Cecilia Corsano-Leopizzi, a freelance talent agent and former director of marketing at Decibel Festival, was so tired of hearing male promoters tell her that there wasn’t enough female talent to book at their venues that she made an Excel spreadsheet to prove them wrong.
The spreadsheet, which included 160 names of female-identified DJs and performers in the Pacific Northwest, was proof, she says, for bookers and club owners that there’s a growing list of “awesome people that would totally fit your lineup and love the chance. Now you have no reason to not book them.”
Electronic music has long been a man’s game. An updated 2015 survey by the group female:pressure found female representation in electronic music, specifically at festivals and clubs, hovering around a dismal 10 percent (not a huge improvement from the 2013’s survey average of 8 percent).
But progress is being made.
“I feel like just a year or two ago, it was very rare to see female DJs on any lineups at all, apart from very specific parties,” says Corsano-Leopizzi. “But now I personally book shows that I don’t think a year or two ago would’ve even been able to happen.”
Now you can close your eyes and point to a venue, almost any venue, on almost any given night, and you’ll be able to find a ton of local female and female identified DJs and electronic musicians holding regular posts and making special appearances at clubs, bars, and house shows all over Seattle. Their sets range from techno, house, ambient, minimal, noise, funk, dance-pop, synthwave, and more.
There’s DJ Explorateur’s Rare Air at Q Nightclub, DJ T Wan at Kremwerk’s Nightshift party, Natasha Kmeto and Crater at Nectar Lounge, Youryoungbody and SassyBlack at Barboza, QOQO ROBOQS at Fred Wildlife Refuge, DJ Emmanuelle’s AM I NORMAL? at Revolver, and Lilac at Lo-Fi, to name just a few.
Though such progress can’t be attributed to any single development, one collective has been working tirelessly, both behind the scenes and on stage, to transform the prevailing gender dynamic of electronic music culture in the Northwest. TUF is a new intersectional and multidisciplinary group of female, female-identified, trans, and nonbinary DJs, performers, visual artists, writers, and curators, all loosely orbiting around a love for electronic music and digital art.
TUF (it’s not an acronym, it just sounds tough, according to Corsano-Leopizzi) started online as a way for a group of friends to share music by female DJs and producers: “Basically anything that wasn’t by men,” says founder Katherine Humphreys.
“There’s a really strong electronic community here, and it involved a lot of men originally—be those gay men or straight men—and they all have crews. A lot of them have been doing things for years and years now. But it just felt like there wasn’t a space where female electronic artists were being discussed specifically.”
Since then, the collective has grown to about 80 members, some in digital presence only and some IRL. And they’ve gotten organized. There are now monthly meetings, skill shares on everything from field recording to the gender politics of Victorian fashion, and a regular “family night” at the Eagle for DJs to practice on a solid sound system. They make all their decisions collectively and even have bylaws.
“It took us about six months to come up with any kind of structure,” explains Humphreys. “And there was a lot of debate. A lot of debate.”
There are also events.
After putting on visual art show TUF LUV in June, TUF’s newest offer to Seattle’s arts and music community is TUF FEST, a daylong electronic music festival at Judkins Park on Saturday, July 9. The event is free to the public, funded in part by a grant from the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture and in partnership with Northwest African American Museum.
TUF FEST will feature Bolivian-born epic collagist Elysia Crampton (E&E), Patricia Hall of synth-pop duo Soft Metals, and a Super Collider coding performance by experimental producer Kaori Suzuki, as well as installation art, workshops, and panel discussions. The goal is to showcase female, nonbinary, and trans electronic-music makers from the community and beyond.
But there will always be someone asking why there needs to be a music event that doesn’t include men.
“It comes down to representation,” says TUF member and new-to-the-scene house DJ T.WAN. “On a very basic level, not seeing other people who reflect your identity doing things and being acknowledged for being great musicians, you feel very downtrodden after a while. It makes you much less likely to want to try it.”
TUF aims to combat this says co-organizer Sharlese Metcalf, host of KEXP’s Audioasis and TUF member, by becoming an open and active learning environment for its members. “I can say, ‘Hey, Kayla, who is Aos in [art collective] Secondnature, I want to learn Ableton,’ and we can talk. Or I can say, ‘Hey, DJ Explorateur, I want to learn more about ambient music,’ and I can take a look at her records.”
Workshops at TUF FEST seek to break down the high barriers to playing electronic music, like access to expensive equipment and lack of opportunity to learn, says co-organizer Corsano-Leopizzi. They include a live audio and PA set up class with youth production educators Seattle Sound Girls, and a synth petting zoo and intro to modular synths with Patchwerks cofounder Cindy Desmarais.
For Corsano-Leopizzi, TUF FEST has been a “dream opportunity” to help plan an all-female electronic festival, after having spent more hours than she can count trying to convince bookers that female driven shows will have as much draw as male ones.
“Number one,” she says, “get a female or female-identified talent buyer or booking agent at your club, festival, or venue. I’ve noticed it really makes a difference.”
Emma Burgess-Olson of UMFANG, who hosts a techno-feminism night at Brooklyn club Bossa Nova, and is scheduled to play at the after-hours party TUF FEST ’Til Dawn with Lena Wilkens), agrees. “If everyone booking for the festivals and clubs is a white man, it’s skewed,” she says. “You just have to have a diverse array of people in the power structure to really elicit a lot of change.”
That’s why Olson formed Discwoman, along with curator/booker Frankie Hutchinson and Christine Tran, in 2014. Discwoman began as an all female DJ collective in Brooklyn and grew into a full-fledged booking agency and roster representing female identified, trans, and genderqueer talent in electronic music.
Olson says Discwoman and networks of other collectives like Women’s Beat League in Portland and Intersessions in Toronto have flourished into a movement, reminding their male counterparts “that we are part of the underground, we go to all these techno parties because we love it, too. And we’re here and we’re going to call you out. And the same if you’re a booker. We’ve held this industry accountable, and there’s no more fucking around.”
Bailey Skye, a 21-year-old artist who performs as Nightspace—a self-described “reclamation of punk in a way that doesn’t have to be punk music”—will be a featured member-performer at TUF FEST, though as recently as a couple of months ago, Skye was having reservations about joining the collective.
“I thought, ‘Well, this seems like a very female-centric group, so I don’t really know if I fit in here,’” Skye said. “But I don’t know if I fit in anywhere else. Being a mixed, nonbinary person, I kind of felt like there was nowhere for me.”
After conversations with members, they decided to join, and now feel at home in a collective that has embraced being intersectional.
Lately Skye’s been trying to book queer, female, and POC-led electronic nights every month. Their show at Kremwerk on May 19, also featuring DoNormaal, Lilac, and Hoop, brought in a significant audience (as did their performance to a sweaty, exuberant crowd at Indian Summer during Pride weekend)—so much so that they were asked back to curate a possible series of bimonthly events there.
Skye says they used to have to play a game of ‘sneaking in’ POC and queer artists to show lineups headlined by “white dude acts with credibility,” who were reluctant to “have queer people or POC on the same bills because they thought we would water them down.”
But now, Skye says, “It’s actually the opposite. What we’re doing is important and what you’re doing has already been done. And everything we’re doing is really new, and people give a shit, and you think that we need you, but you need us now. It’s flipping. Now we can fill a room ourselves.”