Turning the Tables

Meet the Minneapolis DJ who might take the men's club out of clubland

"I mean, some of these situations in the scene are subject to my own interpretation, because I don't have female DJs to balance it out. I wish I did," she says. "I've met people who talk about women and music and the left brain and right brain, and how we hear and play and understand it differently than men. But who really knows. You know what I mean?"

Good question. And a hard one to answer as you evaluate a scene that is as male-dominated as any since heavy metal.

Yet the date is 1998, not 1975: The Robert Plant who preened on a Los Angeles hotel balcony, yelling "I'm a Golden God" through the sulfur and smog, has been replaced by, well, stars like Goldie, whose last jungle album featured an hour-long, womb-like groove meditation called "Mother."

"There is no rock-out-with-your-cock-out ethic to this scene," says one local expert. Yet, while the rave scene's "One Nation Under a Groove" party politics--which are sex- and queer-positive--and their androgynous fashions--"the baggy pants and baggy T-shirt"--create an unprecedented sense of openness among male and female clubbers, few women have tried to gain access to the means of production. No international dance-music stars are women. And while a feature story in Option and a Village Voice cover story have tried to make sense of the culture's apparent duplicity, few pundits really understand why it is the cocks still rule the roost.

"I don't know why women don't play records," Crouch says, sipping a Guinness at the Front's empty bar. "It is hard to get up there and perform, and so many women are afraid to be exposed like that. Because you know what kind of effect you're having, and you know how people hate it when the DJ blows it, and how people bitch. It isn't for lack of loving the music, it's for lack of confidence."

And it's because the fellas often hold (or is that dangle?) the keys to that washroom called street cred. Crouch recalls, with surprising fondness, the hours she spent with her old boyfriend Nate (DJ Baby Judy) flipping through flash cards he'd drawn up to help her learn the names of various dance-music record labels. "He'd point to one and I'd say, 'Oh, that's London/FFRR,' or whatever it was. That's how I learned which records to buy."

By all accounts, this is par for the course. Local "junglette" (her term) and pro-am party jock, Kenyeh Ganda (DJ Code Blue)--a member of the otherwise all-male Jungle Vibe Collective (see sidebar)--experienced an inversion of the same phenomenon. "I'd be in the [dance-music store] Bassment Records, mixing, and when people would come I'd stop, because I didn't want them saying, "Oh there's that raver girl Kenyeh, she wants to be a DJ.'" And while she loves the "boys" in JVC, Ganda has no problem tagging the scene "sexist."

Yet she considers her place in it with more nuance and ambiguity. "This isn't like sports where it's like, 'You're a girl, you can't play on our hockey team 'cause you suck.' But it's a double-edged sword. I know that I could get gigs because I'm a woman. I know it. I just choose to mix for myself. I don't have this incredible desire to get out there and play for people. To be honest, I'd rather be dancing in front of the turntables than behind them."

DJ Bionic, however, has that incredible desire--though she has also seen the double-edged sword cut into her paycheck. Last year when Crouch and Groove Garden impresario Jen Downham had a short falling out with the Front's ownership, the club immediately found two new women DJs, who appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, to fill the slot.

"There was a blonde and redhead," Crouch says. "I developed a hatred for these women. They got decked out, all go-go style and they rode in on Vespas wearing these matching outfits and boots, and they carried these little '60s-style record boxes, and it was all show. I went to watch them play and they sucked. They weren't mixing records. They just made me so angry, because here I was struggling to do this, trying to be a legitimate DJ. And that was when I noticed: Hey, it was the hip thing to have women playing records."

You'll never hear a hippie chick sound as pissed, or as determined. Sometimes a little professional envy is the first sign of a real professional.

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