I’ve been talking a bit about vocalists the last week, but one thing I want to introduce is the key role of female DJs in electronic music. DJs play a particularly key role in electronic dance music, acting as a mediating point between listeners/dancers and producers—and many DJs are producers themselves. As I noted in my piece on Loleatta Holloway and disco, over the course of the ’70s the way DJs played records changed the way records themselves were produced. Many dance records are produced with the DJ’s needs in mind, often coming with a long extended intro to aid in smooth mixing. And radio DJs have long been important in making records hits and promoting of unknown artists and new genres.
As with everything music-related, the achievements of female DJs have often been overlooked. Mary Anne Hobbs has been one of the most influential DJs in the UK over the last decade. Hobbs was actually a journalist and rock DJ on the BBC for many years, but it is her Radio One show Breezeblock/Experimental that carved out her niche as a tastemaker for experimental electronic music in various microgenres. The 2006 broadcast “Dubstep Wars” was a landmark event in the popularization of the dubstep genre, and she released two compilation albums, Warrior Dubz and Evangeline, both on the Planet Mu label.
But it’s actually her 2009 “X chromosome” special that I think is the most interesting, featuring mixes from five female producer/DJs: Blank Blue, Cooly G, Vaccine, Ikonika, Kito, and The Long Lost. Each provides a firing mix of bracing cutting-edge bass music, with Hyperdub artists Cooly G (who I’ll be talking to soon for you) and Ikonika providing the highlights. There’s a tracklisting here of the mixes, and I would definitely recommend chasing it down.
It’s sad to me that we have to mark a night like the above as a “special”—radio shows featuring all or mostly men go unmarked every day (“male-only” is just normal business)—but I appreciate that Hobbs was concerned with supporting the amazing artists above, and I wish that more DJs would follow in her footsteps.
Hobbs left the BBC last year to work for the University of Sheffield, but I think that her achievements in helping to shape some of the decade’s most vital underground music in the UK deserve to be celebrated. While she’s off the radio, she continues to tour—her Road Warrior tour is currently making its way across the US and dates can be found on her website.