Women in EDM: An Interview with JES
Part of the “Women in EDM” feature series.
When it comes to the electronic music scene, JES is a quintessential Renaissance woman. As a singer, songwriter, DJ, and label owner, she covers the gamut of music creation. Not only that, but JES has attained significant success doing so: her credentials include three Billboard #1 hits (“Imagination,” “As The Rush Comes”, and “Every Other Way”), the Unleash The Beat radio podcast which has been aired on more than 50 radio stations worldwide, and countless collaborations with other successful electronic artists.
But success isn’t measured just in smash hits and widespread recognition, it’s also measured in growing as an artist, learning, and being true to one’s own style. Here, JES shares how she has developed her uplifting, ethereal style over the years, and what she’s learned as a female artist in the EDM industry. You can catch her singing and DJing an underground, old-school rave party at The Paper Box in Brooklyn on July 31st, and follow what she’s up to next at officialjes.com.
Sensible Reason: What has your experience as a woman in the EDM industry been? Have you faced any unique struggles or triumphs in what is sometimes described as a “man’s world,” or do you see that description as incorrect?
JES: There are a lot of wonderful women in EDM and I’ve met most of them at least once! I think most people have the perception that it’s a male-dominated genre because there is such a high ratio of men to women in the scene. If you look at the lineup of any large EDM festival you’ll see the percent of female artists playing is pretty low. Personally I have come across things here and there but I try not to give into it. You have to move forward and do the best that you can without getting caught up in the politics and how unfair things can seem. The most important thing for me is to be able to stand by what I do as an artist. There are a lot of rising female stars in EDM and we are a difficult bunch to ignore! I came into dance music with no preconceptions, so it’s been a learning process all the way. The music industry is a struggle everyday and now there is fierce competition and oversaturation on every level so you have to be on top of your game at all times. It can also be incredibly rewarding and fun but there’s always a challenge. I think for me it’s been a push to make people understand I do more than just sing. I write all my songs, I play the instruments, I produce and I DJ but as in all things you just have to keep pushing the message forward!
You can’t fake this music. You might be a great singer or a great musician but, in the end, that’s got nothing to do with it. It’s how you connect to the songs and to the history behind them. ~Etta James
SR: What or who are your biggest musical influences?
JES: I’m mainly self-taught as a musician so learning to compose and produce my own music is something that has shaped my creativity enormously. Being able to have a creative output that I can make without relying on anyone else means that I can develop my own ideas, and if you ask anyone who works with me they’ll tell you that JES always has a lot of ideas! It helps that I enjoy working with computers and sequencers. I have always from the beginning had some sort of recording set up so I can get the ideas down, but I also really love playing with bands and other musicians. That has always been a big influence for me. Travelling is also always inspiring. I draw a lot of creative energy from studying the music of other cultures and new artists. I’m always excited when I go to a new country and dive into another musical culture.
We are in a time when more female artists, producers, and DJs are making waves with their craft. It’s always hard for me to choose favorites since each one brings their own unique flavor to the table. I will say however that there have been a few innovative women from the past that helped pave the way for all EDM artists, such as Delia Derbyshire, Wendy Carlos, Annie Nightingale (The first female Radio 1 DJ), and Laurie Spiegel.
SR: You have attained what many would call the highest levels of success in the industry: Billboard #1 hits, a successful podcast, amazing collaborations. What’s it like to achieve what countless artists dream of? Have you noticed or learned anything unexpected along the way, as a woman and as an artist?
JES: Thank you for the recognition. I have always tried to keep my focus on my music and my art and I try to only work on what I feel is good. The music business is a very confusing place at the moment and it’s easy to get sucked into the whirlwind of who’s doing what and what is popular right now. I try to stay out of it as much as I can and focus on the music and the art that I want to make. I’m very grateful for all the success that I’ve achieved over the years but in the music world you’re only really as good as your last release. You just have to strive to keep the quality as high as you can and stay true to what motivated you to do this in the first place. I guess we all know that when we start out, but you learn a lot about yourself when you have to try and live by that mantra.
SR: Who are some of your favorite female EDM artists/DJs?
JES: Kate Bush, Bjork, Little Boots, Roisin Murphy, Miss Nine, Annie Mac, Miss Kitten, Peaches, Dinka.
SR: What can fans do to support women in the industry?
JES: I think the best way you can support any artist that you like is to be a true fan. Be active on their social media and spread the word about them to your friends as well. Like, post, comment, repost and retweet! Buy their music (even if you can listen to it on Spotify for free). Buy products directly from them if you can (a $20 T-shirt direct from the artist makes more money for them than selling 50 downloads). Request them at your favorite clubs, radio stations and festivals and generally make noise on their behalf. A large part of the music industry depends on popularity so help them to popularize their art!
SR: What do you see the future holding for you, and for women in EDM as a whole?
JES: The future is wide open. There has been such a change in the industry and it continues to change so just staying on top and ahead of it is a big job. Right now for me I’m re-imagining a little bit of where I’m going. I’m concentrating on a few different album projects that I’m recording right now. I’m working on another dance artist album to follow on from High Glow. I’m working on getting back to my roots with EDM and experimenting with new ways of producing sound. I also have a great acoustic album in the works and a weird kind of alt-electronica project that has been dear to my heart for a while. I’m planning to put together a tour combining the two electronic albums with organic live elements. There are new technologies coming out and there will always be room for new innovators in this genre, and the more women continue to be involved in EDM we will grow and thrive and hopefully even out that ratio a bit!