Interview by Melissa Chiprin on KPFK 90.7FM, Feminist Magazine - Every Wednesday 7:00-8:00pm
Missy- Lisa, you grew up in Sweden and it was there you first found yourself immersed in the techno scene in the early 1990s. This you said was your awakening. Motivated to instantly trading your collection of Black Sabbath vinyl for a KORG MS-10 and a roland 606 drum machine. Now, it's interesting because techno music theoretically is seen as based on a very experimental environment and it's seen as this kind of "sacred to no gender, no race". It has no definitive sound, it is supposed to be the music of the human race, yet as usual within a patriarchal soicety techno composers are usually male. So talk to us about your early endevors into techno and facing those barriers that you knew were there.
Lisa- Ironically to everything you said, it's actually extremely macho, cause it's SO male dominated it's unbeleavable. Anything that's got to do with technolongy there is this kind of hierarchy of "who knows most" technology. It's very much "the cool guy's world". For me the thing that has been supporting me throughout my trying to creat music has been feminism. It's the only thing that has really been there to nurture me and support me in my endevors. Cause feminism kept me feeling like I don't care that it's male dominated. I'm going to do this.
Missy- The political is personal and the personal is political.
Lisa- Absolutely, this is such a typical case where the personal is political.
Missy- And so you, from your own studies and your own readings, you had feminist sensibilities already developed.
Lisa- Absolutely, I became a feminist when I was twelve years old, I remember still the moment, I was walking down the street, there had been some kind of conflict at the school and the teachers had said that the boys had access to the schoolyard and the girls didn't and we had complained. We wanted to have access to it and the teachers said "we can't do anything" and we said "why?" And they said "because they're boys" And I was like but...but? That's wrong (laughing) and I had always heard that, you know, everyone's born free and equal. So, something there really was like "that's not equal, that's not right".
Missy- Cause they're the boys
Lisa- Yes. (Both laughing)
Missy- Now you came to LA and you're now involved in a wonderful project and wondreful music, we'll hear some of it later, it's called Techno Squirrels.
Missy- Bring us up to daye, coming from Sweden to America, and you know, there's a lot of details of course that we'll get to later but to the point where you are now with Techno Squirrels.
Lisa- It's a three step journey that I've been on. First from Sweden, then I moved to England and I Iived in Liverpool which was very inspiring. They have a very alive techno scene in England. Techno music is very commercially available, when you watch TV you'll hear techno at daily advertisements but there's also a very strong underground scene and I was fortunate enough to be living about ten minutes away from the club "Cream" which is a very famous, big techno club. Once a month they had something called "Bugged Out" which was an underground event. It was amazing and these DJ's they taught me so muich and inspired me so much.
Missy-And these DJ's were both male and female or?
Lisa- No, I never saw female DJ's (both laughing). No, it was guy's, you know.
Missy- And a lot of the time, you know, ideas of a woman DJ or a woman vocalist is "what does she look like"? It isn't alwasy what she can do but it's what she looks like and that's what seems to get her put in front of the media.
Lisa- Back then I never saw women at all, but now I've recently seen a lot of sexy kind of girls.
Missy- Very sexy.
Missy- And the guys kind of just get to come in and out and do their gig and "i'm out of here. give me my money up front." And you know, I've talked to male DJs. They have a lot of confidence. And they're like "you know what? it's up front. I want this taken care of and I'm out of there in 4 hours." But yet, a woman can't walk into a contract like that. It seems to be harder for her to say "You know what, I want up front my 50% and buh buh buh buh buh." And get the gig.
Lisa- Absolutely. That's been my experience because when you're a woman you don't really have the respect. You're like hitting from underneath. So a lot of the time when you're a girl, you kind of have to choose "Do I want to get this job done? Do I want to be part of this? And if I do and my answer is yes, I have to do it without payment, without credit, or anything."
Missy- So it's a long hard road. (laughs)
Lisa- Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
Missy- And as of course, we know, a good part of any career is your reputation and getting credit. And because you aren't receiving that credit and you are getting media coverage...
Lisa- Uh huh.
Missy- It's very daunting I would imagine, to think "how do I keep on going? How am I going to get recognized?"
Lisa- I kind of always felt like women work in the margins. Now, it's tough for guys too. Most people that are musicians, they have to accept that they're probably going to have to work in the margins their whole life. However, even in the margins there's a hierarchy and women are the lowest in the hierarchy and as a woman you have so much more to fight - because you're alone. My brother started playing the guitar when he was 10. After a month, he had a band. It took me 12 years to get a band and I tried all the time, I had all these half bands - one girl played guitar, one saxophone, one flute, and that was the band! You know? Whereas guys they ask their male friends, "let's a get a band together." And they'll be "Ok, I never played bass but I'll get one and we'll start doing it." Whereas girls are like "No, I'm not good enough because we're not supposed to have this ego thing." So it is a lot harder for girls, you know? Just the experience of going to music stores alone... it's really scary and you get really stared at. I mean, I've been asked so many times, "Hi are you hear to buy something or are you the girlfriend?" Ughhh!
Missy- The girlfriend... yeah... that seems to be a real challenge for women to be respected as interviewer in the music scene or as a performer who creates and composes their own music - you're always the quote/unquote DJ-Ho. It seems to be a big common word I see a lot or the "groupie."
Lisa- Yeah, Oh my god!
Missy- ANd you're some out of town girlfriend, aren't you? Let's now listen to Lisa Eriksson and Ryan Harlin of Techno Squirrels. The song you're about hear is "405" and their CD will be released in October.
Missy- If you just tuned in, that was Lisa Eriksson and Ryan Harlin of Techno Squirrels. The song you just heard is "405." We're now going to continue our interview with Lisa Eriksson of Techno Squirrels but before we go ahead, I'd like to just remind you you're listening to KPFK Feminist Magazine 90.7FM, Los Angeles. 98.7FM Santa Barbara. And streaming live on the web. So now Lisa, talk to us more about some of the obstacles that you have faced.
Lisa- I experienced a lot of backlash when it comes to equipment because I did buy a "Jam-Man" it's a sampler. I got criticized so much for this. I showed my guitar teacher, "Hey I bought this thing that's a sampler." And he said "But you're not good enough to own that kind of expensive equipment." And a lot of times people said, "You're just into materialistic things!" And...
Missy- Yet... Yet that makes not sense because when I talk to male DJs, that's what they list off to me. It's "I've got my this and I've got my that." ANd they list off all of their...
Lisa- It's jealousy. I was on another website where I had some music on and one day I saw I got 9 reviews and I was like, "Oh my god! 9 reviews? That's amazing!" Well they were all hate-mail from this one guy who's freaking out and explaining in detail why my music sucked so bad! (laughs) You know? And I thought "Maybe he's jealous with me." He had to write some sort of forgive-me-email because the webmaster said "you're not allowed to do that." I didn't even tell them about it, but then he had to say "I'm sorry." and in his I'm-Sorry mail he said "I was so jealous with your equipment.
Missy- Wow, I'm impressed he could be real and let you know.
Missy- You... it's interesting too, because techno music, technically, is a genre which is characterized by 4 quarter rhythms and it's electric sounds and samples created first on drums machines such as the Roland TR303 or 909 and later programed with simple and more advanced computer software programs. There are many techno sounds. They're very different. They're very unique. You have to be willing to kind of get creative and dirty with all this. And it's emerging in various places all over the world yet women are having a hard time being recognized for their abilities as well as encouraged and this is more what I look at as encouraged to get involved. What is seen as hi-technology and this male frontier.
Lisa- Yeah. It is very intimidating. There's so much you need to learn and the techno environment still, unfortunately, today is very much like the scratching and hip-hop community used to be which is: every-thing's a secret. You don't tell how you do it. I've tried for years and years. Whenever I see someone I know makes techno music, I go over to them "Tell me how you do it." And you get one or two things. Either they just say "Oh I had a really cool vibe in the room." You know? Which means nothing. Or you get this thing "Ok...well THIS is a 'sampler'!" You know? You keep it at this very basic thing of, like, "I know, just get... like, tell me how you do it." And you don't get it from them. And that's not specific only for girls. It's between guys too. I don't know where I got my drive. I just really want to be able to do it. I wanted to understand it. Because I just heard this music and I just absolutely loved it and I thought, "if they can do it, I should be able to figure it out."
Missy- And absolutely. And unfortunately, because most patriarchy is all internalized and it's very hard to fight the messages we've been told all our life. First of all, we have to recognize - this is true or not for me - am I REALLY afraid of technology? Can I really not do it? You know, but we're so used to saying, "Let your brother handle it. Let the guy handle it."
Lisa- Yeah, I learned very early on from a female friend who was also a musician. She said "Whenever you try to put a CD player on and maybe it doesn't work straight away... instead of going "can you come and help me." Just say "NO! I'm going to figure this out myself." And you try to do it and just give yourself some time and just try to figure it out. The second thing another girl told me was, she was technically well-skilled and I would ask, "What's your secret? How do you know all this stuff?" She said "I have no idea what I'm doing. I just press every button. And eventually..."
Missy- And that's what it's all about (laughs). It's about experience. Don't be afraid, you know? And guys are socialized not to be afraid. Just go for it. You make a mistake? Try again. Do it again. Keep doing it. A lot of technology is once you've learned some skills, it's hands on. Getting into it. Getting dirty. Not being afraid of loud sounds and sounds that aren't considered feminine.
Lisa- Yeah. Yeah. It's like technofobia is an actual expression. It's when you're scared of technology. And as much as I've worked and educated myself in technology I still get scared.
Missy- Technology is just another... thing. It is no gender. It is no race - which are all socially constructed anyway. In technology studies, they warn us to watch out for "technological determinism." It's a way of thinking which is wide spread that one can perceive it often in discourses about new technology developments, that the technology is going to work for this community. It is limited to these people. And it is limited by what you can do with it.
Lisa- I think it's like an identity crisis. When you start getting over this identity crisis of thinking, "I am able to handle technology. I am good enough with technology." That's like a really big thing for females to think and then you get really negative feedback when you talk of it. It's this thing of like, guys who get really annoyed and frustrated and feel threatened if you know more than them about technology. And so you get really negative feedback from everywhere and internally from yourself.
Missy- It just is always a part of a patriarchal society - what you can do and what you can't do. Somehow there's these random definitions what a female can do, of what a male can do, of what a person of color can do, and so on and so this is a kind of warning. Don't allow technology to be put into this kind of framework because we live in a society that practices all sorts of social and cultural styles.
Missy- So we can take technology and use it any way we want!
Lisa- It's ridiculous and it's your perception of it. If something goes wrong in the computer, am I gonna freak out and think "OH I don't know what I'm doing!" Or am I going to think, "I have a normal brain cell, I should be able to figure this out."
Missy- Yeah, I mean starting from day one, usually if you're male you're taught, "You know, just keep going at it. Keep learning. Keep pushing yourself. Keep going at it. You'll get it." And if you're a female it's like, "Don't worry honey. It's too hard for you. Don't worry about it." It's so patronizing and it's like...
Lisa- Yeah! And that's why it's like, hard to be a female musician and especially technological musician.
Missy- And the challenge is - not to allow yourself to be defined. At the same time, how do you really fight all of this internalization of patriarchy, which will deter a woman from pursuing a hands-on working knowledge of technology?
Lisa- The way I see it is that my music making is an act of feminism. Every-time I sit by the computer and work in a technological program, like Reason or Rebirth, I feel like I'm doing something for feminism. Because, the fact that I'm there. The fact that I won't go away... (both laugh) Because there's so many people... I've seen a lot of my friends have just given up and you know, I don't blame them. I really don't because it's so hard.
Missy- And that puts us into another area that women battle, is... "I don't want to be categorized as 'the female DJ.' I want to be considered a DJ." At the same time we have to look at the big picture and recognize that female DJs are being... or female composers... or female creators... are not being recognized - are not being given an opportunity. So it's like we don't want to be categorized. We want to just be an artist but the reality is the women are not getting the recognition they need so we have to look at this and at the same time so many women are afraid of networking with each other. But that's always what men have been taught. NETWORKING and the boys club.
Lisa- Well we're getting there. I think that "MySpace", the new website, really has helped that. I've really started to network with a lot more female DJs, for example. And I don't think that women is a biological gender. I don't see it that way. I see it as a social constructed gender. And I do think that you have to accept that you're part of that social group. A lot of the time, though, women are so overwhelmed with their work that their doing that they have to work full time and then they DJ and then they write music and then they don't have that much resources to be like, "Oh yeah, and now I'll help YOU on like the 10 minutes that I have remaining of my day." I mean, it's crazy. It's so hard to do all that you're doing and fighting so hard that you really don't have that extra energy to give to others. And it's also competition. It's this thing that I always felt when I started playing guitar, for example. Girls weren't excited to see me do that. They were threatened and they also felt provoked, probably, that "Oh I want to play guitar and I don't dare to take that step and you're doing it, so I'm frustrated with that." So...
Missy- And that's part of the system's, I don't say "conspiracy", but it's always been the system's kind of "plan" to let those who are marginalized, those who are not in power to fight amongst themselves.
Missy- So we're all gonna fight for that one position instead of realizing that their needs to be a lot of positions and if we come together in numbers, we'll have power.
Lisa- You're so right. It's that exact problem that I've said for years - it's that there's this ONE spot for the token girl. Because guys a lot of time, I'll hear them say, "Oh if you're a female musician you'll stick out because you'll be so different so you'll just make it straight away." Nothing could be further from the truth. It's the opposite. You know, you have that ONE spot and if one girl has it, you just have to kind of fight each-other and I've felt that so much. It's very seldom that I've felt a sisterhood in music, because we're so pressured. There's so much competition. And it's just a tough environment. But I know there's like, "PinkNoises.com"...
Missy- Yeah, there's an interesting group called "SheJay" who came together and really worked in communities. And it's in community that a lot happens and other groups have recognized that this is now we're gonna get ahead.
Missy- Instead of fighting amongst ourselves, let's come together and be a power. Be a force. Someone to be recognized.
Missy- And there's something we talked about earlier and the female role and one of them was the quote/unquote DJ-Ho and the female-as-groupies and, you know, you're here with the band. And...
Missy- Discuss with us what you're experience has been, assuming you were somebody's girlfriend or a groupie because you were a female when you worked for the record label.
Lisa- Uh huh. Yeah, it's always been tough. It's always been something that made me angry. I refused to go in on the backstage area just because I did not want to be assumed to be the groupie. (Missy laughs) You know, and sometimes people would start flirting with me and it was very difficult to be in a professional situation and try to be respected.
Missy- And at the same time, with all of this wrapping this up in a way, we have a skewed view of reality if we don't get women's perceptions and women's views. Like, as you said, "I don't want to dance to a man's soundtrack."
Lisa- Yeah, "live my life to a man's..."
Lisa- That's how it is now
Missy- And it's okay. We all need to put our view out there. We have such a skewed of reality if all we're ever hearing is the male composers and their music and their mixes.
Lisa- Absolutely. That's why I never like to be the singer because then I just reinforce the stereotype of the female singer.
Missy- And yet, talk about that because, you know back in the day when there wasn't a means of recording sound the composer was seen, for a variety of reasons, but one of the reasons that the composer was so critical was that his work was in print. It could be saved. It could be archived. But the voice could not be saved so it would die with time. But meanwhile technology came in. Now voices are recorded and we have this, this historical...uh... archive of wonderful vocalists. Why do you think that it's still seen as not as critical?
Lisa- It's the patriarchy, I think. And the patriarchy doesn't give respect to women in other areas so why would they give it in music even though technology changes and comes in? I think that's the problem.
Missy- I mean there's male vocalists. Do you think that their not respected the same way?
Lisa- You know, for example, take a musician like Beck. I mean, he sings on his records but no-one assumes that he only sings. But take Imogen Heap, for example. She sings and produces and writes music and people think she's just the singer.
Missy- The singer, right. I mean, like, you play guitar, bass, clarinet, piano, you do programming, you make beats, drum computers, soundtracks...
Missy- You know and these are all viable means of making good money. I know men who make good money based on all of those things. Some of the misconceptions that we kind of touched on, one of them also, is that you know the women will get pregnant and get married and disappear.
Missy- First of all, that suggests that that's really all that matters to a woman. Her music, her creativity, her talent... the male is driven by his passion for art, film, music... it's considered genius.
Missy- The woman who's driven by that... somethings wrong with her. Why isn't she having children
Lisa- You know we're still there. We're still there. It's a shame. Women also kind of have to choose between family OR their creative work.
Missy- Right. Because you're on the road a lot.
Lisa- Yeah. Basically the problem is that women today have the main responsibility for rearing children. That's a problem. You have to share that responsibility.
Missy- Angela Davis has always done a lot of wonderful work. One of the keys that would really change this society is if women's role was not their job to nurture children and make them be who their supposed to be.
Lisa- It's one of the biggest problems. And it's a problem for every child, to have just the mom be that majority person and the dad often be absent. It's one of the biggest problems for equality.
Missy- And finally, you mentioned there's like a hidden sexism that...
Lisa- Oh I have this great story, actually. It's from my school years in Sweden. One of the years when I started, I came into school and they have - this year's really great - they have 5 girls. Which is amazing out of 25, and I'm really happy. However, I see that they've split us up into 5 different groups. 4 are all male and the one group is all female. And I instantly go, "No way." Because I know what's gonna happen. You put the girls together and this is our chance to kind of prove ourselves and everyone's gonna stamp us from the very beginning and if we don't do well, we're gonna be seen as the bad playing girls for the rest of the year. So what happened is we actually do rehearse once and all the girls are beginners and all the guys are very well-skilled so we all kind of hear that straight away and I'm saying, "There's no way that I'm going to perform with this. We cannot compete with these guys. It you have a band with 5 people and 2 people are not so good, you can still pull it off. But if you have EVERYONE being not so good, I'm not saying that we were not musical, I'm just saying we were not as skilled technically." So I say "No I'm not doing it. We have to split it up. I want to have equal groups with both genders." And before then everyone had said "You know, but we respect women. It's no problem, you know." But after this, it's like a big outrage and all the guys are protesting and they're saying "NO WAY that we play with GIRLS! We don't want GIRLS in our group." It's like they're children all the sudden and these are, like, adult people. It's like a punishment to get a girl in your group, now all of the sudden. Which is why I didn't want this to happen in the first place. But I of course, "There's no way this is gonna happen." I don't know where I got this, you know, radical strength from because it's not my style to be confrontational but I did it, you know, and there was one other girl who quietly said "I also agree..." (laughs) YOu know? So I was like "Okay yes! We got two girls!" ANd the teachers thankfully listened to me and so they split us up into separate groups and all were mixed and all the guys were SO annoyed. But afterwards, after our first rehearsal together, the drummer who was a guy in my group - he put his drumsticks down and he said "That's the first time in my life I ever played with a girl." And I just knew it was SO worth it. Feminist struggle right there! (laughs)
Missy- Right there. ANd that was a historical moment.
Lisa- It really was!
Missy- Well I just notice there's chick bands and to see, like, a woman... a drummer...
Lisa- Very hard to get. My band Schulte/Eriksson, in England, was me and my friend Anna. We had a band together and we tried to get a hold of other band members. And I was like "Yeah, let's get girls because I want to work with feminists or girls. That's what I want to work with." Ryan, who I work with now in Techno Squirrels, he's a feminist. That's why we can work really well together. We do it 50/50. But back then I wanted to have girls so I thought there'd be a higher chance of it working smoothly. But we couldn't find one. A girl who liked our kind of music and who played on a decent level. So we had to take two guys.
Missy- And now let's wrap this up with looking at the financial disparity again, because some of the things that I noticed was that when a male DJ... he will play as long as he gets the crowd rocking and a Soho based DJ Belinda said they get paid significantly more, whereas as she points out, many DJs get paid thousands of dollars for a party but most women have to supplement their incomes with day-jobs like promoting special events, dancing, acting, whatever. Clubs are still paying women between 170-250 a night, IF they're getting paid. So talk to us about the financial disparity for women in this industry.
Lisa- It's just unbelievable. It's so difficult. That's why it's so hard. You just have to work full-time and then do all this other work in your spare time. But a lot of guys have to do that as well, but obviously it's unequal.
Missy- Well thank you for spending this time with us, Lisa.
Lisa- Thank you for having me.