Jenny Wang

Your Silence Speaks Volumes: An Open Letter to the ‘Boys’ Club’ that Dominates the Electronic Music Scene

A friend of mine recently asked me to write a piece exposing some of the racism and sexism that I’ve experienced in the music industry in order to help raise awareness. She asked me to detail: who hurt me, who harassed me, who assaulted me, who silenced me, who was racist and who scrutinised my music knowledge because of my appearance.

The issue is, I have already spoken about the people that caused me to have these unpleasant experiences. I have already told people that what they’ve done is wrong, yet due to the inaction of our peers within the scene, I never got the support I needed for them to actually be held accountable for their behaviour. There’s no point listing all their names again, because it’s just more emotional labour for me to endure without any lasting results. So how do we push for a change in the scene? How do we make things more diverse so there isn’t as much of a power imbalance?

This is where we need to address the ‘boys’ club’ – the (mostly straight, white, male or all of the above) people in the scene who haven’t been systematically discriminated against, based on their skin colour, gender or sexuality. Those who get to just worry about the music, because they have the privilege of not being affected by multiple forms of oppression.

I write this knowing that I can’t speak for everyone who falls under this umbrella, as I’m only one person in a large and varied community of marginalised people. I’m also not trying to guilt the boys’ club by highlighting their privilege. I’m merely putting forward some suggestions on how they can help contribute to more progress and diversity within the scene.

The boys’ club makes up the majority of our ‘community’, and everyone in this club needs to take a step back and look at their own behaviour. A lot of them are still using misogynistic images of women in their music videos. They give their club night an ethnic name when there is not a single person of colour headlining. They use the “girl they booked 3 months ago for an opening time slot” as an excuse to argue that they’re diverse. Additionally: they prize their own comfort level over that of people less privileged.

All of these somewhat ‘small’ gestures contribute to the greater issue of oppression within the industry. ‘Small’ racist things are still racist. ‘Small’ misogynistic things are still misogynistic. Allowing ‘small’ actions to pass makes room for bigger and more dangerous behaviour. Combating this is a slow process of education but it’s going to remain at a standstill if we don’t have more people speaking up against it.

I feel that complicity within the boys’ club is one of the contributing factors as to why progress is relatively slow. We are all aware that racism exists, we are all aware that sexism exists, this isn’t new information. We have known for decades that there’s an imbalance in representation. The problem is you need to actually speak up and do things about these issues, otherwise they’ll just continue. Ask festivals why they haven’t booked women, call your DJ friend out when you’ve seen they’ve used a misogynistic flyer, tell the person who runs your event that it’s not okay to do or say racist things, and remove problematic artists from your lineups so people like us can feel we’re actually safe at your events.

Speaking of lineups, some people believe the issue of diversity is tricky to tackle. How do we make events more diverse without tokenising women or people of colour, they ask? Simple: don’t just book one. There are plenty of femme and queer DJs of colour out there who are just as good on the decks as any straight cis dude. Pay attention. Diversity in terms of branding begins with how you choose to represent yourself and this includes the DJs you book for parties.

If you as a person, your label, and your event demonstrate (by doing, not just talking) that you genuinely care about and acknowledge women and people of colour not only in music, but society in general; you will attract those with similar views. I am not going to introduce a female producer to some guys that run a label if I know those guys are misogynistic. I can’t recommend a person of colour to DJ a night run by someone who is casually racist. I am not going to tell women I know in the scene to come to a night where the person headlining is known to use degrading images of women in their music videos.

Think about the content that you’re creating and promoting – do you really need to use someone else’s sexuality, gender, culture as a marketing gimmick? If you do, then maybe you’re not making anything good to begin with. As marginalised people, we see this and it hurts us. Stuff like this reduces us from human beings to nothing but a commodity for your own personal gain, hence, we do not want to work with you. It makes us feel used. If you’re not sure what you’re doing is okay, ask someone. Pay them to check for you. It’s a small price to help create positive change.

If you’re struggling to decipher right from wrong in this area, I cannot urge you enough to just start listening to people like us and acknowledge what we have to go through in the industry. Try and understand that my experience is completely different to yours through means I can’t even control. Realise that maybe you got into DJing because you went out to a night and the DJ inspired you when you talked to them, yet when I talked to the same person also seeking inspiration, I was sexually assaulted.

Too many people I know have had similar experiences to me and are not heard because more often than not the boys’ club prioritise their love for an artist over the safety of others. Also, if you do get called out for a mistake you might have made, accept it. Understand that when this happens, you’re in a position where you can just apologise for that mistake, show you’ve learnt from it, and move on.

As for the marginalised people that called you out for being offensive, they still have to go out and face a society that treats them like this every single day. Set your egos aside and ask yourself: what do you truly know about the scene? Being aware of most underground names and latest releases doesn’t mean you’re aware of the bigger picture as well. Realise that maybe your music knowledge is potentially sheltered and stems from a privileged perspective due to your own experiences. Speak with others and listen to them, not only to understand and help, but also to broaden your own knowledge of how oppressive systems covertly operate throughout all parts of society, including in music.

We all know electronic music was pioneered by people of colour (many of whom were also LGBT) and we all have some form of female presence in our lives. So why aren’t we doing more? Yes, there are a few safe-space oriented collectives out there who are working really hard to push for a more progressive scene, and they all started because a platform wasn’t given to them by the boys’ club. However, their existence doesn’t mean that inequality has been magically fixed, so please stop saying that it is now “easier than ever” for marginalised people to make it in the music industry because of this push for diversity.

It is not “easy” for us. We’re constantly being used as tokens to make your lineups look less racist and sexist. We’re also not being paid the same, if at all. We’re still facing a lot of scrutiny for our skills as musicians and on top of that we still have to deal with systematic oppression in our everyday lives. We’re also mostly ignored when we try to address these kinds of issues, because it makes people in the boys’ club uncomfortable. It isn’t “easy” – we’re constantly fighting an uphill battle for the smallest amount of recognition, while the boys’ club continue to blindly support and promote one another regardless of their shitty behaviour. We’re also still nowhere near seeing a balanced representation at a lot of major events, so making some progress doesn’t mean there’s no more work left to do.

Start thinking about how you can help. Instead of being part of the problem through staying silent, speak up and start working towards being part of a solution. Marginalised people in the music scene just want the same respect and treatment that all of you in the boys’ club receive. We just want the equality we deserve. We need everyone to work on this issue because dance music is for all of us – and the music might be loud, but the silence from the boys’ club is even louder.

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You can find Jenny Wang on Instagram @asiangirlfriend 

Alternatively you can email her at jennyasngf@gmail.com