Is Dance Music Sexist? And Whatever Happened To Rave Utopia?

Is dance music sexist?

That’s the focus of a multi-website discussion that’s erupted in the last few days, with some writers lamenting the state of electronic dance music and it’s frequent focus on sex and, at least according to some, misogynistic views of women.

The Quietus’s Angus Finlayson writes:

Throughout the heydays of disco, house and techno, clubs were places where working class, gay and ethnic minority groups could enjoy a freedom of expression denied to them in the ‘outside’ world.

The political value of the dancefloor was in the construction of a social space where the rigid divisions of dominant culture ceased to apply. Gender, sexuality, race – they were irrelevant when subjected to the carnival of sound, light and substances.

Finlayson goes on to argue that those egalitarian days are gone, asking “What ever happened to rave utopia?”:

It’s fairly common these days to see images of conventionally attractive women being used to promote music from a scene which is supposedly mistrustful of ‘image’.

This is soft porn with a sheen of arty respectability…..

Finlayson goes on to note that, out of DJ Mag’s Top 100 DJ List for 2011, 0 out of the 100 were women.

Is dance music becoming more and more sexist?

If you judged the  dance music scene based on the intentionally provocative music video for Satisfaction, by Benny Benassi, or by the number of women on the 100 DJ list, it would be easy to come to that conclusion.

But nothing is quite that pat.

Dance music of the past was never as utopian as we might remember. For every dance music classic, like Giorgio Moroder + Donna Summer’s transcendent I Feel Love, there’s a fauxgasmic Love To Love You, Baby.

And, while men may top the DJ list, popular dance music is largely dominated by female artists.

When people like Finlayson wonder what happened to the rave utopia – the answer is that it’s still there – in their imagination.

Is dance music sexist? Leave a comment and let us know what you think!

via mixmag

52 thoughts on “Is Dance Music Sexist? And Whatever Happened To Rave Utopia?

  1. sex sells, producers need to make money, preferably quick. Voila!
    I don’t think the public is particularly looking for it, I think it is the producers that think it will either sell or draw attention. It is harder to come up with something mindblowingly creative – that sells – than to put a pair of knockers on you lcd…

  2. So we’re going to judge all electronic music by a single mediocre electro-house song that came out years ago? Then I guess that means we’ll have to judge all hip-hop music by Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby”. Or all pop music by Lady GaGa’s latest artistic turd.

  3. I think it’s racist as well as sexist. I always find it so repulsive how male, ‘urban’ (code for ‘black’) voices are used in mind-numblingly robotic dubs, lines like “Techno, techno, techno, techno,techno, techno, techno, techno.” etc.
    It’s ugly when ‘music’ perpetuates degrading, dehumanizing stereotypes. The depressing fact is that dance ‘music’ is mostly NON-ARTISTIC but rather, part of the problem.

  4. I know lots of men who make electronic music and a number of women who do as well. It seems to be male dominated in practice from what I see. Still, there are lots female producers… Can someone name some really good female dance music producers? I cant at the moment… I’m not biased im just ignorant. Can someone offer some suggested listening?

    1. exactly. i think if a female producer was even slightly good, she would get a bit more attention because of the fact that sex does sell and managers would play that to their advantage. it just seems like it’s a male dominated subject.

      to be honest, the only female producer i can think of is ida engberg, and she’s awesome.

      1. Pursuit Grooves is amazing. She has a recent release on Tectonic. If you like the stuff Benji B and Gilles Peterson spin, you’ll enjoy.

  5. what ever happened to free sex, free cocaine and Studio 54? It is cute to rewrite history but dance and disco music was ALWAYS about getting laid OR to give the illusion you’ll get lucky later… Sorry folks but sex is part of the dance genre’s DNA.
    There nothing wrong enjoying a glass of wine while listening to a classic JMJ album, but when you drop massive amount of soapy foam on the dance floor in ibiza http://youtu.be/g51ZG83fyqc what do you think the message is? Plz respect my female and male form or i will sue you for sexual harassment?
    do we get bored and old so we need to ask those type of stupid questions? Why do you think the 909 kick is soooo popular when you feel it on your chest? When you feel the infra bass caressing your legs while looking deep in the eyes of that girl covered with foam in front of you?

    “Finlayson goes on to argue that those egalitarian days are gone” .. what egalitarian days?? do you know how much money you had to spend to sniff coke out of a girl’s navel back then? yeah a buckload of $$$ How about even getting in the club??? If the dude at the door did not like you no amount of knee pads in the world would help you….

    Let us stop ANALyzing everything that was fun for some people. I was too young for the 70s or the 80s, but i don’t see the need to see everything to the prism of #ReOccupyDisco….

    1. I’ve been around for awhile. Pop music, including Dance, is about sex and sexual feelings. Heartbreak, love, joy, and nooky. My mother remembers being a teenager in the 50’s when Elvis hit. Or how about Jerry Lee Lewis “great balls of fire”. I remember the Donna Summer piece.

      I worked dance clubs from the 70’s through the 90’s. Sex was on everyone’s mind. I don’t think much has changed.

      Cheers, Davdi

  6. of course not…

    how can music be sexist ? music is not a human being that can be think and be sexist.

    the problem relies in our culture, values, socio economic system and so on…

    the question is wrong….

  7. I have to say recently i’ve noticed a shift with this site from mostly reporting interesting news on synthesisers and articles which hold interest to producers and engineers – to banal opinion articles, ‘have your say’ pieces or irrelevant tabloid news.

    It’s starting to read more like someone’s facebook wall than a serious blog, and if that’s the general direction you want to take (more hits? advertising opportunities?) then best of luck to you, but i’ll read another site.

    1. I don’t have a problem with Synthtopia not just being product posts. I actually like the fact that James is interested in cultivating conversations around the subjects of electronic music and electronic instruments. If there’s a topic I don’t want to converse about, I just don’t comment – there are still plenty of gear-related posts.

      1. John

        Thanks for all the feedback.

        We try to look beyond the idea that synthesis = what old analog synths do.

        Whenever posts stray to far from that, I know that it’s going to turn some readers off.

        But ‘synthesis’ means combining things to create something new. Combining news sounds, combining technologies and combining ideas to create something new.

        Doing that is uncomfortable and off-putting sometimes, but as a community of synthesists, its something that we have to embrace.

  8. “Is dance music becoming more and more sexist?”
    Goodness, I hope so – there’s precious little else to commend it these days. Meanwhile, a warning – those women have absolutely no idea how to handle power tools correctly. Heaven only knows who trained them. Two of them are about to bust their bits (drill, I mean) and one is going to get awful burrs on the edges of the wood she’s sanding.

  9. Wow, really! Are we meeting at the doc’s later? The truth is human sexuality is pretty simply and pathetic, let’s be honest. Most club music is sexual in nature, throbbing bass, repetitive beats and flowie synth lines. Putting a suggestive pic of a girl on a cover of a cd is hardly offensive, it’s more there to encourage a male to subconciously accept the sexual music inside and that it’s ok to like house, or any other sexually charged music and still be a guy…: ) anyways, every other form of music treats women in a for more aggressive and negative light, metal, hiphop, hell even opera and country. The grey of all this is that men and women both find images of attractive women appealing, unless they think the girl looks like a slag…:). Ugly people are so judgmental…where’s the equality!!!…anyways! I figured most of us here make music for others to dance too, and probable would rather leave the politicia to the clubbers

  10. The article seems very shallow and on the sensationalist side IMO.

    Seriously? When has the music industry not been sexist? Hip Hop? Nah. Grunge? Nope. Alternative and New Wave? Maybe less so … Classic Rock? HELL no! Jazz? Classical? Maybe I’m overlooking something obvious, but especially since the advent of the recording industry, it seems that sexist, misogynistic themes have been prevalent or even popular, and while it may be because I’m partial to the genres, electronic music has seemed to be less so.

    I recently spent 3 days at MoogFest. The crowd had a very accepting, loving vibe, not unlike the “rave nostalgia” of the article. It also seemed that the number of female artists (especially synth players) is definitely on the increase – a VERY positive trend IMO. I don’t think that the “love” vibe of raves are gone (any more than raves themselves are), though there’s certainly some tracks / bands out there who are using edgy elements of shock value as hooks (it’s a time-tested sales method, right?).

    But hey, we vote with our dollars, so if sexist themes (or any other theme for that matter) are something you’re opposed to, don’t buy the music / don’t support the artist. If you come across a worthwhile new producer / artist – support and promote them. More than ever before, each of us has the ability to give a producer / artist exposure. I don’t buy that any “utopia” has ended (not sure I buy that it ever fully existed either) or most “these kids today ….” or “back in the day” themes in general.

    During the Q&A at Brian Eno’s “Illustrated Talk” lecture at MoogFest, an attendee asked him about what he thought about the state of the music industry, new bands, new music, etc.. The room felt as though it was ready for a scathing response from Eno, but he said something like “I think there’s more great music happening today than ever before.” While not exactly pertaining to this specific topic, I think the overall sentiment applies.

  11. I wonder how many of the comments above dismissing the idea that dance music is sexist and misogynistic are made by men who make dance music……

    Yes, sexism has always existed in all forms of music and art, but if you actually read Angus Finlayson’s article, he’s making the point that there was a time (maybe when a lot of you were in diapers) when dance music culture was challenging the idea of go-go dancers in clubs, and was actually building a creative community that celebrated talent and originality, not crass lowest-common-denominator marketing.

    We know that sex sells. Personally I love a bit of glamour and i’m all in favour of sexy music. Sex should, and will always have a place in music. But on equal terms, by choice and for all sexual preferences.

    It’s a shame that so many (male) dance music producers [and judging by the responses on here, Synthtopia contributors] seem to feel the need to use such a hackneyed, juvenile and predictable method of selling their wares rather than making really great original music that stands up for itself. Says a lot about the state of dance music doesn’t it.

    1. I don’t think that most electronic music producers are using this approach. If I think over the best electronic music I own, there’s very little of this sort of approach at all. In fact, thinking over most of the charts or best-of lists I’ve seen, I don’t think there’s much of this approach there either.

  12. In terms of producers, I think that there isn’t many females out there in the spotlight because at the end of the day there aren’t many female producers. If a producer puts a good track out there, I’ll listen to it, regardless if the producer has boobs or an adam’s apple. Same goes for djs, if someone spins a good set I’ll pay to go see it. I don’t care about the gender of the person behind the music or the decks.

    I’m there for the music, not the person playing it. At the end of the day, the gender of the person who’s playing it or producing it isn’t relative at all. Seriously.

    1. Yes – women are all over the place in electronic music.

      So when I see the top 100 dj list I’m wondering where the ladies at.

  13. The only reasons people have fond memories of those days are a) they were high; or b) they don’t listen to the crap old music and have forgotten about it

  14. Finlayson has a point that dance clubs created special spaces for a while. Check out the Flashdance movie!

    One point is missed:
    Many people think that the special spaces they had the pleasure to know are revolutionary in a profound way. Sadly not. They are overwhelming and positive and formative for those who are there at the time, but these are interpersonal / communal experiences, not social movements. When these individuals grow up and move on, the movement dissolves and very little remains besides fond memories.

    Partly, this happens time and again: people create culture, business capitalizes on culture.
    At the same time, dance music (whatever that is – most rock is dance music) was and is commercially operated culture, it’s tied to specialized hardware and special distribution channels. Discos were owned by music companies to help sell company music, many artists are also the meat aspect of some garment brand.

    Re the sexism, dance is similar to other technology-driven resource-expensive culture: It shows the general social structure in extreme form. Women have a subordinate position, so are excluded from decision-making positions in many fields, and generally are pushed into lower-paid casual jobs. Artists, not executives. Finlayson is deluded if he thinks gender or race ever was “irrelevant”

    1. Since when were social movements anything other than interpersonal and communal experiences? that’s what happens in a social movement – people have communal feelings that they want to act/support/follow/reject certain things because they collectively come to realise the truth (or at least their subjective truth) about something – witness the Occupy Movement as an example of that in action. I know this, not because i have a degree in sociology or because i once read some Noam Chomsky but because i’ve had the privilege of being part of a few social movements / communal experiences in my life.

      You’re right that the music business is just that – a business – that exploits and uses people by whatever means necessary to turn a profit. Doesn’t make it legitimate or right to do it though does it? Maybe if you are a slave to capitalism and you’re in music because you want it to make you rich (more fool you!) then i guess it does.

      It’s also true that there’s never really been a halcyon period where there wasn’t misogyny, racism and bigotry in music, in the same way as there hasn’t in society either. In some ways, we’re far more enlightened now than ever before and we should remember than there were some genuine bad old days. But in some ways we’re taking some massive steps backwards too and this thread confirms it – musicians – creative people – should be progressive, forward thinking, observant, open minded, and questioning. Saying “Well this is the way it is, it just is, get over it” is either defeatist (if you feel that things shouldn’t be like that) or placid acceptance. It’s how we got into the sorry state the world is in right now. It’s how we got into two world wars in the last century. It’s what tyrants, dictators and megalomaniacs rely on.

      I’m not equating a hot chick on a CD cover with Hitler, but the ignorance, casual (or worse – sneering) misogyny shown by some poster’s responses on here, together with the faux-intellectual justifications for using gratuitous tits and ass to sell crappy dance music by some others, shows a worrying trend of conservative, reactionary chauvanism and bigotry that totally validates Finlayson’s point.

      No wonder a lot of dance music is shit.

      1. We’re mostly in such happy agreement.
        Social movements must rise beyond the “interpersonal / communal” if they are to reflect or effect deeper-going change.

        Disco has gone through both progressive and reactionary phases.
        It indeed was an outlet for gays and an expression of black culture in US, but check out the Disco Demolition Night (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disco_Demolition_Night) backlash.
        After this it returns in perhaps less liberating, more consumerist form (Eurodisco).

        I console myself against bad disco by keeping in mind that it has a necessary and useful function to mask out city noises in the workplace.

  15. if it is then it’s simply moving lock & step with the rest of the music industry. Look at every genre out there and it’s dominated by overly sex-fueled attitudes and looks. From the rise of Gaga to the state of rap today to the overly fashioned and propped up indie rock scene. It’s all about being manufactured in some way and most of the time it has something to do with sex… Sorry but this is the age we currently have built to. Although in any time one ALWAYS have to dig to find the really great stuff and I will say there’s always great stuff in almost any genre, usually anyways.

  16. The argument about female DJs not existing in the top 100 list is a bit tired. Female DJs are a dime a dozen in 2011, but only a small percentage of them actually make tracks. The DJs in the top 100 list are mostly top producers as well. Even though i’m not into electro and progressive house, I respect hard working producers. To the women complaining about the list: quit whining and get in the studio already!

  17. Oh, and another comment – it isn’t just women whose sex appeal gets used to market music. If it were, Tiger Beat magazine would have never existed.

  18. In my opinion, dance music, and all types of music, is what you make it. For example, I personally don’t enjoy the sexual overtones of Benny Benassi, so I don’t listen to him. I like electronic/dance music as a form of experimentation with synthesis and genre-mashing, so I listen to artists that do that.

    Plenty of people listen to punk music without buying into drugs, sex and anarchy. The same goes for dance music. If you want a rave-utopia, make your own utopia and don’t let songs, artists or scenes that don’t share your view of the music get you down.

  19. Sex is mostly the only thing “the music industry” is about! Do you think Justin Beiber and all those boy bands are there because of their amazing voices and songwriting capabilities? Hardly… its just as “sexists” as anything else, but we call it “targeted marketing to young women” and it becomes ok. 🙂

    Vampire novels are the new James Dean bad boy, walk into any mall and it’s full of stores for women, watch any TV commercial and it’s almost surely targeted directly at women, and the list goes on and on and on. Women are so marketed at and catered to in the modern western world that it’s staggering. So if a few of those women want to pay the rent and buy a new SUV by dancing on a video with very little on, good for them. “Sexism” is telling a woman to “get back in the kitchen where they belong”. Dance music is nowhere near that. (ok, but often rap is!)

    Oh, and the early rave scene was fun as hell, but it wasn’t some magical utopia. It was mostly illegal gatherings of underage people doing massive amounts of drugs while techno played. Why expect anything different now?

    1. Dance music is a sausage fest, and probably for all the above mentioned reasons, but there is an elephant in the room that no one talks about. DJing is an ADDICTION (like most of music performance). DJs and producers alike are over idealized as some kind of God. It actually takes an especially strong person to see it for what it is. At best, you make something nice that everyone enjoys, but you are not the next messiah. Sounds kind of obvious when written like this but there are a lot of people infatuated with all that attention. And, like all addictions, people will behave selfishly, underhandedly, and in every way they know how to have their fix. All the while telling themselves they are doing wonderful things for the world.
      Sadly, the bias is not just the fault of men. There are lots of women who are using their sexuality to get themselves where they want to go. Plenty of women do a great job at perpetuating the stereotype.
      I do not believe anything can change until we re evaluate this whole overrated hype that goes around being a dj. Apart from a head for some good music and a little patience, little else is required.
      So perhaps we should give the credit when the credit is due, and then we may see some more quality music, from (hopefully) both women and men.

  20. Dance music is not sexist, it has never been sexist, it is a liberating as a breath of fresh air to a convict. A look into the history of dance music will show just how empowering it really was for women. Club culture got women out of the house and onto the floor. But what is most important is that women really enjoy dancing it leaves them with a sense of liberation and energy in the same fashion that men might get from a good work out or jamming out.
    Where we see sexism is in the commercialization and exploitation of the dance music scene, all the cheese and the bikini dj’s thats just to sell records, admissions, gear, liquor face it sex sells, and as long as pop culture will accept that brand of marketing it will always be around.

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