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July 14, 2009

jjj's hottest 100: where was Lil Armstrong?!

Posted by dogpossum on July 14, 2009 2:01 PM in the category djing and lindy hop and other dances and music and research

John has posted an interesting piece about JJJ's Hottest 100 and I thought I'd better comment at length here rather than cluttering up the comments thread there. I will annotate for those who haven't been following the twitterati/bloggy chat.

[Point raised by others: the hottest 100 was a bit 90s-nostalgia trip for blokes who were teenagers in the 90s]

JJJ and Rage have always felt a bit 90s-nostalgia to me. But perhaps that's because the 90s were about the last time I listened to mainstream music...

I was wondering where Blondie, Siouxie and the Banshees and other punker chicks were at in the hottest 100?

[This is where I get into some stuff I've been thinking about]

To be honest, I wouldn't really expect JJJ's list of 'hottest 100' songs to come up with anything particularly inclusive or properly representative of rock (let alone the broader music world). It's a list made by listeners of one particular (state funded national) radio station in one particular historical moment, so audience demographics, radio playlists and radio/record company relationships are going to be the guiding factors.
I'd be more interested in 4ZZZ's list - localised indy music? Or in comparing hottest 100 lists from different radio stations and then different media sources generally.

[Here I address a bigger couple of issues]
Someone noted that I should respect the opinions of the women voting in the hottest 100. If not, wouldn't that also be neglecting women's contributions?
My response is that this approach simply accepts the broader social and institutional factors that have lead us to this point. It is more the case that the hottest 100 and the way it is run and organised is at fault, and that it's more useful to discuss the way the music industry works, and to think about the audiences of JJJ and popular music generally. In other words, I do not accept the premise of the question - that it is not JJJ that is at fault, but women (and their voting or failure to rock).

Firstly, here's a point that's been raised by a couple of books I've been reading about women in jazz (Placksin and Dahl, primarily):

women have been making music forever. It's just that the music industry has not recognised this. Both Placksin and Dahl point out that the profound absence of women in jazz histories is in fact a complete fallacy. There are and have always been plenty of women in jazz. It's just that they haven't been scoring recording contracts, haven't had properly managed careers, haven't been promoted or even hired by venues or band leaders, and haven't even been allowed into bands in many cases. Placksin and Dahl produce a massive list of fully sick jazznick sisters, and make the point that there _were_ plenty of women in jazz. We just have to look beyond the popularly accepted myths about jazz history.

So, in reference to the Hottest 100, there are heaps of women who rock. It's just that people aren't seeing or hearing them. Who are these people?

a) the DJs playing music on the radio,
b) the station programmers making up playlists,
c) the record company promotions teams who aren't sending promo material to radio stations,
d) the record companies who aren't putting women musicians under contract,
e) the company and radio peeps who aren't looking beyond their own memories of the music world - they're not actually getting into the library to see what's there,
f) the audiences of these radio stations who are (voting) and buying/listening to music,
g) and of course the machinery of live music, where bands get their starts - the venues and festivals and so on simply aren't giving chicks a go. If women even feel comfortable asking.

So, there are fully sick women musicians.

There are fully sick women musicians who rock.

There are fully sick women musicians being recorded.

There are fully sick women musicians playing live gigs all the time.

It's more that the problem is with the music industry not promoting their music, and that the music industry itself is inimical to any type of professionalism which is not aggressive, competitive, misogynist, etc. It's not that it's even a masculinist culture; it's more that a particular set of skills and personality traits are required. And these tend to coincide with hegemomic masculinity.

Sigh. Just once, I'd like this not to be about the goddamn fucking patriarchy. Or capitalism.

[This is where I think about industrial and cultural factors which might prevent/discourage women from getting into bands/rock]

I was just reading an interesting discussion of the way different instruments are perceived as 'female' or 'male' (Dahl). This was an issue in the 20s and 30s - there's a famous quote from Jelly Roll Morton where he states that there was some concern that playing the piano would sissify him (and this from such an aggressively heterosexual man). Looking through jazz history for women musicians who played instruments (other than vocals), there's a preponderance of pianists. In the 10s, 20s and 30s the piano was an acceptably ladylike instrument, as was the voice. This is not to say that there weren't women playing guitars, trombones, trumpets (the most masculine of 1930s instruments), etc. It's just that they weren't recorded and didn't feature on stage in a big way until the war years, when all-girl bands became a novelty. Even though bands like the International Sweethearts of Rhythm were massively badass, and bands led by people like Lil Hardin Armstrong had a very long history of badassery and fully sick jazz roots and cred.

I wonder if 90s grunge was important for stimulating a garage band phenomenon which offered young blokes something else to do in the garage beyond fiddling about with cars? There's also that story about Seattle's climate facilitating the development of such a vibrant live music scene (similar comments are made about lindy hop today - Seattle has a massive lindy scene, in part - I suspect - because indoor activities suit rainy, miserable weather). But part of me is sure that all the time spent fiddling about with instruments has something to do with the way girls and boys are encouraged to spend their leisure time - domestic duties for girls, guitars for boys?

[Here is where I testify and you hear a lot about me. And me.]

I spend quite a bit of time in music shops (usually the DJ Warehouse, but often a music store when I'm looking for cables), and I am almost always (as in 99.99% of the time) the only woman in there. I've never dealt with a female retail worker. I have the same experience in jazz music shops. I don't mind this, really. I'm used to being around blokes, and I'm not exactly your conventionally feminine chick. I'm not adverse to kicking arse and taking names. But more importantly, I'm stubborn and determined, and it'll take more than a cock to distract me from purchasing the perfect headphones.

I'm a DJ rather than a musician, and the mainstream DJing scene seems just as male-dominated as the band scene. In swing (where I'm DJing), most top tier DJs are male, whereas the gender divide is fairly even in the everyday, bread and butter DJing. ie, women and men are doing the everyday DJing for regular events (keeping the local scenes going), but there are very, very few women at the top end, doing the big name interstate and international DJing.

Sound familiar? Looks like there are glass ceilings in the swinguverse too.

This is partly because of social/cultural factors: DJing is an intimidating world, with an emphasis on technology and a fairly intimidating culture. Women DJs are no more collaborative and supportive of new DJs than male (I've found), but they're less likely to speak up in online DJing talk and less likely to pursue a DJing career aggressively. They do good community stuff, men can do good community stuff, but male DJs tend to have the skills and appproach required by professional DJing.

Economics are also important. DJing requires:

- A fairly steady income (which can be frittered away on music, software, hardware, etc),

- copious amounts of time (to spend cataloguing music, dealing with tossers in music shops, practicing, learning to use technology, researching music, participating in online DJ talk (networking, skilling up, etc), etc).

Basically, you need time and money to get a certain skill and experience base.

- Actually getting gigs also demands some serious networking, and it's very masculine, male-dominated networking: you have to really work hard to get into the gang if you want good, high profile, paid gigs.

Working conditions are challenging.

- Once you're actually there, the hours are hard (late nights, long hours, lots of coming home late by yourself), dealing with the technology can be challenging (working in shitty venues with shitty gear) and there's quite a bit of pressure - you're responsible for entertaining a bunch of dancers, you have to be assertive enough to not get screwed over by event coordinators and also confident enough to put your hand up for challenging gigs.

All of these are the usual, familiar issues facing women in employment. I think that many of these issues face women in bands as well. While no one in the swinguverse has ever said (or even implied) to me that women shouldn't be DJs (like to see them try), the work and role are heavily gendered in the sort of sneaky, invisible way that we see in many other industries.

And girls in bands, of course, have to deal with record companies, with PR machinery, with radio networks, with the importance of visual presentation (ie what they look like), video clips, etc etc etc.

Add all this to the fact that a large proportion of teenage blokes have been trained to think of women only as boobs with legs, should we be at all surprised that JJJ's Hottest 100 didn't sport a higher proportion any women?

Fuck, I'm surprised. And it'll be a sad day when we stop commenting.

Blogging commentary:
The Hoydens have had at it already.

Stubborn mule has given us some figures re the list's favouring the 90s.

John brings it (after a long stream of interesting tweetage, btw).

Something to remind you:

 What is male privilege? (I have to add: even writing that makes me cringe in anticipation of a kick from some bloke. I've spent far too long in the swing world, which is so scarily patriarchal even I've absorbed it. egads.)

Book references:
Dahl, Linda. Stormy Weather: the Music and Lives of a Century of Jazz Women. Limelight: NY, 1992.

Placksin, Sally. Jazzwomen: 1900 to the Present. Pluto Press: London and Sydney, 1982.

Posted by dogpossum on July 14, 2009 2:01 PM in the category djing and lindy hop and other dances and music and research