Last month Resident Advisor, the online portal for global dance culture, sparked something of a rumpus in DJ circles with their short film about Siberian DJ / producer Nina Kraviz, the first in their new Between the Beats series.
Following Nina through a run of gigs in Bulgaria, Belgium and Germany, the piece provides a snapshot of life on the road for the touring DJ. It’s well shot and edited, and the camera absolutely adores Nina, who, to state the glaringly obvious, is blessed with stunning beauty – and it’s this that lays at the crux of the controversy.
Female DJ’s have always found themselves sexualised in a way that the men have never had to endure.
This has warped people’s perceptions of many a DJ who just happened to be female. The fact that they’re described as a ‘female DJ’ in the first place muddies the waters, for the sex / physicality of the person has no bearing on their ability to do the job. Back when I started out, in the days when British DJ’s still used the microphone, there was a body of thought that said the lower male voice was the 'more authentic', and the higher female voice 'just didn’t sound right'.
This is something that went back to radio, which was dominated by male presenters. As a result, female DJ’s were largely regarded as a gimmick, a 'dolly bird' for the blokes to ogle over (at the extreme of this mentality you even had the 'topless DJ'), and to be taken seriously, as someone who might actually know how to present music, was almost an impossibility.
Even now, the sexist fallout is apparent. Just look at any Top DJ lists and you’ll only find a token female presence. Sadly it’s often more about what she looks like than what she plays, and it must still be so difficult to break out of that stereotype and make it on your own terms if you’re born with breasts rather than balls.
So when she allowed herself to be interveiwed in a manner that many people would say played right into this stereotype, it certainly got people talking. In an otherwise thoughtful piece - with Nina musing on questions of illusion and loneliness - she appeared bikini-clad on a beach then most controversially submerged in a bubble bath.
The forum at Resident Advisor illustrated the split in opinion that ensued, some of the comments quite condemning, others supportive. From the moment she steps behind a set of decks, Nina’s looks are always going to garner the attention of a great many people (and not just male), so, as her career develops, how she deals with this is always going to be an issue.
The main thing is that she deals with it on her own terms – that if there’s any manipulating to be done it’s by her, and not to her. She needs to be the mistress of her own myth, for this whole scrutiny is only going to grow. Nina is destined for DJ superstardom, if she really wants it – to put it in marketing terms, she’s the complete package.
And her femininity is both her passport to fame and fortune and the stick with which she’ll be beaten. I trust she’ll box clever, as she generally has so far.
Some will never give her credit - to them she’ll always be up behind the decks on false pretences, not because she’s a skilled DJ, but because she’s a pretty face. Others will tell her “if you say you want to be taken seriously don’t feed into the stereotypes”. They’ll wonder why she could have been so gullible as to let the big bad Resident Advisor talk her into bikini and bath. They’d no doubt like to wrap a worldly-wise arm around her and keep her safe from harm, safe from herself, but I think it’s a serious misjudgement to assume that she’s some poor little lamb lost in the woods who doesn’t know what she’s doing.
Nina’s making her own statement, and regardless of whether or not you might agree with her, or even like the music she records and plays, she’s saying something – she’s causing a reaction and sparking debate. I find it refreshing that she often doesn’t do what people expect her to – in an ever more conformist world it’s reassuring to see anyone out there with maverick tendencies.
I’m not saying that she doesn’t or won’t make errors of judgement, mistakes are a part of the journey, but remember, this is no wilting flower we’re talking about here, she’s big enough and ugly enough to take care of herself.
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on Greg Wilson's blog (www.gregwilson.co.uk) on 8th April 2013