DJ Experience - BPM Supreme Contributor - March 31, 2022
Women’s History Month: 5 Female DJs Who Paved the Way

Women have made their existence present in the DJ community for decades, through the stamina of early broadcasters for access to a soundboard, all against the male-dominated music industry surrounding radio and DJing. Even to this day, Top 100 lists lack in acknowledging women and female-identifying music industry professionals, the ratio being just as unbalanced at its gender pay gap, with only 2% of producers being women and 4% of female DJs in demand in 2021. 

Yet there were the female pirate radio broadcasters that pushed the threshold with what music could be broadcasted, to the BBC female broadcasters from the ’60s, from Daphne Oram’s BBC Radiophonic Workshop to Wendy Carlos and Suzanne Ciani’s synthesizers, and the warehouse clubs that set a stage for women to define the rave scenes electronic music fans are still influenced by. The underrepresentation of female DJs is apparent but labels such as Scandal, promoting female artists in China’s underground club scene, Denmark’s DJ academy for gender minorities, and modern DJs such as Nervo and Rezz are carrying on the legacy that women have always existed in the electronic music industry and they aren’t going anywhere. 

Here are some of the female DJs who paved the way, among many more. 

Ranking Miss P

“Love to everyone,” a soft-spoken voice echoed into stereos across Europe and the U.K. “You’re back in tune to the Ranking Miss P.” Ranking Miss P became one of the few women DJs at the illegal station from 1980 to 1984. Her voice stuck like velvet glue as a broadcaster on the station Dread Broadcasting Radio. 

As the first black-ran pirate radio station in Britain, DBC was already a prominent part of radio history and black history, slickly dodging the Radio Investigative Services while culminating over 100,000 listeners towards its end. But the DBC made a difference as the only station strictly playing reggae, soul, and dub, led by Miss P’s brother DJ Lepke, and with an apparent influence from their older sister Rita Marley–Bob Marley’s widow and back-up singer with the I-Threes. Lepke invited Miss P to host a show in 1979, in DBC’s infancy, and she eventually became a station manager.

The Dread Broadcasting Corporation appeared to make a move beyond UK pirate radio and into warehouse clubs that established electronic music and rave culture, comparatively to Radio Caroline in the 1960s and contemporary KISS FM’s influence, another British pirate station that would secure itself as a part of the club scene. But DBC strictly played music by black artists and was seen as a threat for that reason by the British government.

Their representation mattered and Rankin Miss P became an influence to other female DJs looking to use their voice, including fellow DBC broadcaster DJ Camille. “Our format allowed us to play music that would otherwise never be heard publicly. We created movement within the industry,” says Rankin Miss P on the days of DBC. The BBC’s lack of black music transitioned when Miss P became a presenter on BBC1. She then went on to host Riddim and Blues on BBC Radio. 

Colleen “Cosmo” Murphy

You hear about David Mancuso’s loft parties as an exclusive yet liberating moment in music, taking that energy and bringing it to nightclubs like Paradise Garage and eventually influencing Studio 54’s commercial attempt. DJ Colleen “Cosmo” Murphy began spinning records in the early ‘80s at 14-years-old and, while attending New York University (NYU), became the program director of the school’s WNYU station.

Walking into The Loft changed the way Murphy heard club music, and after a year of attending events weekly, she befriended Mancuso. He then became her mentor, and she soon played full sets at The Loft under the name DJ Cosmo. Her mixes dove into the crevices of the late ‘80s club scene.

DJ Cosmo has helped maintain Mancuso’s legacy over the years through her event The Lucky Cloud Loft Party and releasing The Loft Tapes, the two-CD compilation that starts with “Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now” by Risco Connection, originally by McFadden & Whitehead. That’s the persistent mentality that has evolved alongside Colleen and her music-centric career; the seminal notion of partying carried into becoming a traveling DJ, and her love for music translating in celebratory and storytelling listening events under the name Classic Album Sundays, started in 2010 by Murphy. When DJing, Murphy has said she uses Audio Technica, Technics 1200s, and Auralex turntables. 

DJ Camilla

Another Dread Broadcasting DJ was Carmella Obinyan. Carmella followed in Miss P’s footsteps on the DBC’s decks, establishing herself under the name Sister C, playing ‘60s and ‘70s soul music. She then changed to DJ Camilla, a moniker for her real name that hid her identity from her career as a full-time social worker.

But Camilla integrated her work values into the station. She was an advocate for the black community at the House of Commons when DBC was trying to obtain a radio license, suggesting raising awareness on sickle cell anemia during DBC broadcasts and being a part of the minority of black female DJs. Camilla still talks fondly of her DBC days, recently participating in the Women in Music panel Women in Pirate Radio

Kemistry & Storm

Kemistry & Storm’s companionship beyond their drum ’n’ bass sets was a long-term friendship since their upbringing in Kettering, and bloomed years later after changing careers to be full-time DJs at Touchdown FM and Defection FM and clubs as a duo, disclosing they were women until they showed up for their sets. They eventually founded the label Metalheadz.

Kemistry & Storm released their CD mix DJ-Kicks that deemed them as female spearheads in a male-dominated industry in 1999. It represents their sets as a whole–intense and lush, so much that they emulated the scene they would play until Kemistry, born Valerie Olukemi A “Kemi” Olusanya, sadly passed away in a car accident. Jane “Storm” Connely still DJs and talks fondly while remembering Kemistry, always seeing herself as a duo. 

Annie Nightingale

Annie Nightingale was the first female broadcaster on BBC1. That alone makes Nightingale an important aspect of women in music, but while working to get the job at BBC, Nightingale had already made a name for herself as a journalist reporting on rock music and befriending bands such as The Beatles. BBC1 initially rejected her, saying that women wouldn’t want to listen to women broadcasters. But ultimately, Nightingale ended up getting hired by way of the Beatles’ press officer, Derek Taylor, and soon proved a name for herself. 

While hosting the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1978, she introduced new wave music to British households and took her DJing on Sounds of the 70s to television. At 81-years-old, Nightingale is still DJing weekly on BBC1 with her show Annie Nightingale Presents… playing pop hits every Tuesday as the longest-running broadcaster on the network. 

About the Writer
Gabby Castellano is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and creator. Her work mainly focuses on covering music and music history across various genres.
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