In The Middle with Equaliser

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Equaliser is a Leeds-based community which aims to provide a platform for female, transgender and non-binary people with an interest in DJing. Through organising regular workshops and parties, the group has begun to turn a scene saturated by white, cis men on its head. Just after their second birthday celebrations at Kirkgate Market last month, I caught up with founder and resident DJ Ranyue Zhang about the future of Equaliser and inclusive clubbing in Leeds and beyond. 

How and why did Equaliser start?

The direct reason I started Equaliser is because I was procrastinating on my masters dissertation. And the deeper reason is that I started to be aware of the gender imbalance in DJing and the music industry around that time. I chatted with other non-male DJ friends, during which DJ workshops got mentioned a few times, and I was inspired by collectives and organisations like Discwoman and female:pressure etc, so thought I could do some DJ workshops and parties to help people to learn how to DJ. So, I launched the event, and many non-male friends from Love Muscle, Brotherhood and Brudenell Groove joined me and we formed this collective somehow.

Have you noticed an improvement in diversity and accessibility in DJing and clubs in the last few years?

Yeah, there’re some big changes in Leeds; I definitely see more women, non-binary or trans DJs on the line-up in Leeds than it was before, and more parties put on by non-male people. Clubs are also more aware of the LGBT+ and female crowd and are trying to be more friendly towards these groups. People who have come to our DJ workshops are getting regular gigs in Leeds and outside Leeds too, and some of them have their own radio shows. It’s still a long way to go for the imbalanced music industry, but these changes are happening and things are getting better and better.

You’ve just celebrated your 2nd birthday with an open decks session at Kirkgate Market – why did you choose this space?

It’s a great place! The proper diversity, it’s a lively and fun place plus it has loads of fruits and veg and everything. Most of our workshop attendees are students at university, which is great, but we also want to get more locals involved; DJing is something really fun and worth spreading around! We’re Equaliser, and only equalising students is not real equality. Everyone, old or young, should be treated equally and Kirkgate Market is a perfect place for that.

Earlier this month you ran a DJ workshop at Sheffield’s No Bounds festival – is this kind of thing as well received elsewhere as in Leeds?

Yesss! It was a really good DJ workshop. Limited by time, it was a short one for people to just experience it and see what its like. But everyone who was there was so interested. They were asking some really interesting questions and very excited about putting their hands on decks. I think people’s curiosity to DJing is the same everywhere so I think wherever we go, it’ll be well received.

What’s the community like in China – where you’re from? Do similar groups supporting female/non-binary/trans DJs exist?

Yeahh, there are a few, like Beijing-based MGSG (Most Girls Smell Good), and Shanghai based NVSHU. They put on DJ workshops and do parties presenting non-cis male DJs; we also do Equaliser parties and DJ workshops too. But more is needed, there’re so many people in China but only a few communities like this, it’s not enough. 

Tell us about your collaboration with Slut Drop – how did that come about and what did it entail?

We’ve been talking about doing a collab since day one when we started Equaliser! We’re all doing music bits in Leeds so just gradually met each other through mutual friends and became good friends. Everyone is so, so, so sound from Slut Drop, big uppss! The plan was that we would play music from 0 BPM to 160 BPM b2b or by oneself. me and TACAT (Slut Drop) did the opening set from 0-120, then Mandy & Friends (Equaliser) did an hour’s set from 120-130. Next, Michelle (Slut Drop) did a set from 130-140 BPM and Plugkeisha (Equaliser & Slut Drop) and NikNak (Slut Drop) took care of the 140 to 160+ BPM, like some footwork and jungle stuff. 

Why do you think groups like Equaliser and Slut Drop work so well with Leeds?

I think the major reason is there’re so many non-cis males but so little parties or groups for them, and our groups are both pretty grassroots, so it’s like open to anyone who wants a good party with a good crowd. It’s everyone’s universal wish coming true, and we just happened to be the people who started these groups; if we didn’t start it, I’m sure someone else would have done the same thing!

What’s the future for Equaliser? 

Short term would be to do more DJ workshops in both Leeds and Beijing, as well as more parties. Longer term, we’ve been wanting to do production workshops for ages, which hasn’t happened yet. And then the next step will be to become a DJ agency.

How do people who are interested get involved?

For people who has signed up with us before, we’ll soon send a newsletter about the future workshop. For those who are new and haven’t signed up before, we will post a sign-up form on our Facebook page so people can register. So, if you follow us on our Facebook page (EqualiserLeeds) or Instagram, you will probably see our post. Besides, we do some open decks from time to time as well; if anyone is interested in this, feel free to join our closed group EqualiserLeeds ;).

Who would you recommend looking/listening out for?

Maruwa is one of my favourite DJs/producers this year. She’s from Russia and had an EP released under Steel City Dance Disc, and one coming out soon under Lobster Theremin. Catu Diosis is also a fantastic DJ. I watched her Nyege Nyege Festival Boiler Room; her music really makes you dance and you can’t stop it unless she stops it.