The collective was convened in December 2018 by DJ Flight and Rupture founder Mantra to help redress the gender imbalance in drum ‘n’ bass. They run it alongside Sweetpea, MC Chickaboo Alley Cat and Jenna G, campaigning for fairer representation and hosting events such as workshops.
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The EQ50 Mentorship is the collective’s boldest and most ambitious project yet. It will take the form of a 12 month mentorship for five womxn (defined as ‘cis, trans, femmes, non-binary people’) producers. Each mentee will be paired with a partner record label and offered a range of support from both the record label and EQ50.
Record labels taking part in the scheme are Critical Music, Function Records, Ram Records, Shogun Audio and V Recordings. The support each provides will include regular A&R sessions and the chance to progress within the label, production masterclasses with artists on the label, and lessons relating to the business of music such as how contracts work.
Alongside this, an EQ50 mentor will additionally oversee the mentorship, offering support such as practice DJ sessions in world famous clubs, access to music and business masterclasses, and more.
A recent PRS Foundation report found that 79 per cent of the womxn who received grants from the Women Make Music programme felt an increase in confidence. EQ50 has identified that a lack of confidence is one obstacle to womxn breaking into the male-dominated industries, and that peer to peer support is invaluable.
“It’s time the industry got serious. We want drum ‘n’ bass to take a massive step - we're delighted that five labels see the benefits in working together to find industry-led solutions to gender inequality in our scene. We hope this is the start of a transformative network of womxn producers who will become drum ‘n’ bass heavyweights in the coming years,” said DJ Flight.
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“For the drum ‘n’ bass scene to reach gender parity during club nights and festivals, we need more mentorships every year for at least the next three years. We need more record labels, industry executives and promoters to commit so we see real, lasting transformative change”, said Mantra.
The mentorship is aimed at artists with good production knowledge and is not suitable for beginners at this time. Applications close on August 7, you can apply here.
We spoke to the EQ50 collective and Shogun Audio’s label manager to find out more. See the Q+A below.
Why is it necessary to launch the EQ50 mentorship and what impact are you hoping for it to have in the drum ‘n’ bass world?
DJ Flight: The mentorship programme is necessary simply for the fact drum 'n' bass has been and is so heavily male-dominated. While it's been fantastic to see more womxn emerge over the last few years - largely due to the internet, social media, and relative ease of streaming - in general womxn still don't receive anywhere near the amount of support men do, and that's right across the board through club/ festival line-ups, label and booking agency rosters, radio stations, music publications, overall support from fans and ravers, etc.
We hope this first EQ50 mentorship inspires a new generation of womxn to try their hands at producing, promoting, DJing, singing/MCing, whatever it is they're into, as well as potentially giving a confidence boost or show of solidarity to those who've been involved in the music for years - we see and know how you feel, we've all been there. Equally as important is that we hope more men in positions of power commit to even-ing out the gender imbalance by being vocally and actively supportive of womxn, in all aspects of the industry, and not only when it directly benefits themselves.
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How did the programme develop and how will it help mentees succeed in the music industry?
Mantra: We've been discussing this mentorship for over a year now but the timing never felt quite right. This pause in our industry caused by COVID-19, coupled with the BLM movement meant that the lack of diversity in drum 'n' bass is finally getting a look in. Although we individually mentor women we wanted a mentorship program, organized through EQ50, where we could work with established partner labels. By working collectively we’re able to offer a much stronger, well rounded package.
Each producer will have two mentors, one from their placement record label and one from EQ50. They’ll be in regular contact with leading A&R advisors from their placement label, have access to a wide range of industry masterclasses and EQ50 will be there to provide advice and guidance along the way.
A huge benefit of offering five womxn a mentorship is the peer to peer support that will be on offer. They will be able to form their own network and support structures which can have a huge effect on confidence and self esteem. Our partner record labels have acknowledged the need to make space within their label for the mentees to progress. It’s not a case of giving a bit of feedback every now and then - we are all committed to make meaningful change and provide concrete opportunities for these talented producers.
What inspired the choices in the labels involved and what support qualities will they bring to the mentorship?
Sweetpea: Drum 'n' bass is such a spectrum of subgenres we wanted to make sure we had an even spread of sounds. The labels we're working with are high profile in the scene, we hit up those that we thought would be open to EQ50's ideas and views. Their input and genuine want for change, we hope, will inspire others to follow. Many of the label managers and associates have been vocal about the importance of equal representation in d'n'b, they all have many years of experience and knowledge which we look forward to working with and getting the best out of, for this mentorship.
What are you looking for in applicants?
Alley Cat: In terms of applicants we're looking for womxn or non-binary producers based in the UK that do have some experience but need help in making the next step into the music business. Without contacts and support, especially as womxn, it's hard to get that leg-up and be noticed. We, along with the labels want to provide that support to bring them to the level of being a well-rounded producer and artist with the support and knowledge to get some releases under their belt, and enough business savvy to give them confidence to push forward in an industry that often forgets or overlooks womxn.
How valuable do you think a mentorship like this would have been for yourself when you started out?
Jenna G: I've never had a mentor but I've been one, always wondered how my career might have journeyed differently if I did have a supportive, unbiased soundboard/agony aunt, cheerleader to check in with and help me keep motivated and moving in the right direction. A lot of my career has been educating myself and navigating the harsh realities of being on the wrong side of the gender imbalance. I think it's imperative for people especially womxn to be able to rely on someone experienced and of the same gender identity, who's not making money out of them, for advice and support when progressing on a journey into music as a career.
What other steps would you like to see made in the drum ‘n’ bass scene to help bring about fairer representation?
Chickaboo: I would like to see DJs and labels actually add clauses to their contracts to make sure womxn are included in line-ups. If the booking agents also make sure they sign more female artists, then there’s more for the promoters to choose from, instead of the same womxn all the time.
Also MCs could support womxn MCing too, mentor and support a female. Push them on the mic during their sets too, so promoters see and hear them rock a crowd. Stop only using womxn they’re attracted to, or find “pretty”. Support the music and the vibes only. We don’t support the guys only coz they’re handsome or fit. Jheeze if we did there’d be trouble for a lot out there!
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What made Shogun Audio want to get involved in the EQ50 mentorship programme?
Amy-Jayne, Shogun Audio label manager: As a label, we understand our responsibility to bring more equality to the music industry. We are so happy to team up with the well connected EQ50 team alongside other key labels of the scene to make a change.
What advice would you give aspiring artists looking to apply?
Amy-Jayne: Understand your own sound or at least the direction where would see yourself going as a producer, this can then help the EQ50 team connect you with the right label teams. Don't worry if you have no unfinished tunes at this stage - just know your objection as a future artist in our scene.
Do you have any further plans to help more womxn artists break into the drum ‘n’ bass scene?
Amy-Jayne: We have been making a conscious effort to support equality in all our labels and our events. We have also been mentoring a young woman on our other label Elevate Records over the past eight months who is soon to release her debut release. We're hoping to continue to work with her and exclusively sign her to the label.
Patrick Hinton is Mixmag's Digital Features Editor, follow him on Twitter
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