In the male-heavy world of dance music, the rapid ascent of Marea Stamper has been remarkable. She released her first record as the Black Madonna in 2012, became talent buyer and creative director at Smart Bar, the legendary independent dance music palace in Chicago, a year later, and won Mixmag's DJ of the Year honor in 2016. "I've often said that the only difference between me and everybody else is that I had a couple agents that really believed in me," she tells Billboard Dance. "If not for them, we would not be having this interview. Women in general need that, somebody that can look through the surface level marketability and find this other spot."
The Black Madonna is now part of a push by Smirnoff, the liquor giant, to bring electronic music closer to gender parity with the Equalizing Music initiative. An investigation of 24 major festival lineups by Vice's dance music vertical, Thump, in 2016 found that not a single one achieved equal representation of male- and female-identifying acts; on average, just 17 percent of headliners were women. On Monday (March 6), Smirnoff announced its goal of doubling the number of female-identifying headliners at major music festivals in three years.
Smirnoff is tackling the problem of unequal opportunity in dance music from multiple angles: first by encouraging "key stakeholders" in electronic music to pledge their own support to help achieve gender parity; second by working with two Vice platforms,Thump and Broadly, to celebrate females in the dance music industry with the "Top 50 Making Noise" list, which includes the Black Madonna, DJ Rachael, Cassy, Tokimonsta, Anna Lunoe, and many more. The final component of the initiative is Smirnoff: Equalizing Music, a documentary that intertwines the tales of the Black Madonna and DJ Rachael.