Hey, Promoters: Stop Saying There Aren’t Enough Women to Book for Shows

Through femdex, Hannah Christ is calling bullshit on the excuse behind the gender gap in music—and using data to back it up.

 

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Hannah Christ, photographed by Maria Ritsch

“There aren’t enough women to book.”

If you’re even peripherally involved in the music industry, this phrase will likely sound all too familiar. We see massive festivals like Coachella continuously booking 60-90% all-male lineups and we read think piece after think piece about the problematic gender gap in music. The trend can even be reflected in our local music scenes—but when we bring up the issue with bookers or promoters, a variation of the phrase above is their go-to response to justify the lack of gender equality in the music industry. Of course, most bookers and promoters out there genuinely believe there are less talented women out there to book than men—which is why Hannah Christ’s initiative femdex is a necessary reality check for everyone.

Based in Vienna, the DJ and psychology student was sick of “counting male-only line up after male-only lineup” in the city’s techno scene. So, she decided to initiate femdex earlier this year as a statistical analysis of the city’s techno events, aiming to find out just how bad the gender gap really was. As expected, the results were bleak—but not unsolvable. That’s why Hannah added a database of female DJs to femdex. Spanning genres, nationalities and interests, her ever-growing database has something to suit the tastes of just about every booker.

According to Hannah, she’s already received a continuous stream of enthusiasm from women in music—and has managed to change a few promoters’ perspectives around the realities of booking women in music. The response has been so immediate, she even made a femdex stamp of approval—meant for use by promoters, clubs or events who take a responsible approach to closing the gender gap in music. In lieu of the momentum behind femdex, we thought we’d take the time to talk to Hannah about the project, her process and her precise and powerful ideas about closing the gender gap in music.

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GIRLS ARE AWESOME: Hey, Hannah. What was the catalyst behind femdex?

Hannah Christ: The need to start this evolved over the years; there wasn’t one single event which made me do it. There just came a time when I felt enough was enough. I was silently counting male-only line up after male-only line up, and I was fed up. I really wanted the other half of the population to finally be included into this scene. So, I did something about it.

In the article you wrote in PW Magazine, you said: “furthermore, there are fundamental differences between female and male experiences when it comes to DJing, producing and going out.” What do you mean specifically?

Well, these differences were also some of the catalysts behind this project. 
I’ve been going to clubs since I’ve been 17 years old, so I’ve often had to deal with nasty advances or actual physical harassment. It was so bad that it completely ruined the fun many times and I felt more and more uncomfortable dancing or dressing a certain way. 
When I started DJing I often heard that it wouldn’t suit a “small, sweet girl“  to play Techno. And there were men who tried to talk non-stop to me while I was playing: often they gave me “tips” or tried to “help” me connect something, which was just really annoying and unnecessary. I have a friend who produces cold wave music (using her vocals, too), and she was asked several times who would produce the music she sang to. I just feel that some people don’t trust the skills of women, and that is so degrading.
 Other people told me that if I looked really “sexy”, it would help me to get gigs. When you’re a woman, it’s so much more about your physical appearance when all you want is your music to count.

What was your process like to compile your data?

I collected the data by analyzing the acts promoted through Facebook events within the past two years. The hardest part was figuring out everyone’s gender. The event collectives often consist of friends so wen they book acts, often they don’t have Soundcloud or any other reference online. So in many cases, I needed to contact the promoters personally, which was very time-consuming. The rest was easy: I had my tables for recording the number of female and male acts I counted, and the statistical calculation is pretty basic school mathematics. Furthermore, I was not alone all the time – two friends (Helene Schröcksnadel and Pia-Marie Remmers) helped me count and Therese Kaiser of Sorority did the visualisation.

You have a massive database of female artists. How did you find all those names?

That was actually the funnest and easiest part: once you start to do it, it’s kind of a no-brainer—one thing leads to another and you discover so many great artists. I just looked through a lot of line ups (of festivals, clubs or parties), Soundcloud accounts and Facebook pages. There are also some great collectives which promote female artists, like Siren or Discwoman. And of course, I used the big, pre-existing database female:pressure.
 Furthermore, I am in an awesome little Facebook group with like-minded women from all over the world who helped me out.

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Illustration by Valentina Brković

What have reactions been like to your project? Specifically, are there differences between how men and women have reacted?

Overall, the reactions were really positive, which I’m super happy about. I would have never thought that the project would spread so far in such a positive way. I think a lot of promoters felt really “caught”, but not specifically in a bad way. Many of them just weren’t aware of it and some actually promised to be more inclusive in the future. I can’t think of any women who reacted negatively to this, at least not personally to me. But there were some negative comments by men, saying something like “seperate your pitty [sic] feminism from the art of djing” and that “it just happens that there are more male population [sic] invested into it”. But these comments are a ridiculous exception and I actually don’t care too much about them, as there will always be clueless haters. What bothered me more were some lame excuses, contradictory statements or people who were complicating the issue. To book female-identified artists is really not as difficult as some people make it seem.

Why did you decide to focus on female underrepresentation in booking specifically in techno/electronic culture? I feel it’s quite across the board.



I am no expert when it comes to other music forms or domains, but I am pretty sure that this problem is not limited to electronic music as it is no secret that women are still underrepresented, paid less or unaccredited in many positions.
Just recently I came across an article discussing if all-female art auctions could improve the situation for female artists. That was especially interesting because the art market has pretty much the same mechanisms and problems as there are in the electronic music scene. Furthermore, this problem is not new at all – in the early 90s the Riot Grrrl movement was the noisy answer to the male dominated punk music scene. Maybe it’s time for similar movements if we really want this to change.

What are some strategies you have in mind to start to resolve this issue?



So what can we do to change the circumstances and create more equality? I doubt there is a master plan to change a thirty-year-old male-dominated music history. But there are certain aspects which are important, if we’ll try:

(1) Visibility

To create stronger visibility for female-identified artists, they need to be booked and promoted. Best case scenario, this will give rise to female newcomers—since one barrier is a distinct lack of role models in the scene. So, the bookers’ aspirations must change first. Even if assembling line ups can be complex and involve many different and competing factors, bookers should be aware of their power and committed to take a step forward against the norm. Social transitions were and are almost always linked with ambition, effort and risks.

(2) Action


It’s important to take actions by offering platforms for workshops, panel discussions, open decks sessions and rehearsal rooms. We need to establish an elaborated, proactive and visible zero tolerance policy against sexual harassment. Also, it’s plausible (but controversial) to have a female quota. For example, the line up policy of the Berlin club ://ABOUT BLANK requires at least one female-identified artist per event. This manageable and unaggressive quota led to bringing many extraordinary artists into that scene who might have been overlooked without it.

(3) Networking


During my research, I talked to many women. I especially noticed three things: Anger (of the prevailing circumstances), relief (that someone is doing something against them) and the wish to talk to other women. Solidarity and networking have always been important key ingredients helping minority groups achieve their goals. It can be really encouraging to speak up and get engaged once there is a platform for you to do so. This is one reason why I founded a Facebook group where we can connect, support each other, discuss ideas and share music. Search for the group “femdex” on Facebook or click here if you want to get involved.

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Gender breakdown of acts in all techno event collectives in Vienna.

(4) Information

Information usually creates awareness. So, he first step to approach something is to get informed, acknowledge the problem and start to spread the word. There are tons of magazines, blogs and other websites or tools which you can use to stay updated. Therefore, WWW.FEMDEX.NET also offers a collection of links and updates you on Facebook with interesting hints.

(5) Extinguish patriarchal boundaries

I dispute that there are fewer talented female identified artists than male ones: I think it’s more that there are less people out there booking and promoting them. Many night clubs and event organisations in the music industry are patriarchy-structured or work by the buddy-system. Ask yourself: who is mainly sitting at the box office, toilets or serving drinks at the bar and who is sitting in the actual office? Stop the nepotism and hire or involve women, not only for the dirty jobs. A diverse program emerges easily when there is a diverse team standing behind it.”

Do you have plans to do the same kind of investigation in other cities?



Actually, no. I think that I can have more influence in Vienna as I am connected to this city and its nightlife. I wouldn’t feel comfortable intervening in an unfamiliar scene as it’s actually really helpful to know some of the promoters and how everything works. Nevertheless, I was and am hoping that some people will feel inspired or motivated to do it for their cities too!

What’s next for femdex?

First of all, I want to expand the database. I am steadily collecting and searching for new artists and also getting a lot of mails with requests. Plus, I am managing the Facebook page of femdex, presenting and pushing artists I really like.
 Since one week I started to “stamp” some Viennese events by analysing their quotas, which I will do regularly now (including both, balanced or imbalanced quotas). It is not an attempt to decry certain events, but yet another step to raise the awareness. Maybe I will start an event series with femdex, but this is still hypothetical planning. In any case, I’ll definitely stay attentive.

Thanks, Hannah.