These five DJs are pushing against the boundaries of the white supremacist, cishetero patriarchy.
The idea of the DJ (short for disc jockey) first emerged sometime in the United States during the 1930’s or 40’s, and was originally used to describe radio personalities who introduced various phonograph records on air.
However, the DJ as a social figure first exploded in Jamaica during the 1960’s, with Jamaican DJ’s King Tubby and Lee Perry essentially pioneering club music as a genre through their innovative experimentations with repetitive rhythmic structures, sonically manipulated pre-recorded music materials from mass media, and remixes. All of these developments later helped lay the foundation for the development of Hip hop in the 1970’s.
Within the history of DJ’ing and electronic music more broadly, however, women, femmes, and queer folks have been notoriously absent. This corresponds with women’s lack of access (traditionally) to audio technology-related jobs—and, by extension, a lack of access to sound engineering technology—but it also has to do with the cultural associations between masculinity and technophilia (love for and adeptness at handling and manipulating technology) more generally. In countless numbers of ways, society reinforces the idea that it is natural for men and masculine folks to work with objects related to technology, science, and engineering.
The fact that the hip hop industry has traditionally been overwhelmingly male does not help in this regard either.
However, the tide is slowly beginning to turn in regards to women, femmes, and queer folks in the DJ and electronic music scene globally. In 2014, a new collective called DiscWoman emerged out of Brooklyn, which made it its mission to exclusively promote the work of female DJs. DiscWoman calls itself a “collective, platform, and booking agency that showcases and represents female talent in electronic music,” and it now works with over 250 DJs worldwide across 15 cities. Some of these talents are now beginning to attract considerable attention worldwide, and are changing the face of the global electronic music scene.
If you’re thinking of booking a DJ for an event near you, or just want to listen to some innovative trans/cis/non-binary women and femmes of color DJ’s and electronic musicians, here are just a few of the sonic wizards spinning brilliant new sounds from their laptops as of late.
Pitchfork recently called 24-year old Korean-American DJ Kathy “Yaeji” Lee one of house music’s most exciting new voices. Based in New York City but increasingly touring throughout Asia and the rest of the world, Yaeji croons softly over her own mixes in both Korean and English. Her tracks are heady and moody: “It’s crazy, especially at clubs, because DJs create a mood, and sometimes the experience is to just be in that bubble they’re creating and meditate in it,” she says. The visuals for her music videos are stunning, often set against the neon lights and urban backdrops of Chinatown or Seoul.
Follow her on Twitter @kraeji
Originally from the Bronx and now based out of Oakland, Jasmine Infiniti (who also dubs herself “the Queen of Hell“) is a non-binary black trans femme DJ who has roots in New York City ballroom culture. She is a member of DiscWoman and New World Dysorder, a collective of creatives based in the California Bay Area who produce and curate a range of experiential events designed to highlight the work of femmes, women, and people of color.
On the power of DJ’ing to create queer community, Infinity says:”Throwing a party can be a radical act, especially for queer people in the wake of Orlando. Having space for community — having the gall to celebrate our lives in a world that tells us that we should be afraid — is radical.”
Listen to some of her newest tracks on her website and follow her on Twitter at @JasmineInfiniti
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Growing up between Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Brooklyn DJ Ushka’s music draws primarily on electronic club and bass music, but draws on a wide range of genres from soca to dancehall, hip hop to south asian rhythms, Baltimore/Jersey club to baile funk, vogue cuts to kuduro, azonto to afrobeat and more.
When making her tracks, she says, she inhabits her music from the perspective of a dancer. In addition to DiscWoman, Ushka is also a member of iBomba, a Brooklyn based duo who has regularly organized immigrant and people of color-centered parties for the last five years, as well as the Dutty Artz label + crew, a collective of DJs and producers creating sonic cultural production and events in New York City.
Alexandra Brandon, who records and performs as TRNSGNDR/VHS, is based out of Baltimore and draws inspiration for her music from a wide range of visual arts, including graphic design, art history, and photography.
TRNSGNDR/VHS, as she is known when DJ’ing, is hard pressed to put labels on the kinds of sounds she makes, but leans toward new age, ambient music layered on top of at times cacophonous sound effects. She writes all the lyrics to her songs. As she recently told an interviewer: “If you’re willing to be an artist, you should be willing to face off. And I’ve faced off with a lot of people. I was gonna play Ladyfest this year but dropped off the bill and went on Ladyfest’s Facebook and I was like, “Fuck this festival because you’re working with Baltimore Community Foundation which has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Baltimore Police Department. It was the best can of worms I’ve ever opened.”
Listen to her tracks here.
Cindy Li, who also goes by her DJ name Ciel, is an up and coming Chinese-Canadian DJ based out of Toronto who began practicing her craft in earnest in 2011. Her tracks are self-described as “dreamy” and “trippy electro.”
She made waves last summer when in response to a local promoter hiring almost all male artists, she responded by posting a google doc featuring the names of hundreds of talented female DJ’s from every genre imaginable for hire in the Toronto area. She is now a member of the Check out her set from last summer, performed live at the Boiler Room in Toronto.
Listen to her tracks here.
Featured Images: trnsgndrvhs / ty_ushka / jasmine_infiniti / ciel FB / Yaeji