One-quarter of the female-led collective Concrete Jungyals, dBs grad EMMY has become a prominent figure in the fight against gender inequality in electronic music. We sat down with her to discuss her work with the collective, the shifting attitudes of promoters during the pandemic and her plans for the future.
“Coming up as a female DJ, my first feeling was the scene was really supportive. There’s a big push to get more visibility of female DJs, which is great, but over time I’ve started to notice more problematic attitudes coming through.”
I’m chatting EMMY a few days before she is set to warm up for Jasper James at Lakota, a Bristol institution and venue where she has recently been offered a residency. The line-up for the event is weighted 2/1 in favour of female talent, which speaks to the progress that has been made with respect to gender in the electronic music scene. However, as EMMY tells me, there is still far more work to be done.
“One promoter tried to book me for a jungle event, even though that’s not what I play. When I told him that, he said to me I didn’t even need to play. He’d book my accommodation and I should just come because he wanted to meet me. Another guy tried to book me because - in his words - ‘sex sells’.”
These are the kind of issues that Concrete Jungyals, the female-led collective EMMY is part of, is working hard to address. Launched in 2017, the Bristol-based crew aims to empower people who identify as women and/or come from a minority background by giving them a platform to propel them into the music industry. They do this by broadcasting a diversity of selectors on 1020 Radio and Foundation FM as well as by presenting women artists at festivals across the country. In recent years, Concrete Jungyals have curated takeovers at Hospitality on the Beach, Boomtown, Love Saves the Day and Nozstock. More recently, the collective has taken on six resident DJs, for whom it will act as an agent moving forwards.
“There’s this big thing with male promoters at the moment where they want to ‘help you out’”, EMMY tells me, as we touch upon this topic. “So they’ll offer us gigs or slots at their events, but when you ask how much the fee is they say ‘sorry we can’t pay you’. They think they’re doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity when we don’t need a favour. They are just looking for a token female DJ for their line-up.”
A Concrete Jungyals X NonStop Grime event last November
There is a fine line between tokenism and inclusivity, which is something the collective has had to think hard about. “If you have two DJs and one of them is better than the other, it shouldn’t matter what gender they are or what the colour of their skin is, it should be about who is best suited. But that’s not an excuse for just booking white men. There are so many great DJs out there now, so booking managers should be making the effort to seek out talent that exists within those more minority groups, because it DOES exist, rather than just booking someone just because they are a woman, without really knowing or appreciating what they do.”
“As a collective, we make a point of calling people out and not taking gigs if we feel we are being booked as a token. I do the same when I’m weighing up opportunities as an artist. When I first started off I would take any and every gig. I think half the time I was being taken advantage of. Now I’m a lot more choosy.”
Unfortunately, the need to take a stand against tokenistic behaviour has only increased in recent months, in line with the coronavirus and its crippling impact on the music industry. “It feels like the cause has been set back a little bit,” EMMY says. “There’s a lot of DJs without gigs at the moment, so it’s easier for promoters to find someone to play for free. I don’t know if it’s because people have been out of it for a while, maybe they’ve forgotten, or maybe the crisis in the wider industry means the issue has been overshadowed. Either way, we have to keep fighting.”
Concrete Jungyals members Sasha, Tiffany and Molly at 1020 Unlocked
The impact of the coronavirus on female artists may not be all bad though. EMMY tells me that lockdown offered her a kind of solitary calm and creative freedom to pursue her own production. “When I went into lockdown I was in a place where I had a lot to say. I had a lot I wanted to make music about. I had an inner stimulus. So for me, it was great to have that time of inner solitude to really express how I was feeling without having other influencing factors of life getting in the way. I had to use equipment in different ways. I had to use old stuff like my plugin microphone. And it made me explore different parameters because my room was a certain shape, so it had certain sounds that I wouldn’t have had if I was recording in a studio. I feel very privileged in that sense, although I know not everyone has had the same experience.”
EMMY is now in discussions with a number of labels about releasing the EP she created in self-isolation, whilst also exploring the managerial side of the music business. “I’ve started managing an artist who is female and doing incredibly well at the moment. I’m also planning on starting my own label and am in discussions with the first artist I want to sign. As far as the collective is concerned, we’re currently looking at stepping things up a bit, planning for gigs next year and looking at how we can support our artists with other bits like production, whilst we are waiting for the bigger stuff to get going again.”
Find out more about Concrete Jungyals here.
Listen to EMMY's recent dBs Music Mix here:
EMMY completed diplomas in DJ and Electronic Production and Live Sound and Events at our Bristol centre. If you’re interested in pursuing a similar path to her, you can check out our diploma programmes here.