With a party at Zouk’s Wine Bar on October 27, this year’s FFF Girl DJ Bootcamp is about to come to a close. ActuallyMag talks to founders Cherry Chan, Debbie Chia, Natalie Tan and latest inclusion Pamm Hong about how it is like being a woman in a predominantly male industry, cupcakes and tea, and building a music culture.
Founded in 2008 how did the idea of the Girl Bootcamp come about?
Debbie Chia (DC): I always think of the Girl DJ Bootcamp as a community service. It is about giving back opportunities and growing a female electronic music community, increasing awareness and helping girls fall in love with the music. Singapore has its own lineage of female DJs such as Gayle San and DJ Rap and we should reference that.
Natalie Tan (NT): Cherry and I were residents at an al fresco bar for a while, and one night Debbie came to us with this idea. We discussed it over frozen margaritas and decided to do it!
Cherry Chan (CC): Debbie started the idea and originally it would have been a beautiful complementary course to POPMYCHERRY!, an all-girl DJ night which was running back then. But alas I got distracted with building my audio-visual collective Syndicate and half of the original crew went to UK. So I think I still owe the Bootcamp a regular girls night. I am working on it (just need to clone myself one more time!)
You guys have a combined wealth of over 25 years in the local dance music landscape. How do you think the industry has evolved over the years?
NT: I haven’t been in the industry for that long! From a punter’s point of view though, it’s great to see so many people picking up production and DJing now with the advancements of technology. Except not that many people will hear them since Singapore is still a very musically under-developed country.
Only a handful of people actively seek out new sounds and genres. Syndicate has done a fabulous job of exposing these new producers at their Beat Invitational though, and from a band-music perspective, labels like Kitty Wu, Ujikaji and Aging Youth have been tirelessly promoting Singapore bands. These are exciting times to be in!
CC: I don’t think there’s an industry for local dance music in Singapore, if there is, we’ll be able to hear it on FM radio as that is a reflection of what majority are being exposed to and where the money is.
To me, an industry means healthy transactions between audience, music-makers and venue operators. DJs and music producers would be able to make a proper living on music (like how they do in United Kingdom or the states) because sufficient number of people would be paying to catch gigs and buy music in order to support the full-time artists.
Venues would not be paying peanuts to musicians or have this crazy obsessions with cover versions but have decent music policies which grows business, FM radio would be playing an interesting assortment of music e.g. BBC 1xtra or BBC Radio One instead of commercial pop songs that are retarding the brains and sensibility of mankind. And everyone would have an idea of interesting music to share like in Austria where the cab drivers actually listen to drum & bass or can point you to a good jazz club.
What we have in Singapore back then and now, is a very lovely community of music heads – a bunch of truly dedicated promoters, musicians and discerning music lovers still fighting the system, still working day jobs to pay the bills and running out at nights to organize or support gigs and events where the music is well curated and music movements are being championed. Big ups to all of them for just doing what they do.
Pamm Hong (PH): I used to work as scurrying graphic bunny for Zouk and I came to realize the progression of taste in art and sound while spending time in the dungeons of old flyers and props.
I’d say the local dance music scene has grown but like anything living and breathing, where there is growth there has to be or have had decay. I believe right now is a truly exciting time for music and to be involved in music worldwide, because everyone is getting more connected and in-tuned.
Kids are becoming savvier with technology and more people are traveling. Within the last 3 years, fresh sub-genres have re-birthed classics and new genres are still being formed. These days I find myself not only listening to bass music -which I love- but my playlist also meanders into house and techno.
With all this inter-connectivity within the matters of beat, rhythm and sound, I figure the industry has snaked its way through the spaces between, forming a cohesive block ready to be chipped off again, eventually creating yet another new wave of sound maybe in the next 5 or 10 years. Truly exciting times.
Pamm, how do you feel about being the latest member of the team and tell us more about the art direction and inspiration?
PH: It feels good! Especially to be part of something as important to me as it is to the girls. I count myself lucky, these are ladies with so much soul and strength. To be able to create something original within my area of aesthetics as well as to produce something that contributes to the journey of local music is a big feat! Thank goodness for a supportive team.
I usually start off with a series of paintings and work from there. The idea behind females and DJs lie within the words: vigor, spunk and being oh so, winsome. I found all those qualities in a single animal, the cat – of course, it also helped that most of us love cats. The feline fire combined with a hint of girl-y aptitude =FFF.
Debbie, having started the bootcamp in 2008, how have its reception grew since then?
DC: It’s strange because we are getting more exposure but I feel like we’re not tapping far or deep enough into the talent out there. The numbers of applications increase exponentially but girls serious about electronic music are hard to find. I am always hoping for a techno fiend. Now we have interested girls from places in Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Japan and Slovakia, so all in all, we’re getting more attention, which I am grateful for.
Cherry, one of the core aims of the bootcamp is to educate women about electronic music and DJing. In what way will this be different from a workshop for mixed genders?
CC: I shall wave my giant lollypop of generalization and make a big sweeping action/statement. Just via personal observations and by no means is this meant to turn into some debates about boys versus girls; I think boys tend to be quite straight to the point and goal oriented when it comes to learning, it’s like “yes, let’s get to the point, what am I supposed to do?” whereas girls tend to learn in an emotional context, they are more sensitive to the settings and attuned to multiples things (think of how girls browse make up and fashion!)
So for the Girl Dj Bootcamp, we are covering a huge variety of topics, letting the girls dip in and out to give a sense of the electronica cosmos. We also included in time for tea and socializing (with FFF cupcakes and jello thrown in) so that everyone will have a cozy time not just learning various music bits but also making new friends in the process.
Tokimonsta was the guest lecturer in last year’s bootcamp and the irrepressible French DJ-Producer Jennifer Cardini came down recently. In your opinion, why does having international guests empower the bootcamp?
DC: We can always talk among ourselves and share what we think we know is right. But that is being a frog in the well. Having international guests opens up the discussion globally which is the stage to be on.
NT: Exactly! On top of that, it’s great for the girls to know that these ‘superstars’ also started out just like them, with a mere interest in the genre, and then worked their asses off to get where they are. It’s not as easy as they might imagine.
Cherry, having played worldwide, do you think imparting the knowledge of the different music cultures that you’ve experienced is just as important as the technical aspects?
CC: It’s important as a human being to be open-minded, not just to different music cultures but to other things in life as well. It’s very easy to forget to curate your own life.
I think, as a beatmaker, DJ or musician, you are a storyteller, using sound frequencies, beats, rhythm, melodies as your paintbrushes but they are just tools. It’s good to be competent with your technical tools but how interesting or great is the story depends on what’s inside you.
How do you think sexism plays its role in dance music? And what do you think causes it?
DC: I think Nat and Pamm can answer this rather passionately!
NT: (Laughs) On a very superficial level, I think a lot of guys expect female DJs to look like models. And it really doesn’t help that a lot of clubs want to book only these types of DJs because they’re ‘marketable’. Having “DJane” agencies that perpetuate this with fucktabulousphotoshoots of these female DJs and playing up this generic sexuality obviously doesn’t help. It’s a vicious cycle!
PH: The venom here is when some girls give in to the marketable statuses of being a female DJ only to become just poster-worthy paragons. It not only makes it clear to the (still) predominant man’s world that girls are just here for fun, it also lowers credibility for real DJs.
This applies to any sort of profession, honestly, it’s still big boys land, but I’m optimistic. The amount of fresh producers and performers in the rap, grime and dance music milieu is rubbled with powerful ladies. There is always more than one discerning factor in every equation and its up to hardworking felines to push for a bigger and better beat, and kick dust into the faces of (playaz and) haters.
- Zul Andra