reJ Rebekah remembers the day she walked into a record store in her native Birmingham to ask for a job. Her parents bought her a set of turntables just before her 17th birthday, and she couldn’t wait to start building her vinyl collection. “I said to the guys that worked there, ‘Oh, do you have any jobs?” She recalls. “They said, ‘Yeah, you can give me a blowjob. “
Rebekah, who is 5ft 1in, says she would have looked around 14 at the time. “I used to take it in my stride,” she says. “It caught me a little bit by surprise and I was like, ‘OK, I’m not going to be taken seriously,’ Not being taken seriously is just a common theme throughout my career.
Almost 25 years later, Rebekah is one of Europe’s foremost techno artists, respected by her peers, the industry media and hundreds of thousands of fans who flock to see her play thrilling industrial beats in clubs and festivals around the world. In electronic music, female, non-binary and transgender DJs are still largely overtaken by men, but today some of the biggest stars in the scene are women – among them techno DJs Amelie Lens and Charlotte de Witte, all two Belgians. When Rebekah debuted in the mid-90s, there were no such role models and no clear path to success.
The record store incident is said to set the tone for the sexism, harassment and abuse Rebekah has endured throughout her career. Along the way, there were also many supportive men who nurtured and encouraged her, she says. But for some, her passion for music was something to be used against her – either as a subject of ridicule or as a means of sexual exploitation. As MeToo stories begin to emerge on the dance scene with recent allegations against Derrick May (which he denies) and the late Erick Morillo, Rebekah’s career is marked by the same patterns of abuse.
A year after being laughed at at the record store at the age of 17, Rebekah was raped by an acquaintance, who had come under the pretext of teaching her how to mix records. At 21, when she started touring internationally as a DJ, she believes she was sexually assaulted in Eastern Europe by a promoter who snuck into her hotel room as she s ‘passed out. A few years later, in another European country, he tried to coerce her into having sex. She turned it down and was never booked again in the two countries. “It makes me look stupid, knowing that he maybe made the first assault to go back and put me in that position,” Rebekah says. “This is where, as a young DJ, I was a little ruthless because I would do anything, when I had my eyes on something, to the detriment of myself.
Two decades ago, persisting in the face of continued disrespect was the norm for a female DJ. Rebekah remembers rejecting a former booking agent who came to see her one night in London. “I said, ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this. I thought you put me in your agency because you respected me as a DJ, ”she recalls. “He was like, ‘You’re not a DJ. I created you, you’re not a fucking DJ. When Rebekah suggested that a legendary American house DJ work together in the studio, he replied, “Only if you’re naked.” In Ibiza, a well-known radio DJ gave Rebekah the floor three times before refusing to shake her outstretched hand. Her response stung, but it also convinced Rebekah to ditch her once glamorous aesthetic. “I was like, ‘Why should I change so that a man who is high up in the industry takes me seriously?’” She said. “But in the end, that’s kind of what I had to do.”
Her new uniform of jeans, t-shirt and sneakers also helped Rebekah distance herself from her five years working in the adult entertainment industry, starting at the age of 19. “I was like, ‘Nobody takes me seriously anyway, it’s not working. whatever [that I’m a model],’ ” she says. “I was young, I needed the money. But it was also a way of not having a full-time job and still being able to apply myself to music.
The stigma of working as a glamorous model made it harder for Rebekah to earn the respect of her peers and audiences, especially early in her career. “All the guys in the house, they were never going to take me seriously… I’ve always been the dirty, glamorous model: ‘What does she know about the mix? This is what I was faced with. As recently as 2017, after two decades of demonstrating her talents, Rebekah was accused of faking her DJ sets by not mixing tracks live (an allegation commonly addressed to female DJs), which she said. quickly refuted with a performance video.
The new generation of female techno stars like Lens and de Witte have also adopted a laid back look: their baggy (mostly black) t-shirts and streetwear fashions complement their austere music, distract from their bodies, and dismiss the suggestion. on which they trade. their looks. It’s a fine line to walk for female artists who are both rewarded and punished for their attractiveness.
“Being a woman in this industry is a double-edged sword,” Rebekah says. “In a way, you get noticed very quickly and things happen very quickly. But, on the other hand, you might not be ready for it. You are thrown into the depths and you just have to survive.
After years of simply surviving, a now thriving Rebekah feels her career is nearing its peak, even though she is temporarily held back by the pandemic. It was from this hard-earned position of recognition that she finally felt comfortable dealing with sexual harassment and assault in electronic music, an issue that peaked in September after the death of the House superstar Erick Morillo, who has praised social media despite his praise. recently been charged with rape. The rape survivor who complained was another DJ who had performed a concert with Morillo before returning home with another woman. Many other women have said they were assaulted by Morillo after his death and have been greeted with vitriol and slander on social media.
“I just came back when I was 17,” Rebekah says. “It’s been about 20 years, and I thought things were getting better and, what, shame a DJ who went back to another DJ?” It made me sick.
She described her outrage at Morillo’s situation on Instagram and received a deluge of messages from young women sharing their experiences of abuse. They inspired Rebekah to launch a campaign called ForTheMusic, named after the women and LGBTQ + members of the scene who want to enjoy concerts without being harassed or fearing for their safety. Hedonism has always gone hand in hand with clubbing, but the middle of the stage – late nights, alcohol and drug use, and a lack of industry oversight – has also allowed sexual predators to operate. in the shadows for decades.
Rebekah’s call to action has been heard. The Association for Electronic Music released an industry code of conduct in November and other industry bodies have developed their own commitments and charters to encourage reporting of harassment and assault, to hold abusers accountable for their actions and to create safer spaces for clubbers as the industry plans to reopen in 2021.
As a mentor to young female artists trying to break into electronic music, Rebekah tells herself that she feels compelled to keep pushing for change. “Can we live with ourselves, to continue to bring more women [DJs and producers] knowing that this is happening? she says. “I can’t, and I think we’re really strong now. It’s like an army. That must say a lot.