Women in dubstep

From Mary Anne Hobbs to Sarah Souljah, Kate Hutchinson finds that women are coming into their own in the world of dubstep

  • Women in dubstep

    Look, we're really girls! A mixed crowd on the dubstep dancefloor (© Georgina Cook)

  • These days, dubstep is as commonplace in clubs as the post-smoking ban pit-pong. It’s still wobbling out of south London basements, but Meltdown’s Dubstep Chronicles event on June 17, which pulls together the scene’s main players for the Southbank Centre’s young professional bohos, proves that it can only get trendier. Noticeably, however, there’s not a sniff of oestrogen between the big guns (Kode 9, Mala, DJ Pinch) on beastie bills like this.

    Women are hugely influential in Berlin’s techno scene, and there’s a plethora of female vocalists/MCs within dubstep and tough electronic music scenes, so why are female DJs and producers so invisible in the dubstep and grime scenes? Even queen bee, Radio One’s Mary Anne Hobbs (arguably the only well-known female DJ outside of dubstep’s inner circle) hasn’t included any lady beats on ‘Evangeline’, the follow-up to her now-legendary ‘Dubstep Warz’ compilation.

    But Hobbs, who first broke the sound on mainstream radio, disagrees that dubstep is an impenetrable ‘boy’s club’, especially punter-wise. ‘In the past two years many more women have been attracted by the sound and feel much more comfortable in the environment – they know they’re not going to go to dubstep raves and get bothered,’ she explains. ‘Grime and drum ’n’ bass raves tend to be quite aggy. People in dubstep clubs tend to have a more meditative approach, which is inviting to females. You see the female-to-male ratio constantly going up – it’s got the potential to be 40:60.’

    She checks London producer Subeena, who is ‘coming on in quantum leaps’, and co-runs the Immigrant label with Dot, as a lady to pay attention to. In addition, there’s the ‘very unusual, very beautiful’ sounds of hardcore rock-influenced Ikonika, signed to Kode 9’s label Hyperdub and whose track ‘Please’ was included on Soul Jazz’s ‘Steppas’ Delight' compilation (put together by writer Emma Warren) this year. ‘They’ll probably be ready quite soon,’ says Hobbs, contemplating when to unleash their feminine wiles on the airwaves, ‘but to have booked them early on the basis of their gender would be doing them a disservice. It’s much better to allow people to cut their teeth in a less pressurised environment first before they stand up against the cream of the world’s electronic music.’

    Hobbs also nods to the US scene, where Hot Flush’s Vaccine is based. She’s widely recognised as the first female dubstep producer – she’s already done an exclusive mix for Hobbs’s show.

    Women do play instrumental roles in dubstep, but mostly it’s behind the scenes. Pioneering night FWD>> (and its spin-off label, Tempa) is hugely important to dubstep producers. It’s masterminded by Sarah Souljah, without whom, reckons Hobbs, there would be no dubstep scene.
    Furthermore, dubstep club Drumz of the South at Plan B in Brixton (next on July 11) is run by photographer and blogger Georgina Cook, and writer Melissa Bradshaw is the gal behind the word-of-mouth House Party raves. In Shoreditch the all-girl drum ’n’ bass and dubstep session Feline, which began as a backlash against the ‘raw deal’ that female DJs received in drum ’n’ bass, returns to Herbal on June 13. Stateside, DJ Kozee, another female dubstep DJ of note, runs Makeout Sessions with her girly mates in San Francisco.

    These women all agree that the scene operates on a level playing field between the sexes. Ikonika and Subeena are adamant that there aren’t divisions between people within dubstep, which makes the relative lack of female producers up to now more perplexing.

    They add that producers aren’t judged on gender, or even genre. It’s an approach Hobbs has taken on ‘Evangeline’ as it seamlessly links the finest in underground dubstep, grime, shadowy electronica and elemental beats. It’s disappointing that girls lag behind in the controls department and are still in support slots on big urban bills, but as dubstep blossoms (it’s still a relatively young genre) perhaps this will be the genre through which females radically change their allotted role in beat making.

    ‘Evangeline’ (Planet Mu) is released on Jun 16. Feline is at Herbal on Jun 13. FWD>> is at Plastic People on Jun 15. Dubstep Chronicles is at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Jun 17.

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