Kristen Knight is an accomplished, in-demand DJ who plays infectious house beats to packed crowds at top clubs from Miami to Osaka. She also sings and curates parties such as Eve, a monthly showcase composed exclusively of female DJs, which she’ll launch and headline during this year’s Miami Music Week. But with nervous laughter, Knight speaks of another hidden talent she calls “the art of the swerve.”
It’s a skill she’s had to master alongside mixing, blending, and dominating audiences on the dance floor. Along with honing the technical aspects of her chosen craft, Knight has had to learn how to gracefully rebuff inappropriate sexual advances from collaborators she considered colleagues and friends.
“I’ve always kind of kept quiet about my situation in the industry... dealing with people that have more power than me trying to persuade me to do things as an artist or as a person that I feel uncomfortable with,” Knight says. Now based in Miami, she remembers a producer propositioning her when she was an 18-year-old living in Los Angeles. “'You’ve got to pay for the studio somehow,’” she remembers him telling her. Knight asked her mother for a plane ticket back home shortly after the encounter and stopped making music for some time.
The #MeToo movement has revealed patterns of powerful men using their influence to assault and harass women working in Hollywood, journalism, politics, and many other industries. The music world, however, has remained largely untouched by scandal, especially when it comes to DJ-heavy genres, where women performers are rare. According to several women DJs headed to MMW this year, that's because the culture of sexual predation is especially deeply ingrained in the club scene.
One of the most heartbreaking aspects of the ongoing #MeToo conversation has been the number of women who left their desired careers because of the pervasiveness of harassment on the job, from would-be actresses to aspiring journalists. Fortunately, Knight returned to music after her brief hiatus, and her career continued to flourish. Now, as a successful artist in her field, she has made it a priority to promote the talents of other women DJs through projects such as Eve. But though Knight is candid about the realities she has experienced in the music world, she is uneasy with the prospect that Eve might be perceived strictly through the lens of #MeToo.
“I support both female empowerment and the #MeToo movement, and I guess in some ways they are similar, but for the most part, they don’t go hand-in-hand,” Knight clarifies in a post-interview email. “Eve is about female empowerment: women supporting women.” She says she created the monthly event because, as a DJ who has played all over the world, she sees women’s representation behind the decks in the States lagging behind that of those in Europe, Australia, and Asia.
DJ and singer Ultra Naté began curating her Deep Sugar parties with her DJ partner Lisa Moody in Baltimore 15 years ago. Naté will bring Deep Sugar to this year's MMW and though she says she’s been fortunate to avoid untoward advances during her nearly three-decade career, she believes her early initiative to organize her own lineups largely worked in her favor. “I kind of lived a charmed experience,” she says. I didn’t go through a lot of those kinds of traps that a lot of artists end up having to go through.”
Still, Naté says that because she started out as a vocalist, and perhaps partly owing to her gender, she was heavily underestimated as a DJ. “I was actually attacked a few times when I first started,” she says, “actually more so by women than men, which was really interesting. It was said that I was, as an artist, great, but as a DJ, I was just ‘tits and a smile’ and that women are more left-brained and not right-brained; therefore, we didn’t have the technical skill to be great DJs — and that was from another woman.”
Vocalist, DJ, and scheduled MMW performer Lisa Shaw says she wants to make clear that in her experience, "being a female in the industry has never been a problem," but she also notes she exists in a niche, underground market separate from that of the EDM world. Though she says collaborators have never crossed her personal boundaries, she says “being hit on” has come with the territory. Shaw differentiates between men who annoyingly persist in making comments to women they work with and those who suggest a quid pro quo for career advancement. She insists she’s never experienced the latter but remembers one time when, as a young artist, she vented to the members of her former girl group about a producer who wouldn’t take the hint to drop the come-ons. “One of them said, ‘Just take one for the team,’” Shaw remembers.
Both Shaw and Naté emphasize they’ve never experienced what has come to be known as a "#MeToo moment," but their stories nevertheless point to the ways in which women are still underestimated and treated differently in the industry. In turn, their stories, along with that of Knight, also point to a possible means for improvement. All three have taken control of not only their music but also booking, curating, and supporting artists they believe should receive more recognition, including men.
Knight worries that events such as Eve might be perceived as dividing women from or against men. Eve, she says, is an effort to even the playing field for talented women who are not being booked on lineups. But in noting this apprehension, she details an exchange she recently shared with a high-powered agent in Ibiza, one that illustrates just how insidious, ingrained, and pervasive these biases can be. During their conversation, Knight recalls, “I kept saying something about girls in the industry, and I said it twice, and he kind of got offended. He was like, 'Don't make it a girl thing; don't make it a guy thing,' so I kept my mouth shut. Thirty minutes later... he had kind of forgotten what I had just said, and he started talking about a female DJ he had been working with. He was like, ‘I thought she had a ghost producer because, you know, she’s pretty and she’s a girl’... He totally put his foot in his mouth.”
With a heavy sigh, Knight admits, "This topic has always made me nervous, because I feel like women have been taught that when we talk about it, we're like snitches. If you talk about it, people are going to look down on you."
Why, then, has she decided to address the topic head-on this time?
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"Because it's the truth," she says. "Why should I be scared to talk about the truth?"
Eve & Undr the Radr. 10 p.m. Wednesday, March 21, at 1-800-Lucky, 143 NW 23rd St., Miami. Tickets cost $10 to $15 via eve_undrtheradr.eventbrite.com.
Deep Sugar Gotsoul: Ultra Nate's Rooftop Birthday Bash. 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 21, at No. 3 Social, 50 NW 24th St., Miami. Tickets cost $20 via eventbrite.com.
Salted Music Miami. With Lisa Shaw. 2 p.m. Friday, March 23, at Epic Hotel, 270 Biscayne Blvd. Way, Miami. Tickets cost $10 to $30 via saltedmusicmiami2018.eventbrite.com.