Arts Dec20 2017, Cardiff

Proportional Parties PT1: Jessie Belters and Blue Honey

For part one of a series of interviews on club representation initiatives, Owen Tanner talks to Andy Richards and Jessie Belters about female and queer underrepresentation in Cardiff. Jessie is an events promoter and DJ from Cardiff who runs a monthly girls-only DJ night called ‘Women, Wax and Digital Tracks’, alongside Andy Richards. As well as hosting women, wax and digital tracks, Andy’s venue, Blue Honey Café also host LGBT+ friendly nights with Bitch Please from Bristol.

Owen: Why do you think that Cardiff is so underrepresented in DJs which aren’t men?

Jessie: A lot of girls come to me and say they would love to DJ but they are a bit intimidated, or maybe lazy, and I think that visibility would definitely help to spur girls like this on.

Andy: And those girls wouldn’t have had someone before to have those kinds of conversations with. I think it’s under-representation but also lack of visibility, particularly in the sense of DJs. I think this is a thing which has been in the last 10-15 years or so, because if you go back to the mid-90s, there were quite a few visible DJs, for example, Claire James. But I think when Jessie came along, there wasn’t someone regularly playing Cardiff in the same way.

Jessie: Except Mixtape is run by Dani Wickham.

Andy: Yeah. What we need in Cardiff, or any area similar, is to see a constant run of female DJs, and with that visibility comes people feeling more comfortable to approach promoters.

Jessie: The only other thing I can say is when I first was approaching promoters I had a lot of mixes up on the internet, and the only promoter that gave me a set was blue honey. Now I definitely feel more established, but I still get comments like “Wow, you are actually good!”

Owen: I always find that kind of comment revealing because it shows transparently that there is an assumption made on what kind of set you would play. I’ve talked to queer DJs who have received similar comments. Their perception was that the person making them assumed that they would be a camp stereotype. What do you think the assumption is about you as a girl?

Jessie: That I’m not good.

Owen: What made you guys decide to create the Women, Wax and Digital Tracks night?

Andy: It came from a conversation where we realised we wanted a night that showcased female DJs and Cardiff didn’t have that. Being close to Jessie, I realised we weren’t seeing enough female DJs, and with that, it meant we were missing out on some talent, so it made sense to have an all-girls night. Coax the bedroom DJs out of the woodworks.

Jessie: I was just getting annoyed like there were day parties where there were 10-15 DJs playing in Cardiff and not one person was a woman. I started doppler because I wanted that place to play in Cardiff and when I did girls came up to me which made me realise I should make a night for girls in general.

Andy: It came first from the idea of not just girls, but people in general who wouldn’t feel comfortable playing a big night. Then the idea went to a DJ school, but we decided that it was more appropriate to let girls use their own space, show off their own skills, in a space which was casual and laid back.

Jessie:  I’ve also been asked by people from the Creative Republic of Cardiff to put on a workshop before the girls’ event, so monthly. Where I’ll show people technical skills as a DJ but also obviously, as I run events as well, that side of things: promoting and how to get your name out there. So that’s going to start at the next all girl’s night.

Andy: It would be great to see if this does have a snowball effect and we start seeing more female DJs in the underground scene.

Jessie: Yeah definitely, In Bristol there have been two or three really successful female collectives and that has led to me seeing a lot more girls on line-ups. I think of them as an influence.

Owen: On the subject of influences, do you have any others you would like to talk about from the past or present?

Andy: I’ve really been enjoying Apeiron Crew from Copenhagen’s output recently.

Jessie: They are all recent really. Discwoman from New York, Rhythm Sister from Bristol. But to be honest, I’ve always really liked music, and I think what spurred me on was that there wasn’t anyone in Cardiff playing what I wanted to hear.

Owen: Despite the fact that you are a great DJ who has brought something new to Cardiff, you have said you found it hard to get a booking at first. Do you think that being a girl made it harder for you to get a booking?

Jessie: I definitely think that with all the male DJs in Cardiff there was still something missing. I can only really say my experience, which was that I did send my mixes to everyone who was part of the music scene on Facebook and Blue Honey was the first one that said yes. Then I started Doppler two months after that. Another promoter who let me on was Christian, who also hosts Sissy Boy Tears sometimes.

Owen: Andy, you also host queer nights, for example with Bitch Please from Bristol. What made you decide to do that?

Andy: It’s two-pronged really, it firstly comes from my understanding that Cardiff doesn’t really have an alternative queer clubbing experience or even an authentic gay clubbing experience. Some of the best nights that I have been to are queer-centric but more generally promote ideas of looseness not just from a sexual perspective but from a tolerance perspective. I mean obviously you have your Pulse and Marys [Cardiff mainstream/chain gay clubs], but I see it as much more of a life-affirming experience than that. Gay clubbing comes from a past where the nature of discrimination forced a space to exist, and what has been made is a space where people can dance and love and exist. And what you got from that was an incredibly creative space of intense love and tolerance. As the owner of the café, I wanted to create an environment which tries to bring that. I want this café to be a place of inclusivity, so it would be outrageous for me to say that and not have a night which welcomes the LGBT community.

Owen: Yeah I completely agree, I would go further and say that some spaces in Cardiff are committing this outrageous contradiction you describe, of promoting everything they want out of queer culture – a space which plays queer founded genres such as disco and techno to quite heavily heterosexist spaces where queer people and women don’t always feel safe. It’s a fine line to walk. For example, I have received homophobic comments at Teak. How do you guys think these issues surrounding representation spill into issues outside of the club?

Andy: I think that club culture and clubbing spaces can be quite up their arses sometimes in thinking that they are spaces where everyone is equal when what we see is just another reflection of issues in wider society – this is true all the way from agents to the people who own the spaces. It isn’t this great place, it’s just another reflection of all the glass ceilings we see elsewhere and I think that people need to be honest with themselves about this. Not just women but other minorities are blocked all the time. And what I would say is the responsibility of clubbing culture, if it claims to be this kind of space, is to become the ideal, be the utopia. And I think as well in 2017 we are seeing that. There is a voice coming out from female DJs and we need to carry on that trajectory and that will influence the wider community.

Owen: I would like to finish by asking you guys if there are any LGBT and/or female DJs you want to shout out from Cardiff?

Andy: Jessie, obviously. She plays all vinyl and is playing Tresor, one of the largest clubs in Berlin next year and has only been on the scene for less than a year. We also have another girl called Esther who plays here every Saturday and again is only just getting used to playing out all the time but her taste in all kinds of music and how to get them together really shines through in her sets.

Jessie: Claire James is obviously a Cardiff legend. Also at the next all girl’s night we will have Dani Wickham who I’m really looking forward to, and Ellie Gillan as well!

Andy: In terms of LGBT DJs Butch Queen was a legend, but has now gone to live in London. Cardiff is really underrepresented but I’m excited to see if any LGBT DJs come and do the rounds on the straight clubs soon.

Owen: Do you have any final comments?

Andy: I want to say a little about ownership. I’ve had a few questions from people on the gay scene, saying “Do you think it’s good that you guys are putting on a queer night? Are you just trying to cash in on the pink pound? Do you have a place to put on these kinds of nights?”. Which did make me ask the question to myself as a cis man. But the way I answered it was like how I answered to you earlier- it’s not about me it’s about the venue, which brings me to the conclusion that yes, of course I do! It’s not that I’m trying to own the subculture but provide a space for it to exist, which are two very different things.