A revolution at the turntablesAt a New Year’s party at The Underground, a new club in Apgujeong-dong, the turntables featured a rare sight: an all-female lineup. Dubbed the Delicious Divas, they included headlining Miss Bliss of the United States and local DJs Michelle, Neva_Far and Rosa.
“I wanted to show that women in this day and age, especially in Korea, can lead in an area that is traditionally dominated by men,” says Darren Hong, the executive director of dmX Productions, which organized the event.
The idea for a “Delicious Divas” party came from witnessing the strength of Mr. Hong’s fiancee, Michelle. “Michelle was dealing with a lot of these political and male chauvinistic attitudes when working with Korean companies. Fortunately, she has stood her ground not with words, but with results and productivity. This was the inspiration that led me to develop this concept for our event,” he said.
A few years ago, there wouldn’t have been enough female DJs in Korea for a lineup like The Underground’s. One of the earliest local DJs, who goes by the name of Sal, recalls a dearth of female DJs when she started in the summer of 1999. The two she remembers who paved the way for her were DJ Asha, techno music, and DJ Yang Yang, drum and bass.
Men dominate the scene internationally, too. According to Shirley Hong, a freelance music and fashion journalist, and the music coordinator for the newly opened Garden Life restaurant resort, anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of the world’s most famous DJs are men.
Some attribute the lack of female DJs to the hours. “It’s a nighttime job and some young women, especially in Korea, have a curfew of sorts,” says Ms. Hong, who is temporarily spinning at Garden Life.
Others point to the old boys’ club. “When I was starting, I felt like the guys weren’t taking me seriously,” says DJ Neva_Far. Still others talk about the physical requirements ― long, late hours, and the surprisingly heavy load of vinyls and CDs to carry to parties, says DJ Rosa.
Thus for years, visiting DJs were mostly men. Exceptions of female DJs headlining parties are a handful, from Lisa Loud who first came to Korea for a 2003 New Year’s party, to Rebekah, who was here during the World Cup, and DJ Rap in 2003, all organized by 02 Productions. The next party by 02 Productions features, incidentally, another woman. Lisa Lashes, one of the top-ranking DJs from the United Kingdom, will be performing Feb. 14 at Sheraton Grande Walkerhill.
Promoters like 02 and dmX are creating venues for female DJs, and capitalizing on a newly increasing pool in Korea.
“I don’t think it’s a female-male thing, but that being a DJ is not so popular yet. As more and more people want to become DJs, the number of women will increase,” says Tommy Kim of 02 Productions.
Mr. Kim supports a DJ academy in Daehangno and says half the students are women. Robb Harker of Sickboy Productions, an event organizer, also notes that more clubs are training the growing pool of female DJs.
For pioneers like DJ Sal, the going hasn’t been too rough. “It’s very fun working in a field with mostly men.”
She says that many female DJs play house and lounge music, or what she calls “easy listening.” “I like easy listening, but I wish there were more women DJs in the headbanging, powerful genres,” she says. Sal is taking a temporary break from DJing, but intends to return with Sickboy Productions parties.
As for DJ Neva_Far, she says, “To become recognized as a DJ, I have to get over the perception, ‘She’s good for a girl,’ and be accepted regardless of gender.”
Here are a few of these female DJs, four who were at the Delicious Divas party and a fifth with a resident spot at Myungwolgwan.
Music: funky house, progressive, deep house
Can be found at: Myungwolgwan
Daytime job: I only DJ
Dream party: the beautiful island of Ibiza, Spain
Recent vinyl purchase: Moondog, ordered from London, adding on to my 400-plus record collection
DJ Lai had graduated from college when she began clubbing. She was a 25-year-old art teacher, and she enjoyed the music so much that she found a part-time job at Myungwolgwan, a club near Hongik University. She did everything, from bartending to cashiering to ushering in guests.
And the more time she spent at Myungwolgwan, watching the DJs and hearing the music, the more she became interested in the music. So she started teaching herself and at the age of 29 and became a resident DJ at the club.
In the meantime, she gave up being an art teacher. “I never worried about making money as a DJ. It’s one of those things you have to do because you love it, and not to make money,” she says.
“As a musician, yes it’s been hard at times,” she says, citing difficulties buying vinyls. “As a woman, never. Not yet. I don’t even want to think about it.”
Now in her early 30s, she says she started late. “But music has no boundaries on age, and everyone appreciates music on different levels.”
Music: break beats
Can be found at: parties with Breakbakery and other event promoters
Daytime job: LG overseas marketing
Dream party: to spin at Club Fabric in London as a superstar DJ
Being a female DJ is: cool, but the one bad thing is women competing with each other
Michelle Kim, 26, grew up listening to heavy metal. But when a friend of hers, DJ Kuma, introduced her to the world of electronic music, a break beat DJ was born. She drew upon a name that a father from her church gave her and became DJ Michelle. Now she says, “I can’t listen to anything else, except maybe house.”
She’s been deejaying for less then a year and considers herself a “newbie,” part of the reason she’s keeping her very mainstream job at LG. But she’s striving to be “the best DJ in Korea,” to make her own music, and to create a break beat scene in Korea. And if she eventually goes international, her linguistic skills should come in handy; she speaks French, Korean and English.
Before the Delicious Divas party, the only other female DJ she’d heard of in Korea was DJ Sal.
Music: deep house, tribal
Can be found at: parties around Korea
Daytime job: teacher at Hanyoung Foreign Language School
Dream party: Shelter, New York, Saturday night. Party gets started at 3 a.m.
Do you consider yourself a sex symbol? Maybe if I had bigger breasts. I’ve heard of female DJs playing that angle.
By the time Susanne Kwon was 16 years old, she was a club diva in Canada. The music, the dancing, the clothing, but most of all, the DJs caught her imagination. But she was confident that her parents would dismiss a career as a DJ, so she laid that dream to rest.
“When I turned 25, I realized I’m not getting any younger,” she says. In one week, she blew 4,000 Canadian dollars on two new turntables, a pair of speakers and a used amp. A friend gave her a mixer for free. “It was the best decision I ever made,” she says.
When she began, and even now, the 27-year-old feels a strange vibe when she walks into record stores. “It’s like some guys think their territory is being invaded,” she says. In addition to DJs and singers, she wishes for more females in the nonperformance section of music, like production.
When she moved to Korea a year ago to be a high school educator, she brought her DJ turntables and speakers with her. “Immigration thought I was a terrorist. I had nine pieces of luggage with wires all over the place. That’s when I knew I can’t turn back.”
Music: ambient, lounge
Can be found at: J’s, formerly a jazz club in Itaewon, on Tuesday nights, and private parties in Korea and Japan
Daytime job: dancer trained in odissi, a traditional devotional dance of India
Dream party: outdoors at sunrise or sunset, with a rainbow-colored sky. In addition to music, there would be meditation, performances, exhibitions, good food and people who care about each other.
Ibiza is: too commercial, try Mykonos in Greece instead
As a dancer, DJ Rosa, 25, deciphers and presents music as a means for spiritual motions. She’s danced at clubs in Ibiza and private parties in Japan, where she’s invited for her background in odissi, a traditional devotional dance of India.
Dancing came naturally to Rosa, partially as a means to tell stories about herself through her body. But the set motions in a performance and the routine of practice became too stifling. So she set her sights elsewhere and won a national scholarship to India, a country she had been enamored with and visiting since she turned 19. “No one can teach you how to be a choreographer. And in my teenage years, my belief system came crashing down. I left Korea to find peace.”
In Delhi, she found meditation centers where holy men danced spontaneously, then meditated. Now with a weekly DJ spot at J’s, she’s also planning to create a meditation program for that spiritual sense of well being, without drugs.
“One of the hardest things about playing huge parties is getting in there and matching the emotional game of the clubbers,” she says. “If the people in the crowd are on drugs, DJing becomes about the drug trip, and not about the music. I would like to be a DJ who can make an audience come down in a nice way, like having dessert after food.”
All you need to know about this DJ’s personality is in her name: Miss Bliss. She’s sassy and she’s happy-go-lucky, taking a cue from the attitude of Florida breaks. Among other parties, this New York-based DJ has presided over Big Apple Breaks, a weekly club night that, while focusing on New York breaks, brought in international breaks DJs like Krafty Kuts and Jonathan Lisle.
At 18, Miss Bliss, better known then by her real name, Cara Wolinsky, heard electronic music for the first time. She lost herself there. “It takes you somewhere else for a little while, and then you come back,” she said.
She immediately knew that she wanted to be a DJ. “I got the feeling it wouldn’t be O.K. with my parents,” she says. So she waited until after college to buy her own turntables.
Since then, she’s played at clubs all over the world. The 24-year-old, whose parents are from the United States and Hong Kong, has also spent some time in Asia, doing gigs in Hong Kong, China and, most recently, in Daegu and Seoul.
The best thing about being a female DJ?
You’re a bit of a novelty and you stand out. I’m not going to argue with that.
But I feel like some people don’t take me as seriously. I used to wear cute clothes, and now I wear jeans and T-shirts.
At one party, a promoter, who’s probably a guy, paid a stripper to pretend to be a DJ. She was playing a mix by someone I knew. After her, the party promoter set up a real deck, and asked if I was ready to play. With my clothes on, yeah.
What are you working on now?
I’m producing now and learning how to use software. It’s slow. One of my tracks I made with an art director friend of mine. After drinking one night, he said, “Why don’t you record me talking into the mike?” We took samples and it became “Justin’s Been Drinking.”
What’s the best part of deejaying?
I like the unpredictability of it. I’ve played a lot of crappy parties. Makes the good parties that much more special.
This is definitely not an office job. I’ve temped before, and it was O.K. for two weeks. I can DJ forever.
What do you listen to at home?
I don’t listen to electronic music. I get enough electronic music at clubs. I listen to jazz, reggae.
What do you think about becoming a superstar DJ?
I just want to get by. My dream is to end up on an island with a beautiful boy.
by Joe Yong-hee