06 Oct AMPFEMININE: Up For A Change
There’s no way around Rotterdam collective AMPFEMININE. The all female group consisting out of Nala Brown, Soft Break, Bella Hall, Deborah X and Camgurlxx really made a name for themselves in the city’s scene and beyond, carrying a message to all: add a lovely variety of color behind the decks and add the feminine energy that is missing in the power dynamics that are currently in place.
Words & photography by Brendan Reterink
Now, they present EQ The Industry – a documentary produced by Loes Korten which shines a light on woman and non-binary producers out of Rotterdam, premiering on October 9th at Theater Zuidplein. We got in touch with the crew to find out more about them and the project.
The idea of AMPFEMININE came after Jacqueline (Nala Brown), Yessica (Soft Break) and Deborah (Deborah X) all were in Berlin by chance. “I knew Jacqueline already and I heard about Yessica via one of the programmer of MONO Rotterdam all the time haha, so I thought it would be nice to meet up,” Deborah says. “We’ve met and started to talk about the Rotterdam scene, and the Dutch scene in general, and we felt something was missing. We shared the same thoughts and wanted to bring something else,” she continues. “Before I went to Berlin I heard about the No Shade (a Berlin based collective that runs club nights & DJ training programs for female, non-binary and trans DJs) collective, they were giving workshops that I really wanted to join,” Soft Break explains. “And then I thought it would be really nice to bring something like that to Rotterdam”.
“When I started DJ’ing myself I found out how hard it was to play somewhere, while it was a lot easier for male deejays to get in. And there were a lot of collectives with only guys in it, so I wanted to start an all female collective.” – Nala Brown
“When I started to go out, I didn’t really noticed how few woman were DJ’ing,” Nala says. “But when I started DJ’ing myself I found out how hard it was to play somewhere, while it was a lot easier for male deejays to get in. And there were a lot of collectives with only guys in it, so I wanted to start an all female collective,” she adds. When I asked Isabella (Bella Hall) and Camille (Camgurlxx), who joined the collective a few moments later, about this they had likewise experiences with mostly guys dominating the club scene. “When I started to go out more I overwhelmingly noticed there where always dude deejays, with all these dude friends in the booth. And there was this group of girls dancing in the front going crazy, but it was always that dynamic. It nearly triggered the deep feminist inside of me, it annoyed me,” says Bella.
With the initial idea to organize workshops at first, quickly came the idea to organize a festival with an all female line-up. “We applied for a fund, but unfortunately we didn’t get it,” Soft Break tells. “We had a lot of big ideas and the fund was only 2000 euros. We wanted to book some really big names, it was very ambitious,” she adds with a laugh. “So we tried to apply for a fund some time later for a small party in MONO with panel talks, and that one we got so we were able to organize our first event just a week before the pandemic started”.
“Eventually we realized that the festival was not working for now, and we thought about becoming a collective and make it a long-term thing. But a festival is still one of our end goals,” says Camgurlxx.
“I was searching for new music all the time. Back in the days I always wanted be the first that had the newest Hip Hop music,” Nala says with a laugh, “At some point I started to go out a lot. That’s where I discovered House and Techno and I was immediately hooked. I literally was in Perron, Toffler or Maassilo every weekend. And I got the interest to start DJing too,” she adds. After she discovered the scene was mostly dominated by male collectives, she wanted to become a part of a female collective. Before she started AMPFEMININE Nala was part of Wavey Cartel, also a female collective out of Rotterdam. “We threw parties in WORM almost every week. It was called Wavey Cartel Wednesdays and we only invited female deejays. We were able to invite a lot of people to play, it was a lot of fun. That’s how I rolled into female collectives.”
“My dad, he was kind of a party-kid. He grew up in the UK – he wasn’t a part of the rave scene but he did like to go partying. And when we were kids he would still go to Ibiza every summer. My parents were not really playing kids music, but we had like these chill vibes and House playing in the car. So I kind up grew up with that sound,” Bella tells after I asked her how she got into music. Bella, who grew up in Switzerland but moved to Rotterdam 4 years ago became a member of AMPFEMININE some time after she met Nala who was at a party at her student housing and found out about her DJ set up. “When I was 16 I went to Berlin to teach English at the police school – which is really random how I ended up there. But I had a fake ID and at the time my boyfriend came and visited me and we discovered all these nightclubs. I knew what Techno was before, but especially at the time I didn’t really know the scene that much and I went to Berlin and I was like, wow!” she explains. “When we got back home, my boyfriend at the time bought this whole vinyl set up to learn how to DJ and I started to go out a lot more.” At that time she also noticed there were always men playing and the girls were always in the crowd, like she explained earlier. “I know these girls love the music as much as these dudes but they’re not doing it. Then I started showing interest into it and for two years I was feeling around with it, buying some vinyls and it was only when I moved to Rotterdam that I got my whole vinyl set up and I really started like going a 100%. It’s been a long growing process I think.”
“I started studying at Erasmus University in Rotterdam and I started to do an internship at MONO. I was into programming and that’s what I kind of wanted to do with my studies,” Camille, who’s hailing from Chicago says. “Because of my internship I got to know everyone from the scene and that’s how I met Jacqueline, who was with Wavey Cartel at the time and she played at my first event. Eventually we got to know each other and she’s the one who taught me how to DJ,” she adds. “I was always listening to music and going out a lot in Prague and Istanbul, it was a big part of my life. It was quite intimidating as a girl to learn how to DJ, so it was nice that Jacqueline was so warm and inviting and she encouraged me to play. So it wasn’t without her and my previous employer, Manuela who also used to DJ when she was younger. She had her own restaurant and it was there where I had my first gig. And now two years later I really enjoy it.” During our talk Camille was residing in Bali, where she moved to during the pandemic. “It’s a very weird and I don’t know how it happened but I just ended up here. I try to be involved and help in anyway I can and I’m now throwing events here,” she says. When I asked about the music scene in Bali, she tells: “I’m quite surprised with how mixed the scene is here. The collectives are very mixed and you haven’t that as much in Rotterdam. They are so welcoming. It’s nice to try to go internationally and not just focus on Rotterdam”.
“When I started to go out I really got interested in electronic music and I was fascinated by some DJs and how they’ve mixed the music”. Deborah who called herself a bit of the mother of the collective is a Strategic Designer, Design Researcher and a Communications and Knowledge Manager besides being a DJ and core member of the AMPFEMININE collective. “I started learning how to DJ at HipHopHuis in Rotterdam, I got lessons from DJ Optimus and later Franky Sticks and Mo Jakob took over. I heard from Yessica (Soft Break) via Mo,” says Deborah. “I went to a lot of House and Techno parties and if you were a Black person there you were a minority. Especially if you’re a Black woman. So when I saw another person of colour at the party there was always some kind of connection or a laugh at each other. And I realized, because I started to delve in more into the music that actually the whole history is coming from Black people. And because of that I felt a connection with the music even more.”
“My friends and I all were in the same kind of music, it was bass music. Drum ‘n Bass and Jungle,” Besides being a DJ and member of the AMPFEMININE collective, Yessica is a graphic designer for mostly cultural institutions and a teacher at the Design Academy Eindhoven. “We started to go to raves and other bass parties here and because I liked it so much I wanted to become a promoter – I mean I was just spreading flyers so I could go to the parties for free haha,” she adds. “I went to a lot of different events and when I got 20 I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did before. It felt like the scene was dying, it wasn’t interesting anymore. So I didn’t go out that often. In 2019 I started working at MONO and that’s when the interest came back. There were some parties I felt connected to again and there were people playing with a lot of different sounds. Because I liked it so much I asked one of the promoters if he could teach me how to DJ, it was something I really wanted to try. Luckily he gave me the opportunity to practice at MONO when it was closed, so I basically could practice whenever I wanted – which was a huge stepping stone for me. A month later he asked me if I wanted to play at his Operator Radio show and that’s how I started to play”.
“There are more female and non-binary deejays now, it is starting trends and the line-ups are getting more equal. But when it comes to production 93% of the Ableton users are men, so we were like this is really a target group we need to hit.” – Bella Hall
EQ The Industry
Now, the collective is ready to present their documentary ‘EQ The Industry’ for the first time. The documentary is directed by Loes Korten, a filmmaker and visual artist from Rotterdam, is about woman and non-binary music producers based in the city of Rotterdam. With an aim to showcase some of the cities’ most special talent as well as represent the marginalized voices, this documentary will take you on a personal journey and musical journey through the stories of MERU, c00, Rbf.linh and Shanodin. “It’s kind of funny that we had our first event just before the pandemic and we were originally more in the framework of that direction,” Bella tells. “So it’s interesting with this pandemic to think about different ways of doing things and we had this collaboration already going on with Eighty5ive and Theater Zuidplein,” she continues. Eventually the idea came to film up-and-coming female and non-binary producers in Rotterdam, because of the lack of attention these producers get and the shared interest the collective has to start producing as well. “There are more female and non-binary deejays now, it is starting trends and the line-ups are getting more equal. But when it comes to production 93% of the Ableton users are men, so we were like this is really a target group we need to hit. That film hopefully inspires woman, non-binary or trans people to start producing as well”.
“It’s not always visible who the producer behind a track that everyone is playing is. As a deejay you can put yourself out there, but it’s harder for a producer to get noted.” – Deborah X
“It’s not always visible who the producer behind a track that everyone is playing is,” Deborah points out. “As a deejay you can put yourself out there, but it’s harder for a producer to get noted,” she adds. “Most of us started with producing music one way or another, and we found it very interesting to learn more about how producers work, get to know more about their creative process and what it is like to be a femme producer in the Dutch scene”.
EQ The Industry will premiere on Saturday October 9th at Theater Zuidplein in Rotterdam from 8pm. Tickets are still available here.