Women and trans DJs spin new beats
RACHEL CARLSON, BEAT REPORTER @rcarlson137
A growing community of women and trans folks is working to remix the local DJ scene.
Women DJs are a marginalized group, said Anastasia Chipelski, aka DJ Spinoline.
“When I thought about this subject too much, I got disheartened and quit music entirely for a while,” said Chipelski. “It’s like being a woman everyday, being in any marginalized position everyday — [is] a constant reminder of otherness.”
Internationally, men make up more than 80 per cent of club and festival performers, according to a 2015 survey overview from an international network of female artists in electronic and digital arts called female:pressure.
Lack of representation can be a challenge to entering the DJ profession, said Leigha Phelps, aka Lady LP.
“I think that we will connect to and feel welcomed when we see ourselves represented in a community,” said Phelps. “Whether you realize it or not if you only see men in a certain profession or a certain group or scene then you might think that it’s not for you.”
Phelps and Chipelski are among the first graduates of Mama Cutsworth’s DJ Academy.
— a homegrown initiative started by Sarah Michaelson (aka Mama Cutsworth) in 2012 to train women and trans folks in the art of DJing.
“I suppose there are other ways to come by the technical knowledge, but it combined both the basics of DJing with all of Sarah’s wisdom from actually doing the gigs for so long,” said Chilpeski. “It’s real-world training for real gigs, and more than anything, it gave me a tremendous boost of confidence.”
The academy provides a safe space for women to come together, share their passion and build community, said Phelps.
“I think that having the school and having Sarah and now a group of women in Winnipeg is giving space or giving a voice to recognize women love music and playing music and talking about music. And maybe they are more knowledgeable than people realize,” she said.
While the academy provides support and instruction, there wasn’t always enough space or equipment to practice, said Phelps.
“I felt really excited and really inspired,” she said. “But I remember dropping off one of the other DJs after class and both saying ‘great, now let’s play with some turntables for the next couple hours’ and feeling kind of frustrated that we didn’t have the capacity to do that.”
And thus Casual Friday was created.
Every first Friday at Army, Navy and Air Force (A.N.A.F.) Club, 60 out of the 65 graduates of the academy produce a show of rotating sets. That’s where DJs have a chance to practice their craft, said Chipelski.
“Recital nights and Casual Fridays are tons of fun,” said Phelps. “You’ve got all these women who are just playing their favourite music and are so excited. There’s such great energy in the room. Everybody in the crowd wants to support the people on stage and have fun.”
The sets won’t be boring or repetitive, said Phelps, because the DJs represent diverse populations and musical tastes.
“I think the academy and Casual Friday is doing a good thing to broaden what the DJ scene can look like,” she said. “In my class there was a woman who did all reggae, one women did bluegrass, one woman mixed in quotes from her favourite movies and my set is mostly 90s.”
“Being part of this academy was crucial in changing my perspective and flipping the script,” said Chipelski. “At Casual Friday, we aren’t a few anomalies in our field — the field is ours.”