong community where everyone is valued”. Co-Select
  • “Talk to womxn that you think would like to join your collective. Ask them what they would want from it, to help you understand issues and/or opportunities”. – LOR

Music institutions: the future of dance music inclusivity is in your hands!

The beauty of DIY collectives lies in the fact they build community from the ground up. They create spaces to incubate and celebrate underground talent, from a diverse range of backgrounds. And with everyone having a great time in the process.

The efforts and achievements of dance music collectives are impressive. But one has to be realistic too – it’s easy to get caught up in our own liberal echo-chambers. It’s great that conversations about gender imbalance, race and sexuality are opened up in mainstream conversation. But sustainable change can only be funded and normalised by the industry’s institutions. Until then, let’s all be activists. Let’s keep on educating. Let’s keep on shouting louder. And above all, let’s keep on dancing!

Click the links to stay up to date with All Hands on Deck, Co-Select, EQ50, Hospital Records: Women in D&B, Ladies of Rage, Meat Free and WXMB 2, on Instagram and Facebook. They regularly share educational resources and hold events that work towards equality in dance music.

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