Meet Sally Rodgers – an electronic music DJ, label owner and Music Business lecturer. From signing her first record deal when she was just 18 with the Expresso 7, Sally has enjoyed a successful career in electronica. She formed pioneering electronic duo A Man Called Adam with friend Steve Jones, who were signed to Gilles Peterson’s label Acid Jazz, and later Big Life Records.
Since the mid-nineties Sally and Steve founded their own label, Other Records. These days, alongside running the label, making music with AMCA and DJing, Sally lectures at Leeds College of Music on the Music Business pathway.
As part of the #WomenInMusic series, we caught up with Sally to get her perspective on working in electronic music and how the industry has changed today…
Q. In your career have you come up against any stigma as a woman in the music industry?
A. Yes, although I think it was very specific to the industry at that time – the culture was very male-driven. It was Acid House time and I couldn’t work out why Shaun Ryder and all of that lot could go around in baggy sweatshirts and I had to be styled and wear a sparkly bikini. I guess I was naïve but I was also very strong willed - I used to have quite a lot of confrontation with my label boss at that time around gender issues.
I've sometimes struggled with producers – electronic music always was and still is a very male dominated environment. I’ve had scenarios discussing a record in a room full of men and I’d say “the hi-hat is too loud” and everybody would ignore me until one of the men said “I think the hi-hat is too loud” and then it would get turned down.
Q. How did you deal with this kind of behaviour?
A. I resisted it and it caused me trouble along the way! I didn’t always get on with people that I worked with as a result –except for my band mate Steve. He’s possibly the most enlightened man on the whole planet and we’ve always been able to work together as equals. Throughout my career I’ve just always cut out the misogynists, I won’t work with them. That’s everybody’s right as an artist – male or female – you don’t have to work with people whose values you don’t agree with.
Q. Do you feel like things are different now in the music industry with regards to women?
A. There are some exciting women producers and female DJs emerging at the moment – I love (Jlin) and Micachu, and there is of course a tradition of women in electronic music – stretching back to Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire. It’s really nice to see the founding mothers of electronica getting some recognition!
I’m encouraged by that, but at the same time there is still a bit of a tendency with female DJs (myself included) – to dress up for DJing. So many of my male friends just turn up to a gig in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and play some records. I don’t wear anything sexy but I do pay attention to how I look. Perhaps I’m just a product of the old star industry of the early 90s – and it’s deeply ingrained! What I don’t like is when my female DJ friends feel like they have to look sexy in order to be worthy of being up there in the DJ booth alongside the men – you absolutely DON’T!
Q. What are the most important aspects of being a DJ?
A. For me, although the technical aspects are important, it’s also about your knowledge, your reaction to the context and your deeply feminine perspective – your poetry, your sensibility and that’s what you express when you’re DJing.
It’s about the choices you make, one record after another. Even the most perfectly beat-matched DJ sets can be boring if there’s no jeopardy. I like to identify a continuum. The DJs I love always do that, they always have the right record for the occasion – just one – where everybody gets it. And they didn’t know that that was what they wanted to hear – but it is EXACTLY what they wanted to hear.
Q. What advice would you give to a budding fellow DJ?
A. Develop your art, your skills and yourself. Forget about everything else, your gender, competing, focus on you – your passion – your skill set. You have to commit and put the hours in to get good. Then it’s unassailable - no one can stop you, no one can put barriers up if what you do is so good!
You can catch Sally in action with A Man Called Adam at Sounds Like THIS, a brand new festival from Leeds College of Music which celebrates bold new approaches to sound.
Find out more about A Man Called Adam here.