Chicks with decks

Gayle San

Where are all the girl deejays in Singapore?

Gayle San

‘Pop My Cherry,’ it read. The last flyer left…this had to be about the most popular, upcoming event there. My hand swooped down and grabbed it quickly like a runaway fifty-dollar bill.?Simply because the rest of the events still had plenty of flyers lying around for them and this one, sure (as hell) didn’t. I had to know what the fuss was about. I gave the bright pink paper a brief scan…within seconds – I knew.

It seems that female disc-jockeys are increasingly up and about these days. While the crowd whispers, a tiny ripple forms. Something is stirring beneath that calm exterior of a pond. What is this all-girl-DJ event called ‘Pop My Cherry’ about? DJ Flame, the techno-queen of our local music scene returns. When is she next performing, wonders the electronic enthusiasts?

The lack of their presence, however, remains to us, an enigma. Why were there no female participants in the prestigious 2004 DMC Championships last August? Why is the water at the home pool stagnant? And – despite the growing popularity of the fairer sex in the DJ arena – why is it that many of us, still think of the local scene as non-existent?

‘Female DJs? They are rare everywhere,’ comments Angela Flame, when asked about the issue. A veteran in the spinning industry, she strongly believes it’s not a matter of country, culture or gender. But on the practical side, she laughs with a realistic ease, ‘having a small population doesn’t help either.’?Regardless of which, it boils down to the determination one has in within herself: to pull through the dreaded, bedroom-jock days and to cope with the nature of this industry.

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There’s a simple truth in what she says. Take a look at our current world-renowned, female DJs. Determination’s not just another cliched word used in their biographies anymore. Britain’s Sonique trained for three whole years before attempting to make her first debut.?Sister Bliss started out early in 1987, and only managed to break into the crowd nine years later with Faithless’s prodigal release of ‘God is a DJ.’ Even Angela went through ‘two years as a bedroom-jock’ before gaining her first, big-break at Ivan’s House in 1998 as a guest DJ.

Can it be that gender, really does not matter in an overwhelming male industry? It goes without saying: the more unconventional a career, the higher the level of persistence and confidence needed for one to defeat the odds and succeed. But there’s also no denying that females have to run the extra mile for an equal opportunity in this male-dominated profession.

Marginalization, for one, has occurred in the West. The usual, ‘she’s just a chick’ comment instill a stereotypical view and creates this self-depreciating concept which deters amateurs. For why should many ‘she-jays’ bother, if their efforts can be devalued so easily on the basis of gender?

“I knew I had to be really good as soon as I started,” Sonique said. She too, felt that “people were waiting to laugh at a woman who made mistakes.”

Inevitably, in a male saturated, deejaying culture; the tendency for she-jays to feel an additional gender pressure to perform better during the early days of their initiation. Being the unconventional gender in an equally-as-unconventional career? It’s no easy feat to survive discrimination and it’s no wonder why some ladies won’t bother with a job that may or may not stick them out like a sore thumb.

Then, there’s intimidation. One girl to ten guys in a single class and there’s bound to be the natural stress of fear. Christalyn Concha, a female deejay in New Mexico recalls, ‘When I first started, guys would be standing behind me, watching my every move.’

DJ Skratchmeister Jz, aka Jessie Tan, a current hip-hop in-training DJ, reiterates the exact sentiments upon entering her classes at the DJ academy in 2003. “I was the only girl in my deejay course then,” she recollects. But her version of the story goes a little differently; where her teacher stood behind to watch her every move – it was not to criticize, but to gently guide along.

The funny thing is – intimidation or marginalization doesn’t seem that big a problem in Singapore. Instead of jeering at Jessie whenever she gave a false start, the crowd only cheered on even louder. When questioned on revealing to the guys that she’s a female DJ in practice, ‘I get a surprising reaction from them,’ she says, but it’s a good one.’

Jessie describes Andrew, an occasional Phuture spinner who taught her how to DJ as an “extremely nice and supportive” person. What’s more, the male counterparts in her course treat her as an equal, despite her gender. So what’s the other problem and why isn’t the mother-ship, like our Asian counterpart Japan, generating waves?

“It’s a bigger market for the partying scene,” Angela comments on other DJ infested countries. “There is a market in Japan so there is a moving for records.” For popular female Japanese deejays such as Domino or Ree.K, it’s a totally different story altogether, because there is a demand. Therefore, whatever they release gets around.

“In Singapore, there is nobody putting anything out, and even if you put anything out…it’s just about the local or Asian market. It doesn’t ever surface in Europe.” How about ‘Autofokus Music’ – Angela’s established label? “Well, it’s a good start,” she delivers with a graceful smile.

Nonetheless, disc jockeying comes at a heavy sacrificial price. Not only monetarily, (Jessie spends close to SG$8000-$10,000 on equipment and records alone,) but also, futuristically. For ambitious disc jockeys like Angela, traveling is essential as she ‘learns a lot’ out there that Singapore can’t offer.

“You don’t get to see the real thing. You have to go there, to experience and get the feel of it. And then,’ she adds on an afterthought, ‘you know.” Famous home-bred, London-based DJs like Gayle San, describes playing alongside international DJs as ‘the steepest learning curve possible.’ To follow the footsteps of these globally acclaimed artists means to forgo a handful of stable opportunities back at home. An all-or-nothing career decision placed in a culture robed with the importance of education, disc-jockeying may seem too big a risk to take.

Well, it appears the passion for disc-jockeying in females is emerging slowly, but distinctly. All-girls collectives, such as ‘Pop My Cherry’ are ravaging the scene with their showcases and successfully gaining the rightful recognition they deserve; not for being female, but for being professional.

The twenty-first century, where passion is the drive, things are looking

just a little different for some of our local disc-jockeying, future femme fatalists.

Jay Tan, a student who graduated from Audio Sports last year, notes that girls are definitely more pro-active about disc-jockeying. Indeed…the pace is picking up.

Before I wrapped things up with our very own, techno-junkie, I thankfully remembered a question my friend probed me to ask. “Why flame? Cos flame is passion!” Angela laughs. “Give it some time, it might improve,” she encourages. “Keep sending in mix tapes, keep doing what you do, especially if you believe in it.” Darn right I say and oh, screw the lackadaisical stance taken towards the local scene while you’re at it. If you love the music, you have to play it. At the end of each day, it comes down to the simple answer of having confidence; having faith.

As I descend down the stairs, I clutch the last flyer for ‘Pop My Cherry’ and wonder. A tiny ripple, a bigger wave? Maybe. But hey, in the meantime – let me offer my three cheers to these efficacious ladies. Here’s to their passion, determinacy and boundless energy to surface, above all else.