Undeserved Punishment: Peggy Gou, Nike, And Double Standards In Dance Music

Undeserved Punishment: Peggy Gou, Nike, And Double Standards In Dance Music

As a woman of colour in the spotlight the smallest “mistakes” become more worthy of discussion than any of your triumphs...

Women have always had to try harder to prove their talent and their place in any part of the world, in any industry. Coming to the music industry, even international successes such as Ariana Grande have reiterated the lack of representation in pop, acknowledging in interviews the fact that women in pop music are “often held to higher standards” than men in the same line of work.

Now move away from the slightly more female dominated genre of pop to the “techno dude” scene where female DJs have been receiving continued sexist abuse for years, with unequal exposure and pay. The standards are suddenly even higher.

And when a woman is a woman of colour, the criticisms are much sharper, much easier to come by.

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Berlin-based Korean artist Peggy Gou, has along with the likes of Nina Kraviz and The Black Madonna, broken the mould of what it means to be female DJ. Breaking onto the scene with debut 'The Art Of War' EP Part 1 in 2016, and then Part 2 within the same year, she has since been using her platform to amplify the voices of women, and people of colour in particular.

In recent times, the former Mixmag cover star, has achieved a lot worth talking about. From launching her new label Gudu Records, releasing new two-track EP ‘Moment’ and a long list of fashion collaborations. But none of these successes became the talking point among the swirling, critiquing world of social media.

What caused a storm was simply a woman trying to make a living. The 28-year-old became the brand ambassador for Nike’s Air Max 720, getting paid for it as anyone would be. Thus, came an explosion of opinions claiming that Peggy Gou by accepting a cheque for an endorsement - that by all means seemed deserving – was ruining the underground scene.

But as one Twitter user accurately pointed out this disdain and shame of ruined underground music only crops up when it’s a woman who seemed to have stepped “out of line”.

In 2017, outwear company Carhartt WIP partnered with two Detroit-based EDM artists. The first being techno collective Underground Resistance - to launch a collection of five items- and another with Kenny Dixon Jr aka Moodymann with a collection of six items.

So that makes two launches with two renowned DJs. Criticisms? That was still at a nil.

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Peggy has undeniably been one of the most hyped House acts in the last few years, gaining a name for her unique - sometimes bizarre - sets. Underground Resistance and Moodymann are considered some of Detroit’s finest DJs and Peggy can definitely be considered one Berlin’s finest.

So, what’s the difference between them? Peggy is a woman in music. Moreover, she is a woman of colour in music.

While this can be seen as one side of the coin, and just an opinion, the facts definitely say otherwise. The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative undertook a study of inclusion and gender equality in the music industry between 2012 and 2019.

Analysing the list of nominees for the Grammys between this time period revealed that only 10.4 percent of nominees were women, with severe underrepresentation of racial and ethnic groups. It is not just on the stage, as the situation behind the scenes is often worse, with research revealing that only four out of 871 producers were women of colour.

With an obvious pay gap and lack of representation and an overt sexualisation of everything they do the one thing that female musicians – particularly those of a minority group- could do without is a bandwagon gang of people that wait for the slightest chance to criticise.

How good you are at what you do somehow doesn’t matter anymore, because the smallest “mistakes” become more worthy of discussion than any of your triumphs.

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Peggy Gou is Asian; she is good-looking and more importantly she’s been quoted expressing her dislike of the term “female DJ”. So, what should stand out about her should be her efforts at reducing the inequalities within the house scene.

She is the definition of badass launching her own label, travelling the world and performing headline slots at important events like Smirnoff’s Equalising Music event, which aims to double the number of female and non-binary artists performing at the iconic club. So why does the fact she tries to earn a living, as anyone with bills to pay would do, attracting any kind of comment at all - whether positive or negative.

Music is a passion, and an art, for both men and women working in it. But the operative word remains “work”; it is a career for Peggy. People have been criticising her for selling out, but what she has done at the end of the day is only what is best for her career; with Nike obviously being a big brand name that’s worth partnering with.

It doesn’t – and shouldn’t - matter where someone comes from, or what their gender, anyone trying to put a roof over their heads, as Peggy is doing, shouldn’t be facing criticism; the fact that she is shows the long path ahead of the music industry in working towards an industry that allows creativity and money for men, women and people of colour.

As a woman of colour, myself - working in music to an extent - the feeling that you’re being monitored for your first misstep which could then snowball into lost opportunities, lack of pay and deserved praise is something I can definitely say is an unpleasant experience; often being an undeserved punishment.

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Words: Malvika Padin
Photo Credit: Jungwook Mok

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