The electronic music industry has historically been a challenging environment for women and non-binary artists. With male-dominated festival lineups and Top 100 DJ lists continuing to crop up, it is evident that dance music still has a significant path of progress to embark upon before it is felt to be a safe, opportune space for women and non-binary artists.
One of the most important necessities in this ushering of the industry towards a more equal environment is the existence of local collectives, crews and initiatives that seek to propel women and non-binary artists, affording them a stage that will allow their music to be heard in a way that allows them to feel confident and safe as it happens.
One such organisation is Sisu Crew, a community and platform that seeks to showcase aspiring women and non-binary DJs and producers. The group offers courses, events and more to educate and inspire our industry to be a place where these traditionally marginalised groups can be seen and heard as they deserve to be.
We sat down with Sisu Crew, to delve a little deeper into their inspiring endeavours.
First of all, who are Sisu Crew? How did it all start? What motivated you to come together?
We are a community providing a platform to educate, inspire and showcase aspiring women and non-binary DJs and producers. We do this through DJ courses, events, podcasts, radio shows, mix series and workshops. The heart of Sisu is our 12-month rolling DJ roster through which we spotlight a diverse group of women and non-binary people at the start of their DJ career.
The goal is to help them develop and grow as artists through mentoring, skill sharing and opportunities to showcase their sound through mixes and gigs. Then behind the scenes, we have a core team which keeps things moving at Sisu HQ, looking after every aspect of our work, from marketing and education to events and programming.
What’s your mission?
Since day one, our mission has always been to elevate female and NB talent by creating educational and inspirational spaces to enhance opportunities, connections and pathways into the music industry.
Equal representation in dance music has been a battle since it began, which makes groups like yours so vital. Where do you think we’re at right now? Is the wider scene making progress?
Over the last 5 years or so, we have seen more and more collectives, event series, databases and other grassroots initiatives doing amazing work to increase the visibility of underrepresented groups within the music scene. Some festival organisers and club promoters have listened and, at least in places like London, line-ups with only white cis men are (thankfully!) no longer the norm.
So there’s definitely been some progress, but we need to keep up the pressure to make sure that change sticks. During the pandemic, the diversity agenda has slipped down promoters’ priorities and that’s not on. We also need to move the needle on changing people’s mindsets that actively seeking to put gender minorities on a line-up is not tokenism, but positive action that will smash stereotypes and normalise diversity.
What still needs to happen in the industry to reach fair representation? Is the onus on festival & club bookers?
Most if not all the progress so far has happened thanks to community-led, bottom-up initiatives. What needs to happen now is change among the big players in the industry to make sure that increased visibility translates into equal representation at the top and equal financial compensation.
Having a balanced line-up isn’t simply a matter of having the same numbers of male and non-male artists on the bill: it means doing your research and making sure that female and NB DJs are booked as integral parts of a line-up, including headline slots on main stages, and compensated fairly for it.
Which women and non-binary DJs should we be looking out for right now?
We might be biased, but our roster boasts an incredible array of DJs coming from a number of different countries and we couldn’t be prouder of what each one of them has achieved so far and we’re excited to see them flourish even further in the coming months. Outside our group of core DJs, some emerging names that everyone should be paying attention to right now are Tanya Sundaze, RIVA, Mal, Gracie T, Clemency and Lupini.
Do you have any resource recommendations for our readers if they are seeking to learn more about gender representation in music and educate themselves further on women & non-binary artists?
Core DJ Sam Warren will shortly be launching her producer directory and online resource bank full of information about gender diversity in electronic music that has resulted from her research project In the Key of She. The website will be live in time for Brighton Music Conference which starts on 22nd September.
Other great resources are: female:pressure, Women in Ctrl, soundgirls.org, Dynamics (database and blog for women in bass music), EQ50 (collective working towards equal rep in d&b), the recently launched Non-binary artist database created by DJ Soyboy and Hardcore Harry.
It was your 4th birthday party recently – happy birthday!! Talk us through some of the highlights of the Liverpool & London events.
Definitely one of our highlights was being able to connect a lot of our core DJs in one event for the first time as many have been in contact throughout the pandemic but have never been able to meet! We’re one big family but we definitely missed having the human factor to our collective, so being able to enjoy each other’s sets and celebrate together in person was the best.
What has the journey been like over the last 4 years? What have you learned and how has the dance music landscape changed from your perspective?
Since inception, Sisu has blossomed into something more magical than words can really explain and along our journey we’ve branched in new directions together. Sisu always had an inclusive, collaborative approach but little did we know how this would impact the bigger picture of our vision.
Working with both UK and international grassroots talent has inspired everyone along the way: we have a constant flux of diverse musical output from our active DJ roster playing multiple gigs per week to our weekly mix series, embracing one another’s talent. Something else that has shone brightly during lockdown is the talent we have here in the UK.
We want to keep working with venues, partners, radio stations and other branches of music that directly support the absolutely passionate communities we have locally to continue growing together.
Our journey has also given us the chance to learn to speak louder about issues in music, not being programmed just to fill the ‘female/non-binary’ consensus but also being sensitive to standing up and playing to showcase absolute sick DJ sets, we are playing for this and to be heard for that change.
Education, moral support and genuine passion is what drives Sisu, learning together in a safe space where it is ok to make mistakes and advise each other is what enables underrepresented groups to flourish.
You’re going on a road trip with us – which 5 records are you taking?
SHERELLE – 160 DOWN THE A406
ANZ – Loos In Twos
Chippy Nonstop – To Myself
Clemency – References (Remixed)
Kerrie – Inner Space PT1
DJ Kicks: Laurel Halo
Lastly, what piece of advice would you give to women and non-binary DJs who are thinking about breaking into the industry?
Get involved with a collective and learn with other like-minded people! There’s no need to do it alone and you’ll learn much more in a safe and comfortable environment. Network as much as you can – reach out to promoters, share your mixes online, go to conferences and events and talk to folks. Oh and be nice! Good things come to kind and helpful folks 🙂