Words By Joana Silva
Let’s be honest: in the noughties, the term ‘DJ’ had some people picturing a middle-aged man with a receding hairline. He hauls his Ford Fiesta from Sweet 16s to wedding receptions, pleading with you to make it on to a dancefloor he’s flooded with every hit from ‘Amarillo’ to ‘Dancing Queen’. Decades before that, you’d probably picture a New York or Los Angeles native, dragging crates of the latest vinyl records from gig to gig and spending endless hours perfecting his scratch. But it’s 2020; we’re in the middle of a global pandemic and what I hope is a civil rights movement that will shift the world as we know it.
What I picture when I think of a DJ couldn’t be further from the two stereotypes depicted. There is an energy, a force, a movement, emerging from communities across the UK and one which threatens to change the face of both community and commercial radio for the foreseeable future. A movement of female DJs is forming an uprising and slowly occupying spaces in what is a typically male-dominated industry and I have the privilege of documenting it.
Firstly, it’s important to note that the concept of a female DJ is not a new one. Annie Nightingale was hired as Radio 1’s first female DJ in 1970 and has since racked up over four decades at the station – not to mention an MBE for services to broadcasting. This is an impressive feat given that radio scheduling seems to be relentless in its search for the next, new thing and therefore, at times, unforgiving to incumbent talent. Prior to that, Bronx-veteran Wanda Dee can also be credited with tearing down hurdles for generations of women to come. Taken under the wing of Afrika Bambaataa, she is credited as being the first female DJ in hip hop. In fact, KLF and Wanda Dee have dominated stages across the world with raw talent and sex appeal – chinchilla coat included. Going platinum in 77 countries is an accolade any artist, irrespective of genre or gender, would aspire to tally up.
The aim of this series is to celebrate the females making money moves in what can sometimes be a thankless industry. These are the trailblazers in the scene and attention must be paid. With each set, each mix and each radio show, they are chipping away at over seventy years of patriarchy.