As Female Electronic DJs Break Through, Is There an Industry Double Standard?

Jeremy Blacklow
Stop The Presses!

In the past five years, electronic dance music (EDM) has quickly become one of the most popular (and profitable!) music genres in the world. Every month in cities around the world, festivals are packed with hundreds of thousands of concertgoers who clamor to buy tickets just to hear their favorite DJs — musical deities who are treated like gods.

And just as with hip-hop's emergence a generation before it, men were the first to hit superstar-status levels in the genre. More and more, however, women have been breaking through that glass ceiling and carving out an important space for themselves. And with that achievement, comes inevitable gender stereotypes.

Now that women are finding equal success, both as live DJs and as studio producers, we couldn't help but wonder: Is there a double standard for women in the EDM world? So, we caught up with three different successful female DJ duos — from three different countries — to ask their thoughts on the topic.

Rebecca & Fiona from Sweden are certainly at the top of their game. Around since 2010, the close friends are now packing dance tents with their high-energy performances and hard beats. Their anthems, which include "Luminary Ones," "Turn It Down" (with Kaskade), and "Taken Over," drive crowds wild. We chatted with them in their trailer before their set at Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas in June (check out the videos, above and below, shot on a Sony Action Cam), where they shared their perspective with us over a few shots of Jägermeister.

"Who makes your music?" is the first question Fiona Fitzpatrick claims that producers always ask them. "And that would be really disrespectful, to ask a musician … 'Who makes your music?' But still there are so many pros to being female. We stick out!"

"We have all eyes on us," Rebecca Scheja says. "Because if we f--k up a mix, it's, 'Oh they're not doing it right, they can't mix.'"

"We have to acknowledge all the time that it's a very male-dominated business," Fiona adds. "Where all of the record label heads are men … it's always 90 percent men … it's heterosexual men, mostly."

But for these two independent women, having each other nearby has helped them navigate tricky waters, a sentiment echoed by all three DJ duos we spoke with for this article. "For us, we have a union … we have each other, so we make all of the decisions ourselves. Nobody can tell us what kind of music we should make or play, it's only us doing it," Fiona notes.

The DJ duo NERVO is made up of twin sisters Miriam and Olivia Nervo from Australia, who have also rapidly climbed the EDM ladder, having been the only women voted to the DJ Mag Top 100 DJs list in 2012. They got their start as songwriters, penning the huge 2009 David Guetta and Kelly Rowland hit "When Love Takes Over," before starting their own career behind the decks. In 2011, their track "We're All No One" (feat. Afrojack) launched them into the stratosphere, and landed them an opening slot on Britney Spears's Femme Fatale tour. "You're Gonna Love Again" followed in 2012, and their 2013 has been huge with anthems "Like Home" (with Nicky Romero), and "Hold On."

For NERVO, the music is what defines the artist, regardless of gender. "[We] think music speaks volumes so it should always be about the music you make and play," the siblings explain to Yahoo! Music. "When we first released club records under NERVO we were booked for gigs and people thought we were guys. That was quite funny to us … Generally we're treated the same and most of the time it feels like we're one of the boys — which is cool with us."

And just like Rebecca & Fiona, they've come to rely on each other for support. "For us, we enjoy being together and bouncing off of each other. We have a good workflow in the studio together — two heads are better than one kind of thing."

Though they don't like to focus too much on gender, the one thing they feel does differentiate men's and women's taste in electronic music is the words. "They say that boys don't listen to lyrics and girls do. We definitely appreciate good lyrics and are involved in that part of our music making."

The Jane Doze are an up-and-coming DJ duo from New York City, who are pushing boundaries by mashing up various genres in their original productions. Friends Jen Mozenter and Claire Schlissel started as music industry employees (one was at a major label and one was at a music management company) before committing to being DJs and producers full-time. Their recently released remix of Miley Cyrus's summer anthem "We Can't Stop" is climbing the charts and putting them on a lot of folks' radars (they got to twerk for Miley in June on a webcam when the singer crashed their Google hangout). We also caught up with them at Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas this year to chat about being women in the scene.

"We spent every day for years promoting other people's dreams of being stars, if you will. And then about four or five months ago we took a leap of faith and quit," Jen says of their decision to go out on their own. "And our mantra for the group has always been 'Lean into it' … being present in the moment and not wondering, 'What if?'"

However, they definitely feel their struggle to break through has been somewhat inhibited by their gender. "Some people would see it as a benefit," Jen says. "You know, 'You guys have the easy way in (because) you're two attractive girls … 'Oh, it must be easier because of those things.' But I think it's harder because it's still pretty much a boys' club and I think there's this whole space of female DJs who are like the model DJs, where they show up and play on an iPod and that's called 'DJing' … and that creates a stigma that can be hard to overcome."

But Claire has high hopes. "I think that women are just starting to break into this space," she adds. "And EDM itself has only recently risen to the mainstream. So, I think the next couple of years you'll see — I hope — a lot of female producers and DJs breaking through."

"And it's really having its moment right now here in the U.S." Jen chimes in. "So when you look at people like Rebecca & Fiona and NERVO who are not from the U.S., and in Australia and Europe [EDM] has always kind of been a big deal. So, it's interesting to see how those women have risen in a space where it's been acceptable for a while, but here, there's still room for U.S.-based female DJs to rise in this genre."

Like Rebecca & Fiona, they've felt that industry execs have tried to pigeonhole them. "From our experience with a lot of different industry people, the question we get right off the bat is, 'Do you sing?'" Claire shares. "I know Krewella (a popular DJ trio of two women and one man) is incorporating live vocals into their sets and they're both talented singers and it works for them, but there's a lane for the female DJ/producer that's not [being] a singer."

Still, The Jane Doze believe that the strongest thing they can do as women in the EDM scene is serve as role models.

"One thing about women in this space is that what we aim to do is to be accessible to our fans," Jen says. "One of the most rewarding things has been to play at shows and to see young women to come up at the end of the shows and reach out on social and go, 'I didn't know there were chicks doing this. I wanna do it now.' And that's the biggest complement you can get. Inspiring other people to get involved … we want to see the point that there are 20 girls playing on main stages [at places like Coachella and EDC]. That's the goal! To change the ratio."

Whatever the perspective, the game is rapidly changing. Electronic music is more than a fad, and the needle (both figuratively and literally) is quickly being pushed both further and harder. Female DJs are having a moment, and their international presence is finally being heard. Let's hope the salary levels are truly equal as well.