Over the past decade, Shanghai’s underground club culture has grown, with labels and musicians from the city enjoying global media coverage and appearing in clubs and festivals around the world. The city is now considered the center of electronic music in China.
Women have been at the forefront of Shanghai’s musical success. Look no further than the producers on the roster of the city’s most famous electronic label, SVBKVLT.
There’s 33EMYBW, a polymath, who released two mind-blowing albums in 2019 and appeared on Aphex Twin’s Warehouse project the same year. Then there’s Hyph11E, who teamed up with Nyege producer Nyege Slikback for the album. B-sheet in 2019 and has been at the forefront of the city’s club scene for years.
Beyond SVBKVLT, Yehaiyahan is another of the best musicians in town, a multifaceted creator who makes soul, pop and ambient music. There’s also Cookie Zhang, a DJ and organizer who founded Eating Music, a label focused on RnB, hip hop and experimental music.
While many producers in the local music scene are women, a new label is shining a light on the gender gap in Shanghai’s non-commercial clubs.
Scandal was founded by Elf (who also goes by her stage name Everlast Phantom) in late 2019. Her initial plan was to promote artists from the Eastern European club scenes in China, along with her friend Wu Dada.
However, amid the spread of Covid-19, those plans were derailed. After a year of trying to make things work, Elf decided to change the intent behind the effort, and thus Scandal became a female-focused party label.
“I had noticed the state of gender inequality in the club scene here. I realized that parties [for female DJs] are far from sufficient. It’s like a never-ending process of trial and error, but I’m that kind of person: once I realize something is not going in the right direction, I make changes. Now it looks like we have finally arrived at the right thing to do,” Elf told RADII.
Before the launch of Scandal, with its first version, Alexithymia, in January, Elf conducted a small-scale survey of non-commercial club events in Shanghai. According to his calculations, male performers outnumbered females by 5:2. “It shows a big waste of creativity within our scene,” she tells us.
Unfortunately, this is a pervasive global problem. DJane Magan online magazine dedicated to showcasing female DJs, polled the top 20 international electronic music festivals and found that women made up only 7% of lineups.
In a post on their official WeChat account, Scandal highlighted the figures collected by the online gender-focused database Woman: pressurewhich revealed that just over 20% of artists at the festival from 2017 to 2019 were women.
“I’ve heard some pretty unfair things from guys like ‘there are no female DJs playing British stuff’ or ‘there are only a few good female producers’. These aren’t facts, and it’s time for these guys to change their minds,” Elf said.
In the aforementioned WeChat post, she also points to a conversation she had about Scandal in which a male follower said the percentage of female performers didn’t matter. He suggested gender politics was a popular topic in music, leading Western platforms to cover more female musicians in recent years.
Scandal hit back at the comment, “For women, please stop being plagued by excessive self-censorship and stop exhausting your proactivity. Please believe this is your time to shine and the world needs your creativity.
“For men with the idea [that] “Asian female identity is popular”, there is nothing to say [to them]. Please change subjective assumptions and discrimination with personal emotions and don’t be a dated person.
On Alexithymia, Scandal brings together fantastic producers, like Wuhan-based singer-songwriter Shii, Boiler Room alumni Temple Rat, Eating Music-affiliated LimboLimbs, Laughing Ears, Gouachi, and more. The first release feels like a statement of intent, and Elf has other plans for the label in the future.
“I think there is a big waste of creativity in our scene due to gender inequality, and during Covid we waste energy repeating parties with the same lineups. So, first of all, we want to do more releases this year, both compilations and EPs. We will continue to do monthly production workshops so that we can connect with more women who want to become producers. I think parties are not our first priority now.
All images courtesy of Scandal