Anna Haleta steps out of the taxi and rolls behind her a suitcase full of records. She approaches the club’s entrance flocking with people and the bouncer lets her in through the back door.
Haleta makes her way through the crowd and waits for the signal to climb up to the disc jockey station. Around her everyone is drinking and smoking, but Haleta isn’t allowed to do either – she’s in her ninth month of pregnancy.
Haleta and her sisters are a small minority around the world. Only about 10 percent of artists, whether DJs or band members, are women, and only a small number of women build thriving careers as DJs on the international scene.
The club scene in Israel has developed as it has in the rest of the Western world, starting with the golden age of big venues in the ‘90s. In Israel, mainstream clubs faded early the next decade and the underground scene bubbled in small clubs. Now it’s boiling hot.
Along the way, Israel has had its share of female DJs. Ella Gotman played festivals all over the world. Ellyott (Sharon Ben Ezer) has a radio show and warms up at parties for star DJ and producer Offer Nissim.
Tal Argaman, the queen of the ‘80s, is still going strong, while techno DJ Marina Rubinstein plays at the best clubs in Berlin. And Maayan Nidam, a favorite of super-producer Ricardo Villalobos, may not live in Israel, but she may be the most successful female Israeli DJ of all time.
More and more women have joined the list in recent years, and now there are parties where only women play. But women DJs are still rare, whether at parties or bars.
So how have these women blazed a trail to such a male bastion? Five of them tell Haaretz: Haleta, Idit Frenkel, Narkis Tepler, Meital Shevach and Adi Shabat. They’re the five leading women DJs in the Israeli underground scene today.
Frenkel, 40, plies a pure dance program on KZradio. Tepler, 29, who’s the regular at the Breakfast Club, has deejayed in Vienna and Berlin. Haleta, 35, plays the legendary Berghain club in Berlin and is the resident DJ at Block Club Tel Aviv. She’s one of Israel’s most respected techno DJs.
Shevach, 27, is the resident DJ at VRS gay parties and plays the slow room for 1984 parties. Shabat, 37, is one of the busiest; she has released music on international labels including on German techno label BPitch Control. She performs around the world, often in France as well as Berlin.
So why are there so few successful women DJs?
“Because the field is viewed as masculine,” Shevach says. “I run into it mostly at events, less in clubs, when producers simply don’t believe a woman can be a good DJ.”
Tepler complains that women in the field also need the looks.
“When people ask about women DJs they’re thinking about bringing in from overseas, they immediately ask: ‘Hot/Not hot?’” she says, adding that being a DJ isn’t the same as presenting the news. “I don’t think they’ll fire us when we’re 40 because we have a wrinkle, but the issue of looks comes up all the time.”
Shevach says women DJs simply have to prove themselves more than men do. “The jump for men is faster, so from the start we have to make a greater effort,” she says.
Tepler adds that in the past she herself was particularly critical of women DJs; she didn’t suffer sisters making technical mistakes.
All told, the gender issue seems to burn inside them; if only people stopped noticing gender first when the women went up to perform. They’re also against special parties with only female DJs.
“I just received a news release about a ‘women’s power festival’ and it drove me crazy,” Shevach says. “If it was a festival of men only would it be ‘male power?’ A good set is a good set, whether it’s by a woman or a man.”
Shabat opposes such nights too. “I don’t see myself as a girl DJ or a boy DJ. I’m a DJ.”
As for sexual harassment, it’s quite common, Shevach says.
Shabat adds: “What does it matter if I go to a club or ride a bicycle during the day? They harass us both here and there. It’s an issue we talk a lot about.”
Do they think there’s a female DJ style?
“I think women bring something different; it can be expressed in a lot of things, but mostly in the groove,” Frenkel says.
But Haleta and Shevach disagree. “If I played a set for you, you wouldn’t know whether it was from a woman or a man,” Shevach says.
Tepler thinks women are more sensitive to what’s going on around them, while male DJs are too focused on themselves.
“Many times men don’t listen to what was played before them,” she says. “They had a set in their heads or something they prepared and it was important for them to play it, without any connection to what came before or what would come after.”
Less navel gazing
And yes, the women say it’s not all about them. “As women, we draw more from the approval we get from the people around us,” Tepler says. “It’s more important for us to see that someone is happy, and only then do we feel the self-confidence to open up.”
Are the claims that there are more lesbian DJs true? Shabat nods her head and Tepler joins in.
“It seems to me yes, there are more lesbians. They used to think I was a lesbian only because I was a DJ,” Tepler says.
“I think there are more lesbian DJs, as there are more lesbian directors. Maybe it comes from a place of not being afraid of challenges, of fulfilling oneself, of not being scared of things and not toeing the line in any way.”
Are there musical styles women DJs prefer to play?
“The techno I play isn’t male or female; it’s personal,” Haleta says. “But the techno industry is masculine.”
Shabat adds: “In the ‘90s Ella Gotman was considered the person who played the hardest techno of all. And the most famous DJ in the world, Nina Kraviz, what does she play? Techno.”
As Frenkel puts it: “There are genres that are considered sexier in which women seem to move more to their sounds; let’s say house and disco. But it’s true in Tel Aviv: The girls here love to impress. They like more techno. It seems here the roles are a bit reversed between men and women.”