Meet the DJs challenging Melbourne’s blokey club scene

Here’s a hard truth: the Melbourne club scene is a boys club. Most line-ups are dominated by males, and most club nights are run by men.

Of course, this isn’t a problem that only exists in Melbourne, as you’ve probably noticed by now. But the question remains as to what can be done to fix the problem: female -only nights can fall into the uncomfortable area of fetishisation and feel like a shallow show of support, especially when these nights are run, booked and promoted by men.

The good news is that there are incredible collectives championing female, gender non-conforming (GNC) and queer DJs and producers worldwide, crews like Discwoman in New York, TGAF in Paris, Mahoyo in Stockholm and Miss Modular in LA.

In Melbourne, Book Club is the local initiative trying to change dance music’s gender problem. Women and GNC DJs and producers can have a hard time getting booked, especially when they’re starting out, so Book Club exists to offer a platform to beginners with little pressure. By throwing a monthly party at Ferdydurke, it gives those who haven’t DJed before a chance to rinse their favourite tracks in a relaxed, educational and friendly environment.

In Sydney, FBi Radio (backed by V Movement) has started a similar project to Book Club called Dance Class which looks to “to discover, train and mentor a new crop of talent.” While Melbourne’s Book Club doesn’t necessarily have the financial backing or support from a powerhouse sponsor, it harbours the same values.

We talked to six DJs to get their thoughts on Book Club to find out what their experiences in the Melbourne scene have been, and what can be done to make it better.

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Catherine Huang, DJs as Cruise Control

Q: Do you see Book Club changing the scene at all?

“I’m really excited about Book Club. Part of the reason why I really wanted to learn how to DJ was because I’m exhausted by the monotony of the Melbourne club scene. It’s the same guys at the same venues every week. It’s going to be really fun to have some new faces behind the decks. The first time I ever played in public, I was approached by someone that asked if I would like to play at their bar, which was out of control cool. It’ll be incredible if more opportunities like that arise due to Book Club.”

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Q: Why do you think women/GNC have a hard time finding places that will book them in Melbourne?

“I think it’s largely due to how insular the scene is. In a lot of ways it’s all about knowing the right people who can help you get your foot in the door. It’s even harder then if you’re not a straight white dude due to it being harder to be taken seriously as a performer or artist.”

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Kate Pern, DJs as Perno Inferno

Q: You DJed at the first Book Club at Ferdydurke, what was your experience like?

“It was such a wonderful experience and I had so much fun! It was my first time playing in a venue and I felt so comfortable knowing that I could ask questions if I needed to, and that no one there would be judging me if I made a mistake.

I, like a lot of female and GNC DJs definitely suffer from imposter syndrome. I feel like as woman you’re under much greater scrutiny. The bros are watching you with scrutiny, waiting for you to screw up and confirm what they already know, that you don’t deserve to be there. But at Book Club, its a learning environment. So its ok to take risks and mess up. No one minds, they’re there to support you.”

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Daisy Catterall, DJs as DJ Dee*Luscious

Q: What do you think is the fundamental problem preventing women/GNC from breaking out?

“Internalised misogyny. Literally everybody has it, even the people who are impacted the most by it. Because men are taken more seriously in the music industry, their ideas are therefore brought to fruition more easily. In DJ culture, masculinity is considered synonymous with technical knowledge and professionalism. When a non-male DJ plays, they are expected to go the extra mile to demonstrate their technical ability and music knowledge to ‘qualify’ their spot in the booth. Boring.”

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Magda Bytnerowicz

Q: What nights/promoters have supported you the most?

“I’ve had the pleasure of support from a lot of different people and crews, perhaps most notably from HAHA Industries who were the first to give me repeat sets early on which really helped me grow, as well as now retired crew CO-OP, Strange Signals, Picnic, The House of Mince, Inner Varnika, Astral People, Goodgod, Charades, Loose Ends, Mania and more recently Davi Banga of People’s Club and insert is giving me some cracking slots. It’s hard to pick a ‘most’ though as you can tell from that list!”

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Simona Castricum

Q: What do you think Book Club can change and what can’t it change?

“Please, if it means one less DJ console with cis men at it in Melbourne this weekend, that’s a great outcome. [The fact] that a venue run by men want a night like Book Club means there is somebody inside the structure [that] wants to break it and is listening to us. We need to work together – but it’s their work to relinquish control – not ours to fight them for it.

It’s when cis men find ways to stay in control by tokenising us or playing us against each other who I’m suspect on and they’re out there. It’s those who have the most to lose who will fight you the dirtiest and the hardest to keep it. How we call that shit out and stay solid is a task and how we separate the fake from the genuine is another.”

The next Book Club happens on Thursday July 7 at Ferdydurke. If you’re a female or gender non-conforming bedroom DJ who would like to make the jump to their first paid gig, please email [email protected] 

Kish Lal is a Melbourne-based writer. You can follow her on Twitter.

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