Kate Haughey

Brown University

December 2012

 

Providence DJ Guild: Musical Mentorship, Cultural History and Community Development

 

 

Abstract: A coalition of DJs and community arts activists in Providence, Rhode Island has identified the need for a DJ workshop for young people that, in addition to teaching the art of DJing, will contribute to intergenerational, cross-class, cross-sexual orientation, and interracial community development. While Providence hosts an arguably rich assortment of community arts programs for young people, none of these programs specifically teach students the performance art of DJing. Providence DJs, Micah Salkind and Jackson Morley—with support from existing community organizations and facilitators—aim to develop a workshop for 15-20 year-olds to learn "DJ performance skills, business acumen, and critical communication skills while defining the sound of their city at safe and supportive public performances" (Micah and Jackson: Draft Mission Statement 11/3/12). They have named their project the "Providence DJ Guild: Musical Mentorship, Cultural History and Community Development". This paper addresses the following questions: why are Micah and Jackson starting the DJ Guild? Is there a 'need' for this in Providence? and what do they intend to teach? In addition to Micah and Jackson's dedication to fostering a more gender-balanced DJ community, they are also committed to developing the workshop in an organic, fluid and needs-based fashion. Structuring the program on the 'guild' model, they aim to provide access to DJ equipment and basic DJ skills, but also ensure that each student learns from his or her individual vantage point. Drawing from interviews, participant observation, and collaborative work, I outline Micah and Jackson's visions and overall mission, arguing that the DJ Guild has the potential to align with Laurie Hicks' three goals for empowerment in arts education: an education to diversity and difference, an education to context, and an education to a community of difference (Hicks 1990: 43-5).

 

Annotated Bibliography

 

1. A-Trak. "Don't Push My Buttons." Huffington Post July 23, 2012.                              

            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/atrak/dont-push-my-buttons_b_1694719.html

            This article addresses several of the themes or sub-themes from our class: authenticity; "liveness" and related "scandals;" blurring distinctions between DJ, producer, and turntablist; paradigm shifts within genres; and subversive art. It is specifically relevant to my project because two of the DJs I interviewed referred to this article in discussing their individual approaches to Djing. A-Trak explicitly calls for EDM DJs to "Challenge yourself to challenge the crowd." This highlights the paradoxical situation which the House DJs I've spoken with often find themselves—the choice between playing what the dancers want to hear as opposed to playing music that they love, hoping to inspire more diverse tastes.

 

2. Baker, Sarah. "From Snuggling and Snogging to Sampling and Scratching: Girls'   Nonparticipation in Community-Based Music Activities." Youth and Society 39: 3,   2008. pp. 316-339.

            CRITICAL REVIEW: In examining interviews and observational fieldwork from the larger "Playing for Life" research project (conducted in Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States), Sarah Baker and Bruce M. Z. Cohen noted the absence of young women in community-based organizations (CBOs), particularly CBOs centered around popular music. This article considers the following three questions: "Why were young women absent from such groups? What was the response of the CBOs, if any? When offered by the CBO, which responses appear to benefit young women in terms of improving and/or increasing their involvement in music-related activities? (318). Baker and Cohen start by arguing that the "traditional" marginalization of women from popular music making and production "goes part of the way" to explaining the absence of young women in CBOs (319). Baker and Cohen also concluded that "females have more restrictions on their free time and the spaces which they can legitimately inhabit"—in popular music ideology they see the "street" as the young male domain, while the "domestic space" remains the the expected domain for young women, particularly the bedroom (321). Baker and Cohen draw from Bayton (1998) to outline the "constraints face by young women starting out as instrumentalists," such access to money, time, music equipment, and transportation" (320). Other contributing factors noted were greater parental control on young women than young men, ethnicity, and the gendered presentation of popular music in print media, especially rock music (320). They note that the musical marginalization of women is not just confined to rock, but present in all four elements of hip-hop. While this portion of the article does offer some conclusions as to why young women might be absent from CBOs, it tends to group a variety of genres under the term "popular music," not taking into account the diverse roles that gender and sexuality play in each genre of popular music, not to mention subgenres. The general overview, however, is valuable. Next Cohen and Baker discuss the methodologies used in the ethnographic, comparative, and longitudinal "Playing for Life" research project (321). The purpose of this large research project was "to explore the everyday music practices of marginalized youth as strategic pathways to agency, employment, and socioeconomic inclusion," focusing on 16 CBOs (321). Across all research sites, "young men dominated most of our observed 'mixed -gender' youth music activities" (324). Facilitators and organizers who attempted to create female-only spaces often regarded these spaces with a notion of "protection" (326). Several issues arose from female-only spaces, including limited female interest in DJing, MCing, or break dancing in general, and the desire for those young women who did participate to be able to do so with the young males. Baker and Cohen write that "a young woman's habitus (Bourdieu, 1993) will influence her ability and willingness to break gender patterns in workshops" (336). Baker and Cohen conclude by offering five "better practice" procedures for involving more young women in music activities: including more full-time female facilitators with "specific music skills," temporary and short-term groups that lead into mixed-group activities, courses offering a particular practical outcome, specific objectives for musical development "to ensure that women-only groups and/or spaces to not become tokenistic," and working with both young men and women to "interrogate gendered attitudes, roles and experiences regarding music making and gendered inclusion" (336). Baker and Cohen offer an important contribution to the conversation about including more young women in community-based organizations.

 

3. Blondheim, Brad., et al. Scratch. Widescreen. New York: Palm Pictures, 2002.

            This documentary traces the transformations of the hip-hop DJ experience, from the "pioneers" extending the breaks, to the invention of "scratch" and "beat-juggling" techniques, to turntablism. Scratch is valuable because I can literally see and hear the voices of these DJs, rather than reading what an academic writes about them. Since my project focuses more on House DJs, this documentary provides material with which I can compare DJ techniques, perspectives, and learning practices across genres.

 

4. Bloustien, Gerry., and Margaret Peters. Youth, Music and Creative Cultures: Playing for Life. Houndsmill, Basingstoke, Hampshire; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

            This book reports the findings of the admirably large research project titled "Playing for Life." The aim of the book is to document the relationship between young people and "the human, spatial, political and technological resources that help them achieve a sense of agency through popular music and related arts production" (22). The questions, stories, concerns, and ideas raised in this book are directly related to those raised at the DJ "think tank" which I attended and documented. This book will remain an important resource as I continue to be involved with this developing DJ workshop, and it will also help me frame some of my questions directly related to my project concerning female DJs and their role within this larger context.

 

5. Bradby, Barbara. "Sampling Sexuality: Gender, Technology and the Body in Dance Music." Popular Music, volume 12/2, Cambridge University Press: 1993.

            Very broadly, Bradby engages feminist discourse with popular music in this article, which is significant to my paper about female House DJs. Specifically, Bradby agrees that postmodernist writing on popular music focuses on the "radical democratic potential" of technological practices like scratching, dubbing, and versioning, but Bradby argues (in 1993) that no literature discusses the implications of these practices for women in depth; this is especially problematic for her because of the Utopian claims within dance culture "to have moved beyond sexism" (156). I will explore this issue of dance culture moving beyond sexism through my case studies of female House DJs.

 

6. Butler, Mark J. Unlocking the Groove: Rhythm, Meter, and Musical Design in Electronic Dance Music. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006.

            CRITICAL REVIEW: In Chapter 1, Mark Butler presents his "History and Creation of Electronic Dance Music." He begins by discussing the unique features of EDM, namely the emphasis on instrumental music rather than vocal, the "modern practice" of dancing to recorded music, and the significant role of the DJs to interpret and communicate with the dancing audience (35). Butler then provides a short overview of the creation and development of disco, garage, house, and techno genres. Next, Butler outlines the roles of the "recording artist," "performing artist," and "performing audience"—the three distinctions most commonly referred to as producers, DJs, and dancers (47). Butler asserts that among these three roles, the "one that conforms the most closely to conventional notions of a musical creator is the producer"—the producer could function as the songwriter and recording artist as well (49). He highlights the expectation for DJs to create something new from various sources using an array of techniques, as well as "playing the right music at the right time," and choosing a set of tracks that go well together (50). Butler briefly mentions the "predominantly male" world of DJs and producers of EDM. He sets his writing apart from previous writings on DJs by choosing to "avoid using gendered pronouns to refer to the DJ" and stating that "the voices of women form an important part of this study; three of the twelve original interviews were with women DJs" (51). He identifies the "rather constrained questions" posed by other works which address issues of gender and sexuality in EDM culture, and proposes "a host of other questions," including "How are constructions of gender different or similar among the various EDM subcultures?" and "How does gender inform practices related to technology, as well as interactions between DJs and audiences?" (51). Butler proceeds to describe in detail the various technologies DJs and producers of EDM use (51). He concludes that "obsolete technology" is just as important as "the latest gizmo," and that both play roles in "EDM's fetishization of the machine" (68). Butler then turns his focus to EDM dancers, writing that their activity "is interpretive movement rather than physical display," as well as a constant negotiation between the individual and communal aspects of dancing (74).

 

7.  Huyssen, Andreas. "Mass Culture as Woman: Modernism's Other." In Studies in Entertainment: Critical Approaches to Mass Culture, edited by Tania Modleski: Indiana University, 1986.

            In this article, Huyssen presents a relatively optimistic view of women in culture. He first traces the notion that mass culture "is somehow associated woman while real, authentic culture remains in the prerogative of men," which began in the 19th century and remained throughout most of the 20th century, despite critics' attempts to "overcome" this "mystification" (3-4). Huyssen traces certain ideologies about women and their participation/non-participations in culture, which have already proved helpful in laying the groundwork for my project.

 

8.  Carson, Mina, Tisa Lewis, and Susan M. Shaw. Girls Rock!  Fifty Years of Women Making Music.  Kentucky:  The University Press of Kentucky, 2004.

            This book, while focusing specifically on women in rock, is one example of how to write about women's experiences in "male-dominated" worlds. The authors incorporate feminist and developmental theories, some of which will be useful in my own project(s) concerning female DJs as well as the DJ workshop.

 

9. Farrugia, Rebekah. Beyond the Dance Floor: Female DJs, Technology and Electronic Dance Music Culture. Bristol, UK ; Chicago, IL: Intellect, 2012.

            CRITICAL REVIEW: In the Introduction to her book Beyond the Dance Floor: Female DJs, Technology and Electronic Dance Music Culture, Rebekah Farrugia explains the theoretical frameworks and methodologies she uses to document the exponential increase of female DJs in EDM culture from the late 1990s to early 2000s. In part, Farrugia is responding to Mary Celeste Kearney's account of the declining number of female youth participating professionally in popular music production and expression over the course of the 90s (5-6). Farrugia addresses the "historical, discursive, material and social practices" in EDM and how they "replicate hegemonic ideas about gender, technology, and power" but—more importantly—focuses on how women "negotiate being agentive selves in the male-dominated EDM environments" (6). While sexism remains a problem for female DJs in EDM culture, and many females refuse to admit that gender is even an issue in EDM, Farrugia presents a slightly more positive view of the future for women in EDM culture, arguing that women DJs and producers have the potential to "move EDM in new directions" (6, 10). Drawing from ethnographic interviews, primarily based in San Francisco, and "textual analysis," Farrugia's case study investigates the diverse strategies women use to "break through" hegemonic discourses (12). This is, as of right now, the best model I have found in terms of literature focusing specifically on the experiences of female DJs. This book is also a great resource in terms of finding other literature about female DJs.

 

10. Foucault, Michel. "Technologies of the Self," in Technologies of the Self: A Seminar With Michel Foucault. Foucault, Michel, Luther H. Martin, Huck Gutman, and Patrick H Hutton. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988.

            This is a "careful transcription" of Foucault's seminar presented at the University of Vermont in 1982, which Foucault was not able to revise or publish before his death. Rebekah Farrugia refers to this work in her book, defining Foucault's "technologies of the self" as "strategies. . . to break through the discourses, ethics and practices" (7). Foucault's concept of "technologies of the self" can be used, as Farrugia demonstrates, to understand how female DJs develop strategies to break through the discourse, ethics and practices that portray DJing as a masculine activity. This concept may be useful as I try to theorize my findings.

 

11. Garcia, Luis Manuel. "Can You Feel it, Too?": Intimacy and Affect at Electronic Dance Music Events in Paris, Chicago, and Berlin." Dissertation submitted to the Faculty of the   Division of the Humanities: Chicago, Illinois, August 2011.

            In Chapter 4, "Thickening Something: Music, Affect, and the Sense of the Social," Garcia focuses on the relationship among the listener/audience/dancers in EDM, further developing his notion of "liquidarity." If I am able to talk to the "followers" of the female DJs I've interviewed, this chapter may help with my discussion of their experiences and exchanges in the paper.

 

12. Hutton, Fiona. Risky Pleasures?: Club Cultures and Feminine Identities. Aldershot, Hampshire, England ; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2006.

            CRITICAL REVIEW: In Chapter 3, "Negotiating the Night Time Economy; Women as Drug Dealers, DJs and Club Promoters," Fiona Hutton focuses on "female contributions" to the informal "night time economy" of club spaces, using Thornton's work concerning the hierarchies of subcultural groupings as a framework (49). Drawing from her own ethnographic research, Hutton analyzes and explores the "often ignored" experiences of women in these positions to suggest that women are not only "thinking consumers" but "major operators behind the scenes (50). Acknowledging the obvious difference between the criminal occupation of drug dealers as compared to working as DJs or promoters, Hutton groups the three as marginalized occupations that are "embedded" in world of urban night life (57). Hutton interviewed two female DJs—'Mary' and 'Tina'—who reported vastly different experiences in relation to sexism and "detrimental male attitudes" (57). Hutton explains these differences in three ways. Firstly, Tina had a female DJ/business partner which perhaps discouraged negative male DJ attention, whereas Mary—with no partner—was more "isolated" in this sense (57). Secondly, Tina's self-expressed naivety in not noticing negative male attitudes distanced her from Mary's acute perceptions of double standards and negative male attitudes. Thirdly, Hutton suggests that "it could be a question of sexuality and male attitudes towards differing female sexualities:" Tina acknowledges she and her DJ partner are "'boy-like,'" whereas Hutton describes Mary as "very feminine" (58). Hutton notes that it was very difficult for both Mary and Tina to articulate why so few women pursued careers as DJs. Both DJs felt that they "attended to the needs of their customers more than their male equivalents," and received positive responses from women in the crowd, specifically because they were female (59). Hutton emphasizes the significant role that each particular club scene plays in terms of the reception and attitude toward female DJs. Hutton addresses how Tina had mixed feelings about "'herding'" female DJs together and booking them for "'women's' nights:" while it could be a positive experience to DJ with other women, Tina felt that it was another instance of male DJs and club promoters attempting to keep women out of the "'real world'" (62). Hutton concludes that "Women DJs are discriminated against at differing levels, but are reluctant to actually state it is discrimination that is the problem" (63). Hutton's chapter is an example of how to present female DJs' voices, analyzing and exploring their experiences in a "male world of DJ-ing."

 

13. Katz, M. 2007. "Men, Women, and Turntables: Gender and the DJ Battle." The Musical Quarterly Advance Access.

            This article, via a statement by historian Ruth Oldenziel, pointed to a particular issue I have been dealing with: if we are investigating why fewer women DJ, shouldn't we also focus on why more men DJ? Focusing solely on women's "failure" to participate, therefore blaming women for their inadequacies, doesn't answer the questions about how our stereotypical notions emerged (581). On the other hand, Katz proceeds to spend the majority of his article explaining "why men battle, and how male technophilia has shaped the turntablist landscape" therefore not actually discussing women's experiences (581, emphasis in original). This article refers to psychological studies which have been helpful to me. Ultimately, Katz's questions in this article have helped form important questions for my own project.

 

14. Katz, Mark. Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip-hop DJ. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

            CRITICAL REVIEW: In "Falling Barriers: 2001-2011," Chapter 8 in his book Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip-hop DJ, Mark Katz discusses the revolutionary role that new uses of digital technologies played in DJ culture in the early 2000s. Simply put, it "gave rise to the notion that anyone can be a DJ" (215). Besides using digital technologies to access, produce, and disseminate music in innovative ways, people from increasingly diverse demographics were learning to DJ through DJ academies. Katz specifically highlights the growing number of women in the DJ scene. Also "tied up" with digital technology and DJ academies in the early 2000s, was the rise of the celebrity DJ, as well as DJ-related games and software applications (215). Katz describes the various models of CD turntables (or CDJs), first released in 2001, which imitated features of the original turntable, including scratching. CDJs also enabled the "manipulability of digital sound," simplifying techniques that were previously quite difficult, such as looping and cueing (217). One of the drawbacks, particularly for hip-hop DJs, was the 4-8 inch in diameter jog wheel which replaced the 12 inch record platter. The jog wheel did not seem to hold the same "tactility" or "immediacy" of vinyl (217). Katz notes that EDM DJs "have more readily embraced CD turntables," as they don't typically scratch and mix as often as hip-hop DJs. Katz discusses the ideological objections to CD turntables, and then describes the form of digital DJing that many turntablists view as "'the best of all worlds:'" the digital vinyl emulation systems (DVS) (219). In sum, the DVS allows DJs to " keep what they love about vinyl—its feel, look, and authenticity—and avoid what they don't love about it—it's weight, cost, and inconvenience" (220). Katz then illustrates a regular "class" at Scratch DJ Academy in New York City. He states that "in many academies women make up a sizable minority and sometimes even a majority of the student sin any given class" (232). Katz views the DJ academy as a "symbol" of various aspects or concerns of hip-hop culture, such as: the tension between the "two competing discourses" of the street and "keeping it real," respectability, legitimacy, making art for art's sake vs. making/teaching art for money (234-236). This chapter was helpful for me in several ways—it explained how the digital DJ technologies actually work, it provided a basic description of the DJ academies, and it briefly discussed the "surge of female DJs" in the 2000s and includes a few pages of dialogue from female DJs about their experiences (241).

 

15. Koepell, David. 2007. "Mix, Scratch and Spin: You, Too, can Become a D.J." New York Times, Jun 3, 2007, 

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/03/business/yourmoney/03dj.html.

            This article—located in the "Your Money" section of New York Times online—describes class options and prices at the DJ Scratch Academy in New York City, and presents several individual "success stories" of graduates of various courses or "boot camps." It also reports that several DJ schools are now catering to corporations, helping to improve "long-term employee relations and moral." This article is a case in point of the increasing commodification of DJ skills and technique, a potential sub-theme of my project.

 

16. Logan, Brian. 1998. "So You Want to be a DJ? Let's See Your Legs." The Guardian (1959-2003), Jul 11, 1. http://search.proquest.com/docview/188156016?accountid=9758.

            This article contradicts "clubbing's self perception as a progressive subculture" by identifying some of the double standards female DJs experience, and highlighting the sexist attitudes toward them. The female DJs I've spoken with have not experienced (or have chosen not to discuss their experiences of) the extreme sexism and inequality reported by this article. This led me to search for articles circulating in mainstream media that present positive experiences of female DJs...

17. Oakley, Ann. "Interviewing women: a contradiction in terms." In Roberts, H. (Ed) Doing Feminist Research. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981.

            Oakley's call for a feminist methodology of social science aligns with the present desires within social sciences and humanities to be more reflexive, collaborative, and phenomenological while researching and interviewing human beings. This article propelled me to think about what it means to be a woman with little experience using DJ technologies—interviewing other women—who have much more experience than I—about their experiences as female DJs, and inevitably their experiences with these technologies. How might their answers differ if they were interviewed by a male DJ, for example? Or how might the conversation I had with a female DJ and her husband, DJs and teaches others to DJ (including his wife and me)?

           

18. Miller, Kiri. Playing Along: Digital Games, YouTube, and Virtual Performance. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

            Chapter 6, "Amateur-to-Amateur," is an example of how I might present dialogue from interviews, material from websites, my own interpretations and experiences, and theoretical interpretations all in one, cohesive, organized chapter/paper/article. Chapter 5, "Music Lessons 2.0," is a great model of how I might reflect on my own experience taking DJ lessons, if I do choose to include this in my paper for MTC.

 

19. Seidel, Sam. Hip Hop Genius: Remixing High School Education. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers: Lanham, Maryland, 2011.        

            I interviewed Sam Seidel, asking him about his experience in the community arts with young people world, as well as his thoughts on the developing DJ workshop in Providence. He referenced his book in the interview, and I may draw from it in my paper.

 

20. http://www.wikihow.com/Be-Recognised-As-a-Good-Female-DJ

 vs. http://www.wikihow.com/Be-a-DJ, accessed 11/16/12.

            One could potentially write an article solely based on the implications of these two "wikihow" websites. Step 7, out of 8, on "How To Be Recognized as a Good Female DJ" says "Consider a manager. If you are too nice, you won't get good bookings or decent pay. Managers are paid to be 'not nice' when required. It also takes a load off of your shoulders and is one less thing that you have to worry about. However, be sure it is someone you can trust (and even then, don't trust blindly)." The "How to Be a DJ" page does not suggest "considering a manager," but encourages DJs to "be professional, keep a busy schedule, and develop a Web presence" (#2-4). These pages embody popular ideologies surrounding DJ culture.

 

Other resources to be explored:

SHEJAY.net

SISTER SF  (longest running female DJ collective in the US)

http://northwestdjacademy.com/faculty.htm

http://www.scratch.com