Words by:

Words: Laila Mckenzie and Jonno Mack

For over 20 years, Last Night a DJ Saved My Life by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton has been the go-to book on dance music, but its pages are dominated by men. I decided to put this right with Lady of the House – a photobook of stories from over 150 women involved in dance music told through their own words and images. As a mixed-race woman, and a single mother from a low socioeconomic background, my path hasn’t been easy. If I had heard the wisdom that is in this book 20 years ago, my journey up to this point might have been very different.

When I was seven years old, I remember religiously watching Top of the Pops with my mum on Fridays, and taping Radio 1’s Top 40 on Sundays. I used to dream of being a backing dancer to artists of the time like Baby D, 2 Unlimited and Black Box. At 13, I got my first taste of the underground scene. I was working at a burger van in Rother Valley Country Park in Sheffield, where all the boy racers used to go. One of them was playing Jumpin’ by Todd Terry and he told me that it was recorded in a local club called Niche. It all changed after stepping into Niche – it blew my mind away. The music was like nothing I had heard before; it became the soundtrack to the family that bonded within these walls.

By the age of 16, I left home and was living on my own. I started making money in clubs as a glass collector. Soon I started going out in Manchester, Preston, Leeds and down to warehouse parties in London. We were always on the road just following the parties around, a whole entourage of cars and crew. They were the best days of my life.

When I was 18 I became pregnant with my daughter. I decided I needed to sort my act out. I enrolled on a course at college to get a personal licence – I just knew I wanted to own a music venue one day. I studied Event Management at university and started hiring small venues in Sheffield and throwing parties while also helping other promoters.

These first steps working in club culture were taken mostly alongside men. To be a successful woman in a male-dominated industry means letting your work demonstrate your ability – but that is easier said than done when the game feels rigged from the outset. For every female artist who breaks through, how many didn’t? How many refused to continue working in an environment made hostile by discrimination and sexism? How many voices and perspectives and stories have been silenced. This is everyone’s loss.

I have since been a venue manager, on door staff, a club promoter, an events organiser, an artist manager, agent, and I am now an industry consultant and co-author. I have done all this while bringing up two children on my own – another responsibility that largely falls on women. Much like many of the incredible women featured in Lady of the House, I have not been credited for much of my work in the industry; instead, our male counterparts still dominate, with men comprising 80 percent of bookings at main electronic music festivals, and over 90 percent of top club appearances worldwide. According to data collected by USC Annenberg, it will take roughly 90 years to achieve a 50/50 gender balance within music production. All this time, men compete not realising that they already have a head start.

I’ve had to go the hardest way to get to where I am today and though progress is being made, it is slow and hardwon. My book is a celebration and honouring of what women have done for club culture. House music did save my life, and in turn, I made a life from house music. I hope my book inspires many more women to do the same.

Lady of the House is out in November