Electro Feminisms: Kemistry and Storm, DJ Duo
DJs Kemistry and Storm were a drum n bass duo instrumental in the development of the genre, as DJs and managers of the revered label Metalheadz. The two worked together for most of the 90s until Kemistry's untimely death in 1999 in a car accident.
Against the usual male mythic origin narrative, it was Kemistry and Storm who introduced producer Goldie to the genre. Together, the three they started Metalheadz, one of drum n bass's most important labels (home to Goldie, Photek, Alex Reece, Ed Rush and many others). At Metalheadz, Storm helmed many of the label's most notable releases, including the Platinum Breakz compilation.
Despite this clearly influential role in the genesis of the genre, the two often disappear from the drum n bass canon. Storm's been quite vocal about the male bias of the drum n bass scene in particular, saying in an interview with Knowledge magazine that:
“With the emergence of the producer DJ the skill and entry level to becoming a DJ changed. Most of the females I work with are pure DJs and it is a lot harder to come through with just this skill so I think this is one of the major factors but this factor applies to male and female Djs. The one thing that affects female DJs and MCs alike is that we are still not trusted as much as the male DJs, this is where the male dominance really comes into play. So I think being a female you have to work a lot harder to be taken seriously and promoters tend to think about you less.”
I think this is a really important comment, because she's linking the unequal allocation of value with access to production facilities and skills. Though there's a symbiotic relationship between producers and DJs, those who do both rise to the top, and retrospectively acquire more influence than they perhaps might have at the time.
Though primarily djs, the two did make one track together, 1994's “Signature” (audio embedded above). Making good use of the James Brown's “Funky Drummer” loop among others, it's rolling jungle track with some lovely hardcore style synth pads and diva samples.
Their most famous work together, however, was their 1999 self-titled DJ Kicks compilation on K7, a really tough mostly techstep mix. The first 11 minutes of that mix are above; you can find the entire thing on YouTube. One of the things that I like about this mix is that women are often stereotyped in electronic dance music scenes as preferring (and hence playing, if they're DJs) softer, more melodic, vocal-driven “girly” tunes, but this mix definitely holds nothing back. Not that there's anything wrong with soft and melodic (that's incidentally where my tastes tends to lie on the drum n bass spectrum), but this serves as an example of how female DJs are as varied in what they play as male.
It's fitting that it be a DJ mix that remains their calling card as a duo. Dj duos are rare, and female ones even more so, but I can't help wondering if it was this very fact that kept the two working in the scene. In individualistic economies that run around (male) auteur geniuses, two women perhaps have a better chance of surviving institutional sexism together. Storm says of their time working together, “Kemi's faith in Kemistry & Storm kept me going.”
Sadly at their very peak, Kemistry was killed after a gig in Southampton in 1999. Since then, Storm has continued DJing around the world, starting Feline, an all-female DJ night. She also continues as part of the Metalheadz crew, where there's another high profile female DJ in Flight.
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