If you went out in Melbourne a lot in 2011, you probably know Maquarie Fletcher — she was playing everywhere. Any later, and you might not. The DJ effectively retired from the scene in 2013, after getting tired of spending all her time as the only woman on a lineup.
She didn't give it all up, though. Maquarie — who plays as Fletch — decided to fix the problem that had driven her to quit: not enough female DJs getting booked. She started a weekly programme called DJ S'Cool, which goes down at the Fitzroy Clubhouse in Melbourne. There, she teaches women and GNC people all the technical skills they need, plus the business tips that will help them get booked and paid for their dues. i-D sat down with Maquarie to talk about the program, her own background, and why 2016 is a great time to be a DJ.
Tell me about how you started DJing.
I started DJing when I was fifteen and underage. I don't want to get the venue in trouble, so I won't say where — it was mainly club nights. Eventually, I ended up creating a night, HHH, with two other women: Larrie Brown and Jess Hopcraft. That night ran for two years, first at Laundry Bar and then at the Mercat. It was kind of like what Reup is now, but if you flip the switch on the gender ratio: so like, 90% women to a couple of dudes. Nobody really went there to pick up, girls just went to dance. I like to think it was an empowering space for women, not only because all the DJs were women, but because the majority of the crowd was female too.
What else were you doing at that time?
I was supporting a tonne of international acts touring in Melbourne — Lil B, Rif Raf, Action Bronson, Le1f. I got put on a lot of bills because I was good, but it was definitely tokenistic; I was the token female DJ. It meant I got to play with these really sick acts, but it really burnt me out.
Any memories from that era?
Well, when I was 17 I supported Skrillex right before Bangarang blew up. I played right before him, and he had his own bodyguards that came onstage and set up his gear around me. When he walked out from backstage, all these girls just flooded towards us. I was knocked over by the crowd, and they trampled on my wrist. I started crying because I was in so much pain. My boyfriend at the time basically had to run on to the stage and carry me off. It was literally like Beatlemania.
So you didn't meet Skrillex...
No way — I just got trampled by his fans.
When this was all happening, around 2010, what other women were DJing in Melbourne?
I wasn't really into house music at the time, so I didn't know about other DJs unless they were into Hip Hop. I remember Larry, Mafia, DJ jnett, and CC Disco working a lot. There was definitely a significantly smaller amount of visible female DJs than there is now. Melbourne clubs seem like healthier environments now. They're more supportive.
I think it's fair to say a DJ S'cool has contributed to that shift. Let's talk about it.
Okay, DJ S'cool is a program that runs weekly, for women and gender non conforming folk. It's free for unemployed and underemployed people: the idea is they'll actually get paid to do it down the line.
What do you teach at DJ S'cool — beyond the obvious?
70% of the curriculum is learning how download music, work with Ableton and use CDJs. The rest is the business of it all. The class learns how to deal with booking agents, how to run their own night, and how to get paid properly. Those are all things that I wish somebody would have helped me out with when I started. I've kind of been on both sides of the coin: I've booked people to play club nights, but I've also been booked and kind of mistreated.
So you designed the whole curriculum?
Sort of. There's definitely online resources out there that helped — groups like Discwoman and Sister — so I was able to peer-share. I reached out to a bunch of women and said, "Hey everybody, I'm doing this DJ school, what would you like to learn in a place like this?" I had taught DJing once before, for the Salvation Army in Sunshine. It was with these thirteen-year-old kids.
You've just had your first batch of DJ graduates finish. They're already playing every weekend, it's kind of remarkable.
It's great. At first, not all the students knew each other, but over the course of the term they formed these brand new little collectives. A lot of them DJ together now in little duos — that's the coolest thing that's happened as part of DJ S'cool. They all support each other, and are really good friends now.
What kind of feedback were you hearing from the students?
Well none of them had ever played before. A lot of them said things like, "we're really scared because every time we've gone and asked our boyfriend or a guy we knew to teach us they got really fed up, or they didn't have the patience to teach us." It's amazing that DJ S'cool gives them this opportunity to just be actually listened to, and ask questions.
The social climate has changed so much since you started DJing. Do you think it's because young girls have more women like Grimes, making electronic music, to look up to? How important are initiatives like DJ S'cool?
I think both of those things play a massive role. It's important to talk about how much club culture has changed in the past few years. It's much broader, there are fewer and fewer specific subcultures. There's such cross-pollination now. Everyone's represented, which means bros who are really into one really niche thing kind of have to fuck off and make way for the new guard. They don't own the club any more.
I think the flattening of culture plays a part too, as highbrow and lowbrow cultural artefacts merge. As a DJ, that means you could be into an obscure house record, then just play a Justin Bieber track.
I think it's hugely important for female DJs that pop music is cool again. Rihanna's ANTI is seen as this kind of art piece, so it's more acceptable to go out and listen to her huge pop records. That's so amazing because it means that people don't have to spend hundreds of dollars on vinyl, or hunt bizarre records down: it's more than okay to play incredibly popular music. That's a great climate to enter as a DJ.
The idea of free downloads must help too: you can be broke and still start DJing.
Absolutely. There are still so many vinyl heads and they're always gonna be there, but that idea of artisanal DJing is totally gone. It means that people who are socio-economically less privileged are able to DJ, and that's incredible. You can say so much with DJing and that's why it's so important for women to DJ.
Photography Leo Smith