EDM Has A Problem With Women, And It’s Getting Worse
Skrillex keeps putting butts in my Twitter feed. One butt, actually—a woman’s, clad in tight, fuchsia bikini bottoms. There’s a front view of her, too, complete with an anatomically improbable thigh gap. The curves of her body have been retouched, and her skin is covered with digitally applied tribal tattoos, OWSLA logos, and space aliens. The whole thing is really fucking creepy, frankly; it’s like the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue as reimagined by DIS magazine. Oh, and she’s also cut off from the shoulders up, so the upper part of her body is just a skeleton. (Maybe the designer was feeling inspired by Art Department, who also cut off a woman’s head in a recent flyer.)
The image in question is part of an advertisement for a new compilation from OWSLA, Skrillex’s label, and it’s also being used to promote a party that he’s throwing in Miami later this month, during Ultra. But thanks—or no thanks—to the way that Twitter displays photos, it’s that bikini-clad body that commands your attention as it comes thrusting its way into your feed, ass- or crotch-first, like a health-goth avatar of pure, hot-pink sex, optimized for Retina Display.
Perhaps this is all supposed to be ironic, a way of slyly poking fun at the sun-sex-and-spring-breakers clichés that have long accompanied Winter Music Conference party flyers. But the visual style of the image doesn’t feel ironic. There’s nothing particularly tongue-in-cheek about its sexualized tropes; it merely replicates them. Consider, too, the way the viewer is treated to both back and front views of the woman’s nether regions: it’s like she’s been put on a spit and left to rotate for our visual pleasure. It’s party flyer as horndog Panopticon.
Unfortunately, this kind of voyeuristic, objectifying male gaze is all over dance music, and it seems like it’s getting worse. For years, the Ultra label’s various compilations have featured a parade of buxom, oiled-up swimsuit models on their covers, but the press release for last year’s Ultra Dance 15 spent two full paragraphs discussing its bikini-clad cover girl (Melanie Iglesias, 2010 winner ofMaxim‘s “Hometown Hotties” competition) before even touching upon the songs inside. Not only that, but Ultra also shot “behind the scenes” cheesecake videos to promote recent editions.
If Ultra hadn’t, somebody probably would have done it for them. Just search YouTube for “electro house” or “deep house” and you’ll be confronted with a veritable deluge of semi-naked women in kittenish poses. For the administrators of YouTube channels, bared (female) skin is all part of the quest to bring in clicks, and thus ad dollars. In just the past three years, Majestic Casual has racked up 2.3 million subscribers, and more than 646 million views, with a business model that involves pairing moody tech-house with sultry, soft-lit photos of young women in various states of undress. Dozens of channels pursue a similar approach, and though their aesthetics vary from “tasteful” Hipstamatic blur to Victoria’s Secret tacky, they are united in their objectification of women’s bodies. You can’t necessarily blame the artists whose songs are featured on those channels; their music is often used without permission, and getting one’s music taken down requires a fair amount of effort. Then there are artists like Henry Krinkle, whose own uploads are festooned with all manner of lad-mag-inspired skin shots, from “lesbian” softcore to Lolita-like ingénues. (Then again, what would you expect from a guy who names himself after an alias of Taxi Driver‘s Travis Bickle, he of the child-prostitute fixation?)
And it’s not like “legit” artists and businesses are any better. Calvin Harris‘ team specializes in titillating, exploitative videos like the one for “Thinking About You”. Zhu, who shares management with Krewella but has been promoted as a shadowy, Burial-type figure, broke through with a videothat looks like it was art directed by Terry Richardson or American Apparel’s Dov Charney, and is chock full of writhing nubiles and winking drug references. Hard festival creator Gary Richards, who records as Destructo, doesn’t stop with mere objectification. His 2012 video for the song“Technology” is about a dude who gags, smothers, and returns as “defective” his sex-robot girlfriend when she has the audacity to fall in love with him. In his 2013 video for “Higher”, a sex-addicted woman spurned by her boyfriend rips her heart out and dies. His “Party Up” video, in comparison, was relatively tame; it just featured a busload of strippers—the logical extension of one of YG‘s repeated lyrics in the song: “I keep my bitches on the bus.”
(Oh, and while we’re speaking of outright misogynists, don’t even get me started on Borgore.)
This is not the first time I’ve written this column. I’ve drafted variations upon the theme various times over the past few years, but I’ve never published them. In part, I didn’t want to seem like a scold. And in part, calling out EDM bozos for being sexist is shooting fish in a barrel. But seeing that OWSLA flyer bummed me out. Skrillex is supposed to be a chill dude. He’s supposed to be on the side of the underdogs. Instead, right around International Women’s Day, his label was propagating the myth that the ideal woman in dance music is svelte, faceless, mostly naked, and on display. And that really sucks.
Maybe one reason that women are so woefully underrepresented in electronic music—that is, as DJs, producers, promoters, label heads, sound technicians, mastering engineers, etc.—is that they see shit like that and they feel excluded. Maybe they see shit like that and they feel threatened. Who wouldn’t, if she had the (quite reasonable) suspicion that clubs and festivals must be full of horny young men who have been brought up to treat women as sex objects? Or maybe, most reasonably of all, they see enough shit like that and they decide they wouldn’t touch dance music with a 10-foot pole, because why bother with a scene that’s so pitifully unimaginative and creatively bankrupt?