Playing with the boys

Matilda Surtees objects to sexism in electronic music


Photo: NRK P3


“I’m tired of creeps on message boards discussing whether or not they’d ‘fuck’ me,” wrote electronic artist Grimes on her personal blog earlier this year.

Despite her incredible success, Grimes has been frequently forced to grapple with objectification, harassment and molestation. She also describes men making constant offers of ‘help’, treating her success as an ‘accident’, and insinuating that her gender makes her “incapable of using technology”.

Her sharp critique cut straight through denials of sexism in the industry and in electronic music in particular. The differences between how men and women are marketed and received are not confined to one genre, or indeed one industry. However, the gender disparity in electronic music is especially pronounced.

According to Alexandra Ward, who performs as Sydney artist Moon Holiday, there is “a tiny representation of female artists, if any at all” on local electronic labels. Women are an estimated 7% of Ableton users, a software used to make electronic music. Holly Friedlander Liddicoat, who runs music blog East to West describes the electronic scene as “a boys club.”  Female artists are often sexualised and relentlessly gendered: their talent is forced to share space with their looks, in both conversation and the media. Clichés of femininity colour how their music is perceived and their craftsmanship characterised.

Producer Alison Wonderland recently endured an ‘interview’ which was little more than a catalogue of sexual remarks dressed up as an extended joke about the interviewer’s crush. Beginning with “so, you’re really hot,” the interview finished by describing her debut release with a single adjective – and yes, that adjective was ‘hot’.

Ward notes how “lazy words like ‘songstress’ and ‘siren’ get thrown around” to describe her as an artist, and how otherwise different artists are ‘lumped’ together “for no apparent reason other than gender”. This dismissive categorisation reflects a wider tendency to trivialise or patronise female artists.

Electronic music is a technical medium, and technical competence is stereotypically gendered: little boys get trucks and tools and little girls get books and dolls. This can mature into an assumption that “women wouldn’t get a certain type of music because of the technical ability involved in creating it,” says Wade Gilmour, of record label the Finer Things.

It’s not an inviting landscape for women. Often barren of female peers, “there is a normalcy to all-male rosters” among both labels and audiences, Friedlander Liddicoat says. Vic Edirisinghe, an Astral People founder, points out that male-dominated lineups are “a reflection of society and the market’s taste”.

Tim Newman, also of record label The Finer Things, explains that “it’s not us saying no to female producers and artists”. Instead, he describes “a lack of artists who align to what it is that we want to do.” This gestures toward the more insidious causes of under-representation, such as the discomfort and apprehension of women entering a field largely empty of female peers.

Both men express an optimism that this will change. Edirisinghe points out that Astral People have recently added two more women to their roster, which he hopes “reflects the changing of the times.” Friedlander Liddicoat addresses the issue more directly, acknowledging that “there is definitely some misogyny in the [boys’] club.” “But,” she adds, “these gendered ideas are easily broken and breaking down.”

Criticising marginalisation does not mean ignoring gender or asking women to suppress their sexuality, or femininity, in order to be taken seriously and avoid being objectified.

There is a difference between an artist choosing to incorporate sexuality into their image or music, and other people imposing sexualisation upon them. In this regard, the onus is on the audience, peers, and media to not perpetuate the stereotypes and sexist language that women in electronic music are currently faced with.

Honi Soit
Honi Soit is the largest and oldest weekly student newspaper in Australia. Our articles, like this one, are made possible by our dedicated student reporters and contributors.
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