If you missed Part I of this series on the female presence in dance music, it was inspired by a post from Complex a while back highlighting "the sexiest women in EDM," which was more about pretty faces than actual talent. Many people believe that DJing and music production is a male dominated artform, which in some ways it still is; but there are also so many thriving female artists who are integral members of the community, and have been for quite a while. Let's commend their art and individuality rather than focusing on mere appearances...
In this next edition, I bring you a mix of electronic goddesses from many corners of the globe. Some are legendary veterans while others are fresh green talent, but they all share an undying love for music and a tenacious creative dynamism. They also all live by this truism that Miss Kittin sums up so well:
"One of the first things I learned as an artist is to never listen to what people say, because you can't please everybody, and it's hard enough to be yourself, and it's too much work to try to please everybody."
Miss Kittin is a true role model. With roots in the 90s rave scene, this fierce French feline just released her third solo artist album on April 22nd. Calling From The Stars marks a key moment in her career, as her first self-produced double album. She's also revered for earlier collaborative works with her favorite partner, The Hacker (namely tracks like "Frank Sinatra" and "1982" plus several collaborative albums), as well as with Felix Da Housecat ("Silver Screen"), Sven Väth ("Je T’aime"), and many others.
Not only is she a seasoned producer, Kittin's vocals are exceptionally unique, with a sexy, deadpan flavor that perfectly complements her style, ranging anywhere from atmospheric to Chicago/Detroit/Acid infused techno and electro. She's often credited as one of the originators of "electro-clash," but regardless of stylistic specifics, she insists that DJing is her true passion. She says, “I love playing records, it’s probably the best thing I know to do in life. I do it because it’s big fun and it makes me free.”
Kittin is a self-proclaimed rebel with a cause, the embodiment of artistic integrity and self-reliance. She explains simply, "I came into this rave party world to be free." With her vast experience in the music industry, she imparts priceless knowledge, reflecting on the pure reward of performance and sharing her creative gifts with others:
"You are selling dreams, you know. You are selling hope and that's the aim of entertainment...and it's a social work, you make people's life easier...they have problems all week, and they just want to forget about everything...they are supposed to leave the place better than when they arrived, emotionally, mentally, physically. You have to give them the input that they can change their life...that's the ideal situation."
Ellen Allien is an exemplar of creative versatility. As a producer, DJ, label boss, and fashion designer, she manages to do it all with precision and professionalism.
As a little girl growing up in Berlin, Ellen Fraatz learned to play the organ, saxophone, and entertained herself with a jukebox and manic 7-inch singles. She loved David Bowie and dressing up in disguises, and as she got older, explored acrobatics, dance and fashion.
1988 was a critical year for Allien. She moved to London and found herself in the right place at the right time: during the explosion of acid house. But she returned home after a year, for the fall of the Berlin wall, which was also instrumental in her artistic coming-of-age. It opened up new places in the city for her to traverse, especially the east side, and before she knew it she was completely sucked into the nightlife.
Eventually she established her own radio show on Berlin's Kiss FM, and from that founded her first label project, Brain Candy. She ran Brain Candy from '94 to '98, and then in '99 founded the BPitch Control imprint out of a party series of the same name. One of my personal favorite Allien tracks is "Stadtkind," from her 2001 debut album of the same name, a special homage to her city of Berlin.
In 2007 Ellen Allien's Fabric 34 made her the first woman to join the series; and naturally since then, she's also done a Boiler Room DJ set. This past March she released a new full length album called LISm, which has quite a story behind its inception. A dancer/choreographer duo approached her about writing the soundtrack for a performance they were planning called Drama per Musica, and in 2011 they all enacted their collaborative efforts just once during the Spectacles Vivants Festival at the acclaimed Pompidou Centre in Paris.
From that initial piece, she reworked and recreated what would later become her LISm album, which showcases her mastery of composition, using strings, hand percussion, as well as digital production elements. She described the process rather poetically in an interview with Société Perrier:
"Making music is very precious for me, a moment to immerse. LISm is like immersion, the ears are filled with water and I am dreaming.”
In keeping with her youthful penchant for disguises and fashion, around 2006 Allien also became a clothing designer and has created several themed collections. She explains her concept for fashion as it relates to music and her own individual femininity:
"There are a lot of clichés of women and you as a woman have to wonder about your own role in that, if you want to be part of that clichés of the oversexed female or if you can succeed in representing yourself neutrally, a person who is not just reduced to her sex. It became more and more important to me to dress with a distinctive style and with an eye to contexts like design, art, music, architecture. They all belong together and create our perception of aesthetics, which always changes and morphs."
Dasha Rush is a femme fatale of the techno/experimental/ambient persuasion. Her music is characterized by the intensity of her Russian origins, although she relocated to Paris in the mid-90s when she was only 16 to explore modeling, which took her to London and Japan and allowed her to put her earnings towards making music.
But her early introduction to DJing and producing spawned from visits back to her homeland, where a tech-savvy friend initially guided her learning. She developed a love for acid techno, expressing her darker emotions musically, even dabbling in hardcore and gabber in her early years. The "hard" part seems to have stuck, although she comments on the importance of making music outside of dance and techno, and not being pigeon-holed: "I think it's important to explore those fields of music where you cannot have a definition of style, which you can't put into this frame, or that frame." Perhaps her desire to create beyond genre frameworks is what inspired the deep, cerebral sounds she deems "mental techno" in her upcoming release, "Interception Of Arts."
Before long, she struck out entirely on her own path, and is now label head of Fullpanda. A natural leader and innovator, she explained in an interview with RA that her early modeling work provided the financial stability she needed to spread her wings musically, giving her "a certain freedom to do it the way I want. I always want to do it my way." Rush is also part of a duo project called LADA, with partner Lars Hemmerling, and although she admittedly likes to be in control, she's found a balance with Hemmerling where the two can use collaborative friction to their advantage.
Rush offered an appropriately complex response to the inevitable gender question, with amazing insight into the feminine qualities of techno in particular:
"It's not easy to talk about, because there are a lot of clichés. I'm not really a feminist or gender theorist. If I like the artist it doesn't really matter what sex they are, but there is a certain difference in the sensibility of men and women by default. It's a natural thing. There is something. Even the way to express or approach things. Music, literature, any kind of expressive activity or art, and it is different."
"There is the other side of it, that 'techno music is masculine music.' [It] is not really masculine on purpose. It's just a society that's developed a certain way. There are certain situations, ridiculous situations, where people are very sexist. I know women who bring their sexuality to DJing and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.... Personally, I think techno is liberating—like any music, actually, if it's good. But for me, it's the physicality of techno. There is a proved theory I think, where they found a certain range of frequencies of very, very low bass—I can't remember the exact hertz—that provokes excitement on a women's organs. The woman likes bass."
Louisahhh!!! grew up Louisa Pillot, and was immersed in music from childhood, singing, playing guitar, and classically trained in piano, she was even in the school band. By the time she was 17 she caught the club bug, started sneaking into New York City venues with a fake ID, and experienced the destructive side of dance music culture early on:
"It was a group of underage kids terrorizing NYC nightlife. I don’t know how we didn’t get caught, but that lifestyle ended me up in rehab. And so then it was like — are you into drugs or into music? Can you be into music without drugs? I eventually found out that yes, you can do it." (DJZ.com)
As fate would have it, the need for rehab brought her to Los Angeles in 2006, where her career as a vocalist, producer and DJ began. She and a friend formed NYCPARTYINFO, a house-infused duo production project that eventually led her to Danny Daze and Bromance Records. Danny Daze was a friend at the time, and recognized her talent as a singer, which led to the hit track "Your Everything" released on Hot Creations in 2011. Initially Louisah resisted capitalizing on her vocals, but has since fully embraced that gift, comparing the sound of her voice to "unicorn laughter."
When she met Brodinski in 2009 her potential began to truly blossom. They started as good friends and finally collaborated on several huge tracks, like "Let The Beat Control Your Body" and "Nobody Rules The Streets." Her first solo EP Transcend was crafted in Paris, produced by Maelstrom, and released on Bromance Records just last week. In an interview with Vibe she explained her vision for Transcend:
“Musically, I tried to reference somewhere between Tiga in 2005 and Anthony Rother, but modernize and twist that energy to make it my own. It was important to add a feminine edge, some beauty--but also real toughness and grit. When you're listening to it, I want you to feel it in the marrow of your bones, I want the sound to hit you physically. Working with the wonderful genius that is Maelstrom, I think we hit the nail on the head.”
Vibe also asked Louisah to share her thoughts on being a female in "EDM" culture:
"I try to judge people based on what I hear and not on what I see, like not on gender. But it is a complicated balance, because you do hear a lot of horror stories for women in dance music. It is really important as the scene grows to be a good role model and to do good for the other girls. Like I see my own defects. It is easy to let your ego get out of control.... But I strive to be there as a representative of women and act with integrity and grace and not be this crazy slut. We try."
With her unshakeable zest for life and music, Louisahhh!!! promises much more to come. Follow her Tumblr to catch a glimpse inside this stellar lady's world.
Ida Engberg began her love affair with DJing at the tender age of 14, and honed her talents spinning vinyl hip hop and soul at the local youth center. She got her first gig when she was 18 in a Stockholm bar, and soon made her way into clubs, becoming a resident at Stockholm’s renowned Cocktail Club. But like many DJs and producers, it took a trip to the magical music mecca of Ibiza for Engberg's full creativity to unfold. She commented on its impact:
"Being there was so inspiring, I think taking that journey has definitely played an important role in my career and lead me to where I am today."
“I had fallen deeply in love with the minimal techno sound so it was perfect at the time. In Ibiza I met so many people who shared the same dream--to be working with music.... I was playing in bars and smaller clubs and in afterhour parties. Everywhere I went it was people with the same passion for music as I had.”
Engberg's talent for DJing sparked at a young age, but her productions came later. Her breakout track "Disco Volante" was released in 2007, garnering massive support and worldwide attention. She's since released on imprints like Get Physical, Truesoul and Drumcode (she also happens to be married to Drumcode boss Adam Beyer). Her dark and driving track "Lucky Ones" recently came out on Drumcode's Swedish Silver Vol. 2 compilation.
Engberg's incredible performance at Panorama Bar in Berlin a few months ago is the perfect example of her masterful spontaneity as a DJ, as she weaves a story with the music. To her, it's the best job in the world:
"I like to think of DJing as if it was painting a picture. It’s not whole until the last track, and the longer I can play the more detailed it gets. I always improvise, so I don’t know myself where I will end up, which is what makes this job so amazing--it never gets boring.”