How does harassment manifest in the dance industry?
Dani Deahl: For the most part, the places we perform are places people go to get fucked up. Women are hired to serve drinks in skimpy dresses. Women are given comped entry. Women in nightclubs are product. So when a female DJ enters a nightclub, there’s already the precedent that most of the women there are seen as product, not only by customers but also by the people in charge of the venue. That puts us at a great disadvantage.
KITTENS: There’s no human resources department for us to go to.
Deahl: There’s no real accountability. We’re freelance. If we make the wrong person angry, it can become a difficult situation. There’s the fear of being blacklisted, of having that person tell people, "Don’t work with her."
Have any of you been in situations that felt dangerous?
KITTENS: Oh my god, yes. Until recently I've been traveling alone. I've had times where I rolled up to a club, and they wouldn't let me in because they thought I was a groupie. I'm like, "That's my name on the marquee." I've had promoters pick me up from the hotel to drive me to the club, and at 3:00 a.m. when they were driving me back, say, "Isn't it really uncomfortable and scary traveling alone as a woman? Do you ever feel unsafe?" And I'm like, "I feel unsafe right now, bro. Can you not?" They're not caring of how sensitive [a female DJ] may be in that situation.
Deahl: I told a story on Twitter regarding Chicago DJ Tony Arzadon. A couple years ago we were both playing in San Diego on Halloween. He was playing later at a different venue, so after my gig I took everyone to support him. I thought, "We're both from Chicago; we're homies; we all know the same people back home -- let's do this." We went over to the Hard Rock, and Tony sees me. Instead of going in to hug me, he reaches out and slaps my breasts. I immediately started crying. The GM of the venue saw it and did nothing. He apologized on behalf of Tony. Nothing happened.
What happened then?
Deahl: I left, because I obviously didn't want to support that. None of my friends left with me. Then [Tony] was texting me and saying it wasn't a big deal; that I was overreacting because he does it to all the girls. The next day my manager at the time had a call with his management company, and they were also trying to say it wasn’t a big deal. It was really hard, because he's from Chicago; he knows my husband, who thought it was a big deal. But I told my husband he couldn’t make a big issue out of it if he saw Tony in public, which he did two days later. My husband had to pretend like everything was okay, because I didn't want to stir the pot.
Switching gears a bit, technology is obviously a huge component of producing electronic music. How does that influence this issue, given tech’s stereotype as “a guy thing"?
KITTENS I notice it big time when it comes to setting up my gear. The sound guy will put his hand on my back like, "Let me do it sweetie," like I don't know what I’m doing. That happens all the time.
Jahan Yousaf: Same.
Yasmine Yousaf: Same
?Jahan and Yasmine, deadmau5 attacked you on Twitter by saying your equipment wasn't plugged in during your Ultra 2015 set. Undermining your technical skills felt particularly insidious on his part.
Yasmine: He was unfamiliar with our setup. I tried explaining it on Twitter, and he said, ["Your technical prowess is as apparent as the fuck I give"]. I was like, "You just wiped away all logic from this conversation."
Jahan: He’s dismissive of so many people. But Yasmine and I were sensitive to it at the time, because as women in the industry, there’s this assumption that you don’t work hard, that you’re not making any of the music and you’re not a creative force. If it happened today, we’d laugh, but at the time, we felt we had to fight to prove we were legitimate artists. [Update: After this interview took place, Krewella released a video for its female empowerment anthem “Bitch of the Year” that included an image of deadmau5. That photo was removed in a subsequent clip that came with a disclaimer noting, "Someone threatened to sue us for using their image in this video."]
KITTENS: I used to teach coed DJ classes, and the difference in confidence levels between men and women [was incredible]. The guys were like, "I got this," while they were still fucking up. The girls were so passive in the back of the room. It broke my heart. Now I do a series of workshops for only women called "PWR." A big focus is me talking about what these women can expect [as DJs] and how they can navigate that so it doesn’t crush their spirits and they can keep moving forward.
Do any of you believe you’re being booked or paid more, or treated differently given the current debate over gender inequality?
Yasmine: I don’t think that has changed at all. A lot of the women that are where they are in electronic music have had to have a co-sign or retweet from a man.
Deahl: You’d be surprised by how little things have changed. When I was getting into it, the people I looked up to most were Superjane, a female DJ collective in Chicago, and Women on Wax, in Detroit. I didn't recognize there was an issue because I had women to look up to, and dance music wasn’t popular. When it became popular, it became harder for women to enter the scene.