17.08.2017 | Words by: Emma van Meyeren & Jasmin Hoek.“Irony is about contradictions that do not resolve into larger wholes, even dialectically, about the tensions of holding incompatible things together because both or all are necessary and true.”
— Donna Haraway, A Cyborg Manifesto
The all-female line-up, the token woman hire, the technofeminist, the Discwoman. When it comes to being a woman behind the decks, there is always friction. Donna Haraway, the expert on the frictions of bodies, gender, technology and biology described this as irony. The irony lies in the because/despite of your presence in the DJ booth: in the skill versus identity. You are here because you are a woman (the token hire), you are here despite being a woman (held to far higher standards). You’re a pretty good DJ (despite being a woman), you’re better than any other person on the line-up (because you are a woman).
Technofeminism and discwomen come together in the work of Umfang, one-third of music label Discwoman
and host of the Technofeminism party at New York’s Bossa Nova Civic Club. With her club night she grants under-exposed artists a spot to do their, sometimes first, live or DJ-set. Creating such spaces for each other can be a way to escape the irony, for instance by giving DJs and artists access to hardware gear they might not always have access to. However, as she told Resident Advisor in an interview, her own view on hard- and software is as hands-on as possible. She encourages everyone to use whatever they can get their hands on to prevent producing and djing from becoming a “rich-kid thing”. This also reflects in her own way of making music and presenting her work. Her producing setup is quite humble, and she aims to make her music relatable for anyone. Therefore Umfang does not attach any unnecessary meaning to her work to keep it from becoming elitist.
The irony of technofeminism finds itself once again in fighting against the niche culture it is simultaneously a part of. This is a challenge the Discwoman crew seems to be aware of like no other. Reading through the many interviews they have done over the past two years when they caught the media’s eyes, it seems that their biggest success lies in creating their own place for themselves and others who are excluded from the dominant electronic music culture. Although finally breaking through this barrier and being included feels like a personal accomplishment, it might not always help others in the same position. It is a question of breaking in, or breaking away.
The tension is unresolvable: it’s an all the way up or an all the way down and comes together in those two opposites. This is why it’s so hard to know if the token-hire is a good thing. This is why it can feel like an all-female line-up turns against itself: how the good intention to secure more representation of femme DJs can turn into reinforcing a divide between woman and technology, between femme appearances and DJing.
And so the friction asks for a constant negotiation: repositioning itself in the way the divide repositions itself. There is no yes or no answer to the question how representation will become more equal, but if there is one crew that has this repositioning down it’s the Discwoman crew. Technofeminism works politically and musically, and neither side can be ignored. Or, in the words of Donna Haraway: “because both or all are necessary and true.” Umfang is playing De School on Saturday 19.08 alongside A Made Up Sound. More info here.