Calvin Harris, Steve Aoki, Diplo, Skrillex—it’s no secret that the electronic dance music scene kind of feels like a boys club. But that’s all about to change thanks to Kandeyce Jorden’s new documentary Girl. It’s a film that’s over a decade in the making and is gaining traction just as the music scene seems to be reaching peak dance-music saturation.
Beginning in 2003, Jorden set out to explore the world of female DJs and shed light on the powerhouses that have gone largely unnoticed (like DJ Irene and DJ Rap). Along the way, Jorden encountered the enigmatic Sandra Collins who swept her up into the DJ lifestyle—where she quickly learned that being a female DJ isn’t all boom-claps and flashing lights. It’s a gritty world with a glass ceiling that’s slowly but surely beginning to crack. And after speaking with Jorden post-screening down at the Red Bull Guest House in Miami, we’re confident this film will be the force strong enough to begin to shatter it entirely.
Were you familiar with the electronic music scene before you began working on Girl?
No, not at all. Well, that’s not really true. I was aware of it, but it wasn’t as prevalent. I was fairly new to it when I began; let’s put it that way.
What did you think it was?
There was always something about the music I felt a connection to. I felt an energy. Honestly, though, I just thought it was cool. It wasn’t my world at all, but I wished it was. It was 12 years ago when I started, and at that time my husband was hanging out with Paul Oakenfold. So we were going to cool shows. It was a window into a world of superstar DJs. There was access. I really just fell in love with it. I loved dancing all night.
Nightlife is essentially a community of escape. Did that speak to you?
Totally! This music is so accessible, too. You can put it on anytime and instantly be sent back to that moment when you were having so much fun. The music lingers. I think that’s a bit about what the community is about. One of my first shows where I went, “Oh. My. God.” was at The Mayan in Los Angeles.
That’s it! Now, regarding your relationship with Sandra Collins: Can you speak to the spark you two shared?
I felt an eerie sense of familiarity. In the movie I said I felt a sisterhood bond with her, but we’re completely different. You know what was cool about her is I’ve always thought of her as the Janis Joplin of DJ’ing—in a good way. She’s got this rockstar quality about her that’s like, I don’t even know why I’m good at what I do, but I do it. She just has a certain brand about her. You know when she’s on if you’re standing outside a club. She’s enchanting. She’s wickedly talented but doesn’t know why. That was really beautiful to me.
She seemed pretty enigmatic, though. Why pursue her so vehemently?
I kept hearing about her before I had even met her. I read things like how Sandra Collins played a 12 hour set and they were trying to kick her off. There was a rebellious spirit I kept hearing about. I was completely intrigued. I knew right away that that was the person I needed to meet. What kept my pursuit going was her ability to draw you in and be completely open and then disappear. It was like a carrot on a stick. She’s a really loving and spiritual person, and when she opens that up, she makes you want more. But you never know when you’re going to get it. So, for me, that was apart of the fascination. She would call me out of the blue and ask if I wanted to go to Burning Man. Even if Burning Man was the farthest thing from your mind, she invited me to places I would have never even gone to on my own at that particular time.
What was the biggest lesson you learned from her?
I definitely idolized her. I definitely got caught up in her persona. So, at the risk of sounding cliché, I really feel like I found a part of myself through her. In a way, I had an awakening because of her. As I was pursuing her, it took me getting locked in a room in Russia without any of my belongings to realize I am what I’m looking for. I really evolved as an artist and filmmaker because of her talent and pure artistic ability. That’s the real high.
Yes! The tangible high. This makes me think of a scene about halfway through the film where you’re doing a bit of a confessional and saying something about this documentary is unsettling you. Was that it?
I’m like a horse girl. I like being grounded. So things like flying and the boom-boom of the music gets my adrenaline pumping. For me, keeping up with her schedule—the partying and all that—was a challenge. It made me question whether I was making this movie or dancing around the rabbit hole. I didn’t know what it was, but it wasn’t going away. I knew, though, that I had to go through it to find out whatever it was.
Now, as for the other DJs you interviewed, did you find a common thread between them and Sandra? Perhaps their reasons for getting into the scene were the same?
Well, they’re all pretty unique individuals. In general, they were all true to their art. They really loved what they did and had no doubt about it. They all knew it was their purpose in life. I think that quality is really attractive. These women were also tough. DJs like Irene and Rap are kind of revered for their lives. All of them are a motif to an experience I had as well. They all had determination to take whatever life handed them and turn it into something great.
After realizing you identified with these women, is that what made you turn this documentary into something somewhat autobiographical?
I’ll be honest with you: I’ve acted in the past, but no. This was my third film, but I was really excited about my career as a director. Making it about me was the very last thing on my mind. I never even considered it. It wasn’t until I got back from Russia (it took me months to look at the footage) that my executive producer David Veloz—who’s a great writer and storyteller—said, “Unless you make this your story, you don’t have a story. You just have profile pieces on these girls, but you don’t have the arc of a real story.” So, I had to go back and create a narrative, and really a character that had never been part of it. As time when on, that gnawing feeling that I had to do this came back.
There’s definitely a freedom in being that vulnerable.
And I am so finding that out. I have softer eyes on the story. Someone told me this story once about parents who found out their kid was selling drugs by recording his calls. So, the punishment was making him listen to all his calls. He had to listen to five hours or so of him lying to everybody. In a way, I felt like looking at footage of myself when I wasn’t at my best—the shadow side—is a way of dealing with it. It was never my intention, but it’s helped me be much nicer to myself.
This film isn’t about pinning the male DJs against the female ones, though.
No, it’s not. It was never going to be that. DJ Colette says in the documentary, “It’s hands and ears. We mention it once and we never bring it up again.” All of the girls will say it was the boys who helped them get in the scene. From a feminist standpoint, I’m just happy to shed light on a scene that is so male dominated right now. To me, I want it to be inspiration for anyone to go do what they’re passionate about. I mean, DJing is a hard job and if you’re a woman it’s even harder. You have club promoters picking you up and driving you around, there’s the party scene, fans, drunk people. There’s no denying the precautions a woman has to make in the industry. I want to bring awareness to that. This is a film about finding your own way—regardless of gender.
The subtitle of the movie is You Can’t Spin Forever. Do you believe that? Is DJing a career or just a glorified hobby?
It’s definitely a career. “You Can’t Spin Forever” was really my story’s title. My life spun out of control. In general, it’s a hard life to keep up with. You hear about male DJs who take time off to raise their family. The travel and lifestyle isn’t sustainable.
What would you say is the biggest misconception about the electronic music scene today?
I think people still like to identify it as a drug culture. I think that’s an option in any situation, though. The music’s energy and the access to creating it is endless. It’s a whole world in and of itself. I think that the people that don’t understand that and believe that ravers are just druggies aren’t seeing the full picture. All they need is one good show to get it. One good “boom” and you can feel connected to a frequency that feels good.
Would you agree that’s the value of the DJ scene? That one moment?
Exactly. That one moment will stick with you. And like I said before, you can listen to that music again anywhere and relive it countless of times.
Do you believe there will be a female Diplo/Calvin Harris soon?
I do. I’m not as familiar with who the girls are today, but I think what’s going to happen is as more people start producing their own stuff, this girl is going to be an artist who comes out of no where. She’ll produce her own track with her own sound and pop up when people least expect it.