In The Middle had the pleasure of chatting with Ranyue Zhang, the founder of Equaliser: the DJ party collective which promotes non-cis male DJs and diversifying the decks.
On a crisp October day, I had the pleasure of meeting up with Equaliser founder and Brudenell Groove resident, Ranyue Zhang. Equaliser is a Leeds-based DJ collective that aims to nurture and promote the talent of cis-women, trans women, non-binary and trans people. With the mission statement ‘party for equality, party for everyone’, Equaliser is one of many non-cis male collectives making a huge impact on bringing about gender equality in the electronic music scene. After their first birthday in September, Ranyue and I had a discussion about Equaliser’s year, what’s in store for the future, and whether or not tokenism is always a bad thing.
Over the past year, Equaliser has gathered a huge following on social media, representing the wider acknowledgement that there is a need for a movement such as this one. The members of Equaliser pass on their valuable knowledge and experience by providing monthly workshops that all non-cis males can attend, and which help amateur DJs to get the confidence they need to just go for it.
“Equaliser is important,” Ranyue explains, “you can develop and learn from each other.”
I ask Ranyue at what point she felt that a collective like Equaliser was needed in the Leeds scene. As a member of Brudenell Groove, although she is constantly surrounded by talented DJs, they are almost exclusively cis-males. She strongly feels that there are many female DJs who are just as talented but simply don’t have the chance to show it, and so wants to give all women that opportunity.
After a year throwing parties that are renowned for their success across Leeds, Equaliser’s most recent workshop featured New York-based, all-female DJ collective, Discwoman. Discwoman are pioneers when it comes to collectives promoting gender equality in electronic music. When we meet, Ranyue tells me how she hopes the two collectives will be able to learn each other’s tricks of the trade; a future goal for Equaliser is to maybe one day mirror the success of Discwoman, whether it takes two, five or ten years.
In a well-deserved interview with DJ Mag (a pretty big deal), Equaliser members discussed the impact that ‘tokenism’ can have. Tokenism is the act of pretending to give advantage to minority groups in society who are treated unfairly, in order to give the appearance of fairness. With event organisers realising that there is a push for non-cis men to be represented within the music scene, there is a danger that DJs from such collectives may only be hired to provide an element of diversity, as opposed to for their talent. Ranyue gives me her take on this: “on one hand tokenism is obviously bad, people will use us to try and make more money. But someone needs to take the opportunity,” she explains, “you might as well take that opportunity and make it something right”. By using that platform and grasping at every opportunity, maybe one day event organisers will come to see that non-cis men are great DJs too, rather than just a token piece; “token feature will become the main feature,” Ranyue says.
Ranyue’s approach to tokenism applies to the broader issue of gender inequality within the music industry: “You can’t get anywhere by pointing your finger at someone and saying ‘You are wrong!’ The music industry has an imbalanced history that has already happened. What can you do? You cannot change the past. So, you may as well do something for the future.” This really encapsulates what the Equaliser crew are striving to achieve. It is their ‘something for the future’ approach that really matters in promoting equal representation in dance music.
This representation on such platforms is extremely important in allowing non-cis males to realise that they can in fact take to the decks and transform the dancefloor. If you’ve never identified with someone in a certain position, such as non-cis males currently in the DJ scene, then it is harder to picture yourself in that coveted spot. Ranyue’s advice to those who do not feel like they are being represented is to be creative and to tell yourself “I can do this. I want to do this.” Being in an industry that is cis-male dominated means that non-cis males are often afraid and intimidated to grab chances, but the first step in the journey is often the hardest part. Ranyue emphasises the importance of following your gut instinct and listening to your heart.
Looking to the future, Ranyue tells me that the collective aim is to start putting on a more diverse range of workshops, including some on music production. “The best result would be a sick party and a sick workshop and loads of sick DJ’s and it all comes from Equaliser.” As opposed to being known as a sick female collective, Ranyue just wants the DJs at Equaliser to be acknowledged as being great at what they do, with gender out of the equation: “people will talk about it as a really sick party, rather than just a party for women.”
We also discussed Equaliser’s plans to venture to Ranyue’s home country, China, next year. China’s conservative nature has resulted in a lack of female representation in its music scene. Ranyue believes that creating a safe space for non-cis male artists would have a hugely positive influence within Chinese society. It would be nice to give people in China who are similar minded to Equaliser a space to do what they want. Ranyue’s long-term goal is ‘The University of Equaliser’ – a University that I would definitely want to sign up for.
Equaliser are throwing their next party on the 8th of December and this is one you definitely won’t want to miss. The night will feature Siren DJs, Jay and Sybil, as well as the Equaliser team taking to the decks. With an exciting future ahead, it seems that Equaliser are going to keep providing some of the best parties in Leeds, whilst doing it all in the name of equality.
(Main image: Equaliser)