dance music

Is Toronto's dance music scene totally sexist?

When's the last time you were out at a party and there was a female DJ spinning dance music? Not hip hop or club anthems but a mind melting set of house and techno?

You're resisting, aren't you... I hear crickets... The reason your answer is probably "not in a long time" or "uh... never?" is because there's a serious lack of dance music DJs who are women on this planet, let alone Toronto, which is feeding into super sexist dance music landscape.

Cindy Li is the woman who is changing this.

"I'm proud to be a woman and that is a feeling my mother instilled in me from a very young age," Li says. Li (aka CL), started an all-femme music show called Lady Flash while at Queen's University, which eventually informed her as a DJ, a curator and radio host for the Work in Progress project on the now defunct TRP.

Along with collaborator Nancy Chen, they throw parties under the same name and Li is also involved in the It's Not U It's Me collective.

I asked why the dance music scene was specifically so dude heavy. A misogynist world where women in the business are constantly asked to prove themselves as if their music knowledge and skills are any less valuable than a male DJ.

There's no hard set answer to this, but there are most definitely some powerful solutions to rid of the current state of things.

First solution, fight it with feminism.

"It's become current and ok to say that you're a feminist," Li says. "I read an advertising trend report for 2016, which rounds up the biggest things in culture, social issues for ad companies for their strategy and I think #3 is feminism. It's become something that youth culture has now tapped into and so it's cool. I'm happy about it."

One of her biggest challenges has been not allow feminism to become schtick, or something for publications to use as coolness crutch. "I need to be more critical and careful, use my discretion in how much people are wanting to write about me because they want to tap into this topic and how much of it is genuinely something they believe in," she says.

Second solution is, don't hate the player hate the game, and fuck with the game.

"You see so much of a reaction to that in the underground world, which is what I work in, where if you're a woman and you're a DJ and you're attractive, you're not supposed to play that up. If you're attractive, people immediately think she didn't get here based on her talent, it's based on her looks," Li says.

Media in general, but dance music websites and publications specifically, judge women in a much harsher way than men. Why aren't people complaining or judging with Calvin Harris beefs up, takes his clothes off and poses in magazines? There's still a crazy amount of sexism when it comes to women behind the decks and what they look like.

"I know so many female DJs who if they have a gig they try to dress down because they're afraid of not being taken seriously," Li explains. "It's not our fault that men objectify us or judge us on our looks. I want to dress nice, I'm going to dress nice.

"When I DJ I'll wear something really slutty because having long sleeves when you're DJing is annoying as fuck. I'm going to wear a frilly dress, I don't have to look like a boy to be taken seriously like a boy."

My mind goes straight to people like Paris Hilton spinning for thousands in the desert or super cute girls with beautiful headphones playing at trendy launch parties, but what's the difference between that and any other cheeseball male playing the same style of music at these events?

"People criticize Paris Hilton and people are mean about it," she says. "I don't like Paris Hilton and I'm sure she's a horrible DJ ... but women get called out way more for getting somewhere for their connections or looks. If people objectify us anyway, then why not use it?!

"It speaks more on the people themselves that the person they're criticizing."

Third solution is, bringing power to the people.

Li brings up people like her past Soft Stroke party mates (a night they used to throw at Bambi's) Serena Passion and Raven Sierra, E-Saggila, Bridget bardont and Edna King as women doing good in the house and techno world of Toronto.

Li also teaches young girls how to DJ with the Intersessions program

"It's fairly new, it's run by Chippy Nonstop," Li says. "All the teachers are women, I'm the only DJ in it who strictly does house and techno.

"It's really awesome to hang out with other women and not have to worry about dudes and having them berating us and forcing us to prove our music knowledge to them. It's a really positive space."

Until TRP comes back in some form Work in Progress will continue in party form, so watch Li's Facebook page for updates.

Her and Chen have a party coming up on August 27 where they've booked two male DJs (Bill Converse and Antwon Falkner), going beyond all-female parties to get to a point where males and females playing amazing music together is the main goal. As it should be.

"Everything is stacked up against us," she says. "You just have to keep pushing on, have these conversations, take risks and hope [people] come along with you."

Photo by Hector Vasquez.


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