Third Wavelength went behind the scenes on an upcoming initiative to widen the representation for DJs. Like so many industries, DJing is often male-dominated. We spoke to Rachael Finch who, together with Romy Green, is working towards making a more inclusive space for female, non-binary, and transgender DJs.
So, could you explain in a bit more detail about what Shifting Spheres is: who is it for? What does it aim to achieve? Why is it important, in your opinion?
Shifting Spheres is not only a DJ collective but a project which aims to provide a creative, safe space for women, transgender and non-binary DJ’s. We want these minority groups to feel confident within such a male-dominated environment and to be able to express their selves, no matter what genre or style they like. At the moment I think there is a thriving scene for women, transgender and non-binary DJ’s throughout Manchester with collectives such as Meat Free, B.L.O.O.M and All Hands on Deck. If you haven’t checked these out, you definitely should!
However, looking at the scene we thought there wasn’t enough emphasis on running extended projects for these groups… projects which will set participants up for the DJ industry so they can go out to a club or promoter and say: look I’ve got this mix, I’ve played at this night and been on this radio station. All opportunities they will have when we launch our Shifting Spheres extended DJ programme. This is how we want to be different – by helping people achieve industry skills, as well as increasing their confidence and making them feel comfortable sharing the music they love.
And just to add, we had our first taster workshop last in collaboration with Reform Radio. It was a celebration of International Woman’s Day, teaching women, non-binary and transgender DJ’s the basics of DJing whilst have the opportunity to play on industry standard kit. The response we had was amazing with people requesting one on one tutoring, lots of interest in the extended programme and surges of confidence when contrasting the beginning of the day with the end. We even ran over by two hours because everyone was enjoying mixing so much!
What motivated both you and Romy to start it?
I think a mixture of my own experiences and a noticeable lack of visibility for women, non-binary and transgender DJ’s within the dance music industry have motivated me to create Shifting Spheres. On a personal level, I started to learn to DJ at university and was the only female who regularly attended DJ lessons, highlighting the gender division which exists in the industry. I’ve also had occasions where bouncers don’t believe I’m the DJ, getting a startled ‘really’, and people coming up to me saying, you’re a lot better than I expected you to be. I think they were meant to be kind but it’s also pretty degrading. However, I think that while it took some time to build up my confidence, I’ve never let this deter me and I think it can feel quite empowering to be a woman playing among male dominated line-ups, as it motivates other women and minority groups to start DJing too. I’ve had a lot of positive interest from women after I finish my sets, coming up to me and saying they would love to try their hand at DJing and asking me how I got into it, something which also motivated me to create DJ workshops aimed at these groups.
Then whilst volunteering at Reform Radio in Manchester, a station which encourages young, creative, people to get involved with radio, I met Romy. Once we got talking we realised we had a very similar music taste, loving soulful and vocal driven house and Romy proposed the idea of the workshop, noticing that no other collectives were offering extended programmes in Manchester with industry entry opportunities. While we believe that the industry has gotten much much better in promoting women – for example festivals and events recently have boasted diverse line-ups and Mixmag’s top five DJ’s last year consisted of four women – there is still a lot to be done, especially in terms of transgender and non-binary. Even after our first taster workshop, we saw so much interest, evidently, we were helping to drive the scene, even if it is currently on a tiny scale (which we hope to make much bigger!)
Do you see a difference in the work created by female, trans or non binary DJs?
I personally think individually, no matter how you identify, everyone will have their own creative style, their own style of music and their own style of production. However, I think there is definitely a difference in branding and self-image. A lot of women, transgender and non-binary DJ’s, event company’s and collectives promote a hedonistic image. They want you to enjoy yourself, to express yourself however you want, dress how you want, play what you want. I think that’s what makes these groups so special, they provide spaces where you can be completely free, lose yourself in the music and get your groove on.
What else do you think should be happening in DJ spaces to be more accommodating for these groups?
I think more of what’s happening now, more DJ workshops aimed at these groups, more events and more exposure for these DJ’s. There are definitely many out there, it’s just about getting them known.
Any other plans for the future along these lines?
Our future plan is to create an extended DJ programme, where participants can record a mix, play live on radio shows and eventually play at a night. We want the visibility of these groups to increase so if anyone is interested please check out our page! We would also love to expand our collective to involve other DJ’s (as it’s currently only me and Romy) and my personal goals would be to expand to other cities, start putting on regular events and play out as much as possible in order to share the music I love with and get people up and dancing!
Check out Shifting Spheres on their Facebook page or look around in your local area to see if there are similar initiative you can support to get better visibility for female, non-binary, and transgender DJs.
For more inspiration on changing the face of music genres, check out our interview with Tiril Skardal, female death metal vocalist.
What’s your wavelength?