By |Published On: June 24th, 2021|Categories: Interview|

Alex and Emma are two thirds of the game-changing independent record label and collective femme culture. With their event series and roster of releases, femme culture has been an important grassroots way of carving out space for marginalised people in dance music. We speak to Alex and Emma around the release of Emma’s latest EP Euphoric Melodies under her alias Elkka.

How do you find family through dance music?

Alex It’s like a big, adopted family now, which is like our big queer family. That’s kind of a different concept of family, but something that you find when you do. The different eras of partying that you go through with different genres of music—I had a big drum and bass phase, I’ve obviously gone through my house phases and techno phases—and there’s kind of a different family or tribe that goes with those different eras.

Emma I think like less tribes, more families feels better to me, because you can feel outside of it sometimes. Finding a space you belong, for me, was about finding a queer space that I felt welcome rather than a space where it’s like, you’re not cool enough to be here, or you don’t like the music enough to be here. You don’t know enough about it to be here or wearing the right clothes and stuff. I find it most comfortable when I found my family rather than my tribe.

How important is London for you both as a location, and as a dance music community?

Alex I was quite hesitant to move to London because I never was particularly enamoured with the city. I always like being by the beach. I, begrudgingly, moved up to London for career and work. It took me quite a while to find my feet here and to feel like it was home and comfortable. But there was like a real moment, I think when that kind of clicked. I think probably a big part of that is when we started femme culture and started putting on our own parties and started to build our kind of own ecosystem and community around that.

Emma I don’t think I would have done that if I hadn’t moved to London. This city enabled for me…a kind of a blank canvas in my life, a space to figure it all out. I needed that openness to be able to explore different cultures. Raving was a huge avenue for that which aligned with coming out as a queer person and as a DJ and producer. It all happened around the same kind of time.

Where did femme culture originate?

Alex I’d always put on nights when I was at uni and had been involved in different club nights since my late teens, and I remember when we were starting femme culture, it was like no one’s gonna book us unless we book ourselves when we’re first starting out. For the first femme culture night, we booked a load of people who never really played out before. It was like their first go and that was really daunting and terrifying. But it was a really fun, calm space. A year, two years down the line, the people we booked for that initial gig are really flying and doing some wonderful things, so that’s something I think  I’m really proud of. I just want to mention that there’s a third person in femme culture: Saint Ludo.

Emma She co-runs the label with me. The label started because I was producing my first EP, and I needed to put down a name on the distribution form to put this EP out. I wanted to do something that was community based, because I feel like being a producer is quite insular. It took me a while to get to the point where I realised that doing things for yourself – in a DIY mentality – is so beneficial and I wanted to do more in the industry to encourage that from other people. femme culture is definitely a collaborative project and it’s really important to mention that. The whole point was to send an ethos of: you can do it yourself, and we help you. This is a platform for people to do other things, and they really have and that is just an absolute joy.

Given the beginnings of femme culture, is equal representation in the industry enough anymore?

Emma I think that our mission statement of trying to contribute to a landscape where everyone is fairly represented, and everyone has a space and a place to be who they want to be, is going to remain the same forever. And yes, it’s slow progress. I think we probably started out more as a label that was centralised around women, non-binary and LGBTQ+ people, where now it’s really about everyone that’s marginalised within the industry, because there’s just a lot of people that are under-represented. Us getting a greater understanding of that over the years and educating ourselves has definitely been a big part of how we’ve evolved.

Alex There’s a lot of talk about what representation means and how we can diversify and make the music industry a lot fairer and more equal, but some of the major festivals are still booking an almost all male, all white line up. There’s so many, so many fantastic musicians, DJs producers out there who really deserve to be top of those lists, and until that’s a bit more equalised, our job isn’t done. Equal representation was the genesis point for us, but it would be short-sighted to say that we’ve moved past that, because the industry hasn’t.

What do you think your role is as a grassroots collective to create the change in the industry?

Emma It should be coming from the top down, but it’s not, so only our only choice is to try to influence it from where we are.

Alex We’re shouting about it a lot of the time and really championing the people that we know. It’s also about holding big industry to account. The more that we hold people to account publicly, in a nuanced and positive way, that’s a good thing.

Emma We talk about this whole cancel culture thing a lot. I don’t believe in it at all. I don’t think it’s productive. I don’t think it’s progressive. I think positive education is the way forward, so that’s what we try to do. We try to have conversations publicly, if appropriate, but also a lot behind closed doors, and people don’t see because I think there’s also ways of doing it that that can be more effective sometimes.

Alex Cancel culture really sucks, and nothing’s going to change by just cancelling these big industry people. There’s obviously as a line and a limit with that stuff, but positive one-on-one conversations can actually be really beneficial. We all love social media, but it has its downsides, and a level of nuanced conversation has been lost online. The more work we’ve done as a team with femme culture, the more of a platform we’ve got, the more of a voice we have now. When we first started, we would shout about all this stuff, whereas now we’ve got a bit more clout behind us. It’s not just us, there are so many other organisations that are really aligned to what we do that have done amazing things for queer people, women, non-binary people in the industry. We’re not alone. Foundation FM is a female led radio station co-founded by our long time collaborator, Frankie Wells, who is always pushing the industry forward in the most practical and kick ass way. Hooversound, Sherelle and Naina’s label has been doing incredible things for the community and releasing some fantastic work.

Have you seen a tangible change in the music industry?

Emma Personally, I have seen more DJs and producers that are women and people of colour. There are more people realising that they need to give more opportunities to people outside of the cis, male space. I think we have moved forward but it’s not been in huge leaps and bounds. A couple of years ago, there was a wave of populism around feminism, and it became a really cool thing brands could do, so there was activity and action, but I don’t know if there was actual change behind that.

Alex There is a lot of this fashion for big brands, big industry to jump on something because it’s the cause célèbre at the moment, and actually it’s clearly a way to push up the profits. We’ve seen that across the board with things. It would be great to move past making bookings and signings for the fashion or political statement of it: you shouldn’t need to have a roster that’s politically correct; you should just book people because they’re really talented.

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