By: Trevor Chartrand
Director Stacey Lee raises some important questions in Underplayed, a documentary about diversity in the music industry. Specifically, the film focuses on electronica (or dance music) and the women who make it. Often left behind on a concert schedule predominately populated by men, these artists are underappreciated and underrepresented, especially in this particular genre.
The film establishes a very interesting history for the genre itself, most notably detailing facts about women who played a vital role in developing the technology that DJs still use to synthesize their killer beats today. Some of the early performers who worked with the technology were women, making women pioneers in the field as artists as well.
The DJs interviewed include a diverse group featuring Rezz, Nightwave, TokiMonsta and Allison Wonderland, to name a few. Plenty of these DJs are POC and homosexual as well, offering a variety of perspectives and insights into the persecution they face in their chosen genre. Many of these DJs discuss their strong distaste for social media and how they are perceived and treated online. Fans often request and respond to scantily-clad pictures more than actually discussing the music they make. Their stories all share commonalities, and indicate in their lack of deserved respect online.
Many of the points raised in the film are concerning. We are living in a world where diversity is very much an in-your-face and present topic, but it has apparently been overlooked in this one branch of the music industry.
A common cause for anxiety among these DJs is their dislike of travelling for shows – how taxing and exhausting it can be. Touring is the nature of the beast for any artist in the music industry, and life on the road is difficult for any musician. For these women, however, these challenges become exponentially more intimidating as a minority performer. These women are groped and oogled at during their shows, and rave/club culture is dominated by the male gaze. The lack of respect these hard-working artists are unfairly subjected to has been made quite clear – what they’re faced with on the road is alarming and worrisome.
Throughout the course of Underplayed, many of the featured DJs discuss the current climate of the corporate world, and a gimmicky trend for businesses to promote diversity and inclusion in advertising campaigns. It’s a very transparent and insincere attempt to seem inclusive, since most of these ads are obviously reaching and only exist to stay on trend. Ironically, as if to prove their point, this documentary was produced by Bud Light. Evidently, the subjects are spot-on in regards to observing corporations cashing in on diversity. It’s sort of a catch-22 though – does this mean that without sleazy corporate marketing gimmicks, these women wouldn’t have been able to get a film like this made? Let’s hope not.
For what it’s worth, going to the source was the right move for the film. The women featured in this doc are more sincere and make their points concisely and effectively. It’s important that we listen to the artists themselves, regardless of who the producers are.
Speaking of listening, the music in the film is spectacular, and that’s what this is all about, right? The music is the heartbeat of the doc, and showcases the talent of each performer featured.
Overall, Underplayed gives a voice to a very specific group in an industry that have experienced marginalization and persecution in their field. These women are fighting for their dreams, and creating music that they love. They are role models for the next generation and deserve accolades and recognition for their work. Give the film a shot, and let their voices – and beats – be heard.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor