An Interview With Dani Deahl, The Producer Fighting Sexism In EDM
"He just flat out asked me who made the song for me. I wound up opening my laptop and actually showing him the project files. He wouldn't believe me."
Does the music industry still discriminate against women? DJ and Producer Dani Deahl has been incredibly vocal about the problems of sexism in the music business and is starting a new movement of empowered female artists to fight misogyny and chauvinism in rave and EDM culture. Deahl most clearly laid out her thesis in her notorious TED talk, which you can watch below. Now, we're sitting down with Deahl to get her opinions on everything from gender equality to Bad Girls Club.
Hey Dani, thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. First of all, can you give us your definition of what EDM actually is to begin with?
I don't think that people can absolutely agree on a definition. If you asked 100 people what they think EDM is you'd get 100 different answers. To me, EDM means dance music that has been popularized that isn't pop music. The songs that you would hear on main stage at a festival I would consider to be EDM, but those aren't necessarily what you're going to hear on the radio. It's our scene's pop music. By our scene, I mean people in to electronic music and dance music, in general.
How did you get into dance music?
It was probably early high school. It was a result of not having friends. I was a stereotypical dork that no one wanted to associate with. I got bullied from the 3rd grade on. I didn't feel like I had a place to fit in anywhere. I was dating a guy that was a raver and I was really fascinated with all of the stuff in his apartment, it was like an anthropological thing for me, looking at all his flyers and the clothes. I finally convinced him to bring me to a party and I fell in love. It's really funny, the first time I went to a party I ran into the girl that was my childhood bully.
What draws you to the dance music scene?
Part of the reason why I fell in love with it so many years ago is that it's a very inclusive scene. When people go to parties, they feel like everyone is a new potential friend. You can go in without knowing anyone and feel comfortable enough to talk to the person next to you and leave with that person being a genuine friend. I feel like that scene is really built upon connecting with other people.
When I started it was all about Peace, Love, Unity, Respect and candy bracelets -- all that stuff. And now it's all back! When I was at TomorrowWorld the other week there was a huge disaster with rain. I saw so many people there helping each other out, offering resources to people they didn't know.
When did you first encounter sexism in the EDM world?
You know, for a really long time I didn't experience it at all. I grew up in Chicago, we had a lot of prominent women DJs to look up to: Psychobitch, Superjane... That was pretty unusual for the time. I grew up with those people in my circle, playing alongside them. It became an issue when I was older. It was actually pretty startling. The first time I was really taken aback is when I was playing at a club and I wanted to show this headliner a song I had made, and he just flat out asked me who made the song for me. I wound up opening my laptop and actually showing him the project files. He wouldn't believe me.
The more popular dance music gets the more we're seeing all of these issues come to light.
What is the worst example of sexism you've faced in the industry?
Well, just the other day I posted about something. Someone said that I was being oversensitive and I couldn't take a joke and called me a c*nt. It's certainly not the first time that's happened. It's so interesting to me because when I talk about [sexism] it's not at the expense of anyone. It's with the goal or purpose of including everyone. I certainly don't want anyone to get defensive. At the end of the day my goal is for everyone to have the same opportunities, point blank. That's it.
How did your TED talk come about? What was the reaction to it?
I literally had 10 days to prep for that talk. Which is kind of unheard of. I was really trying to think about it because when someone asks you to do a TED talk it's because you're an expert in that field. When it comes to gender it's one of the last fields where people feel like it's really acceptable for people to ... how do I put this ... to discriminate openly. I felt that the best way for me to attack it without inciting a lot of stray, random emotions in people was to go about it in a more academic manner and to use that as a jumping point to have a discussion with people. I knew it was very data heavy. But I think it had to be that way.
The reaction was mostly positive. People still will message me and say that it inspired them to start DJing. I just had a girl come up to me in Chicago and she was crying and said that the video changed her outlook on what she was doing as DJ. There was a girl in New York who came to see me and she held up her phone and it said "FEMINIST HERO" on it. It's cool to see that it's touching people's lives and that it's actually making a difference.
Do you identify as a feminist?
I identify as an equalist. I try to stay away from that word because I feel like it makes a lot of people defensive right off the bat. A lot of people hear the word feminist and they think "I don't want to go there." I think that everyone should have the same opportunities.
...I mean we're all people. I don't know! My husband hosts a party called Porn and Chicken. Girls take their shirts off every week. I play twerk music. I pose with girls butts every week! I think we all just deserve equal opportunities in everything. From how we display our sexuality to opportunity in production. Just everything.
There was a big controversy in EDM with DJ Frontliner just last week. Can you tell us about it?
There's a list that DJ Mag puts out every year ranking the top 100 DJs in the world. Thump followed up and talked to a bunch of the DJs on the 2015 list and asked why there weren't more women. This one DJ, DJ Frontliner, thought it was because women were too busy in Sephora and didn't put enough time into their music production. It really rubbed me the wrong way. Even if he was joking the problem is that every person who has the mentality that women are not capable of doing something contributes to women not actually being able to enter that field.
What are some solutions to the problem of sexism in the music industry?
Just simply be open! Don't say that someone can't do something until they prove they can't do it. Don't walk into a situation with a pre-conceived notion about something.
... I have a friend, this guy Rohan. He was an MC on my tour and he did the vocals on my last single. He has two daughters, one 3, one 8. He's in the studio every day and his daughters watch him. They're like, "Dad, we want to grow up and be just like you. We want to be superstars." The other day he sent me a recording of his 3-year-old daughter. She went into the studio and freestyled for him. She directed the whole session! She was in there like, "No, I don't like that take. I want that effect on me." How does a 3-year-old even know this stuff? The point is that if you allow your kid that the opportunity they don't know what they're "supposed" to be interested in or not interested in.
You're also a big proponent of the #NapGirls movement. Can you explain that a little bit?
The #NapGirls movement is based in LA. It's all the industry women (women that work in PR, management, artists themselves) -- there's the pose where you pretend like you're taking a nap. The pose symbolizes that you stand with movement. It means that you stand with equality.
Thanks for taking the time to educate us on these issues! Anything else you want to add?
Actually, I just wanted to say that I'm a huge Bad Girls Club fan! I religiously watched it for years! People don't know this about me but there was one year I was about to be cast on the show, but I missed the final casting call because I was on tour in Mexico! To be honest, I think that those girls would have eaten me alive.
Hell yeah! Do you have a favorite Bad Girl?
My favorite Bad Girl is Tanisha. I know everyone loves her. There are people that stand out because they're trying to stand out, and then there are people that stand out, like her, who just can't help it.