Sexism in Dance Music: Learning from Radar’s Shutdown

Sexism in Dance Music: Learning from Radar’s Shutdown

 

Keep Hush Logo Keep Hush: a members club built from the ground up . Weekly events and exclusive discounts for independent brands. Our mission: foster a community and promote creativity. Become a member for free here.

In April, Pxssy Palace made the decision to leave their radio station – Radar Radio – citing poor practise, tokenisation of marginalised groups and a shameful amount of indifference towards their staff, guests, and listeners. Some time later a blog post published on Mixed Spices LDN (written by Ashtart Al-Hurra) highlighted some gross misconduct at the station and just 36 hours later, Radar Radio was essentially finished: two-thirds of their DJs, MCs, and presenters left the station saying they could no longer work with an organisation that cared so little about worker welfare. Pxssy Palace’s statement and the subsequent thunderous Mixed Spices post pointed to numerous instances of sexual harassment and assault, what’s worse is that workers’ concerns were tended to be met with indifferent reactions, most notably being told that “boys will be boys”.

It’s terrible enough that it took a few brave voices to speak out in order for the issue to come to light, but the way that the radio station reacted to Ashtart’s anxieties at the time was doubly shameful: lawyers were brought in from outside the company to intimidate her with a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and attempt to force her into silence.

The original problems and Radar’s contemptible reaction have eventually led to the collapse of a radio station which did a lot to help young, aspiring creatives reach their potential (despite Radar having taken flak for their funding sources). However, the real issue remains: that, even in this day and age, the behaviour at Radar is seemingly not the exception, but the rule.

 

 

We’ve seen so many similar situations recently. R-Kelly’s lewd past was met with relative indifference until that Vince Staples interview. The accusations against Riff Raff, the recent Mode FM scandal – too many others to describe here – suggest that problems are widespread and persisting. There wasn’t even a reaction from the A$AP Mob on the A$AP Bari incident: how many culprits in the industry will go unchallenged? What’s more, how many situations like these are still unheard?

Dance music culture is celebrated for its reformist and modern ideals. Aren’t raving, exchanging and sharing tunes all based on the idea that we all share creativity? But with new stories of abuse appearing daily – in a scene where we pride ourselves on our progressiveness – there seems to be a real lack of progress where it’s most needed.

The contrast between ideals and actions is very apparent in the Radar case. The Mixed Spices blog post mentioned Radar’s stance towards representing minority-origin music, a stance which was not reflected in the way the station handled the situation and to ignore the anxieties of a worker from the demographic(s) the station claimed to represent is even more unjust. If you’re going to use reformist culture to do good in the wider community, you must act on the same ideals within your own workspaces. It is no good picking and choosing.

To understand why there’s so much hypocrisy in the scene, and what can be done to prevent it, Keep Hush got researching and interviewing. If you want to learn even more, check the thorough selection of literature we’ve referenced at the end of this post.

 


 

Critics have been discussing these issues for a while: in her paper written in 1993, Barbara Bradby found dance music “particularly problematic, given the utopianism that has surrounded dance culture, which has a ‘post-feminist’ side to it, in its claims to have moved beyond sexism.” Yet here we are, 25 years later, still facing the same problematic behaviours, and still finding it “quite shocking” when it’s spoken about “so starkly”.

The questions that Bradby posed nearly 3 decades ago remain the ‘elephant in the room’, though the elephant’s being talked about more and more. But do these discussions enable more babble from the fake-woke crowd of the internet, or do these baby steps in debate really help? If the presumption that music is a ‘boys club’ is true, then these boys need to do their part. As Andrea Domanick has written in her recent analysis of harassment: “public outcry drives home an uncomfortable truth for the business: those in power need to be doing more.”

Along with those in power doing more, we all need to join together, to generate that public discomfort. Naturally, you’re attached to your community, scene, or workplace – but loyalty to a community doesn’t mean staying quiet. It should mean speaking up, and working to improve the experience for every member. So why is there often such a lack of dissent?

One blunt reason may be that speaking out brings a negative backlash on the person speaking up which can have consequences for your reputation. Mixmag’s weekend editor Jasmine Kent-Smith pointed out that people can have big incentives not to call out powerful figures, especially online: “often people are scared to stand up for others in such a public space, in case they are seen to be aligning themselves with someone who isn’t as influential in the scene compared to the shitty person. It’s a selfish choice.”

 

Samantha from Hub16

                                                                                  Co-Founder of HUB16 Dalston (right)

 

This fear of protesting is much more justified if you are speaking out against your employers, when the backlash could jeopardise your career. As HUB 16 co-founder Samantha Nelson says, “perhaps less people feel they can speak up or ‘rock the boat’, as it’s seen to be disagreeable, and you may not get employed.” This is especially true in this scene in particular, since “a combination of things: from high rents, the culture of working for free, and huge amounts of nepotism, mean paid jobs in creative sectors – especially music – are highly competitive.” Why speak out and end up losing your livelihood? A lot of people are just trying to eat, and indifference seems to help.

Silence can also come down to institutional factors, Kent-Smith suggested that sometimes the speaking out happens behind closed doors: “working in such an industry […] you tend to know a lot about artists and individuals who you may not even know personally, so a lot of these rumours and alleged actions […] tend to remain between social circles, rather than aired out on public”.

This closed door atmosphere may often come from higher up. Sara Ahmed describes such silence on behalf of an institution as a restoration project. She calls the process of not confronting issues – but putting into place silencing and superficial policies –  “institutional polishing”. This is done so the institution’s “furniture … appears less damaged” after a scandal or a long-term issue, things can resume as normal. Given the NDA which was imposed on Ashtart, it’s hard to disagree with Ahmed’s point that “professional norms of conduct are about keeping a lid on it […] silence [is being used] in case of institutional damage.”

So there’s forcible-silence, and then there’s voluntary-silence being cloaked as institutional polishing, I think it’s clear which is worse, but the better option doesn’t seem to do much ‘greater good’ in practise. After all, Ahmed understands why one would choose to remain silent, but “We have to be careful not to lose ourselves in the reflection.”

 

Sara Ahmed

Queer and Feminist Critic, Sara Ahmed

 

Enforcing policies like safe-spaces and ‘affirmative-action’ may seem an appropriate next step to combat harassment and inequality, but Ahmed remains sceptical of such changes alone: “policies can be useful because they create an impression of doing something without necessarily doing anything.” Fake-progressiveness from half-hearted efforts is not acceptable anymore, Kent-Smith told us about her research with promoters and artists who felt the tokenisation of women on a bill or a line-up is often worse than the lack of women point blank, as often it feels like it was an added thought to ensure ‘all bases were covered’ almost.” Similarly, continuing to call out physical and verbal harassment remains necessary, but isn’t enough on its own.

Sirin Kale has written a particularly brilliant piece for Mixmag where she tries to explain a solution to this bigger complexity. Although it’s tough, she recognises that “symbolically casting out individuals with problematic views is an imperfect solution to a much bigger problem.” Instead, she suggests that “next time someone says something gross, challenge them, reach out to them, try and engage with them — and then look in the mirror.” We all have a part to play in this: what the Mixed Spices blog post described was no random incident.

Personal and institutional reasons make it hard for anyone in the scene or community to call out toxic behaviour, but it is even more difficult when you’ve experienced it first hand. Domanick’s research from a 2016 EEOC report showed that “at least one in four women say they have experienced workplace sexual harassment, but only around 30 percent of those people will talk to a supervisor, manager, or union representative. Even fewer – between 6 and 13 percent – ever make a formal complaint.” This is entirely understandable, given the backlash many get for calling out such conduct.

All this means that Pxssy Palace’s and Mixed Spices’ bravery cannot go unnoticed, and we can only hope that their posts will inspire others in similar situations to do the same. Ahmed says that such “path[s] might be difficult and it can slow your progression” but it has also shown “how others are freed from that requirement to do the institutional work.” It can be incredibly liberating to speak against what’s wrong. People risk much when they do, but it’s not just the speaker who becomes liberated, it is also those who listen.

The original Mixed Spices post showed just how effective speaking out can be, but it led to another stage. Despite the fact that no specific names were dropped initially, what followed on social media was a clear calling out of specific alleged perpetrators. This does, however, open up a larger problem. Where do we go once we’ve waded through the thick smog of indifference? Where do we go once we’ve alerted others to possible creeps?

 


Thankfully, things are looking up. Amid the dusty gloom of what we’re so afraid to address, we’re slowly but surely feeling the warm rays of sunlight. For one thing, there are frankly just more female, queer, and LGBTQ+ members in the industry: presenters, DJs, producers, singers, MCs, writers, journalists, publicists, agents and more.

These womxn are also more connected and mobilised. Social media has been a great help in furthering these talented people’s careers, providing a new platform for those excluded from old-school media spaces. In her chapter entitled God is a DJ: Girls, Music, Performance, and Negotiating Space, Geraldine Bloustein noticed that “with this increase in numbers they are gaining new levels of visibility via social networking sites. Several high-profile female rap artists and DJs, especially those from Indigenous and African-American backgrounds, have been among the first groups to break through some of the gender, ethnic, and class stereotypes.” The chapter was published two years ago; social media has only grown in importance since then.

Beyond using social media as a way for new voices to build a following and break through, it has, as we noted earlier, been instrumental for the marginalised to hold abusers to account. As Samantha Nelson says: “women [now] have outlets where they can express and share information on how they want to be treated and men have to learn new behaviours without any obvious examples. If celebrities and those in leadership behave badly and are still getting press and jobs then it must be okay to treat people lesser than and get away with it. We have YEARS of mistreatment to unlearn – and I think that’s where we’re at right now. A new era of accountability – for individuals, groups, organisations and leaders.”

The internet, as a result, has clearly caused a sharp increase of interconnectedness between women in the industry. In one of our favourite examples, DJ, producer, and workshop teacher, Mina recently posted a stellar thread on Twitter (below), which highlighted many sources of funding that women and young creatives can sign up for.

 

 

We love that the spirit of collaboration and mutual support extends out of the online world. Earlier this year, Keep Hush highlighted the incredible things that were being done in the UK to make our music industry more inclusive than it ever has been before. Organisations like HUB 16, New Scenery, Bristol Women in Music, and Club Comfort are all working hard to ensure we mitigate indifference and call out toxic behaviour whenever we see it. Samantha recalled “a lovely bouncer, who took even micro aggressions against minorities and women very seriously – he would try to elicit an apology and if the punter wasn’t listening they were asked to leave.” She echoed Kale’s opinion that engaging with the problematic person can sometimes help: “I think often education, even in the moment, can do better than kicking someone out – depending on the severity of the situation of course. I’ve seen DJ’s stop the music and call people out – call out culture is often [put] there by management.”

Though the problems of harassment aren’t eliminated yet (and arguably groups who have been marginalised should not necessarily be the ones having to do the hard work) Bloustein is positive about the powerful steps they are taking: “girls and young women are clearly gaining the confidence and opportunities to take a greater role in creating, managing, and controlling spaces in the public sphere.” Samantha agrees that “the internet-ready generation, born in the 90s or later … consider mistreatment outrageous and speak up a lot more. It’s great.”

So where does this leave us now? These issues are complex, and this article only scratches the surface of the problems in our industry. Where is the next step forward?

We have to take a constant, active participation in the health and vibrancy of our workspaces and communities and provoke discussion and thought about environments and behaviours. Although we may come across ideologies, concepts, and even humans that we do not like or align with, it is so important – now more than ever – to listen, hear, and understand the opposition, but to ultimately challenge, explain, and educate. Nothing will change if we shy away from what we don’t like, understand, or agree with.

Being part of a community should never suggest unwavering loyalty. Communities are the sum of all our actions and best-efforts, and we must obliterate indifference. We are not progressives if we continue to ignore what is holding us back.

 


 

Though this is a shortened version of the original edit, Saagar has posted the full, unabridged version of his criticism on his portfolio. Read it here.

-Words by Saagar Kaushik (Twitter: @_saagark / Instagram: @shoedazing)

Read about the incredible organisations who are pushing continually pushing boundaries and inclusivity for minorities here.

 

Keep Hush Logo Keep Hush: a members club built from the ground up . Weekly events and exclusive discounts for independent brands. Our mission: foster a community and promote creativity. Become a member for free here.

In April, Pxssy Palace made the decision to leave their radio station – Radar Radio – citing poor practise, tokenisation of marginalised groups and a shameful amount of indifference towards their staff, guests, and listeners. Some time later a blog post published on Mixed Spices LDN (written by Ashtart Al-Hurra) highlighted some gross misconduct at the station and just 36 hours later, Radar Radio was essentially finished: two-thirds of their DJs, MCs, and presenters left the station saying they could no longer work with an organisation that cared so little about worker welfare. Pxssy Palace’s statement and the subsequent thunderous Mixed Spices post pointed to numerous instances of sexual harassment and assault, what’s worse is that workers’ concerns were tended to be met with indifferent reactions, most notably being told that “boys will be boys”.

It’s terrible enough that it took a few brave voices to speak out in order for the issue to come to light, but the way that the radio station reacted to Ashtart’s anxieties at the time was doubly shameful: lawyers were brought in from outside the company to intimidate her with a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and attempt to force her into silence.

The original problems and Radar’s contemptible reaction have eventually led to the collapse of a radio station which did a lot to help young, aspiring creatives reach their potential (despite Radar having taken flak for their funding sources). However, the real issue remains: that, even in this day and age, the behaviour at Radar is seemingly not the exception, but the rule.

 

 

We’ve seen so many similar situations recently. R-Kelly’s lewd past was met with relative indifference until that Vince Staples interview. The accusations against Riff Raff, the recent Mode FM scandal – too many others to describe here – suggest that problems are widespread and persisting. There wasn’t even a reaction from the A$AP Mob on the A$AP Bari incident: how many culprits in the industry will go unchallenged? What’s more, how many situations like these are still unheard?

Dance music culture is celebrated for its reformist and modern ideals. Aren’t raving, exchanging and sharing tunes all based on the idea that we all share creativity? But with new stories of abuse appearing daily – in a scene where we pride ourselves on our progressiveness – there seems to be a real lack of progress where it’s most needed.

The contrast between ideals and actions is very apparent in the Radar case. The Mixed Spices blog post mentioned Radar’s stance towards representing minority-origin music, a stance which was not reflected in the way the station handled the situation and to ignore the anxieties of a worker from the demographic(s) the station claimed to represent is even more unjust. If you’re going to use reformist culture to do good in the wider community, you must act on the same ideals within your own workspaces. It is no good picking and choosing.

To understand why there’s so much hypocrisy in the scene, and what can be done to prevent it, Keep Hush got researching and interviewing. If you want to learn even more, check the thorough selection of literature we’ve referenced at the end of this post.

 


 

Critics have been discussing these issues for a while: in her paper written in 1993, Barbara Bradby found dance music “particularly problematic, given the utopianism that has surrounded dance culture, which has a ‘post-feminist’ side to it, in its claims to have moved beyond sexism.” Yet here we are, 25 years later, still facing the same problematic behaviours, and still finding it “quite shocking” when it’s spoken about “so starkly”.

The questions that Bradby posed nearly 3 decades ago remain the ‘elephant in the room’, though the elephant’s being talked about more and more. But do these discussions enable more babble from the fake-woke crowd of the internet, or do these baby steps in debate really help? If the presumption that music is a ‘boys club’ is true, then these boys need to do their part. As Andrea Domanick has written in her recent analysis of harassment: “public outcry drives home an uncomfortable truth for the business: those in power need to be doing more.”

Along with those in power doing more, we all need to join together, to generate that public discomfort. Naturally, you’re attached to your community, scene, or workplace – but loyalty to a community doesn’t mean staying quiet. It should mean speaking up, and working to improve the experience for every member. So why is there often such a lack of dissent?

One blunt reason may be that speaking out brings a negative backlash on the person speaking up which can have consequences for your reputation. Mixmag’s weekend editor Jasmine Kent-Smith pointed out that people can have big incentives not to call out powerful figures, especially online: “often people are scared to stand up for others in such a public space, in case they are seen to be aligning themselves with someone who isn’t as influential in the scene compared to the shitty person. It’s a selfish choice.”

 

Samantha from Hub16

                                                                                  Co-Founder of HUB16 Dalston (right)

 

This fear of protesting is much more justified if you are speaking out against your employers, when the backlash could jeopardise your career. As HUB 16 co-founder Samantha Nelson says, “perhaps less people feel they can speak up or ‘rock the boat’, as it’s seen to be disagreeable, and you may not get employed.” This is especially true in this scene in particular, since “a combination of things: from high rents, the culture of working for free, and huge amounts of nepotism, mean paid jobs in creative sectors – especially music – are highly competitive.” Why speak out and end up losing your livelihood? A lot of people are just trying to eat, and indifference seems to help.

Silence can also come down to institutional factors, Kent-Smith suggested that sometimes the speaking out happens behind closed doors: “working in such an industry […] you tend to know a lot about artists and individuals who you may not even know personally, so a lot of these rumours and alleged actions […] tend to remain between social circles, rather than aired out on public”.

This closed door atmosphere may often come from higher up. Sara Ahmed describes such silence on behalf of an institution as a restoration project. She calls the process of not confronting issues – but putting into place silencing and superficial policies –  “institutional polishing”. This is done so the institution’s “furniture … appears less damaged” after a scandal or a long-term issue, things can resume as normal. Given the NDA which was imposed on Ashtart, it’s hard to disagree with Ahmed’s point that “professional norms of conduct are about keeping a lid on it […] silence [is being used] in case of institutional damage.”

So there’s forcible-silence, and then there’s voluntary-silence being cloaked as institutional polishing, I think it’s clear which is worse, but the better option doesn’t seem to do much ‘greater good’ in practise. After all, Ahmed understands why one would choose to remain silent, but “We have to be careful not to lose ourselves in the reflection.”

 

Sara Ahmed

Queer and Feminist Critic, Sara Ahmed

 

Enforcing policies like safe-spaces and ‘affirmative-action’ may seem an appropriate next step to combat harassment and inequality, but Ahmed remains sceptical of such changes alone: “policies can be useful because they create an impression of doing something without necessarily doing anything.” Fake-progressiveness from half-hearted efforts is not acceptable anymore, Kent-Smith told us about her research with promoters and artists who felt the tokenisation of women on a bill or a line-up is often worse than the lack of women point blank, as often it feels like it was an added thought to ensure ‘all bases were covered’ almost.” Similarly, continuing to call out physical and verbal harassment remains necessary, but isn’t enough on its own.

Sirin Kale has written a particularly brilliant piece for Mixmag where she tries to explain a solution to this bigger complexity. Although it’s tough, she recognises that “symbolically casting out individuals with problematic views is an imperfect solution to a much bigger problem.” Instead, she suggests that “next time someone says something gross, challenge them, reach out to them, try and engage with them — and then look in the mirror.” We all have a part to play in this: what the Mixed Spices blog post described was no random incident.

Personal and institutional reasons make it hard for anyone in the scene or community to call out toxic behaviour, but it is even more difficult when you’ve experienced it first hand. Domanick’s research from a 2016 EEOC report showed that “at least one in four women say they have experienced workplace sexual harassment, but only around 30 percent of those people will talk to a supervisor, manager, or union representative. Even fewer – between 6 and 13 percent – ever make a formal complaint.” This is entirely understandable, given the backlash many get for calling out such conduct.

All this means that Pxssy Palace’s and Mixed Spices’ bravery cannot go unnoticed, and we can only hope that their posts will inspire others in similar situations to do the same. Ahmed says that such “path[s] might be difficult and it can slow your progression” but it has also shown “how others are freed from that requirement to do the institutional work.” It can be incredibly liberating to speak against what’s wrong. People risk much when they do, but it’s not just the speaker who becomes liberated, it is also those who listen.

The original Mixed Spices post showed just how effective speaking out can be, but it led to another stage. Despite the fact that no specific names were dropped initially, what followed on social media was a clear calling out of specific alleged perpetrators. This does, however, open up a larger problem. Where do we go once we’ve waded through the thick smog of indifference? Where do we go once we’ve alerted others to possible creeps?

 


Thankfully, things are looking up. Amid the dusty gloom of what we’re so afraid to address, we’re slowly but surely feeling the warm rays of sunlight. For one thing, there are frankly just more female, queer, and LGBTQ+ members in the industry: presenters, DJs, producers, singers, MCs, writers, journalists, publicists, agents and more.

These womxn are also more connected and mobilised. Social media has been a great help in furthering these talented people’s careers, providing a new platform for those excluded from old-school media spaces. In her chapter entitled God is a DJ: Girls, Music, Performance, and Negotiating Space, Geraldine Bloustein noticed that “with this increase in numbers they are gaining new levels of visibility via social networking sites. Several high-profile female rap artists and DJs, especially those from Indigenous and African-American backgrounds, have been among the first groups to break through some of the gender, ethnic, and class stereotypes.” The chapter was published two years ago; social media has only grown in importance since then.

Beyond using social media as a way for new voices to build a following and break through, it has, as we noted earlier, been instrumental for the marginalised to hold abusers to account. As Samantha Nelson says: “women [now] have outlets where they can express and share information on how they want to be treated and men have to learn new behaviours without any obvious examples. If celebrities and those in leadership behave badly and are still getting press and jobs then it must be okay to treat people lesser than and get away with it. We have YEARS of mistreatment to unlearn – and I think that’s where we’re at right now. A new era of accountability – for individuals, groups, organisations and leaders.”

The internet, as a result, has clearly caused a sharp increase of interconnectedness between women in the industry. In one of our favourite examples, DJ, producer, and workshop teacher, Mina recently posted a stellar thread on Twitter (below), which highlighted many sources of funding that women and young creatives can sign up for.

 

 

We love that the spirit of collaboration and mutual support extends out of the online world. Earlier this year, Keep Hush highlighted the incredible things that were being done in the UK to make our music industry more inclusive than it ever has been before. Organisations like HUB 16, New Scenery, Bristol Women in Music, and Club Comfort are all working hard to ensure we mitigate indifference and call out toxic behaviour whenever we see it. Samantha recalled “a lovely bouncer, who took even micro aggressions against minorities and women very seriously – he would try to elicit an apology and if the punter wasn’t listening they were asked to leave.” She echoed Kale’s opinion that engaging with the problematic person can sometimes help: “I think often education, even in the moment, can do better than kicking someone out – depending on the severity of the situation of course. I’ve seen DJ’s stop the music and call people out – call out culture is often [put] there by management.”

Though the problems of harassment aren’t eliminated yet (and arguably groups who have been marginalised should not necessarily be the ones having to do the hard work) Bloustein is positive about the powerful steps they are taking: “girls and young women are clearly gaining the confidence and opportunities to take a greater role in creating, managing, and controlling spaces in the public sphere.” Samantha agrees that “the internet-ready generation, born in the 90s or later … consider mistreatment outrageous and speak up a lot more. It’s great.”

So where does this leave us now? These issues are complex, and this article only scratches the surface of the problems in our industry. Where is the next step forward?

We have to take a constant, active participation in the health and vibrancy of our workspaces and communities and provoke discussion and thought about environments and behaviours. Although we may come across ideologies, concepts, and even humans that we do not like or align with, it is so important – now more than ever – to listen, hear, and understand the opposition, but to ultimately challenge, explain, and educate. Nothing will change if we shy away from what we don’t like, understand, or agree with.

Being part of a community should never suggest unwavering loyalty. Communities are the sum of all our actions and best-efforts, and we must obliterate indifference. We are not progressives if we continue to ignore what is holding us back.

 


 

Though this is a shortened version of the original edit, Saagar has posted the full, unabridged version of his criticism on his portfolio. Read it here.

-Words by Saagar Kaushik (Twitter: @_saagark / Instagram: @shoedazing)

Read about the incredible organisations who are pushing continually pushing boundaries and inclusivity for minorities here.

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