Questioning The Gender Boundaries In Electronic Music With Kaltès

21 September 2015
Mariana Berezovska

Not every boy wants to be a soldier. Nor needs every girl to be brought up as a blushing shy rose. These are the basic statements that reject stereotypes promoted by the patriarchal society and archaic upbringing methods. And although we live in the times of increasing emancipation and recognition of personal choices, the need for diversity and new social norms is still huge.

The network of female electronic music producers and industry professionals Female:Pressure aims at promoting diversity and abandoning deeply-rooted prejudices against women. The roles which society has been allocating to men and women need to be reviewed and questioned. We all are capable of being professional, creative, beautiful and nerdy. And this an important lesson that both men and women need to learn.

We talk to Kaltès, a Berlin-based classical jazz musician and a techno DJ, one of the Female:Pressure main activists. We discuss how the lack of female artists' visibility is different from their absence and how the awareness can make a change.

Mariana: Alongside Female:Pressure you address the problem of the visibility of male and female artists and state it is more challenging for a woman to be heard and listened to. Could you elaborate?

Kaltès: Gender gap is a really complex issue that has been a part of the patriarchal mentality for centuries. It is about how society promotes people. The way we raise boys and the way we raise girls are often based on old-fashioned stereotypes and need to be questioned.

I think that in general many girls don't have an opportunity and chance to get in touch with electronic music and technology because these are believed to be toys for boys. The problem of fewer female artists in the scene is one of the reflections of how society allocates roles.

Prejudices against women are deeply rooted in our minds. It is also about how we, women, view ourselves. So it is really hard to dismantle everything and to have a clear vision because everything is so interdependent.

Indeed there is quite some work to be done in our society in order to make women more visible...

I think that the first step, which Female:Pressure is actually working on, is to talk about the issue. To start making sure that it is uncomfortable for clubs and festivals to have a line-up that absolutely does not promote any form of diversity.

One of the most ridiculous phenomena is that in order to be recognized as a woman you have to be absolutely outstanding and excellent, whereas a man just needs to do his stuff while making mistakes, learning from them, and progressing. It is really difficult for women to be successful in their career, to be visible, to be headliners unless they have support from people who have the power. Or they need to be absolutely absurdly good.

Like Björk?

Even if you are Björk, you are facing discrimination and sexism.

There is a cliche that women are not good with the machines and equipment. So the way women are viewed is more critical. And if you happen to be a woman preparing your set in a club and you make a mistake - it is going to be very hard on you. The same mistakes are seen quite differently in case of male DJs and producers.

What are the examples from your own experience when you saw that rights are not equal and that changes are needed?

I started as a classical and jazz musician. I studied saxophone and at at the age of 16 I was already playing classical pieces of jazz on stage. And what deeply disrupted me was older man coming to me and saying how sexy it is when woman is playing saxophone. And there was always this 'sexy' factor. And those sticky intense comments like 'oh, you know how to blow in that stuff' coming from adult guys were totally out of the musical context. It was very aggressive sexually, I felt harassed because a woman playing saxophone was a part of their fantasy.

Although sexism and discrimination exist on many levels in different spheres, the most blatant example, in terms of the electronic music scene, is festivals' and clubs' line-ups. We have huge festivals in Europe as well as in the entire world which are sponsored by public money and end up having 2 female artists out of 150 acts. This is absolutely insane. When I see a line-up like that I am wondering what curators are thinking and how they research their music. Almost the same headliners are booked all the time from year to year.

I think a curator's argument to this would be that they are not looking for male or female artists but for artists in general and there are more male artists out there.

Yes, I agree that that would be the main argument. But I also believe that this answer comes from the fact that curators and promoters generally don't make an effort to do a research. The real problem is visibility and not the absence of women. So they need to actually change the way they research their music and stop relying on press and line-ups to find artists. Because this is not the way you are going to find diversity, you will end up booking Steffi and Dasha Rush, who are fantastic artists, but there are so many more. There is no renewal among line-ups and the process is not revolving. Women are not given what Black Madonna would call 'a big slot'.

The real problem is visibility and not the absence of women.

At the parties, and now also festivals, organized by Female:Pressure there are mostly only female artist playing. It may also look like a closed society. So if the main goal of your activities is to show how ridiculous it is to have one-gender line-ups and to promote diversity, why don't have more men participating at your events?

The first reason why we only have female artists at our events is, of course, because we want to showcase the artists who belong to the network. Also, as we are trying to question the diversity, we need to disturb things a bit. And, indeed, since I have been organizing events with strictly females on line-ups, I had been receiving a lot of feedback and questions, both hateful and curious. Somehow I think it is a good progression, because in the meantime it is impossible to change things if you are very polite. And if you don't shake people a bit and don't put them out of their comfort zone, nothing is going to move. So for me, such a line-up is a kind of a statement and probation, it is something that people react really strongly to, something that I use to initiate a dialogue. But I don't want to create segregation.

Besides, it is also insane that we talk about 'all-female' line-up, because when it is a men only line-up - we never call it this way. It seems normal to everybody, people don't even realize that. This is what I want to signify.

Of course, I don't believe that such a line-up is a solution. In the perfect world we would like not to carry out any politics and just spend days in our studios not worrying about the issue.

Moreover, we also started inviting politically aware men to play at our parties. Men who understand the situation and build bridges. For instance, Olaf from the Knife was one of our guests and he is one of the rare artists who would refuse to play at a festival if he sees that there are no female participants.

Female:Pressure is a network for female artist that works via mailing list. It is a very basic but extremely efficient tool. How does it help women in the scene?

The mailing list is an exchange of knowledge, first of all. It connects not only producers, but also sound engineers, teachers of Ableton and music production, journalists, booking agents, researchers. All these women coming together and exchanging their ideas are very empowering. Our festivals also take place because of people meeting through the network.

Are many things initiated by Female:Pressure happening outside Germany?

Berlin is, of course, the place where the most action takes place, but I really hope that it is going to change.

Female:Pressure exists since 1998. It started as a way of communicating and grew into a powerful database where curators and promoters can do a research, by choosing the cities and genres they are interested in. In the last years initiatives in many countries started to emerge. For example in Spain, the activists are addressing Sonar by questioning the line-up. Female artist all over the world get in touch, launch projects and exchange experience.

Female:pressure does have a growing impact on the present electronic music scene. It is a fantastic tool to find female artists all over the world, connect talented people, generate awareness and make changes.

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Photography by Elisabeth Dehlke

Mariana Berezovska

Mariana Berezovska

Mariana believes in music, aesthetic education, second language acquisition and the power of doing things together.