Deep House DJ Nina Kraviz has found herself at the centre of a furious debate following a recent Resident Advisor documentary which trailed her on a tour of Europe. The Siberian femme-fatale caused controversy when she appeared naked in a bath-tub causing many to accuse her of using sex to push records. The very fact that debates like these remain prevalent in the public forum and split opinion so drastically indicates that there is still something implicitly wrong with the music industry.
Pardon the cliché, but sex sells, which is why it’s no surprise to see our money-driven pop-industry littered with it. A study by Dawn Hobbs, psychology professor at Suny Albany, found that “approximately 92% of the 174 songs that made it into the Billboard Top 10 in 2009 contained reproductive messages.”
You’d hope then that underground musical movements, free from the shackles of the marketers, would prove to be fertile ground for liberated women looking to be judged on technical ability rather than appearances; however no matter how underground you venture, the remnants of an overly sexualised industry can still be found and electronic music is unfortunately no exception.
When house music first hit the UK’s shores it was soon followed by its closest companion Ecstasy. The empathy-inducing drug managed to create a scene that transcended race, religion and gender as ravers took to abandoned warehouses and fields across the country to dance to repetitive beats in unison as a means of escaping the grim realities of a Thatcherite Britain.This new scene also provided a much needed respite from the “meat market” of club culture where testosterone fuelled alphas scanned dance floors for “talent” to prey upon.
However, the scene was still dominated by men; from musicians to event organisers, to the drug dealers, there seemed to be no place for women in House’s subterranean hierarchy. Things didn’t change until the inevitable media-driven moral panic brought electronic music out of the underground and into the mainstream, sparking an explosion of house in the charts.And lo and behold, as soon as it became profitable, it became sexualised. It was then that females began to find their place in the genre, though at this time they were nothing more than sexual objects masquerading as vocalists, mere puppets in the hands of cigar-chomping record executives.
It wasn’t until the late 1990s - almost a decade after the sound of Chicago found a home in Europe -thatfemale DJs began to emerge as respected figures of the scene. The forward thinking cultural hub that isBerlin was the first to offer up a widely revered female producer; Ellen Allien, who emerged in 1997. Others soon followed suit but even today, electronic music is still a male-dominated trade. Only three female artists have featured in the “DJ Mag Top 100”over the past five years and two of those were twins, filling only one slot. Even the immensely popular Radio 1 DJ, Annie Mac failed to get a mention, though with a top 10 featuring the likes of Tiesto, Aviici and Skrillex it’s hard to hold such a list in high regard.
The few female DJs who make it to the main stage face a far bigger problem than a lack of peers, however. Even the slightest nudge towards a use their sexuality will send shockwaves of controversy across the internet, condemning them for using the very same tactics used to exploit women for their own benefit. This is especially true when it comes to women as attractive as Nina. Yes, she may have appeared naked in a bath and yes, she may have the odd flirtatious picture floating round the internet and I’m sure both have aided sales in the teenage boy demographic but should she have to obscure her beauty just because she has it?
What people seem to be overlooking is the difference between Nina using the looks she was naturally gifted with to promote music entirely of her own creation and the naïve, dead-eyed ‘pop divas’ being paraded around on stages in next to nothing, lip-syncing to highly sexualised lyrics which are formulated by market research.The well respected electro-funk pioneer Greg Wilson highlights this difference in his defence of Kraviz; “if there’s any manipulating to be done, it’s by her and not to her.”What we see here, if you’ll excuse the pun, is a woman turning the tablesby using femalesexuality to her advantage.
Maceo Plex failed to acknowledge the wider context ofNina’s actions when he slammed them in a Facebook rant: “I’m so happy blatant uses of sexuality and superficiality can take the place of hustling vinyl and spending countless hours in the studio.” The Crosstown Rebels favourite also appeared to overlook a few of his past releases including “Frisky”, “Under The Sheets” and “Sex Appeal” whilst lecturing from his high horse.
It would appear that female DJs are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
Words by Josh Ray