By Sara Vos
Since 2000, thousands of electronic music fans from around the world flock to Detroit during Memorial Day Weekend for Detroit’s internationally known electronic music festival. The festival, now called the Movement Electronic Music Festival, was created to celebrate Detroit's role as the birthplace of electronic (or “techno”) music. People lose themselves in transcendental dance floor moments, listening to samples from church gospel, 70s disco, and completely original mixes. Some who make the annual trek claim that dance music is their church and the place where they can most touch and taste the holy.
In recent years, the festival producers have been increasing the numbers of female DJs and artists on the lineup. There are dozens of parties around the city that happen concurrently with the festival, including an annual event that showcases some of the best female talent in the industry.
Maggie Derthick is the founder of Girls Gone Vinyl, an annual Detroit dance party that was the first networking event for women in electronic music from around the world. The party has been taking place for 11 years, and thousands of women (and men) have attended GGV events both here in Detroit and across the globe. A few weeks after 2017’s Movement, Maggie and I chatted about the history of Girls Gone Vinyl, how things have changed from then to now, and what’s in store for the organization.
Sara Vos: Maggie, Girls Gone Vinyl is the biggest all-female lineup dance party in Detroit each Memorial Day Weekend, and now you’ve taken it all over the U.S. and Europe. Can you fill us in on the history and as well as your motivations for getting started?
Maggie Derthick: In 2006, I started an electronic music promotion company in Detroit and I was working on producing events. With the advent of social media, which was Myspace back then, I was able to meet women from all over the world based on their tastes in music — women who were into the same things as me. It was very cool, because we could have an immediate conversation and connection, due to social media.
It was early spring, and the Detroit Electronic Music Festival was coming up. All these women were reaching out, asking where they could play and get booked, and they were having a hard time doing it. Because of that, and because I wanted all of these very cool girls to meet, I thought, “Why don’t we just throw a party with all these awesome women who can all play, and all meet, at the party?”
I chose the name Girls Gone Vinyl because the “Girls Gone Wild” [adult vacation video] brand was in the news at that time. As a marketer, I knew “Girls Gone…” would have some legs to it, because people were hearing such negative things [about “Girls Gone Wild”], so my goal was to take that messaging about women — that women are objects and to be exploited — and turn it upside down. The party itself was about girls and women who wanted to get into the music business. I wanted to push boundaries with the title of the party.
The message I’m trying to get across to young girls and women in the music business is: “Be who you are.” It’s super frustrating to watch anyone shrink or change themselves to achieve a goal that they want, or to be able to put their art out into the world. How can you truly be an artist if you have to temper yourself?
SV: So you called the first party Girls Gone Vinyl back in May 2006. Were people into the title or concept? Where did it go from there?
MD: I didn’t know where it was going to go, or what it was going to be, but I wanted it to be a place that women from around the world could meet each other and create networks amongst themselves, because it was very hard to get into that boys network. The more you meet people like you — like attracts like — the broader your reach can be. So that was always the major goal, to have the event at the festival, and then via the social media connections and meeting each other in person, to grow the network of how many industry women knew each other.
I knew so many women who, like myself in Detroit, had been one girl amidst a bunch of guys in electronic music enclaves in New York, San Francisco, Italy, Berlin… so I was trying to connect those girls with each other from around the world, and then give them a platform to play in the Mecca of electronic music, Detroit. I wanted to create a platform for them to play and put their art out in the very place that had inspired them to become artists in the first place.
I continued to do the event every year, and grow the amount of women who were meeting and inspiring each other, and they were moving up in their careers.
SV: How did it shift and evolve?
MD: A big reason this became important to me is because I have a daughter. I realized that, as a young girl, when you’re only seeing men’s names, men on posters, men at events, how does a young girl look up and say, “I can do this, too”? Music festival lineups were five percent women at the time. How do young girls even know that they have a possible chance to do it? How do they even know the stories and paths that other women have taken to get into the business?
While I was asking these kinds of questions, I happened to meet a woman locally, Jenny Lafemme, who has a film production company. Jenny is a DJ as well. We were talking one night, and we thought, “Why don’t we take this party on the road and film the stories of these women around the world?” We wanted other women, young and old, to see and hear the stories that led other women here. So that’s how the documentary side of it came about, in 2010.
We raised $15,000 on [crowd-funding website] Kickstarter and went to five different countries, interviewing over 100 women and five men who are in this business. We filmed over two years, all the while doing GGV events throughout… Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Ibiza, Detroit, Miami, Chicago… We were doing GGV parties all around Europe and North America. Then we still kept the annual Detroit party during the electronic music festival here.
Where we are now is that we have hundreds of hours of great footage. We are trying to figure out if we do docu-episodes instead of a full documentary film. Each of the interviews is so amazing that telling each woman’s full story seems to be the most exciting. So we’re looking at showing cool, edited interviews of each of the women and having a few years of legs for this project. Many different ages and nationalities are included; some are moms, some are booking agents, some are record label owners and not DJs or producers. So there are other ways to get into the business that are showcased in the interviews, even if you’re not an artist.
We have GGV mixes online and we’ll be starting to put new mixes back up on our website this year. The cool thing is that even now, since 2010, there is way more discussion about women in the industry and how to make things more equal. There are more female-centric groups, like Female Pressure, and there’s a club in Germany that does a whole month of all-female artists. Smart Bar in Chicago does a month of all-female DJs in February. The conversation has changed, but the music festival bookings have not. It’s still 5–10 percent women in lineups.
SV: Why do you think the numbers are that low?
MD: I still do think it’s about the way the booking system works. There are definitely still way more men than women who do create and produce electronic music, but the booking and lineup numbers aren’t correctly reflecting how many talented women are in this business.
We all come at it from different angles, and I don’t know all the answers, but I definitely think there are two major factors: First, women and men are socialized very differently in Western culture, so women are not taught to go into electronics, as boys are. Second, I also think there are major differences in the ways women and men market and promote themselves. I definitely think that feminine strengths and needs are different than masculine strengths and needs.
SV: It sounds like it has been quite the adventure and journey. Thanks so much for taking the time to share with me. What else should readers know?
MD: People can follow Girls Gone Vinyl on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. We have many changes underway and people can keep track of what we’re up to. Also, we’ll throw our annual party next May as part of the Movement Electronic Music Festival.
We’ve been covered by Billboard, Forbes, Red Bull Radio… So I’m ready to capitalize on the broad appeal I have built and push out the discussion even further. I just want it to be a normal thing where all women are on a lineup and not have to call it a “Girls’ Party.”
SV: That’s really powerful.
MD: Yeah. And it’s starting, little by little.