Special! Women DJs in India: Diva jockeys at the party console

The country’s leading women DJs keep the discussion going with Indulge about gender bias, equality for women performers, playing unique music for and outside of Bollywood, and on staying inspired.
Teri Miko
Teri Miko

Teri Miko, a DJ/producer from Kyiv, Ukraine, burst onto the party scene in India a few years ago, and has quickly made a name for her high-energy sets, building a formidable fan following across India, and especially, in the South. Keeping up the discussion about the rise of women DJs in the country, Teri Miko gives us her insights into making it big in the circuit.

She’s joined by Candice Redding from Johannesburg, South Africa, who has been an official DJ for the IPL Cricket League and is a prominent name at major music festivals, apart from having made her debut in Bollywood with a cameo opposite Salman Khan, in the film, Sultan.

Lending representation to Indian women DJs is Shilpi Mudgal aka DJ Shilpi Sharma, a film actor and model, who’s known for her Bollywood remixes, and Pooja B from Chennai, now based in Dubai, who has been named one of the ‘Top 10 Female DJs in India’. They’re joined by Zephyr Ruth from Ahmedabad, who’s one half of the Pune-based electronic duo, Zephyrtone, with Sayan Dhar from Kolkata.

In a series of discussions, the DJs give Indulge their overview of the scene, personal challenges, and how they hope things will change, going ahead from here.

<em>Teri Miko</em>
Teri Miko

Does being a woman make a difference in the music industry?
Teri Miko:
First of all, it’s most important that I do not believe in gender when it comes to music. I believe in talent and hard work, and I hope everyone in our industry will think this way. But of course, there’s still gender segregation. I do not know if it’s better or worse right now, I think stereotypes towards female DJs are still quite strong. But I am happy to see more talented, hard working girls who are proving them wrong. 

Candice Redding: The scene has always been good and fair to me. I have never felt discriminated! The problem is, as a woman, when you enter the industry, you are given two options — either choose to sexualise yourself or work your a** off. I clearly chose the latter, and I’ve never had any problems. 

How does the gender card work for women DJs?
Pooja B:
The number of women in the industry doing a great job is bigger than it has ever been, which goes to show that more women are pushing boundaries, both personally and professionally in the scene. A lot of platforms are consciously featuring some very talented women, though the numbers are relatively small. Still, it’s a start, and a lot of us are glad for it.

If you’re asking if the gender card works in favour for us — it doesn’t, only real hard work matters. Never have so many people wanted to be DJs. It eventually doesn’t matter if there is a girl or a guy behind the console, as long as they bring something different to the table.


Is there a different perception at festivals about Indian and Western DJs?
Zephyr Ruth:
If you really want me to answer this, let me be honest. It’s always a good time for a foreigner female DJ in India, but it’s a sad story on the other side, as we don’t see many Indian female DJs coming up on the same level - playing for campus shows back to back, playing in well-known music festival, mainstages, etc. 

I wouldn’t blame anyone for that, but that’s what the crowd prefers — ‘foreigner female DJs’. I personally feel our countrymen should ‘equally’ support and give equal platforms to Indian female DJs, the same way they give all the preference to only and only ‘white skin’! There are a few female DJs from India who have approached me, asking about my growth as an Indian female who made it in the scene — and, as we know, it’s not easy for an Indian female to get all the preference and bookings, if you really have to compare with the foreigner DJs.

But, I’d say, that's a miracle in my case, and I thank everyone who have booked me, inspite of being an ‘Indian female artist’! To conclude, on behalf of all Indian women DJs, I would suggest that people from our country accept them and lift them high, just like you lift the foreigner female DJs! I believe in equality!

What personal challenges did you have to overcome in your journey as a DJ?
Teri Miko:
One of the biggest challenges was exactly that — to prove that despite my gender, I wish to be taken seriously and stay here for a long time. Of course, there are other challenges, like lack of sleep, no time to spend with family, among others. But all this is not difficult when you do what you love. I believe that DJs are taking the highest positions in show business at the moment, and it’s going to grow bigger. As you can see, the most popular singers are collaborating with top DJs these days.

<em>DJ Shilpi Sharma</em>
DJ Shilpi Sharma

DJ Shilpi Sharma: My journey wasn’t easy. Considering my background in Bollywood films, people assumed I got work easily because of my social connections. Honestly, my friends never took me seriously when I went to them with my decision to become a DJ. But I had faith in myself and with my father’s blessing, I worked day in and out to hone my skills. There were ups and downs, but my journey was worth all its challenges, as it made me who I am today. 

I think the scope of DJing is really wide, and it’s getting better day by day. There was a time when people used to look up to international DJs, but the times are changing with immensely talented homegrown producers and DJs getting massive platforms to perform and showcase their skill sets worldwide.

Is the DJ lifestyle difficult to keep up?
Candice Redding:
Lack of sleep and not being able to keep the healthiest routine, was one of the biggest hurdles for me. I’ve spent more time in the air than on land during season time. I miss my pets more than anything else. Now it has been six years, and it’s all part of my lifestyle. The scene is quite open here, but the only problem is that people are held back by their own creativity and confidence. The only way to be an artiste is to let go of your self, and truly express on the platform you get. The scene, money, music — everything is there, but we need more people pushing it higher, and I think it’s slowly but surely happening. 

Pooja B: Being on the road is the hardest, away from family and friends. And my full-time job requires a lot of travelling as well, so juggling that, music and personal life feels like a circus act on some days! 
Another big challenge is the gender bias, but at some point, most people back off when they see you mean business, though it never really stops. It’s the worst when people who have no place to comment, claim that gender biases don’t exist. But it’s something that needs to be dealt with, and many of us are dealing with it!

<em>Candice Redding</em>
Candice Redding

How important is it to you, to include Indian, and especially Bollywood tunes, in your live sets? 
Teri Miko:
It’s very important to include one or two popular desi tunes, as the Bollywood culture is very strong in India, and it brings you closer to the crowds. People are always looking for variety, and it’s the DJ’s job to make their set powerful enough to surprise the audience. That’s where remixes and edits are helpful. As of now, I have three singles lined up for the beginning of the year, and I am planning a lot of collaborations which include a couple of Indian artistes as well.

DJ Shilpi Sharma: The Indian audience really enjoy dancing to Bollywood music, as it’s something they completely relate to. In Indian metropolitan cities, I tend to get a mixed crowd. It is quite fun to blend EDM and Bollywood music together, but at the same time, there are classics that are received best by the crowd when played instead of their remixes or mash-ups. For example, last year, I did five official remixes for the Shah Rukh Khan blockbuster Jab Harry Met Sejal, out of which three remixes were on progressive house lines, one was a chill out mix, and the track Jee ve Sohneya with Nooran Sisters was a Sufi mix. They were all well-received, so it’s safe to say, India loves diverse music. 

Do you believe you’d gain more success by hitting the international scene, over the Indian circles?
Teri Miko:
I believe, for every DJ, it is important to build a foundation and fan following in your own country first, before conquering the world! But yes, of course, DJing is quite an ambitious profession, and we all want to see ourselves popular worldwide.

<em>DJ Pooja B</em>
DJ Pooja B

Candice Redding: I do think platforms have opened up internationally for any artiste coming from India — be it in music, art or dance. It provides a larger audience, but that said, India is so huge, and the fan base you build here is extraordinary. I believe that each scene across the globe has its own pros and cons, so yes, of course, international opportunities have come up and are great, but it’s safe to say, I love India the most. 

Do you face negative reactions as a DJ, and how do you react to them?
Zephyr Ruth:
Yes, we do sometimes, from the small little circle of stereotypes that accounts for just about 5% of the crowd. But, 95% supports the music that we make! So that’s 5% of negatives... It does not even get to us, neither does it make any difference! The only people that matter to us are the ones who support our music. In fact, all DJs and music producers should be proud of their profession, as it takes a lot of guts, talent, and hard work to live this musical life. And, I strongly feel that we shouldn't face any concerns about culture and morality, because music is not a wrong thing we've chosen, and are we not hurting anyone in this process. 

Only if we are doing something wrong, then we all need to be worried. If people think making music is affecting culture and morality, and it’s a wrong thing to do, then I have no comments to offer! For us, it’s all about music, and having a good time. So we try and avoid untoward reactions, and backward thoughts, and we straight up invite them to our concert.

After they witness it, their viewpoint is completely changed to a positive direction, of course. But again, some stones can never break into two halves, no matter how hard you crush them! Our personal goal remains, to be consistent in music making. This year, we will be releasing a few of our songs along with music videos, and we will focus equally on touring and releasing new music.

Candice Redding: If you’re going to be negative or sour at a festival, you clearly shouldn’t be there. But jokes aside, I rather choose to ignore the negativity and embrace the positive vibes. I think it’s important not to sexualise yourself for your job, especially as a woman in this day and age, and in this industry. So, by not sexualising myself for my job, I think I’ve upheld mine and others’ morality and culture, by all means.

DJ Shilpi Sharma: Honestly, I’ve never faced any concerns about morality, as I’m very aware of the way this country works. I’ve been very honest and open about my opinions, and I’ve managed to handle any kind of criticism that came my way without offending people.

<em>Teri Miko</em>
Teri Miko

Your advice for aspiring DJs? 
DJ Shilpi Sharma:
Be focused. Focus is key. Make sure you have clarity on what you want to do, 
and what music you want to put out there. Most importantly, keep learning. Make sure you consume knowledge, practice new things and keep experimenting, it is the best way to grow. 

Candice Redding: Push the envelope, otherwise you’ll only have yourself to blame when others surpass you. Remember the goodness comes from creating your own cultural following, and always be humble and positive. Be the inspiration and remember, energy is everything!

Teri Miko: The biggest advice from my side is: Giving up is never an option. And, I am always there to support emerging artists.

Zephyr Ruth: Have lots of patience. Keep releasing new music, and if your song is good enough, it won’t go unheard for sure! Love, light, peace to all!

Read all the complete interviews online at indulgexpress.com

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