Get Together: How Collectives Are Building Dance Music’s Better Future ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼
Days before I go to dance music collective SIREN’s London club night Synchronise, I’d been at a major European techno festival. Finding myself alone on the dancefloor, I looked around and was struck by the overwhelming maleness of my environs. It’s not that I was intimidated – not exactly. Any female techno lover will rapidly become used to mostly-male dancefloors. But still, a voice inside me questioned whether things really did have to be this way. Would dance music always be like this?
About a week later, I have my answer. I snake my way through an overflowing Hackney Wick late on a Saturday evening, winding past crowds queuing for overpriced street food and keying bumps of coke behind canal-side Portaloos. Ahead of me I notice three girls literally dancing their way into the venue: dressed in spray-on jeans, Afros and matching chokers. We get to The Yard club’s doors and I pay my entrance fee (with proceeds going to anti-domestic violence charity Sisters Uncut). Inside, the mostly-female crowd dances enthusiastically to Chic’s I Want Your Love. I ask the girl manning the zine stall what sort of music we can expect later in the night. “Hard techno,” she responds, with an absolutely stoical expression.
Here are some of the patronising and inaccurate attitudes you might find about female collectives in dance music: that they are having a “moment”; that they’re needed because women can’t handle a male- dominated industry on their own; that they’re just a collection of photogenic DJs; that they’re about excluding men.
Female DJ and events collectives aren’t some transient trend with an Instagram-friendly aesthetic that feeds off the existing popularity of dance music. They’re communities that exist in the online and offline world. They’re forces for social change. They’re professional networks. And while women have shaped the dance music community ever since someone first figured out how to programme a drum machine, there’s no doubt that the female collectives of today are a powerful accelerant for change.
“Men are exceptionally dominating in the club scene,” say London-based female, trans and non-binary events collective Resis’dance (who chose to be quoted as a collective). “Even in very radical spaces. It’s absolutely outrageous when you go to fundraisers where all the DJs are men, or the women are given shit slots, or given support on the decks in a very patronising, disempowering way.” Melanie Alcázar of Sister – a 1000-strong virtual collective of female and non-binary electronic music professionals from around the world – explains some common misconceptions. “Most white cis men in the industry tend to believe all-female line-ups or parties, even collectives, have the sole purpose of excluding them, which is not true.” She goes on, “some don’t understand how these virtual or physical spaces are created for us to support and love each other, to forget about the usual exclusion or even discrimination we can face, and to have fun while doing that.”
While all of the collectives I interviewed for this piece spoke candidly of structural problems and social goals, one word recurred more than most: fun. For all the bullshit and misogyny, female collectives are about having a fucking good time: and making sure that other people do too.
"Collectives can be a space to support each other creatively, politically and emotionally” - SIREN
“We just want a safe, fun and full of love dancefloor!” say Resis’dance. Zine-makers, DJs and radio host collective BORN n BREAD (who also speak as a collective) tell me about their dream dancefloor. “People, sick DJs playing the tunes you play on your iPod. No one standing against the wall; everyone dancing.”
“Music is universal,” they continue. “It has no colour; no race; no gender. It’s about people having fun, not caring about what they look like or if they have the right garmz.”
“My dream dancefloor,” says Alcázar, “would be my IRL and URL sisters reunited, inside a big warehouse with only tints of purple light, smoke and lots of tropical flowers.“ Molly O’Reilly of the Femme and LGBT party collective UNITI tells me she wants to recreate long-lost 80s rave vibes. “My dream would be to successfully recreate the vibe of the summer of rave in 1989. I want everyone to be there for the music and for each other. I would also want a whole variety of DJs and a whole variety of revellers. Also, since this is just a dream, I wouldn’t want to charge anyone to come in.“ She concludes, sadly: “But none of this seems like it could be a reality in 2016.”
There’s no doubt 2016 is a difficult time to be in the party business. On one hand, dance music is more popular than ever. That said, a lack of affordable club spaces in big cities, notably London, alongside the threat posed by over- zealous licensing authorities, means that clubbing is rapidly becoming an endangered pursuit. Against this backdrop, creating inclusive and affordable spaces where people can dance their cares away is more important than ever.
“So many clubs in the UK right now are shutting down – it sucks, but I’m not disheartened,” O’Reilly explains. “More clubs will open, or more people will start throwing parties in unlicensed spaces. You can shut down our clubs but you can never shut down our parties.”
As anyone who’s ever lost themselves in techno will tell you, loud electronic music can have a healing effect: something Sister’s Lenora Jayne knows all too well. “For me, there’s something mystical about stepping onto a dancefloor and shedding my day and the things that are upsetting me. You find a freedom in the physicality of dancing with others. It’s my form of meditation and a place where I found acceptance on many levels as a queer, nerdy femme that’s obsessed with techno.”
Historically, dance music articulated the voice of the dispossessed and marginalised; the queer and the other. “Dance spaces are so important for culture,” argue Manchester-based rave cooperative Meat Free. “So often they’ve been platforms for change and revolution, as well as escapes from the outside world. You only have to look at the rise of the punk; disco; house; all underground scenes driven by political, environmental, social and technological forces happening in the outside world. The world influences music and music influences the world, that’s what keeps it turning.”
"You can shut down our clubs, but you can never shut down our parties” - Molly O’Reilly, UNITI
From acid house ravers rebelling against the Tories to the socially conscious club goers of today, history proves that at its best dance music creates a sense of solidarity among a community who’ve got something to resist or fight against. As such, some question whether the new wave of collectives are doing anything particularly new. “People have always worked collaboratively so it’s hard to know whether collectives are ‘having a moment’ because there are actually more of us, or because there’s a lot of hype,” says all-female party collective SIREN. “If the former it’s maybe a reaction to the increasingly difficult and individualised lives we’re forced to live under neoliberalism,” they speculate. “Collectives can
be a space to support each other creatively, politically and emotionally.”
For BORN n BREAD, visibility is key. “It’s so important for females to see themselves represented out there – in any industry. Knowing that it’s ok to do what you do and be a boss at it.” UNITI agree. “Seeing other women making things happen for themselves is an empowering concept,” says O’Reilly. “All female/queer collectives take up space that is not otherwise carved out for them,” agrees Englesia from UNITI. “It shows others that you can do things you never knew were possible for you before.”
Sister helps support up-and-coming female talent and breaks down barriers to information, whether it’s warning fellow professionals about unscrupulous promoters or reviewing new technology. “Collectives are an important way to share resources, information, and connections with one another, especially when the beginner’s bell-curve can be overwhelming and intimidating. The music industry is a place where privilege and who you know defines the spaces you are allowed access to,” Jayne explains.
“As a collective, we can make much, much more noise,” Sister member Coral Foxworth also argues. “We can promote one girl’s music to thousands of Facebook friends and do what hyped-up blogs overrun with biased male writers won’t. We can blow up an abusive promoter or engineer’s spot publicly, and not have to live in silence. We can help each other steer clear of shady people or situations.”
Resis’dance also believes all-female collectives can be powerful agents of social justice. “It’s the collective job of all women in the community to shape the dancefloor into somewhere they feel accessible and safe,” they explain. “Whether that’s creating anti-commercialised party spaces or supporting venues that are at risk of gentrification.” Many of the collectives I spoke to put their proceeds from the night towards radical activist causes.
“It’s so important for females to see themselves represented out there” - BORN n BREAD
More than anything, collectives can help people to feel safe. “We are all women who have experienced violence in the party scene,” Resis’dance explain, telling me they prioritise the voices of women, trans and non-binary people and people of colour. “We want to create a safe space for people who normally feel uncomfortable in “normal” party spaces, by creating an atmosphere where everyone can feel free to be themselves, without the threat of the male gaze or being judged for who they are.”
Leaving the SIREN party on a sultry August night, I smile as I remember the graffiti scrawled across the toilet walls. “QUEER INSURRECTION,” it reads. “FAG MOB.” I think about how all the collectives I’ve spoken to for this article (and there are more I’ve yet to meet, the NYC collective Discwoman and Berlin’s Salt + Sass to name a few) do more than just throw parties. They’re an insurrection. Party by party, they’re radically reworking our clubbing culture in order to shape it anew. And in so doing they’re creating the dancefloor of our collective dreams. It’s a place for people to meet, fall in love, dance and listen to great music, free of the patriarchy and alive with a positive, inclusive energy.
For more information about Sisters Uncut, visit sistersuncut.org