You’re all women who are active as musicians in different genres. But you all work in a male domain …
Steff la Cheffe (sighs): If you do anything other than run the household and bring up the kids, you’re automatically in a male domain. Regardless of whether you’re a politician, a doctor or a musician. Men are in the majority everywhere.
Does that bother you?
Jessiquoi: The only factor that daunts me personally is that I see so few women around me. Whether backstage or onstage, I meet almost only men. I see no reason why that should be the case. Because I don’t believe the argument that women are less interested in technology. What’s more: no technician has ever failed to take me seriously as a woman producer.
Do you have an advantage by being something exotic?
Jess: No – if there were any advantage, there’d be a lot more women doing it. And as long as a Spotify playlist comprises more than 70 percent men, you can’t say that woman have any advantage.
Steff: There is an advantage, but it’s not self-evident.
What do you mean by that?
Steff: I get a lot of attention in the media. Much more than my male colleagues. That’s the advantage. But this in turn leads my colleagues to ask why I get so much attention. That causes envy. But really it’s about something else that lies very deep in our subconscious.
Steff: The fact that people often just see me as a woman. And the fact that many men ask themselves: “Would I want to with her? Would she with me?” It’s absolutely ridiculous. Because really, we all just want to do our job and make good music. But that’s just the visible bit – the tip of the iceberg. Underneath it is a structure that’s centuries old.
What does this mean in practical terms?
Steff: I’ve repeatedly been in situations where I would have liked to work with men, but then I noticed: I’m being pushed into the role of muse. People want me there, because the muse is a source of inspiration – but they don’t want me to actually do anything. And the men only want to impress women with their art. The relationship between artist and muse is very clearly determined along gender lines: the man is the artist, the woman the muse.
What does that mean for you?
Steff: The lads don’t know what to do with me. Nor do the girls. If a man of my age does what I do, then things run as they should. Everyone thinks it’s great. The men think: I want to be like him; and the woman adore him. His concerts are sold out. But when it’s me, I sow confusion. You can see that just by looking at who’s in my audience. Do you know who comes to my concerts? Older people, because they have nothing to prove any more. They only want to hear the music. I never had a rap audience, not even when I was still rapping myself. Because a rap audience is made up of boys and their girlfriends.
Milena, you’re nodding, what’s the situation like for you?
Milena Patagônia: I just know about the confusion we create. With me it’s even crasser, because I refer explicitly to sexuality and do so in a playful manner. The fact that I’m a woman is something I’ve always incorporated in my music. For example, can I be sexually offensive as a woman? Yes, I can, but it’s incredibly daunting to men when your sexuality is your own. I’m a big fan of rap – I love it. And so I thought: hey, I also want to sing about fucking. And I did it. But what happened? The boys just ridiculed me – they thought it was cringy.
What do you mean by that?
Milena: They found it embarrassing. But damn it, when a male rapper sings: “Sit on my face”, they all think it’s awesome. I have to live with that.
Jess: That’s double standards. Two people do the same thing, but it’s judged differently according to your gender. If a woman does it, it’s not OK, but it’s fine when it’s a man doing it.
So a man is allowed to refer to sex in his texts, but a woman isn’t?
Milena: I’m pretty sure that people out there say I don’t look hot enough to be able to say those things.
Steff: It’s the old dilemma. “Would I want to with her, or not?”
Milena: And then they often say I’m old already.
These are all things they’d never say about a man.
Milena: Yes. I’m exotic when I use my dialect to say concrete words like “fucking”.
Steff: I’ve always paraphrased it for that reason.
Have you ever been subjected to sexual harassment in the music world?
(they’re quiet for a while)
Steff: Yes, I was recently kissed on my neck from behind, just like that. I was perplexed at first. I thought it must be an old girlfriend of mine. I turned round and saw this dude. I let out a scream. I couldn’t figure it out. Later, I took him to task about it. I explained to him that I didn’t think it was OK. Several years ago, I wouldn’t have had the balls to do that.
Jess: When I won the Gurten Contest two years ago, there was an interview straight afterwards on stage. The first thing the guy said was: a girl and technology, hey, that’s sexy isn’t it?
Steff: Whoa, that’s so 1950, man. Shit.
Milena: So creepy.
How did you react?
Jess: I was so ashamed that I said nothing, but only smiled. It was so unfair. I just didn’t expect it. I should have said: A girl and technology? That’s normal, old man.
Would you react differently today?
Jess: For me, there’s also the language barrier. I could have reacted better in English. But the energy I have on stage – this toughness, rawness – that’s something I usually don’t have offstage.
Steff: Give yourself time, you’re not even thirty yet.
Jess: I’m working on it. Women shouldn’t really have to fight whenever they want to make progress in a particular field. On the other hand, I am aware that I have to get tougher, for sure. That’s the struggle I’m engaged in with myself. And yet it all really ought to be quite natural.
Does this inspire you to do even more extreme things with your technology?
Jess: Not necessarily. Technology just interests me. I don’t want to prove myself with it. Otherwise I’d be doing it because of the men – or to attract attention. In my everyday career as a music producer, I simply work with technology. Nothing more, nothing less. And I don’t do it any differently from a man.
Do women in the music business have to be especially good?
Jess: There’s the so-called imposter syndrome.
Jess: A woman might get a promotion, but she doesn’t feel she deserves it, even if she’s just as qualified as others who’ve applied. I often notice it in myself. I think: May I really do this? Am I good enough? Like at the Swiss Music Awards. I was invited, but I thought I didn’t really belong. So I first had to tell myself: Yes girl, you’re a musician, and you live and work in Switzerland.
Do you help to promote other women?
Jess: I’m heavily involved in Helvetiarockt (the networking platform for women musicians in Switzerland), and I run courses for young women who want to produce music. It’s a place where they can make mistakes and ask the stupidest questions – even though they’re not actually that stupid. Many of them go on to produce music afterwards, so it serves a purpose that they have this protected space. Men maybe don’t need anything like that, because they learn that stuff from their male friends at home.
Are women judged more harshly?
Milena: If a woman releases a song or a film and I don’t find it so good, then sometimes I say to myself: Fuck, we’re not so far advanced that a woman can also bring out a shitty film or a shitty song. I had a key experience with the booker of a Bernese club. He said: “I can’t just book women and then find out they’re bad”. So I asked him: “And how many men have you put on stage who were shit?” He replied: “Fuck, yeah, you’re right”. It’s important to book women’s bands that are up-and-coming but not yet really known. They really push themselves if they know they’ve got to play a concert next week. And they notice themselves that it’s hard enough when the audience doesn’t like you.
How do you see it, Jess and Steff?
Jess: When I see a woman who’s damn good, that inspires me much more than if I see a guy who’s good. You can’t underestimate the whole thing with role models. I only wanted to write songs myself after I’d come across a woman composer. Before that, it would never have occurred to me.
Is anything changing now?
Milena: I’ve been making music since I was twelve, and I’ve never before felt such a fantastic feminine energy. Even just three years ago, there were far fewer women. But now they’re out there, getting bookings. That’s very encouraging. It’s also what really fascinated me about Jess, and how she does it.
Jess: Perhaps it also has to do with my personality. The fact that I’m so immersed in my own world that I don’t even notice what’s happening around me. Sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s good, because I maybe didn’t even notice that I’m supposed to be disadvantaged as a woman. It just didn’t occur to me.
How are things with Bernese musicians?
Steff: In my case, I had to get together with someone from Zurich [Ed.: the music producer Dodo]. I knew most of them, and I was always there at the battles, the jams, the concerts and parties. I knew very well that I didn’t want to produce myself. I was confident that the right person would appear at the right time. And that’s what happened. But it wasn’t someone from Bern: he came from Zurich. And I don’t know whether he’d have thought of it himself. They say it was his girlfriend who got him to do it.
And now we’re back in the domain of men.
Milena: I think that we women are now starting to develop our own networks. We look at what the others are doing, we inspire each other, and work together. But really, I don’t want any old-boy networks, or any “old-girl” networks either. I’d like us all to work together.
Steff: It would be nice if we could do that! But as equals, please. I want nothing until that’s the case. We don’t want to survive on any damn breadcrumbs!
(the others squeal with laughter)
Steff: Tell me that you like me if you like me. Hug me. Women can do that. Above all, I see very few men in our business, I just see big boys.
Milena: In my case, it started with “Helvetia rocks”. I got to know a lot of women at the networking events – such as Jessiquoi, that was two years ago. She seemed so intimidated and shy, but I still saw the crazy amount she can do. And today, when women come to me after a concert and say: Hey, that inspired me – then to a certain extent, I’ve done my job.
This interview was first published in the Berner Zeitung on 8 March 2019.