With the lack of inclusivity and equality throughout the whole of pop-culture being more and more discussed and highlighted in recent time, so is the urge of a lot of people to change that instance. For the electronic music scene, particularly criticized for its often very male dominated landscape, one of these trailblazers is New York based DJ Emma Olson, better known under her stage name Umfang, who is challenging the industry’s established hierarchies through her music as well as with collective and booking agency Discwoman, which she co-founded with Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson and Christine McCharen-Tran in 2014.
During the last three years, Discwoman has made it their quest to promote female identifying DJs and producers, and creating visibility for them through a self-organized annual festival. With the world becoming an even more twisted place in what feels like everyday, Emma, Frankie, and Christine want to maintain and further a safe environment within music and give voice to cis, trans, and gender queer artists. “We focus on uplifting people we find that are working really hard on their own craft but still don’t see a lot of offers coming in or a spotlight on them,” Emma explains, “We want to show images of all different kinds of people making music and remind people that there isn’t one way to do things and that all viewpoints can be inspiring.”
An ambition especially important to Emma because of the personal cords it strikes. From starting to dj in 2009 and being entirely self-taught, she has made her way to hold the monthly residency “Technofeminism” at Bossa Nova Civic Club in Brooklyn and releases her new Album “Symbolic Use Of Light” today. Although for Umfang finding her path in music ultimately proved to be a successful journey, it wasn’t one where many figureheads lead the way. “I didn’t imagine that I could be a musician or artist as a career without seeing something similar to me as an example. A lot of music and art that is taken ‘seriously’ was too stiff for me to relate to,” she says now, “Until I saw other female DJs that were queer or butch I didn’t know that there was a place for me. I think this goes for a lot of things that seeing role models can awaken a lot of ideas for others.”
For “Symbolic Use of Light” she combined these ideas with her thoughts on “the dire political situation, corruption, and police brutality” and fused them into a polyrhythmic and experimental sound very close to the core of techno, she says, “a political, introspective and genuine expression original to the person that created it, not a copied formula”. Gravitating towards the new and the progressive, Umfang and Discwoman make clear their mission of turning the music scene into a more welcoming and versatile environment is far from over.
While they see the future of Discwoman in the expansion of the agency-side of the collective and Umfang’s personal goal is to make as much music as possible, the direction the music industry is heading in is not that easily pinpointed – but driven by the ambition of its current boundary pushers. “I hope there can be more room for female and non binary DJs to be booked and paid for their work and that they won’t have to prove themselves constantly. I want to see more women in positions of power and ownership of venues,” Umfang says. And although there still is a long way to go, the first step is taken, she adds, as “it’s at least an open conversation in the music media now”. And one that Umfang and Discwoman are certainly set to keep going.
Listen to Umfang’s new Album “Symbolic Use Of Light” here:
All Photos by Tyler Jones