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"Ridiculous double standards": Why Jaguar is fighting against the dance music 'boys' club'

We caught up with Jaguar to talk through the findings of her new sexism in dance music report and what needs to change in the industry

  • Aneesa Ahmed
  • 8 August 2022

Dance music has a sexism problem, and there is no more denying that. The Jaguar Foundation has just released a comprehensive report exploring the gender disparity in dance music in the UK - in the hopes that this statistical and written evidence can now act as a motivator for viable change. “We’ve always known that there’s a disparity,” founder Jaguar says. “We just needed a way for the data to be presented in front of those at the top so now we can take steps to change this.”

Jaguar and her team at Future1000 realised that there was a lack of data on gender representation in dance music, especially not to a level that was thorough enough to account for the various spaces dance music professionals occupy. They then created The Jaguar Foundation to gather data and present it as a means to have the evidence all in one place. This report - titled Progressing Gender Representation In UK Dance Music - was made with assistance from Sony Music UK Social Justice Fund and Nicola Davies, who served as the research coordinator and main author of the full report .“We’re built around open-mindedness. We know that there’s a disparity, and now we have the evidence to back this up.

“Now, this is about moving forward and how we can actually tackle these problems, and we’re trying to provide solutions to people - whether it be venues or label owners or bookers or male artists and DJs that want to be better allies.”

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This project was also very personally motivated, as Jaguar reiterated that far too many women and non-male people - from DJs to managers to clubbers themselves - have got a story where they have experienced sexism or misogyny. “I mean, the stories are countless!” she says, sadly. “I’ve been to gigs before and people have doubted who I am, they think I’m just the “social media girl” and don’t believe that I’m the DJ. I’ve had a friend who didn’t get let in the club because the bouncers did not believe she was playing. They were not letting her in at all!”

Jaguar recounts a recent incident, explaining how she recently went back-to-back with a male DJ and was swapped with another male DJ who was going on after. She was ignored by the next DJ coming on while her male counterpart was not - something that has happened before and continues.

“These findings mirror what is going on in our own society, and there are many obstacles that we as non-males need to overcome.”

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The report adopts a holistic approach and combines statistical analysis and expert insight from academics with verbal, personal accounts taken from non-males in the industry. It features some prominent figures in the scene, many of whom have pioneered the way, including DJ Paulette, Annie Mac, Jayda G and more. It explores seven main issues; sexism in the live music sphere; the importance of safe spaces; the impact of the male gaze; comparing the mainstream to the underground; a lack of representation; and the impact of geography.

The results highlight the lack of diversity in the live dance music industry, both in line-ups and behind the scenes. Even beyond individual instances of sexism, this research makes it clear that the issue is fundamentally systemic and that significant structural change is required to solve it.

The live music industry is highly challenging for non-males; as numerous problems, including the possibility of sexual harassment or objectification, late-night travel (often alone), and drunken crowds, make it difficult for marginalised genders to attend and work in live settings. This is a problem that extends beyond just line-ups and artists and seeps into the live music industry in itself. As one of the interviewees in the report, Annie Mac said: “Ideally we'd have more women and non-binary promoters, managers, agents and business owners. I would love to see women setting the agenda in terms of dance music and how it's run.”

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The Jaguar Foundation independently investigated how employees were allocated by seniority and gender among a representative sample of UK live industry organisations. Event planners, ticket sellers, talent agencies, media outlets, and record labels were included. Overall, it was found that there isn't much of a gender imbalance within the workforce, which is made up of 43% females and 51% males (6 per cent unattributable). However, the narrative shifts a little bit when assessing the seniority distribution of these jobs. Only 37% of senior posts are held by women, compared to 63% by men. This reflects the dance music industry being a “boys' club”, which is reflective of the wider patriarchal society we live in. But as a scene that thrives on debunking the establishment, it’s time to strip down the “boys' club” we’ve built over the decades.

Increasing the gender representation behind the scenes in club spaces will also feed into an increased demand for clubs and venues to implement safe spaces policies and ensure that all staff are trained. While many queer and non-male tailored nights have safe space policies, this is something that needs to be adopted by the wider club sphere. When left unregulated, clubs can be horrible and daunting spaces for non-males to be in. “Think back to as COVID restrictions were being eased and we saw a huge rise in spiking cases, it was a horrible time!” Jaguar explained.

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“There are so many extra things we need to worry about and with just being safe. When we have to get around, or even behind the booth and we’re just standing there with lots of strangers, or even on the line-up there’s no other women or non-males people to feel safe around.”

Women and non-binary people everywhere often are subjected to the male gaze - and that is no different in dance music. Women in music are judged more harshly on their beauty than males are, which affects the female image both offline and online. Ageism affects women more than males, which is a reflection of larger socioeconomic problems. It also means that women do have fewer people to look up to within the industry, and it is rare that non-male clubbers see people like them behind the decks outside of specially curated queer and women nights. According to the qualitative research done by The Jaguar Foundation, the genres of jungle, drum 'n' bass, techno, and EDM continue to draw male and white-dominated crowds, which is consistent with the makeup of the artists who make up those scenes.

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Music production also has a significant lack of female representation in mainstream media outlets. The report highlights that data from the Official Charts Company shows that just 5% of dance songs were made exclusively by women and non-binary artists. A similar trend can be seen in radio airplay, where just 25% of the top electronic music playlists on Spotify contained female-fronted electronic music acts, and less than 1% of the top 200 airplay tracks during 2020–21 of 12 UK radio stations were only made by female or non-binary musicians. These low statistics are also seen in the festival line-ups as just 28% of the acts on electronic festival line-ups in 2022 are female or non-binary; at bigger festivals, that number drops to 15%.

This data comes as no surprise to the majority of non-males working in the industry, and it’s things such as a lack of representation, sexist remarks and fear of sexual assault that has become socially normalised, unfortunately. As these findings reflect the experiences of non-male artists, DJs, creatives and clubbers alike, the message isn’t meant for that demographic. The target audience of this research is the men holding higher positions of power across the industry. “Those higher up need to hear, understand and should be prepared to tear it all down and start again so non-males and other people from marginalised backgrounds can feel safe,” Jaguar explains.

“I think what is clear is that this is a systemic issue - we live in a patriarchal society. I mean look at the women’s football result recently! The fact that women’s football was banned for so long, and now they’re smashing it and bringing it home!

“It shows how many things are wrong and how it’s down to perception. So just hearing these perspectives in itself is valuable - we need to make more of an effort to actually give people a voice especially if they come from a minority background.

“I want men in our industry to read this, I want CEOs, I want label bosses, editors, I want all the top men in our industry to see this report. I need people to actually acknowledge it so that something can be done about it.”

As well as simply showcasing the findings, this report contextualises the state of the dance music industry at the moment by explaining the deep and diverse history of the movement. It acknowledges that dance music came from queer and marginalised peoples, and therefore it should aim to represent the people that it was birthed by - but is rather doing the opposite. “Club culture comes from minorities, people of colour and these spaces were created for people to feel safe and feel like they belong!” Jaguar asserts. “And now, that’s almost been forgotten about - especially in a mainstream context. It’s so far removed from the actual roots of clubbing, it’s sad and not right.” She hopes that the findings from this study will concretely show how that work needs to be done to assure that credit is given where due.

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This report comes prepared and offers concrete solutions to this problem. Jaguar and her team implore any man, especially those in higher positions, to take this feedback onboard and implement this change. Separate sections are laid out so that DJs, producers, promoters, venues, and clubbers alike can all see what they can do with their roles. Ideas for change include an inclusion rider which makes it a requirement that before signing onto any other show - a non-male and ethnic minority artist must also be billed to play. While this is something Jaguar and many of her peers have included in their contracts for years, this would be “most” useful coming from the big male headliners as they are the ones with the power status to call the shots. “Imagine if people like Calvin Harris or David Guetta had an inclusion rider! It would really accelerate our progress more.”

Other ideas include challenging your workplace to hire more non-male people and ethnic minorities, to keep collecting data about companies, join AFEM as an active member, calling on all high-up white men in the industry to read this report, and adequately train all staff behind the scenes.

In addition to the suggestions for change, Jaguar has also provided a long list of resources and groups available - all of whom operate in the dance music space and provide resources for non-males. This extensive list of collectives, resources and figures includes the likes of EQ50, Lady of The House, Saffron, female:pressure, HE.SHE.THEY, and charity Stonewall.

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This project is important to Jaguar because she wants to be able to support underrepresented members of the dance music scene and speak up for them. “Over lockdown, I did a lot of looking inward,” she explains. “I realised that my purpose was to help people - and that is what I want to do with this!” she adds gleefully.

“We often hear people saying things like “oh she only got this because she’s pretty”, or “why is she not wearing a bra” when a female DJ is doing a live stream. But then, Two Shell plays a recorded mix and suddenly everyone is like “oh these guys are really funny”, and I saw a stream and the male DJ was eating an apple and suddenly everyone was like “oh my god what a legend he’s eating an apple!”

“It’s a ridiculous double standard which is so evident - and for people who need any more evidence then please look at this report and reassess your standing.”

While we are making progress in terms of gender balances and inclusion generally - there needs to be a complete revamp in the culture created by dance music. This can be done by collective action - so read the report, understand your positionality, and see what you can do.

Read the full report here.

Aneesa Ahmed is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow her on Twitter

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