When the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements reached a fever pitch in 2017 and 2018, the entire entertainment industry had to face the blatant sexism that has been ever present in all their workplaces.
Gender inequality polemics was brought in the air
Now the attention is shifting to EDM through a feature length documentary called Underplayed. The documentary contains interviews with women and many of their male allies working in all parts of the industry like artists, sound engineers, journalists and producers. It highlights all the progress still left to be made in the electronic music industry.
To showcase the start disparity among genders here are some stats. According to the documentary’s website, in 2019 only 5% of the Top 100 DJs were women. A study conducted by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative less than 3% of women made up the technical and production roles and only 21.7% of electronic music artist identified as female.
The inception of Underplayed started with Natalie Lucas who joined as the producer through Bud Light Canada. An interview with DJ Duffey at one of the company’s events stirred up a conversation about gender inequality in electronic music. Bud Light brought in Stacey Lee to direct the documentary. The film backed by an incredibly talented female dominated team premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2020.
Alison Wonderland, NERVO, TOKiMONSTA, REZZ along with Tygapaw, Sherelle, Nightwave and Louisahh are all featured in this 85-minute documentary. Each and every one of their stories leave us with the same conclusion: that gender bias is inescapable.
Underplayed offers an intimate access to the lives of its nine main subjects. It follows them through their homes, shows, studio sessions and rehearsals. The documentary guides us through the different ways gender inequality has shown up in the lives of all nine featured artists.
What is abundantly evident is the added effort that is needed to be made by women to simply be considered to book a place at festivals and also to be paid the same amount as their male counterparts.
In addition to the gender inequality, there is an added layer of racial inequality in electronic music. For instance, an Anneberg study found that out of the 1,093 production credits on 800 songs, only 8 were given to women of color. The dearth of representation stems from both systemic sexism and systemic racism making it much harder for young black girls to not only see themselves in someone but also to get their foot in the door.
The skewed way in which artists are rewarded or popularized needs to be changed. Reward should be based on a merit basis not on your gender, identity or race.
The roots of electronic music go back to the techno and house music that was pioneered by queer black communities in places like Detroit and Chicago. It seems as though their traces are being entirely wiped out.
What is reassuring is that there are visible hints of change already cropping up with representation driven organisations like She Is The Music, TIME’S UP and shesaid.so. Research labs like Annenberg are helping in tracking the progress being made to advance representation and developing promoter-based initiatives to diversify talent.
These initiatives include Bud Light Canada’s booking mandate that requires 50% of the line-up to comprise of women. Tygapaw, one of the women in the documentary has launched the Fake Accent initiative, which is a New York based monthly party series creating safe spaces for queer and non-binary people of color to celebrate.