As good as the underground scene is, it is no secret anymore that it is not immune to social complexities and has to deal with its own unconscious bias of all kinds. Mainly dominated by males, the scene recently evolved as we see more and more women taking control of the decks. Trommel sat with Claire and Melody (who mixed Trommel InSession 057) from the crew RA+RE — the record label that encourages women into music production — about their experience on the scene.
RA+RE is the first exclusively female producers record label in its genre, founded in 2013 by Claire (ABI), Clara (Rohmi) and Jessie. It is also a dancefloor-oriented clothing brand, and the collective behind the famous Parisian after party Breakfast Club.
As Claire and Clara started to DJ in New York back in 2010, they quickly realised they were most of the time in a male environment, and did not feel like they were taken seriously. “We were passionate, we wanted to play and develop new projects, but we did not feel like we really had our word to say,” says Claire. “To be truly honest, I felt like we were seen more as groupies than as actual DJs or music lovers.”
With the desire to be part of a scene that looked like them, they decided to set up a platform to help women in the same situation as them. “We wanted to create a sort of community,” she adds. “The idea was to build a sort of family of women around electronic music, women that would encourage and support each other, a place where they could express themselves freely.”
At the same time, Melody and Ethel were making their way on the Parisian scene and joined the crew in 2015, a bit before Charlotte in 2018. “My experience is a bit different,” says Melody. Being very much supported by friends and families made her distancing herself from the critics or any toxic environment. “Maybe if I had done it on my own and gone into it alone, and was only with men, maybe I would be less confident,” she adds. “But being with the girls may have given me enough confidence. With RA+RE, we all know we have each others’ back and we are here for each other.”
RA+RE is not about activism but about letting women be women on the dancefloor, and behind the decks. “When a man plays records, he is going to be judged for his music. When a woman plays records, she will first be judged about how she looks, if she is hot or not, and then, maybe, she will be judged for her music,” says Claire. “That is one of the things we are trying to prevent. Though we also want to have the right to embrace our femininity and to feel good about it, wearing makeup or clothes we want.” And the clothing brand was also responding to that: they designed comfortable feminine clothes ready for the party.
Mentalities are evolving and the gender gap is decreasing, but even a few years ago the scene was very masculine. “You could even hear the difference, in terms of sounds,” says Claire. “I feel like since more women are taking control of the decks, the music has changed.” It is hard to put a word on what makes a difference between a female DJ or a male DJ, but Melody and Claire both agree it is something that you can feel. “I always wonder to myself where the difference is, but it is even something we hear a lot when we play. After a set, people come to us saying it was sexy, refreshing, groovy… I definitely believe women bring another vibe to the dancefloor.” And Claire recalls it is something that may have benefited men as well: letting women play records may have freed people to allow themselves to play different sounds. “I feel like today people allow themselves to play more sexy stuff. Is that because there are more women in the industry?”
Lots of festivals and clubs are now aware of gender inequality on the underground scene and are trying to work on it. Even though we are still far from what it should really be, line-ups are becoming more open and diverse; and the more we see women behind decks, the more it gives confidence to other women to try. “However music should be and stay the only criteria to book someone,” says Melody. “We hear a lot that we are being booked because we are women, it is a classic criticism,” adds Claire. “And that is something we do not want to be part of. But whatever people say, we have worked hard to be where we are today. It was not easy at all.”
When they started eight years ago, they were constantly approaching new artists, always digging for new female producers and DJs. By looking back at their journey, they have seen a massive evolution. “It is incredible to see the number of women who started to do it in the past years,” says Claire. “I don’t know if we contributed to that, I hope our initiative pushed some. At least, that was the idea.” However they leave no room for complacency: they continue to hunt new talents, listening to new stuff all the time, and promote new artists through their podcasts and releases on the label.
As much as they hope we won’t need female only line-ups or record labels to raise awareness in the future, they recall they would never stop working on it, and that no matter what happens in ten years, they will still be here.