To describe a type of music as industrial has more connotations than the mere fact of registering it as a single genre, it encompasses much more than a style, it is not a question of qualifying a sound as such because it is transgressor, it is an artistic expression that does not match the naturalness or the pattern that any current must follow in order to be accepted by a standard public.
Unfortunately, we tend to discriminate when faced with an argument that goes beyond the stipulated line, the comfort, and well-being in which the majority of human beings with access to any artistic subject live. As the epigraph announces, the counterculture does not understand of sexes, it is not only a matter of men, neither are the women simple amateurs, we have evolved and we must consider that no matter how much we want to divide, the segmentation only exists in the conscience of each individual.
Nowadays, the figure of women in electronic music has consolidated and it is no longer so surprising to discover the genre of the artist. We know a lot of women with a special disposition to create great works and to move masses on stage, but we’re going from less to more and we haven’t even reached the halfway point yet. We begin to accept the feminine artistic role in the most commercial tendencies, then we climb a few steps to recognize the great work of women in styles more risky and directed, of course, to the dance floor, how much is it going to cost us to admit that musically women can also be extremists?
This topic should be analyzed with several female projects and we have the experience of three of them
Luna Vassarotti is a DJ, producer, multidisciplinary artist and founder of the record label Instruments of Discipline. She is also 50% of OPERANT, a project she shares with August Skipper that combines experimental, techno and noise. Although her origins are Italian, she currently resides in Berlin.
Espectra Negra is an artist with a diploma in musical scenes from around the world. Mexico City, Chicago and Berlin have been the main cities where she has developed and championed various musical movements such as punk, break core, techno, hardcore and today dark ambient, electronic and noise. She currently resides in Berlin where she has worked as a radio producer, experimental filmmaker, sound designer, dj, technology teacher, producer and body art performer.
N01R is the aka of the Galician DJ and Producer Maria Silva, and like Espectra Negra and Luna Vassarotti also lives in Berlin. Together with Anton Behnke, she co-founded Impartial Waves, a label that premiered last June with a great album. Her style is broad and personal and is oriented solely to experimental and noise sound.
– How did you become interested in these musical genres?
I have always been obsessed with music and started going to shows and raves quite early when I was around 13/14. I was an extremely shy kid but I pushed myself to go to these events, I could go to a show but I found it difficult to engage in most normal life activities, I think that was the first time I encountered the therapeutic/healing side of music culture, I felt more real there than in normal reality. I was really into noise, hardcore and drum ‘n’ bass at that time, I would research music for hours on the internet, would rent out CD’s at the library and make countless mixtapes at that time on Minidisk. I dug in methodically, I had charts on my walls that mapped music genres, it was kind of obsessive. I was always drawn to the darker side of music experimental and electronic, industrial music, power electronics etc. I also began most of my lasting interests there, researching serial killers, true crime docs, photographing cemeteries etc. I later began djing and then finally started a music label around 5 years ago, which had always been a dream of mine. At that time I had just begun to experiment with making music myself, mainly using Ableton and some synths, mostly noise, drones and sound experiments which later progressed into vocal exploration with Operant.
It all began when I was a kid. In Mexico, there was a radio station called Radio Universal where you could listen mostly to anglo music including rock. At a very early age with about 10 I found Chuck Berry, Sister Rosetta, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones. From there my music life will be opening to more and more powerful, dark and rebellious music. As an adolescent, I began listening to Spanish punk bands like Eskorbuto, Parabellum or La Polla Records. Their lyrics were very enlightening. There I began to understand more clearly what rebellion and political message mean in the music industry: to send a message that makes people think!. To write lyrics against and for something you stand. Then came anglo and local punk, hardcore, breakcore, and techno. After some years already living in Berlin, I found the European industrial noise scene with festivals such as Schlagstrom, Tower Transmissions, and the old NK and Loophole in Neukölln. I saw bands such a Ramleh, Consumer Electronics, Gerechtigkeits Liga, IRM, among many others. My grandfather was an orchestra director who used to play the trumpet so musicians are basically family to me. I always talk to them directly about music as an equal. I could never be a fan. This is why I know many from the old school days and get involved with the new generations.
My music path began in 2005 with another project (Cubop) which was more sound art orientated. Not as dark and consequent as Espectra Negra. I also had a duo project (The Sublime) with my ex-partner from Last Dominion Lost. Over the years I have produced sound and explore different creative areas including body art performance, ritualistic practice, vocalism, writing, and visuals. This year I started collaborations with Nullam Rem Natam and Chloe Lula. Often I also get invited to play as a DJ either in clubs or as radio podcats because of my long experience and knowledge. Today I mostly DJ Industrial Dark Techno & Electronic Body Music. On special occasions what I consider the best sounds in music history since sound was able to be recorded.
I am very passionate about music I created Urban Arts Berlin, a non-profit music platform where I have supported young and established talents since 2006. There I organized many music festivals, for instance, Pink Waves or Dark Shadows. I also run a label focus mostly on sound art and electro-acoustic music. At the moment Urban Arts Berlin only runs audio workshops since Berlin has become more dance club-oriented in the last decade. Gentrification has hit the city very strongly.
I started to be interested in Music with 10 years old when I got my first synthesizer, and I was obsessed with bands like Depeche Mode or The Cure in that time. I come from the Gothic scene which was about different styles like Post-Punk, Dark Ambient, Neo-Folk, EBM, Death Rock. I was really early going to concerts and festivals and it became my lifestyle, with 23 I played for 3 years in an Industrial band, RPA, touring with bands like Frontline Assembly and I started my solo project N01R in 2005. Also worked as a DJ since 2003 organizing Industrial parties and events. Dark music had a really deep impact in my life and I still keep that lifestyle, I could say I devote my life to Music. But not only in the Music industry, as a filmmaker and Videoclip producer, I also did the music for some other projects like museums, films and even TV commercials. I work a lot with sound and visuals, as is my profession.
– How has the electronic music scene treated you in each of the cities where you have lived?
I have lived in a few different cities, I grew up in Brussels and would go to many free parties and raves during that time, the atmosphere was always very relaxed and people were there for the music and not just to be seen, the electronic scene in SF and NY was very different, more flamboyant and eccentric, it was carefree, there was often an emphasis on fun and it was very inclusive. In Berlin I find it a little isolating at times, with the monopoly of the big clubs and with techno becoming more mainstream, less discerning and attracting a less caring audience, at my most cynical I feel that everybody starts to look the same, I even feel like that about myself sometimes, I guess you could call it something of a simulacra, where people are emulating an image without really being aware of what they’re emulating, the cycle continues and can dilute the excitement or potency of a scene. These days I rarely go out in Berlin unless it’s to support a friend or an event or when I am playing or throwing events myself.
I don’t like to generalize in terms of better or worse. True is that every context has its power dynamics and social hierarchies. As part of mainly Western Culture, we have a very Christian perception of things which basically means lots of sexism and misogyny, among other horrors. This signifies that often I have not being accepted, supported and/or encourage to produce my own music. Some brothers in different countries in different ways have tried to shut me down. I have heard the: “No, do not touch that turntable. You are a woman. This is not mean for you” or “You will never be able to play bass. As a woman, your fingers are too little.”
At the same time, I have experienced the opposite. Brothers sharing technological knowledge and/or recommending my music to different promoters so I can get the visibility I deserve after many years of hard work. Not everyone is an asshole that expects a woman in the kitchen or merely as a sexual object with no voice. Believe me, in 2019 there are still men that want women like that. It is hard for women to access knowledge. This is why I began teaching music focusing on women and female identified with no much experience in software, the story of music or analog machinery. We need more female producers in all scenes. There is still a lot to be done everywhere. And we are not yet talking about post-gender terrain.
In Spain and more specifically where I come from, in La Coruña, there isn’t much of a scene but even if I look back I’ve always had opportunities to do things, play live etc… Berlin gives me many more options and possibilities but the competition is greater. But I find Berlin a bit shallow and focusing more on aesthetics and how people wanna succeed.
I feel people divided and I have the feeling they forgot about the real meaning of having fun but more about pretending and judging others, which gives me a feeling of living in a small town, people think they are free but they just follow the masses and don’t develop original.
I think in Spain we enjoy more to meet others with the same interest in arts and I miss this here, the feeling of community and to team up much more together.
I often get asked all the time about my gigs and my Music career it feels like a
competition sometimes and that created anxiety and you can feel that tension when you go out. Nowadays I think it doesn’t matter where you live if you work hard you can achieve many things.
– Is it more complicated for a woman to fit into an experimental music scene?
I wish we didn’t have to answer these kinds of questions still, I don’t want women to be seen as a genre in culture or music. I would like people to look beyond, gender, sexuality and skin color and focus more on the art and music, but unfortunately, discrimination persists and must still be addressed.
In the experimental or techno scene, I still feel like not much place is given for women as artists to flourish, although things are changing, if slowly these past couples of years. It can be difficult for women and marginalized people to fit in anywhere/everywhere, we still live in a patriarchal society and sexism is ever-present, even in the underground.
Women are scrutinized and judged more harshly, there isn’t always space for them to evolve and importantly, space for them to make mistakes, sadly I think this discourages a lot of women to show or continue their work. I also see that people are mistrusting and often suspicious of how women succeed, saying they were just booked because of her gender etc. It is important to see the potential in artists, to support an artist that may not have mastered all the skills, but that has a vision. Women or female-identifying people have a lot to bring and this diversity is important for a healthy, exciting and creative scene.
I am hoping that slowly this cycle is breaking, with newer generations becoming more open, that things are evolving also with the notion of gender fluidity and that eventually, we won’t have to impose labels upon everyone.
It depends on which scene with which people. Experimental means so many things today. The term is not anymore that avant-garde or transgressive. Today almost everyone does experimental music. This is why is not a particular type of scene. It is very colorful. Experimental can be gay, heterosexual, white or POC music and different genres such as Hip-hop, metal, rock or industrial music. In this sense is not only the white heterosexual males ruling all shows. We have some gay people supporting women against the gender gap or other women supporting each other too. But the efforts are still not enough. There is a lot to do. Particularly in terms of racism and White supremacy, I find. Promoters need to understand that the Gender Gap and Racism are very palpable and a real problem. I am glad to find allies in different countries. It is a slow process. But some people are aware of the problems we are facing for a long time and they are trying to do what they can to balance a bit more. Everyone can do something. We all need to share the resources we have access to.
I think women still have to proof all time much more than men in the Music Industry. We are constantly judged much more than males if a girl is successful people around will be wondering why. Recently I had a really bad experience with a male artist from the same scene. I invited him to be part of my first release a VA and he didn’t respect my private life and went wrong by sexual harassment me. I called him out and the person did an attempt to apologize but he steps back and keeps telling lies to people about me. As a woman and as an artist I have really open mind regarding my art. I have an EP with my Music partner Stauffer from Madrid. Our topics are about sex and different stories about sex, I believe that I am being judged by my aesthetics and art. If you are open-minded and you call out a man, people will go against you using that to blame you and put the guilt on you. I am 35 years old and I experienced life a lot, this personally doesn’t affect me but makes me angry some time to see how women are judged all the time. I will fight for a change that’s for sure and to fight sexism is about to speak out and put people in front of a mirror. Am I the victim or the abuser? I said no to a sexual offer which happened in my working fields if this will happen in a normal job in an office this guy will be fired immediately, why in the Music industry isn’t the same? A question I would like to ask the readers, why do I have to be judged?
These things are happening much more to women than to men, so, yes I think doesn’t matter the music genre I think is much more difficult to be a woman in any field.
– Is your work valued enough?
In regards to the label, I definitely feel like I had to fight harder to be recognized and taken seriously, I still feel like this often, though I am of course thankful to all the people that have supported me, from day one until today. I feel like I’ve been judged a bit harder for my mistakes, this is a point I keep coming back to but it is important for an artist to be able to make mistakes and to evolve, I often feel women aren’t allowed this buffer, when women fail at something, however minor, it doesn’t just reflect poorly on them as individuals, they are judged as an entire gender, a caste even, ‘see, that’s why there aren’t many female artists’. Men have been so dominant in every sector of culture and life in general for so long, they have been given the encouragement and the permission to do and to fail. Also there is the question of how women use their image when they are promoting themselves or their projects, and I think that whatever one does it is sadly judged and scrutinized as much as the music or even more, for being too sexual or for not being attractive enough, there is always something that bothers some people, seeing women succeed or have power, people do it unconsciously and are unaware of the implicit sexism behind such remarks, or they will start to scrutinize why ‘she’ got any success ‘was it just to fill the diversity quota’ etc. And then when some ‘truth warrior’ decides to make such criticisms and they are called out, people will obliquely defend or excuse them by saying ‘but you know he hates women’ and this shit is tolerated in 2019, if this discrimination were occurring in regards to race or sexuality they would be torn to shreds. I think many people have blinders on when it comes to sexism and sadly women who become vocal are often accused of being attention seekers and of having some ambiguous agenda behind their message. This is also why I am careful and tread with caution regarding this subject, as I know some people will roll their eyes and judge me for vocalizing these opinions. To be honest it makes me cringe to have to raise these issues but it is necessary to do so.
It depends on who is behind listening. Today people value music based on the likes the virtual reality on platforms such as Facebook or Instagram get and not on the true quality and message in the music. Luckily there are still some nerds and very passionate music lovers who properly research, listen and value composition and content. Might sound arrogant but my music is not for stupid lazy people who only like beats and digestible danceable stuff. I am a very transgressive and dark producer that speaks out some truths in a direct way. I am aware of how many people can’t handle dark women with a strong voice in the music scene. I learned that from Diamanda Galás & Lydia Lunch a long time ago. In my particular case when I get feedback from some of the musicians I know who are very decent they understand my work. Also, when women come and say: “thanks. Glad someone is out there talking about these things.” this means for some people my message is relevant. I also got once a man telling me: “Cheers. I was raped by my father. That track on pedophilia was very needed for me. Thank you.” So, as you can see my message in not artificial and beautiful. It hurts some times. But pain is a great master. That’s why I do industrial noise with a very deep message which touches the nerves. And as a female producer, I have a lot to say.
I feel that I don’t, I feel that as a woman I have to prove much more than a man. We are judged much more physically, by how we dress or how we present ourselves.
I see men put women down constantly in many regards like they own Music knowledge or they have to teach you.
I experienced that in many ways like when I started my Radio program or even towards my music styles or ways of composition.
Also when I played in my former band RPA, I remember to be on the stage playing the machines and guys from the audience telling that I look hot and was all about me being sexualized by my own band as they put her there because of the way I look giving for suppose I can’t play anything but just dress sexy.
That was one of the reasons I decided to start my solo project because I knew I would at least be free from those prejudgments of males in the Music industry.
I still can’t believe that in Industrial scene 2019 men who suppose to be fans of Cosey Fanni Tutti and claim to be open-minded and educated they still treating girls like objects.
– Do you feel respected by the men on the scene?
In my experience, there are three types of men in the scene: the ones who find you beautiful and hot as a woman and eventually as a producer, the ones who respect honestly the quality of your work, and the ones who do not give a fuck about you at all. For me, respect in the scene came after many years of work. Not because my work was or is bad but because many were either shy or quite hard on me. I always wonder if it was a race matter, gender or the fact to have an ex in the scene. Often I felt men could not accept my power easily. The industrial concerts were and are mostly fulled of guys on stage. The first support I got was actually by a metal gay male and his gay artist friend who encouraged me to continue at the very beginning when Espectra Negra was born because of the high quality of my work. I don’t expect all people loving what I do. As a dark transgressive producer that does not exist and is not what I am looking for. But I think some people in the scene could have supported me much more in the past. At the same time, there were men who have offered places to play and I am very thankful for that. But in terms of numbers, women have been often more encouraging and definitely much more supportive of my music. This because of their understanding of gender and misogyny in the scene. Lately, I got a compliment from an important male promoter. He never expressed that he respects my work. I was happy but also shocked. Almost a decade later men support me. I think is great to realize that what I do is serious and not just a hobby. And I thank all human beings who supported me. Thank you!
There are men who support and respect my work, and others do not. I have been offered sexual offers in exchange for promotion or joining a label. And my career was sometimes manipulated by men who didn’t know how to be professionals and who knew they had some power over my work. They made me believe that I could release on their labels and then ignored me as punishment to prove to me that I am a power game.
But fortunately I work with really nice men too, for example, Archi from Delusions or Unconscious, they are really close friends as for example Stauffer, they see me as an equal and never saw me less and empowered me to keep going and staying strong.
– How are you dealing with club promoters?
I’ve mostly had very good experiences with club promoters. I’m hoping to see a real shift in the diversity of line-ups, if, for nothing else, variation makes the atmosphere of a night more exciting, ‘not another line-up full of dudes!’ also it more truly represents the people attending the event, promoters need to be more aware about creating a safer space for women and marginalized people, they own part of this responsibility and should evaluate whether they are addressing these issues. As banal as it is to repeat, sexism, homophobia, transphobia or racism should never be tolerated, I do feel awareness on all these issues is growing, especially with the younger generations.
I come along well when the promoter is a musician her/himself. With formal promoters is a different history because there you might need a more bureaucratic approach. As a young and new musician, it can be hard to get your stuff out there. Unless you have money, book famous people and put your name on all the lineups you organize. This is how some kids get famous these days. They basically skip the hard process, invest money and become someone. The other option is to keep working, produce decent stuff and remind persistent. Many promoters either find fresh blood on the internet or by recommendation. In my case I think is hard work and the recommendations people give. Many female promoters and male allies back me up. I thank them for that because the industrial noise scene is very White and male orientated. I remember thinking in 2006: “shit, there are no POCs in the European scene. This is gonna take ages”. And it did. I understand that many women do not produce such a music genre. And that POCs are a minority in the minority. But because of this promoters should give more visibility. It is in your hands to make a difference.
I’ve never had any problem with anyone at the moment, it’s true that most of the time its women who have offered me to play, for example, Luna and Veronica have been more supportive than guys from the same scene. But even if men booked me I never had a bad experience lately.
– What projects directed by women would you highlight?
E-saggila, Military Position, Pharmakon, Ciarra Black, Puce Mary, Aja, Hiro Kone, JASS, Cuntroaches, Age eternal, Melania, Töria, Maggot Heart, Wallis, Zanias, Sentimental Rave, Common Poetry, Angel Karel, N0IR, IC3PEAK,…these are just a few artists I think are doing great work today. We also just released an EP with Ireen Amnes and we have Espectra Negra’s new EP coming soon both of which are very talented and wonderful people.
I respect Moor Mother, Sharon from Light Asylum, Pan Daijin, Pharmakon & Puce Mary. They are all already established which I find great because I am sure it was not easy for all of them. What I respect is how most of them move alone -meaning- they do not have a male backing them on stage. This makes them very strong because as a single woman out there the battle is heavy in many levels including basic sound check. A solo female project says a lot. Particularly when the person is not white.
I also add the work of my collaborator Thalia Thanatos from Nullam Rem Natam, Luna Vassarotti, Marie Noir & Chloe Lula, all of whom I meet here in Berlin. Be ready for us!
Pharmakon, Puce Mary, Melania, Angel Karel from The Future is Female are some of my favorite girls on the scene.
Of course, Luna and Veronica which I am super happy that we got to know each other and give us a feeling of fighting these issues together.
Also, I love Chelsea Wolfe and I adore Nina Simone who was a really impressive woman for me.
– Which women have influenced you?
Susan Sontag has been a big influence and has inspired a lot of the work with Operant. We named our last EP after a popular collection of her memoirs called ‘Harnessed to Flesh. As a teenager seeing the photography of Cindy Sherman, really had a big impact on me. The transformations she would undergo and the fact that she was always at the center of the concept was very powerful to my eyes, I also discovered Orlan around the same time and her work with plastic surgery and the body always fascinated me. Zeena Schreck/ LaVey, I discovered a bit later and became interested in her work and what she did for animal rights through activism. I had the chance to meet her a couple of years ago and she was extremely kind to me even though I was a bit intimidated and shy, I was really taken aback by her gentleness, beauty and knowledge. Aileen Wournos, for being a warrior and survivor! Although sadly she was then the sentenced to death.
I have to of course mention Cosey Fanni Tutti, Kim Gordon and Hanin Elias when she was in Atari Teenage riot. They deeply influenced and shaped my vision of art and music.
The dark vocalism and political approach of Diamanda Galás and Lydia Lunch, the strong art of mothers like Louise Bourgeois & Yoko Ono, the great Delia Derbyshire as the mother of electronic music in Western Culture, the dark sound and performance of Anne Gillis and the pioneer of industrial music Cosey Fanni Tutti.
Undoubtedly Leonora Carrington, who had to fight in a world of men among all the surreal artists and who fought a lot in her life for her dreams as an artist, even being considered crazy by her own father. Anais Nin, who was a quite liberal writer for her time, who faced the taboos of society by giving an image of a strong woman, dreamer and who lived her sexuality freely.
Mileva Marić, who was Albert Einstein’s wife and left his career as a scientist aside for him to care for his children while he had the opportunity to grow in his career, a clear example of machismo in my view.
And of course, Cosey Fanni Tutti when I was reading her biography that took so manyworries from me we kind of share a lot of similar stories I would love to meet her in person.
And I adore Diamanda Galas.
What can we do to help build a safer, more inclusive scene?
I spoke earlier about a ‘gender quota’ and how this can be criticized and I get why that is the case, people believe that artists should be given accolade according to their merit and I, of course, believe this too, but men have been the cultural gate-keepers for so long, and women have been marginalized for so long that something needs to be done, it’s really not that much to ask to find a female artist to include in a line up, if men or anyone wants to criticize such an approach you can just reply that if such discrimination didn’t exist in the first place it wouldn’t be necessary for such social constructs to be erected to address such a problem!
I think a simple thing to improve the inclusiveness of the scene would be a shared effort to end all-male line ups, if it’s just three guys putting a night together it’s not such a big deal but if you have like 10 artists on a bill it really shows a blind spot in an organizer’s social awareness if they can’t find one female artist that is contributing to the scene, this sounds very damning but I am sympathetic to the fact that it can be difficult to find artists, especially if it’s a last-minute slot that needs to be filled, to remedy this, one idea I’ve been throwing around is to create a database of female and female-identifying artists in Berlin so a promoter has easy access to a lot of options, it would also create a sense of community and make people aware of how many great artists there are at work who have maybe missed the promotion and opportunities that being in the spotlight allows.
When it comes to creating a safer environment, I think we are all concerned and should take responsibly in not promoting a space where harassment and sexual abuse is accepted. Whether you are a spectator, an artist, a promoter or someone working at these events. I think it is important to call out such behavior and if you witness it, to react and help the victim. I still hear so many stories of men taking certain liberties, to terrible stories of abuse. This shit has to stop, as much as it makes people uncomfortable, it has to be addressed. You can have so much power by supporting a victim and helping to end this kind of toxic behavior.