In January of 1971, art historian Linda Nochlin asked the world, “Why have there been no great women artists?” Her question leads to an inquiry into understanding the foundations on which art is created. Nochlin put forth the idea that women have been institutionally blocked from achieving artistic excellence, or success, regardless of their skill or intelligence.
You may be wondering, what exactly does this have to do with music, let alone this school’s radio station? You see, despite three waves of feminism and much social progress, there are still no great women DJs.
A look at DJ Mag's top 100 DJs of 2011 contains exactly zero women. The more adventurous and experimental Resident Advisor lists the names of only eight women. Is Nochlin’s argument also true in the electronic music world?
Heteronormative notions of sexuality dominate the electronic music scene. Women who are interested in making their names as DJs are seldom taken seriously and are thought of as “cute” or as having some sort of ulterior motive; yet, even those who do take the time and energy to learn the craft are expected to cater to the crowd’s expectations of the “sexy female DJ” by donning high heels and playing erotic tunes.
It seems unfair that female electronic musicians are being pigeonholed into such meretricious classifications. Fortunately, some female DJs are pushing the envelope and working to redefine DJ culture.
Ellen Allien has run BPitch Control, one of the most influential electronic music labels, for over a decade. Magda fiercely parades her stripped-down metallic horror techno. Nina Kravitz uses her voice as a layering tool to tear down conventions of normative sexual behavior. I only hope that more women follow these artists’ examples and explore the vastly uncharted area of the female DJ.