Equaliser is a collective creating a more inclusive space for aspiring female, trans and non-binary DJs. Music Editor Meg Firth sits down with some of the girls behind the movement to talk about tackling the inequalities within the DJ sphere, diversifying the decks, and partying towards a safer and more welcoming clubbing scene.
Sheltering from a rainy Thursday night in The New Moorside Social Club, the Equaliser girls and I huddle around a table. From the very beginning, the conversation is empowering; each woman at the table passionately talks about the DJ scene with inspiring insight and knowledge that I just wanted to absorb, encapsulating how DJing isn’t reserved only for cis white boys.
To prove there’s no shortage of women and queer people who have the potential to master the decks, Equaliser supply monthly DJ workshops, transferring their vast knowledge and experience through working with projects such as Brotherhood, Love Muscle, Speed Queen, KMAH Radio and Brudenell Groove. “It’s clear that a lot of the barriers in the way of females and trans people in the amateur DJ scene is to do with confidence,” says Brotherhood DJ Tami Pein, “So what Equaliser does is promote confidence essential for change.” Equaliser manager, Lucy Scarisbrick, adds, “We’re creating a free knowledge transfer from women to women, so hopefully in the future there will be cohorts of women who know how to DJ and can pass that on to other women in the same way that men already have that privilege.”
“It’s not like ‘men should be quiet it’s women’s time for music’, it’s just about equality and respect.” clarifies Brudenell Groove resident, Ranyue Zhang. ‘We’re just sick and tired of boys hovering around a girl while they DJ as if it’s the most difficult thing in the world when it’s not,” Katrina laughs. “Anyone can learn how to DJ! No one has claim over the decks.” We’ve all seen that protective sphere of boys around the decks at a party. Having the confidence to insert yourself within that seemingly unbreakable ring seems impossible, especially when convention stereotypes DJing exclusively as a ‘male’ activity. “Equaliser is about that inclusiveness that you don’t always find in other places.” expresses Raeanne Lawrence. “You don’t have to have this huge record collection or know how to mix, you can just enjoy going to a good night.”
“The thing about Leeds is that I wouldn’t feel confident doing this anywhere else,”
Equaliser is a spark amongst many, with numerous DIY movements all over the UK and world showcasing and celebrating female, POC and LGBTQ+ DJs. Collectives such as London party crew SIREN, NYC’s Discwoman, SISTER Worldwide and Copenhagen’s Apeiron Crew, to name a few, all grew from female drive and passion for inclusivity, and Leeds seems as good a place as any to add another spark to the fire. “The thing about Leeds is that I wouldn’t feel confident doing this anywhere else,” KMAH frequent, Charlotte Bozley, tells me. “There’s much more of a network; you see the same people at the same nights all the time so if you’re interested in something someone else is doing and you’ve been to their party you can just go and talk to them and get involved.” Everyone at Equaliser is involved in other projects across Leeds, “we sort of take all the best bits and most comfortable bits of those experiences and we try to curate it together,” says DJ Zoya Ahmed. “One of the best parts about the first Equaliser party was just looking around the room and seeing the different pieces of everyone in it and realising how it was such a collaborative thing. It’s our individual messages from our individual things but they’re united as one and it’s way more powerful.”
Equaliser, however, isn’t just a contained spark. Despite being early days, the potential influence it has across Leeds nightlife feels revolutionary, as it sparks conversation on how to make spaces feel more inclusive, safe and welcoming. “Brudenell Groove at Wire is another thing most of us are involved with [the Equaliser party] spurred us on to talk to Wire about making the club better for women and marginalised people,” mentions Charlotte. “It would be nice to get to a point where we didn’t need to have the conversation anymore. There’s always the feeling in the back of your mind like ‘do they really like my music or are they just trying to get a woman on the lineup to check it off?’”
It’s clear that Equaliser is more than just a party and workshop. The ethos behind it is essential in stirring new thoughts and trying to pioneer new ways of thinking about inclusivity, bringing to the surface what it means to share a space and making people feel truly part of it. “We want to make people feel like they belong in a space,” says Zoya. “The girls from our first workshop were saying how they wanted to set up a group together, and they’d never even met before. You could see in their eyes how excited they were about it too. Two of the girls were saying how they’d never even touched a record before and felt intimidated by it, but then they had so much fun just having a play! It’s just about playing.”
“There’s a lot of work to do around breaking the rhetoric that DJing is this mystical magical thing that’s only reserved for those who have and excellent record collection and 100% technical proficiency, which is absolutely not the case,” reassures Lucy, in response to heightened expectations and pressure placed on a woman when they step up to the decks; “If you make a mistake as a woman there’s a bit of internalised misogyny going on as well because you can think ‘oh my god I’m living up to the cliché that women can’t DJ’ just after one mistake.”
“Equaliser is definitely creative social activism at its finest.”
So what are Equaliser’s ultimate aspirations? “We want to have an even ratio of people from all walks of life, to the point that it represents British society and who all of us are. We’re all from different cultures and backgrounds but it just isn’t represented within the club scene.” passionately states Rae. “At the heart of it, there’s reassurance and empowerment; ‘We’re here, and there’s more of us.’” Katrina assures me. ‘We want to give people a voice through our platform just so they know that you can be a vulnerable person and be scared but there’s so many more people like you out there.”
In an industry where there are people who don’t encourage – and even actively discourage – women pursuing DJing for a living, exclusive female-identifying projects such as Equaliser carry massive significance. As Tami eloquently puts, “Equaliser is definitely creative social activism at its finest”.