Jennifer Cardini: Bridging Gaps One Dance at a Time

“Transformation, 1994, Limelight in Cannes, South of France. It’s one of the club hits for me that was playing at that time when I actually discovered electronic music. So for me, that would be a moment I remembered – closed eyes, on the dance floor.” Is this how it started? “Yes exactly. Orbital, classic 90s rave/club song. More actual than I would choose today, or Razzmatazz and the forthcoming release of Terr on the label (Correspondant). There are too many moments and too many clubs! I’ve been doing this for 26 years now so…”

 

 

One of the most prominent and respected artists to come out of the French electronic music scene, Jennifer Cardini has, admittedly, been busier now than ever with touring, hosting label nights, promoting newly signed artists and EPs, and headlining festivals throughout Europe and beyond. We recently had the chance to catch up with her in Amsterdam to discuss music, gender (in)equality, and life on the road.

Cardini moved to Paris in 1998 where she got her first residency at ‘Rex,’ a Parisian club started by Laurent Garnier. She describes the sound of the electronic music dance landscape in ‘90s France to be very diverse. “A mixture of Chicago House, Detroit-Techno, German rave, Acid House, New Beat and a lot of stuff from Belgium and the UK (influenced by Garnier, who frequently gigged in Manchester around that time.)” While the sonic landscape may have been diverse, and the typical crowd of ravers a heterogeneous mix of counter-cultural minorities, misfits, and weekend-warriors from all backgrounds, it was a different story behind the decks.

“MEN ONLY?”

It’s no secret that a gender gap exists in the electronic dance music industry. Coincidentally, we are interviewing Cardini at Festifest (in Amsterdam) where there are only two female DJs – her and Ana Helder – out of 18 artists on the lineup.  In 2008, there were only four women in Resident Advisor’s first ever Top 100 DJs Poll, but in 2016 that number marginally improved to eight.

Is it getting better? “Yeah, I think it’s improving or at least we are talking about it [a lot]. Sometimes I feel a bit sad because I have the feeling that with a lot of people, talking about it is enough, you know what I mean? It’s like, “oh yeah, we talked about it!” but we didn’t take action. There is some progress, and a lot more women are joining the scene, but it’s still not 50%.”

It is a fact that there is an underrepresentation of female artists in electronic music; a genre of dance music birthed by traditionally marginalized subcultures, that has included women. Females accounted for only 15.7% of representation at many of the world’s major alternative mixed genre and electronic music festivals between the years of 2016 and mid-2017, according to a new study conducted by feminist music network female: pressure. Jennifer calls bullshit on the theory that female artists market their appearance without the talent to back it up. “It’s also crazy that guys think that girls who make it, they make it because they get more attention. I think even when they make it, there is always this stupid, negative talk about…I don’t know, it’s stupid, and it’s sad to say but it’s almost a matter of education.”

Moreover, female artists face overt as well as passive sexism in this male-dominated industry. “I had this for a long time, where I had to get into fights with the sound engineer because they would just be explaining to me how the master is working and how to use the turntables. I had this happen not long ago, where there was a mistake with my rider, and they gave me the wrong CDJs, and I was like “why can’t I have those CDJs,” and they were like “no, these are for a super famous DJ,” and I was like “well, I can use them too, it’s not like they’re gonna break.” “No they are for him and I don’t want you to use them.” “I play on them every weekend!” I’m thinking to myself.” So…”

Despite the gender gap (both perceived and measurable), it’s not to say that progress isn’t being made. Cardini feels that things are getting better thanks to a more informed, more inclusive generation of promoters, DJs, and dancers coming up behind her. “At least it’s getting better with guys who are one or two generations younger than me. It’s worse with men that are my age, because the thing is the generation that comes after – first of all they’ve been exposed to this discussion about gender, and somehow they have a different take on it because they’ve also grown up in a society where injustice and imbalance between men and women in some of the work fields like music or politics, so they are more aware, and I have the feeling that this macho-man thing is more guys my age.”

On an individual level, what can we do as fans to show love for our female counterparts in the industry? “To support women in the industry, you can promote them, and if you see somewhere lacking female artists, say something. I’ve found with a lot of guys that it’s not that they don’t want to have girls (perform), they just don’t think about it because this is how they were raised. And when you point out the lack of women in the industry, its like…This French magazine did a cover of the future of French electronic music, and there were like 60 dudes and 1 girl. Actually, no, there were ZERO girls. Like, none of them looked at that and said “something is wrong here,” because I think this is how society is still built on a very male blueprint and it’s hard to make people realize that. So (on the individual level), you can point out and say “Hey, isn’t there something missing here that is important?” [Referring to De School club in Amsterdam] Job (Jobse) and Elias (Mazian) did a weekender and there were a lot of women. And a lot of my Amsterdam boys that I really love are totally aware of this and taking it into account, and to be honest I think it’s amazing.”

Another female artist we absolutely love is Perel (featured prominently in our Best of 2017 article), who entered our discussion. Ours and many others’ first introduction to Perel was through Cardini’s Beats in Space Radio Show with Job Jobse last summer. Did she discover this pearl? “Haha, I didn’t discover Perel! That’s something I can’t take credit for because other DJs, including Dixon, were playing her stuff, as well. But it’s really funny because this is how I got to know Perel. She wrote me and was like, “Hey! Uhh…How did you get my song?”!”

 

LIFE ON THE ROAD

It’s getting dark, Moscoman is playing stage nearby. One of her friends came to say hi and asked us for some drinks. “Club Matte, please.” Jennifer decided to go fully sober 8 years ago. “It was a pretty radical change, and I have to say since I did this, travelling is easy. I’m jet-lagged, but I’m not hungover, and when I’m tired I sleep” A lot of friends and artists talk a lot about travelling and post-gig stress. One way Jennifer copes with the demands of the jet-setting lifestyle is through meditation. “I do deep-sleep meditation like body-scan. I do it on the plane and it helps me snooze”

As someone who spends a significant time on the road touring, and playing in the clubs around the world, does she ever go to a club as a dancer and not a DJ? “No, not really (she laughs). Most of the time I am playing. But when I don’t play, I definitely don’t go clubbing. I go hiking, I stay at home, I cook, I go to the spa or whatever, and just enjoy my friends. Generally no, I don’t go out which is really frustrating because, for example, my wife and my friends are like “yeah, let’s go out!” and I have a free Saturday and I’m like “Uh, nooo” (she sighs). I mean, I would do it if the DJ is really exciting.”

So what DJs excite her? “I have so many for different reasons. I love Andrew Weatherall, Ame. Kristian (Beyer) is one of my favourites. I totally love Job Jobse, especially when he gets all cheesy. He’s so good at it! (She laughs). With the time, and also with the label, the scope is so large. I like Hunee, I like Antal, Motor City Drum Ensemble. I can dance to anybody that puts in some love. I LOVE Young Marco. There are so many talented DJs that aren’t famous and are friends of mine and they play at home and play just really cool stuff.”

Electronic music has saturated parts of Europe/America and been exported to other parts of the world through artists, one-off festival events, and artists like Cardini. We wanted to know where she thinks the next big electronic music scene deserves to pop up. “Mexico!” she says enthusiastically. “They have so many talented producers, and we all go and play there and enjoy it, but we never see Mexican talent here. There is so much great talent, like Mijo, Inigo Vontier. I would really like to see African artists emerge as well.” (At the time of this writing, we just received some tracks of the new Mijo EP and can confirm the exceptional talent blossoming south of the border of our American friends.)

 

Jennifer Cardini playing at Festifest in Amsterdam. Picture by Tyler Besse

 

ELECTRONIC MUSIC: A TOOL FOR PROTEST AND SOCIAL CHANGE?

Distracted by a notification on my phone about the resignation of Georgia’s prime minister after mass protests, we’re brought onto the topic of politics. There has been a lot of news lately about the government crackdown on underground dance music culture. The Tbilisi club community staged a massive protest rave outside the Parliament Of Georgia in response to the brutal raids at Club Bassiani. Something similar happened recently in Berlin where 25,000 people drowned out a fascist rally by AfD (Alternative for Germany, a far-right political party in Germany) with techno raves on numerous mobile sound systems. In Amsterdam, there have been several music nights such as ‘Rave for Refugees’ and ‘Project Queer Welfare’ designed to raise money for misplaced and misrepresented immigrants. Dance music was always somewhat political, and in most cases reactionary, but now it’s taking shape as a proactive measure to help solve crises. How does she see the transformation of dance music as a tool for mobilising young people to fight against injustice, unfairness, and corruption?

“In France, we had this election, and of course we didn’t want Marine Le Pen to win, so we all posted “Please go and vote!”, and then you have kids that comment “Mind your business and just play music. Music should not be political.” To be honest with you, I always get so angry when I read those comments. The roots of techno and electronic music come from the gay and Latino and Afro-American community. It is counter-cultural and political by nature. If we break from just the hedonism and pleasure aspect of it and realize we can be a force together – that we are all electronic music fans when we are together –  then together we can move things forward.

 

“THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT THE RAVE AND CLUB CULTURE – EVERYBODY IS WELCOME”

 

“I do believe this music has something deeper than just dancing. This is what I liked about it when I was 16 when I found out I was gay. I come from a very bourgeois city and didn’t want to follow the rules and felt a little like an outsider, and suddenly I was welcome in a community where there were all kinds of religions and gay, trans…there were hookers, Arabic persons, black. We were all together dancing, and I felt welcome. This is the most important thing about the rave and club culture – everybody is welcome.

Correspondant is one of our favourite labels so we are curious about forthcoming releases. Cardini has something special from Terr and a track with Perel and Curses (who will also be releasing on her indie dance label Dischi Autunno later in the year.) She sounds very excited about Terr. “Terr, I can tell you – when I got her demo I was over the moon. It’s really special to release music from a female artist.” The excitement in Jennifer’s voice is unmistakable, as she has as been playing Terr’s  “Neuromancer” (remixed by Krystal Klear – due for release on July 27th) as a peak time bomb to rave reviews. Correspondant also has a compilation album due in September from various artists.

It’s been more than half an hour talking to Jennifer now, and Moscoman is settling into his closing set. Although it’s a very enjoyable conversation, a lot of her friends are beginning to gather around. This could be the last time she sees many of these people for months, as her summer touring schedule will take her on a prolonged intercontinental journey.  With them waiting to greet Jennifer and finish the night with one last dance, we part ways. It is clear from our time with Jennifer that she is optimistic about not only the music but the message behind the music. In the current era where people must often sift through the cacophonous din of cyber junk created by impersonal digital avatars and promoted by abstract media sources, the harmony of music endures and unites.

Interview and Words by Tyler Besse and Navz Sangwan

Cover Photo by Christian Werner