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  • Turning the tables: How Femme Bass Mafia are disrupting a male-dominated DJ scene

Music & clubs

Turning the tables: How Femme Bass Mafia are disrupting a male-dominated DJ scene

Meet Femme Bass Mafia, the squad of Berlin FLINTA* DJs working to mentor new talent behind the booth.

From left: Luzie (LUZ1E), Lila (Dangermami), Jenny (MSYJ) and Marie (Marie Midori). Photo: Makar Artemev

The DJ booth has long been a fortress guarded by white cis men. Across the bass music scene, Berlin is a more equitable place than most, but it’s still male-dominated. But hey, it’s 2024, and the scene’s evolving. Lately, the conversations about who gets a seat at the table – the turntable, that is – in Berlin’s club culture have hit a higher volume, becoming more public and passionate. New groups are stepping up, aiming to create spaces that embrace diversity and inclusivity, putting the spotlight on folks beyond the white cis male demographic and proving that the dance floor truly belongs to everyone. Enter Femme Bass Mafia.

At some point, I felt really discouraged. And I thought, I can’t be the only one who feels this way.

The Berlin collective is on a mission to flip the script, fostering solidarity and talent in the DJ sphere and shunning competition and ego. Founded in 2021, Femme Bass Mafia has run a mentoring programme tailored explicitly to women and trans and non-binary people, offering them a gateway to the DJing scene within an uplifting environment. Their empowering workshops are about more than just mixing tracks: they’re about carving out a space where all participants can amplify their sonic talent and creativity with confidence. 

The booth as a safer space

The idea for Femme Bass Mafia first emerged, like many other creative endeavours, from the depths of the pandemic lockdown. During a summer marked by restricted social gatherings, founder Lilia van Beukering often found herself at home with her flatmate, who frequently extended invitations to his circle of friends for record-spinning sessions. However, during these all-male DJ sessions, she couldn’t help but notice the girlfriends watching from the sidelines. Some of them, van Beukering remembers, were yearning for their own turn behind the decks – yet practising felt uncomfortable in the presence of male company. “This discomfort is a result of the prevailing gender dynamics in the music industry,” she says.

Photo: Makar Artemev

Her own desire to try her hand at DJing turned into action when she stumbled upon a pair of secondhand CDJs on eBay Kleinanzeigen. Despite her lack of expertise, she made the purchase, reluctantly asking her flatmate for advice. She started practising alone at home, still filled with unease when her more experienced flatmate was present. “I would practise whenever he was out,” she remembers. Yet, she had very little community of fellow DJs who could offer guidance, and she felt a lack of kindred spirits. “I didn’t really have DJ friends that weren’t guys. At some point, I felt really discouraged. And I thought, I can’t be the only one who feels this way.”

Determined to forge a path forward, van Beukering connected with a new acquaintance: Marie Midori. One night at Crack Bellmer, the nightclub where she worked at the time, van Beukering mustered the courage to approach Marie over a drink, proposing the idea of a collaboration. Shortly after, she reached out to Luzie (DJ name LUZ1E), and the three of them began conspiring, laying the groundwork for the future. “Each interaction fuelled my determination to carve out a niche within the industry,” van Beukering recalls, smiling.         

During these all-male DJ sessions, she couldn’t help but notice the girlfriends watching from the sidelines.

When the three of them launched Femme Bass Mafia on social media in late 2020, it was shared all over immediately. “It resonated deeply. We were met with an outpouring of support right from the start,” van Beukering, who goes by Dangermami behind the decks, says. Up-and-coming artists began to reach out offering their mentorship, among them New Zealand-born Berlin-based DJ Fuckoff. A few weeks in, the team had sketched out a 12-week programme and put out an application form.

The inaugural workshops found their footing in empty clubs in spring 2021, graciously opening their doors and lending equipment to Femme Bass Mafia free of charge. “It was all volunteer-based in the beginning,” says van Beukering. Now, the project thrives with financial support from Musicboard Berlin.

Stepping Out

As Femme Bass Mafia gears up for the fifth iteration of its programme, their mentoring has evolved into a six-month journey welcoming six eager participants each round. In biweekly sessions blending theory and practice, seasoned mentors – themselves active figures in the nightlife scene in Berlin and beyond – offer their technical expertise, give insights on track curation and discuss the ins and outs of social media promotion. They also exchange invaluable strategies to calm pre-gig anxiety, recognising the significance of easing nerves, particularly for novices entering the DJ booth. Van Beukering’s tried-and-tested method to reduce pre-gig nervousness? When stress still creeps in, she treats it by blasting loud R‘n’B tunes: an escape from the electronic music realm. 

Prior experience is not required to participate in Femme Bass Mafia’s programme, rather the opposite: their workshops are specifically designed for those who have never touched a deck before. The only prerequisite for participation is a preference for bass music – and a willingness to be fully committed. Embracing inclusivity, all mentees must consent to the collective’s anti-discrimination policy.

Photo: Makar Artemev

At its final session, the programme culminates in a triumphant graduation ceremony. Each participant is granted the opportunity to spin their debut public set, perhaps within the tiled walls of the infamous HÖR bathroom or on air at Neukölln’s beloved community radio station, Refuge Worldwide, where past iterations have taken place. “They get to close the chapter and spread their wings,” van Beukering says proudly. 

“Stepping onto the stage at Paloma Bar for my graduation night was a euphoric moment I’ll never forget. Seeing people groove to my own set was so validating,” shares Katia Fisenko, a proud member of the second Femme Bass Mafia cohort. For her, the mentoring programme became a springboard to embrace her musical passion in a way she didn’t think possible before. “DJing was always a dream of mine, but Femme Bass Mafia turned it into a reality. They’ve opened the doors for me to spin in Berlin’s clubs and beyond, and I’ve met so many wonderful people through the programme. It truly was life-changing in a lot of ways.” 

Prior experience is not required to participate in Femme Bass Mafia’s programme, rather the opposite

For most participants, the Femme Bass Mafia adventure does not end after graduation. An ethos of mutual support extends within the group, fostering a culture where any gig opportunities are redistributed among its members if someone can’t make it, and fellow members’ names are passed to promoters when possible. Approximately four out of six graduates tend to pursue DJing more consistently, van Beukering says. In some instances, members have even left their day jobs behind to pursue DJing full-time, a testament to the collective’s empowering influence. Mentors and alumni alike can now be spotted behind the decks of Berlin’s iconic nightclubs on a regular basis. Femme Bass Mafia has showcased their beats at club nights like the Plasma series at Revier Südost, and an Outlook Festival gig coming up at Fitzroy in May.

Looking ahead, the aspirations of Femme Bass Mafia stretch beyond the DJ workshops that initially marked its journey. Alongside their mentoring programme, the collective has broadened its scope: in collaboration with the Berlin-based music software company Ableton, Femme Bass Mafia introduced a music production training programme, coordinated by Jenny (DJ name MSJY), empowering its participants to craft their own sonic worlds. Van Beukering also has ambitious plans to establish a dedicated community space – a headquarters of sorts – to offer resources for skill development, and serve as a hub for workshops and networking. And with eyes on horizons beyond Berlin, the team envisions branches of Femme Bass Mafia in Barcelona, Paris or the Netherlands.

The Berlin bubble

Almost four years into their journey, the group has observed a shift in Berlin’s nightlife scene; there seems to be a growing awareness of the importance of diversity and gender balance within the DJing scene, Lillia says. “This sentiment is reflected in the implementation of quotas in some clubs, although perhaps not universally adopted. Nevertheless, there definitely is a shift towards inclusivity, with many collectives and promoters making conscious efforts to diversify their lineups,” she attests. While male-led initiatives still dominate, there’s a growing number of non-male artists being featured. Additionally, some collectives are expanding their teams to include people from diverse backgrounds, signalling a hopeful progression towards a more equitable and representative DJing community. 

“We’re definitely in a bubble here in Berlin, though,” clarifies van Beukering. When looking at places like the UK, the disparity is still stark. Despite efforts to promote diversity, the bass scene there remains predominantly male-dominated, with a tendency to book the same familiar faces repeatedly, she notes. This makes it challenging for new artists to break into the market. And despite advancements, disparities remain here as well, especially within the drum and bass community in Berlin, which mirrors the male-centric culture of the UK scene. It’s an observation that underscores the ongoing struggle for equality and representation in the music industry. A struggle in which Femme Bass Mafia catalyses not just individual DJs, but a collective movement that is reshaping the narrative of club culture – one beat at a time. 

  • Catch Femme Bass Mafia at Outlook Origins Festival (May 3rd, Fitzroy), details, and follow them on Instagram at @femmebassmafia.