Discwoman Shakes Up the White Male Hegemony that Betrays the Diverse Origins of Techno | Music Feature | Indy Week
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Discwoman Shakes Up the White Male Hegemony that Betrays the Diverse Origins of Techno 

Emma Burgess-Olson

Photo courtesy of Moogfest

Emma Burgess-Olson

In an interview last year with The Fader, Discwoman cofounder Emma Burgess-Olson, who also performs under the alias Umfang, reflected on her early misconceptions about the history of dance music.

"If you went to Resident Advisor as your first introduction to electronic music, which I think a lot of people still do, you would think that it's a white, European-invented thing that's not really connected to anything else," Burgess-Olson said. "To realize that it's actually American and that the roots are humble was really powerful."

Conceived in Brooklyn in the summer of 2014 by Burgess-Olson, Frankie Hutchinson, and Christine McCharen-Tran, the tastemaking Discwoman collective foregrounds music and activism in this staunch punk sentiment of radical inclusivity, the same foundation that American house and techno were built on. Anyone should be able to make and play this music. You don't have to be rich, from a reputable family, heterosexual, or white. It is populist, and it should reflect the endless variety of experiences out there, not just those of white male record nerds.

Discwoman's initial goal was to specifically elevate female-identifying deejays, but they have since expanded their brand to include a wider variety of oppressed identities. As their website screams in giant stretched-out electric-blue type: "AMPLIFY EACH OTHER."

In line with its endeavor to highlight female and nonbinary artists, Moogfest has tapped several Discwoman affiliates for this year's festival. Umfang plays the Pinhook on Saturday night, and Philadelphia's DJ Haram and NYC's Stud1nt play there Thursday and Saturday, respectively. Haram is also heading up a panel about navigating DIY and professional music circles on Thursday. Burgess-Olson is scheduled to run a free "Vinyl 101" workshop on Saturday. Stud1nt has a pair of panels, a technical Intro to Synth Patching workshop that runs twice on Friday and Sunday as well as a mysterious, descriptionless panel on Saturday called Morphic Energies.

Though she has since deejayed gigs at European hotspots like London's Corsica Studios and Berlin's Berghain, Burgess-Olson originally hails from Kansas City, Missouri. She nourished her love of dance music in the city's warehouse rave scene, eventually linking up with McCharen-Tran and Hutchinson when she migrated to New York in 2010.

Though the experimental dance scene was obscure and highly insular in those days, a series of influential parties, labels, and collectives began to re-energize the city. One key spot was Bossa Nova Civic Club, the reputable Bushwick dance venue that would eventually host the first Discwoman event in 2014. It was a two-day festival showcase of twelve female-identifying deejays, and was the spark the three needed to take things further.

Over the past few years, Discwoman has evolved into a multi-headed organism that includes a booking agency, management company, and traveling party series. Burgess-Olson is still involved in primary decisions, though thanks to her busy touring schedule, she's ceded day-to-day operations to the other founders. They've also brought on a few new members to the still-small crew, such as Toronto's Ciel and Berlin's Mobilegirl. Earlier this year, they partnered with producer Physical Therapy and his label Allergy Season to release Physically Sick 2, a sprawling forty-four-track Bandcamp-only compilation of raw and vital underground house and techno. It's a well-curated set—it would be difficult to locate a modern dance compilation with more diversity and style.

On top of that, proceeds from Physically Sick 2 sales go to the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, an organization that, according to the compilation's liner notes, serves to help those who otherwise could have to wait in prison for months without being charged because of "a racist, backwards design that disproportionately punishes people of color and the poor."The record is the sequel to last year's Physically Sick, which came out the day before Trump's inauguration and featured rising talents like Yaeji and Octo Octa.

Burgess-Olson, who helped curate both compilations, drew initial inspiration for the series not just from Trump but also from a particularly unfortunate example of oppression. A Pennsylvania dance festival in November 2016 booked by Boiler Room, a live-music-streaming service with which Burgess-Olson was affiliated, ended dramatically on its second night due to excessive force from local police. The incident was quickly was characterized as racially motivated. Incensed, Burgess-Olson and her collaborators gave all of the proceeds to the ACLU, the NYC-based LGBTQ primary-care center Callen-Lorde, the National Immigration Law Center, and Planned Parenthood.

The collective's ability to pair its distinct retro iconography and rhetoric with meaningful activism is admirable. Together, the Discwoman ensemble is a spectacular set of creative artists and a fine model of what a music collective can strive for, both aesthetically and politically. Get familiar.

music@indyweek.com

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