DISCWOMAN On How They #SplitFrom The Pack
Can you each tell me a bit about your story? What brought you into the world of nightlife and electronic music?
Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson: It's interesting growing up in London, going to university, and then that being where you realize: wow, there are so many inequalities in this world. Seeing the amount of wealth and privilege in that environment really propelled and put a fire in me to create spaces that celebrated people who weren't of “that kind”, however you want to describe it.
But also, at the same time, university was where I was exposed to techno music. They threw free parties at the back of my campus, and that's where I learned about those sounds, which I had no idea about when I was growing up.
Christine McCharren-Tran: I grew up in Northern Virginia, outside of D.C. Being part of the underground basement scene in New Brunswick, NJ was really formative. A lot of punk shows, playing parties where you would soundproof with mattresses, that kind of stuff. That access into the culture and just creating space for each other in music was really cool.
I think historically within electronic music, there are these crews or cliques and that's what people assume you must be.
I moved to New York, and I didn't have any friends when I first moved. So, I would find parties and DJs I really liked, and that's how I made friends and learned about different venues and queer spaces. Then I met Frankie and Emma and we started Discwoman together.
Emma Burgess Olson: I was born in the Bronx and I lived there until I was about three, when we moved to upstate New York. Then my parents split up and wanted me to be near family, so we moved to Kansas, where my Mom's family is from.
I went all the way through to college in Kansas. I studied textiles, and I fell into a group of friends that were DJing and throwing parties — house parties, and then later on warehouse parties in Kansas City. That was my first introduction to techno, to going out and dancing, to big sound systems.
My friend group kept shifting towards music, and through mutual friends I met the person who started Bossa Nova Civic Club. So when that opened, I DJed there and through that residency I met a ton of people with common interests, and one of those people was Frankie.
We're just trying to feature the really talented people that we've found, doing their own thing, and that doesn't have to be about them being attached to a collective.
How do you define Discwoman? People often assume it’s a label, but that’s not what it is. You’ve broken away from that traditional definition.
Emma Burgess Olson: I think historically within electronic music, there are these crews or cliques and that's what people assume you must be. So they're like, "Oh, you're a collective. That means you all DJ together or you all work together." Part of our whole thing is saying, "No, we picked all these people that are crushing it that haven't got picked up by anybody." We're just trying to feature the really talented people that we've found, doing their own thing, and that doesn't have to be about them being attached to a collective.
At that first event, were you already planning to make such a bold, explicit split from male-dominated club culture? What was the mission for Discwoman at that time?
Christine McCharren-Tran: A lot of it was about celebration and visibility in the very beginning, that was a lot of the intention of it being a platform. Then from there, six months later, we created the infrastructure and asked: how do we disrupt the industry? That's why we became an agency: to get women paid.
If you're not changing stuff that could potentially impact people negatively around you, then I feel like you're not really doing your bit.
You’ve spoken before about having to “unlearn” some of the ideas culture embeds in us. There’s something powerful about that – before you can truly split from or depart from culture, you need to unlearn what it’s imprinted on you. How has unlearning allowed you to split from the ordinary?
Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson: I think that's a process that every individual needs to take upon themselves in order to be a more productive, empathetic human on this planet. I'm a big believer that politics starts with personal relationships and if you're not changing stuff that could potentially impact people negatively around you, then I feel like you're not really doing your bit.
I had such a huge lack of self-esteem growing up. Unlearning certain beauty standards, that they aren't necessarily all that’s valuable in the world, was a major point for me. Understanding myself as a person that was attractive and desirable was a big learning moment, because that wasn't what was sold to me as a child.
Unlearning so many norms has brought me into a way happier and more productive place. I think that its crucial for individuals to take those steps to unlearning, whether you’re in a position of more privilege or less privilege. We all navigate those zones at certain points.
Unlearning so many norms has brought me into a way happier and more productive place.