The traditional image of a female DJ is an over-sexualized socialite with an iPod, all smiles and giggles and radio club jams and predictable glam rock throwbacks. Grace Lee, founder of all-female DJ collective Liaison Femme, embodies none of those stereotypes. A New York club kid in every sense of the word – she was spending her evenings at Beatrice Inn years before she could legally do so – Grace, or G*LEE, is out to destroy all the lame connotations that come attached to the term “Female DJ.” By championing such big names as Venus X, Mia Moretti and Maya Jane Coles, she just might succeed.
For its first major collaboration, Liaison Femme teamed up with quintessentially cool, New York-y brand Oak to produce two fashion films that beautifully embody the message behind both brands. Entitled Alpha & Omega, the films, which are directed by Awol Erizku, depict the female’s duality. Starring Liaison Femme’s talented rosters of DJs, Jasmine Solano, Kitty Cash, G*LEE, Lauren Flax, Jubilee and Kristen Oshiro, the videos embody the strength and individuality of both the Oak customer and the Liaison Femme DJ. I caught up with Grace over Jameson’s on ice at The Boom Boom Room – she had just deejayed on Le Bain’s roof on a particularly balmy Friday afternoon – to chat about the collaboration, New York club culture and shitty female DJ stereotypes.
What does the Liaison Femme girl have in common with the Oak girl?
Oak speaks to a universal gender. When you walk in the store, you don’t feel like you’re dictated to go to the men’s or the women’s. When I was a customer, before I knew the founders, I was intrigued by the idea of a store that navigates you by energy. I’m a female, but I remember once shopping on the men’s side and the retail person came to me and said, “The woman’s side is here on the right.” I had been shopping on the men’s side the whole time.
That happened to me, too.
That fascinated me. The Oak woman is flexible—she can be masculine, she can be feminine —it’s just the way she places the clothes on her body. That’s how I found the parallel to Liaison Femme. As a female DJ, you can come off as being masculine or feminine. For example, Venus X comes off very masculine because the way she translates ghetto-gothic to the community is very tough. You compare her to Mia Moretti; the physique is very feminine and she’s very attached to lifestyle and fashion. I met Mellany through Oak—is this appropriate?
Sure, go for it.
I met Mellany through Oak. I think without her I would not know the real effect of Oak because Oak also represents itself through its employees and I saw that. Their sales associates resemble Oak. With Mellany, I found Oak had an effect not only in her work, but also in her life. Oak is minimalistic and modern and complex and that’s what I saw in her. It’s an attitude and an energy.
How did the collaboration between Oak and Liaison Femme come about?
Growing up in NoHo, I used to always walk past Oak coming home from high school. The visual communication in the visual display was different – it wasn’t like Opening Ceremony or A.P.C. or other rising independent brands, it really stood out. I’m not trying to dis OC but Oak is more restricted, that’s their whole philosophy. OC is loud but Oak is silent and that’s how Liaison Femme felt for me; each female DJ is loud themselves but their volume is controlled by the way we lead our collective, which is very humble. When we first started Liaison Femme in 2010, we didn’t go around saying, “Oh, check us out, a bunch of bitches.” That’s all hype.
What’s the idea behind the video?
I met with Awol Erizku, one of my working partners and a very gifted visual artist, and we started brainstorming ideas. We came to the idea that Liaison Femme is about this maximist woman. Sigmund Freud said women have capability of creating and destroying—we are procreators, we conceive, and we can also destroy the baby. That trifecta of creation, life and death is what Liaison Femme is about. We’re not a bunch of fucking girls on a fucking flyer.
Yes, because the generic conception of a female DJ is a hot girl playing an iPod.
Yes, we’re a movement and we’re not trying to be sexist so all people support us, even male DJs. People see Liaison Femme and think we’re female DJs and we’re going to be bitches, but it’s the opposite. We’re motherly and we have a sisterhood. That is beautiful to me. If you look at these commercialized female DJs who show their tits and shit, they don’t give a fuck about upcoming female DJs.
So how does an artist join Liaison Femme?
Just because you’re a female DJ doesn’t mean we’re automatically going to be sympathetic towards you. We curate our artists in terms of their talent, their gift, and their creative spirit. If you look at all female Liaisons of Liaison Femme, Mia Moretti has her style and flow and thre’s Venus X, and then you have Maya Jane Coles and Nina Kraviz… those are big girls, dude. Just because you’re hot and cute and you’re a model and you’re famous doesn’t mean we want you. Fuck that.
What female DJ stereotypes are you trying to break?
The most popular one is, “Oh, you’re a girl, you don’t know what music is.” They think girls are all exterior; look pretty, act cute and you’ll get booked. That’s the number one stereotype, physical looks. And number two is they think girls don’t have the right skills, and that’s bullshit. One of the first females I really looked up to growing up was Miss Saigon, who deejayed for The Fugees. Society sees women as an object of pleasure, so when you walk into a club they want to be pleased by a hot women behind the turntables, but some of Liaison Femme DJs are not even hot [laughs]. But the major stereotype is that girls can’t match up in skills to a guy because all the media sees or wants to feature is a pretty girl.
…Because that’s easy.
Exactly. They know it’s a pain to write about women because there’s too much judgment. I’ve done plenty of interviews where they want to talk about the physical shit; “Grace is Asian, Grace is a female, Grace is underage.”
Well it’s easy to target those things as well as your sexuality and the fact that you’re very androgynous.
Well the DJ industry is androgynous because in a way we’re performing a male responsibility. We’re dominating a club or a performance.
So what are your goals for Liaison Femme?
I’d like to make the first female agency or label. No one has done it before because people are scared but I’m not scared and I have the support. Like, Aoki did Dim Mak, Diplo did Mad Decent and G Lee did Liaison Femme.
You’re a New York native so let’s get some recommendations. Favorite nightclubs?
Honestly, I miss the old New York. I remember when I was 16, going to Beatrice Inn. People associate me with Le Bain and Le Baron, 415, The Jane. One of my new favorite spots is MaisonO, the old Kenmare. They have a karaoke-themed bar with a Japanese design. I still love going to Max Fish and I still love going to The Bowery Hotel. And this, right now, Jameson on the rocks at The Boom Boom Room.
Of course. What advice now would you give your 16-year-old self?
Two words: never lie.