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Despite diverse audience, EDM's biggest acts are mostly white and male

Diplo performs at Madison Square Garden with Skrillex on December 31, 2014 in New York City.
Diplo performs at Madison Square Garden with Skrillex on December 31, 2014 in New York City.
Brad Barket/Getty Images

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Electronic Dance Music, or EDM, is the fastest-growing genre in music. It's grown into a $6 billion global industry. Been to Las Vegas lately? Almost every major hotel there has a club dedicated to EDM.

At this year's Coachella Music Festival, more than a third of all the acts are EDM DJs or producers. But a look at Coachella's EDM lineup shows a lack of diversity that's representative of the genre as a whole.

Despite electronic music's hugely diverse audience, the artists tend to be a fairly homogeneous group. Namely, they're mostly straight, white males. 

The gender problem is apparent across the dance music industry — from DJs to producers to record company executives. But the problem is not just in the makeup of the talent, but also in how women are depicted in videos.

Zel McCarthy is the Editor-in-Chief of Thump, the electronic music and culture channel from Vice Media. He spoke with The Frame's John Horn about EDM's diversity problem.

Interview Highlights

On the lack of diversity in Electronic Dance Music:

It has been going on for a long time. And, I should also point out that it's not just women who are in the minority, it's also people of color and queer people, and the irony of that is that dance music, house music in particular, was started by a black, gay man in Chicago. And his business partner started the first club of house music, called 'The Warehouse.'  

I was in Chicago for the anniversary of this man's death, Frankie Knuckles. He passed away a year ago on March 31st. The room was filled with people who had been there in the early days of Chicago house music, the thing that started this all. And it's a much different group of people than who you see today as the leaders and the celebrities of EDM.

On the sexualization of women on EDM album covers and in music videos:

Calvin Harris video

Calvin [Harris] is a fantastic producer and he's really been a leader in the last few years, because he has changed what the role of the DJ has been. He has had pop hits for himself, he produced hits for Rihanna and he's made people like Ellie Goulding stars. 

I'm hesitant to say that Calvin Harris is the problem, but I think that his videos represent a point of view that is dominated exclusively by the straight, white guy.

On the lack of female DJs:

There aren't a lot of people encouraging for there to be more women DJs. It's very difficult.

And I don't think this is an intentional effort on the part of the men who are running dance music. I think it's kind of a bias that is just ingrained in all facets of society. You know, we are very aware of sexism as it appears in the kind of violent and ugly ways.

I think we are less conscious of it when it's just a matter of guys who happened to be running a management company, who happened to be representing their friend, who happens to be a lot like them.

On the trolling female EDM artists experience on social media:

Krewella: Somewhere To Run

Krewella has been around for about five or six years. They were a three-piece, two sisters, Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf, and Kris Trindl. Kris fell out with the rest of the group and the management team. And in that process, the girls who are still in the group, Yasmine and Jahan, have become targets by Internet haters, being accused of not actually producing, not actually doing the work of the group.

And there's absolutely no evidence of that. I've covered this group for a couple years now, I know them well. I know that the sisters are producers, DJs, songwriters and singers.

[Krewella's 'Somewhere to Run'] is really innovative, and it's catchy, and it has the ability to do something for dance music that no other artist does at this point. And they're being attacked when no other male artist at the same level has been.

On the lack of female EDM acts on Coachella's lineup:

Coachella's done a terrible job of representing female artists in all genres. And I'm not the first to say it. There's been plenty of coverage about how it has consistently been. And Coachella is not alone. 

We did a study last year that showed, just in dance music, how bad gender diversity is on these lineups. And we're talking less than 10 percent on these lineups have women artists. I think Coachella's percentage this year is something like 15 or 16 percent for women.

There are some really great artists playing at Coachella this weekend and next. Alison Wonderland is a new artist from Australia. She's a producer and a DJ. She's also a classically trained cellist and a she's a singer. She's really a phenomenal talent and it's great that she's on that stage.

There's no reason why there shouldn't be 10 more people like her. They're out there. They're just not given the opportunities they need to succeed. And Coachella, it's a big festival, but it's also incredibly influential. And it means a lot to play on it.

Alison Wonderland: I Want U video

You can livestream Coachella right here, and read more about the schedule here.

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