Real Live Action

Utopia Festival : Women In Digital Culture

March 5th @ W2 Storyeum

Review By Erica Hansen

Photo by Fathima Cader
Photo by Fathima Cader

“You don’t need a dick to turn on a mixer.” Words of wisdom from Vancouver’s babelicous DJ Blondtron who was part of the W2 Storyeum’s inaugural women in digital media conference, the Utopia Festival. The festival featured workshops, discussions and performances from prominent female DJs, producers, musicians, academics and writers including internationally acclaimed throat singer Tanya Tagaq, former Thunderheist member Isis Salam, former Stinkmitt member DJ Betti Forde, cellist Cris Derksen and a number of other talented women, with a keynote address delivered by none other than the queen of smut herself, Peaches.

The event, which coincided with international woman’s day, kicked off in the morning with pre-conference DJ and VJ workshops by DJ’s Veronica and Betti Forde and VJ’s Ellectrobelle and Claudia Mandina. The party was then taken to the streets in the form of a mobile dance party and live radio broadcast that stormed Commercial Drive. Though the evening showcase portion of the festival was open to people of all genders, the daytime portion of the conference was open only to participants who were self-identified women, although there were males helping out. The conference began with a thought provoking opening address given by Tara Rodgers, founder of the critically acclaimed webzine on women in electronic music, who is also a faculty member at the University of Maryland. Rodgers spoke about women’s historical involvement in electronic music, from the use and innovation of phonographs in the 1920’s to the first synthesizers of the 50’s and 60’s to the Riot Grrrl movement of the early 90’s. She gave insight into the politics of social networks with regards to the historical exclusion of women from spaces such as electronic music magazines and what is being done to change this.

Next up was a Q&A session surrounding the challenges women face when trying to break into the male dominated electronic music scene. This included the need to break down stereotypes of females being less technologically savvy then their male counterparts, as well as the phenomenon of being the “gimmick girl DJ”, who is hired only because she’s a girl.

The second half of the conference had attendees split off for a variety of tasty workshops. These included tutorials on digital music production software, vocal exercises, how to set up a tour and how to market your self through social media. Having only female participants in this part of the conference created a space for open discussion amongst women that was nonjudgmental and pretty damn inspirational. I had to laugh, though, when I overheard a male tech guy attempting to explain to a female DJ what stereo sound meant during her set up. For the record, she knew what it was.

The concert portion of the event began later that evening, opening the doors to our previously left-out brothers. There was a strong aboriginal presence to the night, with performances from local native hip-hop artist JB the First Lady and a gut-wrenching performance from Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq. Tagaq wowed the audience with her powerful growls and coy woos while DJ Michel Red backed her up with a dub and downtempo rhythms. The beats didn’t stop there though, as the three rooms in W2 delivered everything from disco, dirty electro, hip hop, vocal jazz all night until the ceilings dripped sweat. Not an unusual occurrence at W2. Net proceeds from the event went towards W2’s Girl’s Creative Tech Summer Camps.