In today’s Berlin, new initiatives promoting “women in music” rarely centre on female musicians alone, instead inviting other marginalised communities to join the party. With We Make Waves, the city’s first festival and conference for female, trans and non-binary musicians, on the horizon (Nov 9-11), we surveyed the club and festival scene to see how the intersectional approach is playing out.
It isn’t easy being a woman in music: that much, everyone can agree on. Even the numbers bear it out. The latest FACTS survey (a meta-study carried out by the international Female:Pressure network, published mid-2017) shows that female artists made up only 16.3 percent of music festival line-ups in Germany last year – up from 12.7 percent in 2014, but still pretty dismal.
So there’s work to be done. But what kind of work? And for whom? In the age of identity politics, “put more women on stage” isn’t as simple of an answer as it seems.
A SAFER CLUB SPACE
When it comes to sexism in the Berlin music scene, it’s the clubs that are most obviously in need of reform. An average lineup at Berghain, Kater Blau or Renate might have one “token” female DJ, at best. Producer Ena Lind was among the first to challenge this with her project Mint. Started in 2013 as a regular all-female club night, it expanded into a network, workshop, short film project and booking agency for women in electronic music. And no, says Lind, it was never explicitly a lesbian party. “But of course everyone kept calling it one,” sighs the 36-year-old, who got her start in the queer scene with a party called Bend Over. “It couldn’t be perceived as a normal party, because to have only women DJing wasn’t ‘normal’.”
Lind and co-creator Zoe Rasch held their last party in March, but more parties have followed in their footsteps. The most obvious successor would be Room 4 Resistance, a “femme-forward” dance music collective and party series launched by DJ, promoter and onetime Mint booker Luz Diaz in 2014. Originally from Belgium, Diaz moved to Berlin in 2010 and immediately noticed the club scene’s gender imbalance. “The gay male community’s really strong here – you have parties like Buttons and Cocktail D’Amore, or clubs like Berghain, which are mostly for and by men. As a queer woman I felt safer there than in ‘non-gay’ spaces, but sadly you still often find a lot of misogyny there.” She began curating a floor at Schwuz’s Hot Topic party as a platform for women and “femme-identifying” musicians, bringing in French house and techno producer rRoxymore and Israeli DJ Dasco.
When they expanded into their own party at About Blank, “we had to define ourselves,” says Diaz. “We extended our focus to be more inclusive, to support female and femme artists but also gender queers, trans and non-binary people, people of colour, refugees, disabled people…” At the same time, they had to decide how to develop their own audience. While Lind tried to attract more male clubbers in order to shake off Mint’s lesbian reputation, with stark, neutral flyers and no mention of the word “women” in advertising, Diaz and co. were clear early on that they wanted to create a “safer space” for non-cis-white-males, first and foremost. “Before our parties we have to brief security and tell them the type of people we want to let in. It’s not about excluding white straight men, but we definitely don’t prioritise them when it comes to entry into our space. And if they’re acting weird with women or anyone else during the party, they’ll be removed.”
This policy has come with its own challenges. At one early party, Diaz recalls, two women had come up to her and complained that two men were making them feel uncomfortable. “At first I thought they were being sexually harassed, but it turned out it was because the guys were dancing with their shirts off . So, feeling really uncomfortable myself, I asked the men if it would be okay to put their shirts back on. In the moment, my priority was to listen to the women.” After talking to her team, Diaz decided: “I’d never do that anymore. Our priority is to be a sex-positive party, where anyone who wants to can take their clothes off – and besides, assuming the men’s gender was totally wrong. But that’s part of the reason why I never use the phrase ‘safe space’ any more, only ‘safer space’. A space can never be totally safe for everyone, and we promoters can’t control every element, even if we’re trying our best.”
One might be concerned that focusing on a safer space for clubgoers might limit the exposure Room 4 Resistance’s artists get, but Diaz hasn’t lost sight of her original goal. “I’d love to have a party where I don’t announce the line-up in advance, where people come because they know the music will be good. But it’s important for us to announce our DJs’ names, to bring them more visibility.” She’s just returned from bringing Room 4 Resistance to the US and this month will be hosting a party featuring Warsaw collective Brutaz. This time, there’ll be two cis men on a DJ line-up that Diaz otherwise proudly touts as “85 percent” female – turning Berlin’s usual “token girl” club dynamic on its head.
AUDRE AND MARIAH
Flying the feminist flag in the hip hop scene is Hoe_mies, a party and workshop series for non-cis-males started earlier this year by Gizem Adiyaman and Lucia Luciano. The two 26-year-old childhood friends, who met in middle school in Moabit, practically exude millennial wokeness. Ayidaman, who’s Turkish German, has worked with the likes of Missy’s Hengameh Yaghoobi-farah on the #Schauhin hashtag campaign against racism. Luciano, a part-time actress and model with German-Angolan roots, wrote her bachelor’s thesis on Afro-German authors.
Hoe_mies began after – what else? – a Facebook tiff. Adiyaman had attended a party advertised as promoting female hip hop and R’n’B artists only to find no female DJs on the bill. “I started a discussion on the event page, and the organiser was totally unapologetic,” she recalls. “He just said something like, ‘Well, I’m not stopping anyone from doing it better.’” She enlisted Luciano, who’d dabbled in the techno scene and found it a paradise of inclusivity compared to the hip hop parties she’d been to. “There’s just a different vibe at those. The lyrics are more judgy, the crowd is more masculine. I’d bring my techno friends and they wouldn’t feel comfortable.”
They and the DJs they bring on board play hip hop, R’n’B, trap and dancehall, everything from Princess Nokia to Berlin rap duo SXTN to mainstream fare like Mariah Carey and Sean Paul. “We encourage everyone to have a gender balance in their set, but we don’t want to impose,” says Adiyaman. The DJs themselves, though, have to be female, trans or non-binary. “I didn’t actually know there were non-binary people before this,” says Luciano. But mindful of their “privilege as cis women”, the two knew they had to include any musician who felt discriminated against by the patriarchy. “What did Audre Lorde say?” Adiyaman muses. “‘I can’t be free while any woman is unfree, even if her shackles are different from mine.’”
Despite their relative lack of DJ experience before founding Hoe_mies, the pair has become ubiquitous on the scene, with regular parties at Beate Uwe and Burg Schnabel drawing an audience spanning all genders, sexualities and backgrounds. But of course, they haven’t gone without their own share of Facebook complaints. “One girl kept hating on us like, ‘You’re non-queer cis women coming into this queer space…’” remembers Adiyaman. “First of all, we never said we weren’t queer. And what were we going to do, not invite our queer friends? That would’ve been a half-ass party.”
The more progressive the party, the higher the standards – and therefore, Caoimhe McAlister, co-founder of this month’s conference and festival We Make Waves, knows she has to tread carefully. “Oh, I’m sure we’re going to get a shit-ton of criticism – but we’re totally open to it!” emphasises the Irish musician. A former employee of indie label City Slang, she teamed up with two other industry vets – fellow Berliner Melissa Perales, of Schokoladen, M:Soundtrack and Torstraßenfestival, and Mirca Lotz of Munich-based booking agency Fwd: Like Waves – to plan three days’ worth of indie and electronic concerts, workshops, roundtables and small discussion groups, the goal of which is to produce a working “manifesto” on women in music. The trigger was a panel on the subject at Hamburg’s Reeperbahn festival that started what the trio felt was a long-overdue conversation. “But what struck me about it is that everyone was talking about ‘diversity’ in music, and they were all so white!” says McAlister. Begun with the working title European Women in Music, the festival was duly renamed to be less exclusive – “We realised that to non-Europeans, ‘European’ sounds like ‘white’” – and it wasn’t long into the planning stage that McAlister, Perales and Lotz decided to work “trans and non-binary people” into their festival’s subtitle. “I was talking about the FACTS survey with a friend of mine who’s trans-masculine,” says McAlister. “It counted everyone according to their chosen gender, meaning they’d be counted as a ‘male’ act – but no matter how a trans man looks, he’ll still have been socialised as a woman.”
Among We Make Waves’ offerings is a showcase of “diversity-focused collectives”, among them the Yo! Sissy queer music festival and the trans and non-binary New World Dysorder. However, there won’t be any events that specifically focus on the trans or POC experience in music. “I didn’t invite anyone to speak exclusively about their identity,” McAlister says. “My hope is that these conversations will be woven throughout the festival.” She acknowledges “the pressure to be inclusive” in the age of callout culture. “But it wasn’t actually that hard for us, because of all the collectives that are already out there.”
THE POWER OF THE QUOTA
Meanwhile, Berlin’s Music Board, which allocates state funding to rock, pop and electronic musicians and festivals, announced this year that it would prioritise funding for projects with at least 50 percent female participation, either on or off stage. The number was more a prompt than anything – the board didn’t actually do the math when making their decisions, chairwoman Katja Lucker says. “But we told everyone: if you have a male-only festival, we can’t support you.”
Not only did this mean more money for projects that were already inclined to book women, like We Make Waves, Yo! Sissy and Reclaim The Beats; it also meant that other Berlin festivals which had never thought about including more female artists suddenly had an incentive to do so. Among other things, this resulted in the most gender-balanced edition of the experimental electronic fest CTM ever, with a 43 percent female lineup compared to a paltry 9.9 percent four years ago. A similar “diversity” guideline is next on the Music Board’s docket.
Ultimately, the rising-tide-lifts-all-boats philosophy seems to be working well in Berlin. For her first project since Mint, Ena Lind is planning a new party series tentatively named Juice. “I wanted to return to my roots in the queer underground scene,” she says. “This time, it’ll be focused on sex-positivity.” Who’ll be invited? “I’m still aiming for female-identified people. But I don’t want to be exclusive.”
We Make Waves, Nov 9-11 | St. Elisabeth, Villa Elisabeth and Kunsthaus Acud
Hoe_mies panel with Munroe Bergdorf, Nov 23, 18:00 | see Facebook page for details
Room 4 Resistance x Brutaz, Nov 10, 23:00 | About:Blank
DJ workshop with Ena Lind, Nov 19 | Farbfernseher, see Facebook event for details