Amsterdam by night is beautiful and evocative: the generous music scene and its club turnover have opened the doors in recent years to several new experiences – including Doka and De School – many complain about a too commercial offer and a slow but relentless standardization of micro-cosmos at night. On the other hand, the “dance music industry” is, with all intents and purposes, one of the most important voices in all of Dutch industry. This, on the one hand, has made DJs real “professionals of the console” yet, on the other, has crushed the vein of improvisation that has made so many love the scene.
Then there is the question of “gender”, which, to be clear, does not strictly concern Amsterdam: the women in the console are few. Here, we are not talking about Paris Hilton or the star on duty who wears “Bling” and starts an award-winning CD, but about real professionals: women who, for years, have dedicated time and effort to discover new sounds, improve their technique, and build a DJ identity all there own.
Three experts, three established deejays, who have made Amsterdam their home, spent time with us, telling their stories. Adi Lev, Wanna Be A Star, and Monica Oud are three veterans of vinyl, with twenty years of experience behind them, united by their being women in a world of evil DJs.
Women in the console: nothing to prove
Adi Lev, of Israeli origin, mainly plays drum&bass, a genre that, as she tells us, gave her the opportunity to grow and experiment. “When I was 17 I moved to London; I had to stay a week, but in the end it became five months. I had fallen in love with that kind of music and when I got back my father gave me a DJ console.
Learning the art of mixing and cueing was, however, pioneering, Adi Lev tells 31mag: at the time, a woman deejay was not well seen in Israel. Beats and Breaks from London brought her luck: at the age of 19 she officially started playing and at 22 she was already a name in Israel. Shortly after, she moved to Amsterdam where she has lived for over 20 years. “If you’re a woman, few expect you to be able to reveal yourself in a console in a smart and talented way,” she says, “but when you do a good performance, you’ll be amazed, and that has a lot to do with the different perceptions that men and women have of music: we’re more connected to what is the emotional sphere of the music we make.”
Wanna Be A Star plays techno and house, but she like range in genre, with another pseudonym, for example, dealing with rock and metal. She also started early, at 22 years old, and as a clubber with a past as a dancer, she decided to move to the other side of the console. Like the Israeli DJ, Wanna Be A Star had to prove more than what would be required of a man: “When I was younger a lot of people bought the ticket for my live shows just because they saw my photo printed on the cover: at the end of the concert they came to say “we bought the ticket without knowing who I was, but now we know that you can also play”, it’s like when they say that women are not able to drive, the same goes for the music.
Monica Oud took her first steps experimenting with the DJ console at school parties: “Then I gradually got bones and started playing at small parties, then at squat parties until I organized parties myself,” she says. She also confirms the opinions of her colleagues: making a career in this area, however, is not easy. It’s difficult to be taken seriously: “It’s also because of other women who use their being sexy or “dolls”, even before being musicians, and this is bad for our image because we give space to the image, rather than quality. As far as I’m concerned, the important thing is music, not what’s between your legs,” she says directly.
The Amsterdam of yesteryear is no longer there
Much of their career was built in Amsterdam, where they live and still perform. But the scene of the 1990s was very different from what it is today: “I barely go out to Amsterdam”, says Wanna be a Star. “I think the city is gradually losing its qualities as far as clubs are concerned: I miss trying out new things, such as promoting unknown deejays and getting people to play surprisingly,” she says with a touch of malice.
For Adi, the Amsterdam scene is of good quality but at the same time very, very organized: “the closing times are fixed. At 5am the clubs turn on the lights; if you go to Italy, Israel, or New York they don’t close until people leave. There are beautiful parties but it’s all so organized that the vibrations and surprises typical of the parties are lost in the street.
For Monica, Amsterdam is “small”: “This is not the place where I can express my music and art to the fullest. I had a lot more fun in the ’90s. The music scene was more underground and independent. Now it’s all commercial and the clubs are mainly interested in making money. In this sense, even the career of Adi Lev, who 20 years ago played purely in social centers, has changed in recent years: “Today squats no longer exist and, although the scene is alive, remains too rigidly controlled.
The three DJs are not nostalgic but share the difficulty of finding their own space in a very different city from the one they remembered at the beginning of their careers: “If I leave home to go to a party I would like to be surprised by the deejays, hear new sounds, new vibrations, new tracks, and have fun. But most of the time I hear them playing the same music of 15 years: it seems that the deejays just copy and paste. The spark of the past is lost”.