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In partnership with Smirnoff

As more doors unlock for women and marginalised groups in electronic music, it’s important to keep them wedged open. After all, what good is success if you can’t offer others a leg-up on your way to the top? For The Black Madonna, a fervent advocate for inclusivity in the scene, this strategy is essential in levelling the playing field. “Mentorship is something I was always passionate about,” the DJ says. “I always had this theory that just like in any other field, if we were able to take a systematic approach to a systematic problem, that we would see changes, and we have.”

These changes are driven in part by engineered peer groups such as the Smirnoff Equalising Music campaign, of which The Black Madonna is a key participant. Set up last year to combat sexism in the music industry, the initiative is a three-year campaign for gender equality on club and festival line-ups by 2020, following female:pressure‘s bi-annual survey which found only 19% of headliners are female. The mentoring programme at the heart of the campaign – with mentors including Peggy Gou, Honey Dijon, Artwork, and Nastia – is an effort to bridge the gap.

The programme gives 10 aspiring young women a chance to gain first-hand advice from successful figures. For one of the mentees, DJ and producer Jade Cox, it offered the chance to play her tracks for Honey Dijon and receive feedback, along with the confidence boost of Honey playing one of those tracks during her closing set at a Barcelona festival. For Josie (Jay Carder), who played Snowbombing alongside her mentee-pair Eva (Crystaltips) a mere week after being accepted into the programme, she received support from mentor Artwork when her gig was suddenly cancelled. “I messaged him, ‘what would you do in this situation?’ and he made me feel so much better. Having a mentor there to tell you it’s fine was so helpful.”

A word that comes up again and again during a roundtable discussion with the mentees is confidence, arguably the most important benefit of the scheme. “It goes back to validation,” says Alexis, whose mentor is Peggy Gou. “Having talented people behind you definitely boosts your confidence, especially with most of [the mentors] being powerful women.” Jaguar, mentored by The Black Madonna, agrees: “Because most of the time you are surrounded by dudes, it’s quite intimidating. The fact that all the mentees are girls, being in this room now feels very welcoming.”

 

For Alice (Kiia), who identifies lazy promoting (male promoters booking their male friends) as a major setback for women within the scene, the connections made have been invaluable. The Black Madonna is also quick to point this out: “Most men benefit from mentorship naturally, in an organic way. On the other side of that there is gatekeeping and boundary-enforcing. Mentorship, peer groups, all of these are essential components of learning and practice, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t benefit from them too.”

In October the acts will play alongside their mentors at a Smirnoff Equalising Music event at Printworks London. They’re all – obviously – excited, if a little nervous. “All 10 of us are gonna be there, it’s a celebration of the whole scheme,” says Jaguar. Alexis’ parents have bought tickets to come and see her play. “It’s a venue that I’ve partied at a lot, and to be on the other side of it… it somehow feels right?” muses Josie. “I’m just so grateful for the opportunity,” she adds, and everyone in the room murmurs their agreement. They might be anxious, but Nastia has high hopes for the talent. “After spending two days with the girls,” she says, “I believe our future is in a good hands.”

Smirnoff Equalising Music Presents takes place at Printworks, London, 13 October for more information head to their website