Ecouter: We need more platforms for women in the music industry

Vanessa Mallia aka DJ Alex An

Vanessa Mallia aka DJ Alex An - Credit: Archant

‘We’re not short on female talent. It’s just not having an unbiased platform for females to be able to perform and showcase their talent’

Rory Sky

Rory Sky - Credit: Archant

Various studies over the past year have shown just how much inequality there is between women and men in the music industry. The gender disparity is particularly noticeable if you look at festival line ups. A study in the summer showed that eight out of 10 of the top festival slots were occupied by all-male acts.

“An example is We Are FSTVL,” says DJ Vanessa Mallia. “They announced 27 of their DJs and only [two] of those are female.

“I’ve really noticed the gap in the market for female events and read some shocking reports, shocking but understandable. I’m generally the only female on the line ups that I appear at.”

The Highbury musician who performs under the name DJ Alex An is hoping to remedy the male dominated nature of the music industry with the launch of a women-led initiative.

Lia Lua

Lia Lua - Credit: Archant

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“It’s a real problem,” she says. “We’re not short on female talent. It’s just not having an unbiased platform for females to be able to perform and showcase their talent.

“That’s why I set up Écouter: to really provide that platform for females and to create a collective where we can network and share skills, ideas, interests and build a unified brand that’s recognised not just for being female but for the talent that it can produce.”

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The collective is launching with a gig at T-Bird in Blackstock Road on Sunday November 19. Running from 3-7pm, with free entry, the event showcases a variety of performers across a range of genres: Lia Lua, a DJ and ethnomusicologist, who blends sounds from around the world; singer-songwriter Rory Sky’s electronic, ambient RnB; EM Briar’s alternative dance sound; Stacey Cohen’s singing exploring the boundaries of comtemporary psyche folk, trip-hop, folktronica and blues; and DJ Saya, bringing her therapeutic EDM and house.

“We’ve got a lot of electro singers, electro DJs, world music, afrobeat and house music. It’ll showcase the different styles of music that are available and we’re performing it in a really intimate venue.”

Mallia is a regular attendee of workshops for women in the music industry, such as She Said.So and Normal Not Novelty by Red Bull Studios, where she can network with other female performers.

“There’s a real push for promoting that talent at the moment but not enough platforms to actually go out and showcase that talent,” she says. “It is difficult to get a gig. I feel that male promoters are a lot more hesitant to book a female DJ.”

She has experienced sexism and inequality within the industry, saying that women are seen as a “novelty” and are widely objectified.

“It’s still disappointing because the concentration should be on the talent and on the sound that they make, the huge following and presence and the influence that they have on female artists who come forward and pursue their talent.

“In general, growing up, all my friends were DJs and it was really hard, all the sexism they encountered as women in a male environment: comments about their clothes, their cleavage being out, but not about the music. It could be one of the best sets you’ve ever heard but because we’re still objectified, I feel that sometimes females aren’t taken seriously.”

As part of music collective Deep Vibes, she plays at McQueen and Zigfrid von Underbelly in Shoreditch and feels lucky to work with a promoter who understands her frustrations and makes the effort to secure some “really mainline female headline acts”.

But this is a rare occurrence throughout the industry, and Mallia hopes that Écouter will go some of the way to making room for the wealth of female artistry. All of the performers at the launch night in Highbury will be part of the collective, with access to a unique support system and networking opportunities as well as a monthly radio show with Haringay’s recently launched House 559 Music.

“The current gender inequality in the music industry is at breaking point,” says Mallia. “I have created Écouter as a platform so unheard female talents can finally be recognised.”

Écouter will be launching on Sunday November 19, 3-7pm, at T Bird bar 132 Blackstock Road, N4 2DX. Free entry with happy hour promotion from 3-5pm.

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