We live in crazy times. Unreasonable, Trumpian times, where cultural institutions get shut down under dubious circumstances loosely linked to MDMA, while harder drugs go largely unchecked. Where sexism still prevails in so-called progressive industries and open spaces. And where common sense solutions seem wildly out of reach, as out of touch powers and politicians continually make uninformed decisions that cost young people their futures, even their lives.
It can all be a struggle to make sense of, and even more difficult to find answers to.
But rising above the din almost effortlessly is B.Traits, the Canadian-born Radio 1 presenter, DJ and producer who’s been on a mission to advocate for drug safety and more equal treatment for women in creative industries almost as long as she’s had a voice in dance music — a rare trait, even less so in today’s slacktivism-prone society.
But she’s the real thing. Even spending her spare time at last year’s EDC in the medical tent trying to learn more about the facilities, likely while her colleagues were engaged in far less practical forms of leisure.
It’s her no-nonsense passion and obvious drive that’s pushed her to where she is now: at the helm of a hugely popular Radio 1 show, DJing at clubs and festivals around the globe, shooting documentaries on drug safety, and of course speaking on influential panels at conferences like IMS Ibiza, where this year she emphatically asked the industry at large to “never use the phrase ‘female DJ’ again” — a highlight of the week.
During our interview, B.Traits –– born Brianna Price –– continues to deliver potent, meaningful messages, as we cover sexism, her past, drug legalisation, advancements in UK drug testing and awareness, and what’s in store for her new record label and forthcoming productions.
My favourite statement of yours at IMS Ibiza was you asking everyone to “never use the phrase ‘female DJ’ again.” What kind of impact do you feel this phrase has, and why do you feel so strongly about it?
I’d like people to stop using this phrase entirely. Why must we specify gender in a profession? ‘Female DJ’ — similarly to actress, comedienne, manageress, ‘lady doctor’, ‘male nurse’ — is an obsolete term that dates from a time when professions were largely the preserve of one sex (usually men). It’s 2016, we’ve come a long way since then, there is no need to differentiate between the sexes when describing a profession.
Nicole Moudaber is very staunch in her convictions that sexism isn’t a huge problem in the dance music industry, and that the reason few females reach her position is simply because it’s difficult for any individual to reach the top, male or female. What do you think?
I understand what she’s saying. She’s a very hard worker and she’s gotten to where she is incredibly fast. Nicole is heavily opinionated and has that “fuck you attitude,” which works for her, but not for everybody.
Yes, you need to work hard, and you need to push yourself to be at the top, but a young woman shouldn’t have to experience sexism within her field anymore. I’ve experienced it, and I know many others that have. I cannot walk around telling every misogynistic sound engineer to ‘fuck off’. I take pride in being professional, I choose to voice my opinion and my experiences towards sexism. I participate in panels like the one at IMS to help further push the discussion in a positive manner and show support for the next generation of young women hoping to get into the industry. And I don’t mean just the dance music industry, I mean any creative industry.
Do you believe there is sexism in the industry, and that it’s harder for females to become successful DJs than for males?
There is sexism in any industry; it’s difficult for many women to become successful in any male dominated career field. It isn’t just a discussion for diversity in dance music, it’s an ongoing discussion about diversity all over the world.
Is it more difficult to succeed as one sex or the other? It’s damn competitive either way. That said, working in a male dominated industry does present opportunities. In a way, if you’re a decent producer or DJ, it can be easier to succeed as a woman than a man as there is less competition out there for the space you are trying to fill.
It often serves as a poison chalice though, as when you (a woman) do succeed, others put your success down to your sex rather than skill, which is very disheartening.
Would a “perfect world” be one in which there were just as many women as men in the top positions in dance music (and beyond)? And what do you think needs to happen in order for this to become a reality?
I don’t think ‘perfect world’ is the right phrase. I think it’s just a matter of keeping the discussion alive and open, again, in any industry where we still specify gender in a profession. In the music industry, it’s breaking down sexism, discussing equal pay, and representation on lineups. A lot of it has to do with education on what is sexist and what isn’t. The more its openly spoken about, the more people will understand what’s nonsexist and what’s unacceptable.
One thing that I really found interesting during your IMS panel was your “hard B.Traits phase,” where I believe you said you felt you had to act tougher and play harder in order to feel included in the male dominated world of DJing. What else can you tell me about this time in your life?
I just carried a hard shell. I kept to myself and didn’t really let anyone in the industry into my personal life. I did not joke around with ‘male DJ’s’ — it was always professional and always business. The moment that someone over stepped my line, I let them know that I was uncomfortable with it. I was friendly, but I let no one know the real me. I always had an ‘everything is awesome all of the time’ face on.
And when did you stop feeling the need to act that way?
I suppose I just grew up. Things have changed a lot since I was a young woman in the music industry; I have worked very hard, and in turn am now reasonably successful.
I don’t know if my early rigid attitude helped me get to where I am today. If I could go back, I would have told my younger self that it’s ok to wear your heart on your sleeve, but all the same not let someone get away with acting sexist towards me.
You’re also very passionate about drug safety and awareness in dance music, hosting both an IMS panel in 2015 and your own documentary on the subject. Since then, what changes have you seen take place within both UK government and dance music industry in regards to this subject?
In the last month alone we have made huge advancements in the UK. For the very first time ever, The Loop were granted the ability to implement on site ‘front of house’ drug testing at Secret Garden Party in the UK. The Loop normally is only able to test drugs seized by the police and security at clubs and festivals. But at SGP, festival attendees themselves were able to take their own drugs to The Loop for analysis, and whatever they handed over for testing was destroyed afterwards.
The Loop were successfully able to collect samples directly from uses and give them vital information about their substance within 15 minutes time. This is a common practice in Germany and the Netherlands, so it’s really exciting to see that the UK has finally stepped up.
How important are drug testing and awareness organisations to the safety of clubbers and festival-goers?
The overall aim is to reduce harm on site and to save lives. The more open conversations there are about drug awareness, the less uneducated ‘overdose’ incidents will happen. For example, when I visited The Loop tent at Secret Garden Party, they had already tested an impressive number of samples from festival-goers. In some samples, what the users thought was ketamine resulted in being crushed up anti-malarial tablets.
Over the weekend, The Loop were discovering ecstasy pills that were ranging from only 20 mg in strength to 250 mg in strength. So to explain explicitly, if you took two of the the 20 mg pills, you probably wouldn’t even feel it, but take two of the 250 mg pills and you would end up in A&E and could possibly die.
Having this information at our fingertips, quickly and efficiently, gives the user a chance to make an informed decision for themselves.
Two of the UK’s leading health bodies recently called for the decriminalisation of illegal drugs. Is this something you support?
Yes. I believe we need a modern re-classification on drugs. There is a growing recognition around the world that the prohibition of drugs is a counterproductive failure. Steve Rolls’ brilliant book After The War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation answers many of the ‘fear of the unknown’ questions by proposing specific models of regulation for each main type of currently prohibited drug.
Legal regulation is not an unthinkable, politically impossible step in the dark, but a sensible, pragmatic approach to control drug production, supply and use.
Switching gears, when we spoke, you said you’ve got a new label coming out and that you’ll be releasing some new music, and said you were “terrified.” Terrified of what?
Terrified in the most excitable way possible. It’s been four years since I released any music properly. I decided to do it on my own, on my own label, under my own terms. It’s a bit scary to think about it finally happening, as I’ve wanted to start my own label for many years.
Will the label be for your own music only?
I wanted an outlet to release my own music, but it doesn’t mean I won’t release music from other artists. It’s a label that will represent my tastes, with a similar view to my BBC Radio 1 show.
What will your forthcoming releases sound like?
I’m quite an eclectic artist so I can’t really say. I’ve never been able to pinpoint my own sound because it changes and grows constantly.
What will the label be called?
The label is called ‘In Toto’ meaning ‘All Together’. I wanted a name that represents eclecticism and diversity, and In Toto does just that.
Finally, what’s your ultimate goal in the industry?
I don’t believe I have an ultimate goal. I wish to continue to be blessed with the opportunities that I am given to be as creative as I want to be.