York University (Toronto)
Most films depicting DJs and their attendant culture—whether documentary or drama—feature predominantly masculine points of view. Girl, a full-length documentary focused on legendary hard house/trance DJ Sandra Collins as well as six other women-identified DJs, offers a unique collection of feminine voices and experiences, making it an important contribution to the history of EDM and the study of DJ culture. Part wish-fulfillment, part confessional, part documentary and part cautionary tale of the push and pull of excessive partying of touring life, Girl covers a lot of ground. Filmmaker, visual artist and actor Kandeyce Jorden notes that it was an enthusiasm for dance music and culture that inspired her to direct this film. Early in the film’s narrative, Jorden states that were she not a filmmaker, she “would secretly want to be a DJ”. Later in the film she expresses a yearning for Collins’ seemingly carefree life as a DJ: “she never made lists, she never returned phone calls ... being in the moment ... was starting to feel like a drug”. It is no surprise then that, alongside Collin’s narratives, there is a prominent foregrounding of the director herself and the resultant changes to her life experience in the wake of touring with Collins.
With regards to structure, the film breaks down into two sections. The front matter outlines Jorden’s background: Jorden narrates via voiceover, first introducing herself before describing her relationship with her film director partner and their success collaborating on a short film together. After marrying, Jorden stayed home to raise their newborn son while her husband pursued a burgeoning career. She describes feeling a need for more in her life than “just being a mother”. When her husband was hired to write and direct a film about a female DJ to be produced by Paul Oakenfold—which never materialized—Jorden expresses jealousy of his “hang outs” with Oakenfold, complete with access to glamorous parties and women. As she clarifies, “I didn’t want to be left behind” so she decided to shoot a documentary about “girls who really do this”.
This first section features interview footage with DJ Rap, Collette, DJ Irene and the more unknown Rebecca Sin, Lady D and DJ Mea. Each DJ is interviewed separately, and each addresses one or more of the now-familiar themes identified in the growing body of work on gender and DJ culture (Rogers 2010; Farrugia 2012; Gavanas & Reitsamer 2013, 2016; Gadir 2017), albeit from primarily white, cis-gendered and correspondingly hegemonic perspectives; in the film, Jorden profiles one racialized DJ (Lady D) and one openly queer DJ (Irene). Aside from Irene, all of the other DJs profiled present as femme, meaning they face obstacles that arise via stratification due to both appearance and sexuality. As Lady D notes, women are policed in terms of their appearance and sexuality and viewed dichotomously as either virgins or whores. DJ Irene as a queer female deftly sidesteps this sexist stratification. Indeed, critical evidence exists of how queer and non-femme women-identified DJs encounter less sexist barriers due to the fact that they are not viewed as “fuckable”, and therefore granting them honorary male—and not sexualized—status (Farrugia 2012). As influential scholars have concluded, research beyond hegemonic white norms, including further studies of how race and sexuality intersect with gender to impact DJs’ experiences of their work, are much needed (Rogers 2010; Farrugia 2012). As a professional DJ with two decades’ experience (including five years of steady touring) who is a white cis-female, it makes sense that the film resonated with me, particularly around topics such as autonomy, loneliness, credibility, safety and self-medication on tour.
Each DJ has an interesting story to tell, but DJ Irene makes a compelling subject in particular, both in terms of her challenging early life as a young single mom at the age of fourteen residing in a foster home, and her queer persona which shields her from the kind of policing of appearance and sexuality experienced by women presenting as femme. Irene describes her musical style as aggressive, and comments enthusiastically that during her hard-hitting DJ sets she “comes out slugging and keeps going ... I don’t like foreplay ... I’ll just fuck you now because I’m going to fuck you later”. Jorden depicts her subjects reveling in the joy of being a DJ, and their ability to entertain an audience as they are moving in the moment. As Lady D puts it, in an obvious ode to Michael Jackson, you help people “leave that 9-5’er on the shelf”. In an incredible sharing of communal joy, the film captures its subjects’ passion for their craft.
The second section of the film leaves the six other DJs behind to focus on the relationship that develops between Jorden and Sandra Collins over the remaining course of filming. Jorden explains that while pursuing interview subjects she kept hearing about Sandra Collins, “who plays boy’s music better than most boys”. Jorden decides that Collins is the subject for whom Jorden has been searching and is certain that Collins “had a story to tell”. Finally, Jorden tracks Collins down but still has difficulty securing an interview with her alone, even as Jorden tours with Collins on and off over the course of a few years. Ultimately, Jorden suppresses her own identity somewhat in order to realize her vision of EDM hedonism. Over the course of filming, Jorden’s marriage breaks up and she moves into her own place in Venice, CA, sharing custody of her son with her ex-husband, who remains supportive of her ambitions. Interestingly, Jorden’s self-insertion into the narrative fills in the space where Collins would not pour her own confessions.
A particularly original and engaging feature of Girl is its exploration of both motherhood and its seeming counterpoint: a type of hedonism enabled by being a touring DJ. Jorden does not flinch in addressing the impact of drugs and alcohol on those whose job it is to “bring the party”. As acknowledged, an interesting aspect of the film arises in the juxtaposition of DJ and domestic lifestyles. The film presciently documents how DJing is (still) gendered as male dominated, while child rearing is (still) gendered female in western culture according to a binary conception of gender. DJs are professional partiers in a sense, and whilst male DJs are lauded for indulging to excess because “boys will be boys”, women face judgment as transgressive according to the good girl/bad girl narrative that echoes the age-old virgin/whore dichotomy discussed above. Jorden describes Collins’ reputation in DJ culture as the “Peter Pan of the female race” partly due to Collins’ experience of losing of her parents and her isolation from her siblings. When Jorden first meets Collins, the latter expresses feelings of being orphaned and in need of being mothered, saying to Jorden, “I need a mom ... can I have you as a mom?” Jorden’s response: “I felt protective of her, as if she were a sister”.
This connection through a sense of the familial—and by extension, domestic—is disrupted toward the end of the film when Collins takes Jorden on a tour of Eastern Europe and their relationship changes; Jorden begins to “party too hard” in Russia, abandoning her mothering role. The intense relationship comes to a head when Jorden pressures Collins to stay out (and up) longer, until finally Collins’ loses her patience with Jorden, understandably expressing her exhaustion and frustration with Jorden’s choices and lack of self-awareness. As Jorden admits: “I wasn’t at my best and I can tell that everyone around me agreed”. It comes as no surprise then, that—upon returning to the hotel room—she realizes that she has lost her wallet and passport. The DJ leaves to catch an impending flight to the next gig without telling Jorden if she will be re-joining the tour or not. Jorden is stranded while she awaits new documents to leave the country. At this juncture, she films her self-reckoning realization that, for her, partying is an empty activity, which led to a distancing of her subject. Collins took Jorden on tour with her because, as Collins states in the film, she needed someone to tour with (assumedly for safety and stability; which again, I relate to) and until that point Jorden had played a maternal role for Collins. In a way, by losing herself and her identification to the party scene, stranding herself in a hotel in Russia with nothing else to do but “drink vodka”, Jorden experienced a stereotypical aspect of DJing, as per her wish at the beginning of the film.
Before concluding I would like to comment briefly on the visual and audio aspects of the film. Jorden paints a dreamlike portrait replete with footage of lavish outdoor parties, and eye-catching long shots of Burning Man, which she attended for the first time with Collins. Throughout the film, Jorden does an admirable job of working with the iconography of light, for example, demonstrating the full variety of sensations that accompany the unique feeling of watching a sunrise after dancing all night. We get a montage of dancers, fashions and indoor smoking, inducing nostalgia for the early ’00s. The exceedingly well-curated music suits the accompanying visuals, spanning a variety of EDM’s multitudinous genres (helpfully, track listings appear in the credits). In addition to the sheer visual appeal and the structural aspects of the film, Jorden evokes an aural sense of being at the party by tracking voices and conversation to filter in and out of the film’s audio, initially overtaking and ultimately receding from the musical soundtrack.
Farrugia, Rebekah. 2012. Beyond the Dance Floor: Female DJs, Technology, and Electronic Dance Music Culture. Bristol, UK: Intellect.
Gadir, Tami. 2017. “Forty-Seven DJs, Four Women: Meritocracy, Talent and Postfeminist Politics”. Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture 9(1): 50–72. <http://dx.doi.org/10.12801/1947-5403.2017.09.01.03>.
Gavanas, Anna and Rosa Reitsamer. 2013. “DJ Technologies, Social Networks and Gendered Trajectories in European DJ Cultures”. In DJ Culture in the Mix: Power, Technology and Social Change in Electronic Dance Music, ed. Bernardo Attias, Anna Gavanas, and Hillegonda Rietveld, 51–78. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.
— 2016. “Neoliberal Working Conditions, Self-Promotion and DJ Trajectories: A Gendered Minefield”. PopScriptum 12. <https://www2.huberlin.de/fpm/popscrip/themen/pst12/pst12_gavanas_reitsamer.pdf> (accessed 25 October 2017).
Rogers, Tara. 2010. Pink Noises: Women on Electronic Music and Sound. Durham: Duke University Press.