With the steady flow of hype over male DJs that inundates magazines, airwaves, and record store shelves, the women who are the backbone of BPM culture are often overshadowed by the fluff and puff of lesser club chick-type DJs who get gigs just because they’re hot in that mall trash, fake boobie kinda way. But what else is new? We can think of dozens of pop, hip hop, rock, and R&B acts that fit the description. Still, real talent translates to staying power for those who are patient enough to cultivate it. Don’t hate them because they’re beautiful — Detroit’s finer female DJs have plenty going on upstairs and on the decks.
Recently, a few area females have made big strides on the international stage. Kelli Hand has been touring worldwide for several years now. Minx was just signed to Richie Hawtin’s Minus label while her own Women on Wax label is putting out hot records. Minx’s A Walk In The Park EP is coming out on Minus in late May with remixes by Matthew Dear and Magda — a highly anticipated release, one bridging stylistic and generational territory within Detroit techno. The record is sticky hot and raises the bar greatly for what people can expect from Detroit’s female producers.
Speaking of Magda, she’s hitting big since moving to Berlin last year, sometimes playing in front of a few thousand people. Magda’s also working on new material that should be released by the year’s end.
As the saying goes, “you gotta ho up or blow up; mildew or barbeque.” It’s pretty clear what Detroit’s female DJs and producers are gonna do. They’re as comfortable in the spotlight as they are in the underground. So expect more blowing up from the ladies this year — and probably some damn good barbeques this summer as well.
Recently, Metro Times caught up with a select few of Detroit female DJs to get some answers as to why their milkshakes are better than yours.
Anyone who’s been to one of Jan D’s (aka Jan Dijkers) Flow nights at Foran’s Irish Pub knows that she’s not only a badass DJ, but committed to showcasing distaff talent on its own terms. A monthly, all female DJ/artist night born from a wonderfully cheap menstruation pun, Flow — which ceased being, um, regular after last month’s installment — has always been packed with sauced, beaming faces. Now that it’s been a year and Flow has become a brand of sorts, Jan is pulling the plug for a minute before the concept gets, ahem, cramped.
Meanwhile, Jan’s just begun to play around with some new software on her laptop with the goal of putting out records as soon as possible. She thinks that women need to be more heavily involved in production rather than just DJing because, as she says, “it all seems too easy now” and there isn’t much promotional backbone for DJs who don’t have records out.
“I remember after the first gig I ever played, Minx played as well,” says Jan. “She’s probably the most prominent [female] DJ, besides Kelli Hand, to come out of Detroit. She came up to me, put her arm around me, gave me her card and said, ‘If you need to call me for anything, please do.’ She definitely offered the support I needed [to do things] in Detroit.”
With Flow, Jan’s offered up some of that same support and exposure to female DJs and visual artists trying to get noticed in the Boy’s Club that often is Detroit. Similar organizations have put a spotlight on female talent, but occasionally to the detriment of their own goals, making it seem like women DJs want or need special treatment.
“On a national and international level, there are a lot of organizations that try to create the same thing with women, like Sister SF out of San Francisco or Female Pressure. I don’t think that those organizations necessarily do anything to benefit or further, I guess, the, um, ‘women’s movement’ among [DJs] (laughs).
“I’ve always felt that if you’re a female DJ, you’re going to be under so much more scrutiny that you have to be good. You’re one of the few, and you’re going to stand out. There’s, like, three hundred guy DJs — some are good and some of them are bad. Meanwhile, there’s, like, five women DJs and you really know who’s good and who’s hype.”
When asked about whether she feels women are hindered at the underground level, Jan’s answer is an unequivocal “no.”
“[Women] have access to get big and even bigger because the market is so saturated with men. The only thing that really would be holding them back is the fact that they don’t think they can do it because they’re women.”
Expect serious electro cuts mixed with melody-driven techno and broken beat.
The female hip-hop DJ just might be the rarest of the species. Having moved from St. Louis to Detroit last June, Agile 1 may very well be the top female hip-hop DJ in Detroit right now. And that’s not because there isn’t a lot of competition — she’s damn good, often cutting up doubles of her favorite tracks, and dropping the jaws of onlookers. During Agile 1’s debut Flow performance, she even received a couple of marriage proposals from strangers. But, regardless, the bottom line is this: Agile can hold it down with any male hip-hop DJ in the city — and in Detroit, that means something.
Currently, she’s getting her master’s at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and is student teaching at Mumford High in Detroit. The kids don’t necessarily know who they’re dealing with as they’ve never seen her DJ — they’re too young to get into the club — but it’s easy to see that her drive for hip hop stems from the same place that’s kept her in school to be a teacher. There’s something deeply political about the way she lives her life.
“The reason I got into hip hop and became so passionate about it," she insists, "is because of the message of social justice behind it. Basically, I feel like there’s a lot of kids in the city schools who don’t get the chance to think critically.
“All you get on MTV and on the radio is ass and material things,” she adds. “Some of the kids just buy into that without really thinking about it. I’ll play Neptunes and Jay-Z, but I’ll go back to Das EFX or A Tribe Called Quest. There’s so much diversity within hip hop. I just play what I feel. I like songs on the radio, but I pay attention to the lyrical content.”
Korie is one of the Detroit’s finest deep house DJs because she goes far beyond the wailing diva tracks and praise music that’s often associated with the velvety side of house. If you really want to get to know her, having a martini with her and her sister after a hard day’s work is a good start. Korie turns up the Bob Marley, gets down to some Rasta business, and gets totally, brutally real with it.
“Our family listened to everything,” she says. “We were listening to the Rolling Stones, because it felt a certain way (starts snapping and humming the melody to ‘Miss You’). It was universal. We were listening to everything — Depeche Mode, New Order, whatever — because it had a certain feel to it. It fit within a certain spirit of the time. During the ’80s, it was so much about freedom in music. Across the board, it was just music.”
“My perspective is different,” she continues. “I’m not a native Detroiter. I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin — I came here at 5 years old. But I moved to Chicago when I was 10. So I’m 10 years old, in Chicago, and it’s 1984. Frankie Knuckles and Ron Hardy are playing. I remember hearing ‘Gotta Have House,’ by Marshall Jefferson at 13 years old — hot off the presses — and playing it over and over and over in the backyard. I’ve been admiring this music all my life.”
There’s no doubt that Korie takes being a music lover — and especially a black music lover — living in the city of Detroit very seriously. She and her sister are rooted in the living history of this town. She’s agitated by the bling-bling attitude that’s crept into Detroit’s music culture, but she sees that tide turning soon and is confident what a DJ can do to help make that happen.
“We’re Chocolate City,” she exclaims, “and if we’re Chocolate City, then live up to that shit. Don’t back down from it and be lazy-ass, non-intellectual motherfuckers. Let’s work this shit out. Period. I think whenever we can get these people to step out of their spots, of working 9 to 5, we become different entities. How about, ‘It’s Friday, the week is over. Let me put on my jeans and my gym shoes, and my shit, and let’s go out. Let’s dance the shit off!’ The DJ is trying to get to us, because she’s probably having the same kind of week that we have.”
Once … just once, I’d like to see a white, male, minimal techno DJ go off like Korie in an interview. I won’t hold my breath.
Agile 1 and Korie will perform on Thursday, March 4, at Mephistos (2764 Florian, Hamtramck, 313-875-3627) with Genesis and Linda Carter. Jan D. will be at Mephistos on Friday, March 5, with Orlando Vroom, Keith Kemp, Ryan Elliot and Todd Osborn.Robert Gorell writes about electronic music for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org