As fatigue with bigotry increases, the anonymity of the internet is no longer an excuse for spewing hatred without consequence. After two particularly vile turns in the comment section of Boiler Room, the streaming company has had enough. Claire Lobenfeld talks to Boiler Room’s Gabriel Szatan about how the company intends to take a stand.
Electronic music has a sexism problem. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t need collectives like Discwoman and female:pressure who work arduously to have women DJs and producers booked at shows and have their concerns heard, or artists like Mixpak powerhouse Jubilee, who’s asked more often about the struggles of being a female DJ than the actual music she makes. On Wednesday, discrimination against women in dance came to a head once more in one very specific corner of the underground music world – the Boiler Room comments section.
During a Paris session which featured Glaswegian phenom Nightwave, a wildfire of unwarranted insults on the Facebook Live broadcast caught the ire of dance music fans who could no longer tolerate sexist language spewed at women DJs. In fact, it had been worse the night before. The Staycore session that featured 18-year-old Swedish DJ Toxe suffered a comment section that was so riddled with such offensive remarks, Boiler Room host and programmer Gabriel Szatan called them “verging on revenge porn.”
Szatan had more than enough of these kinds of comments and took to Boiler Room’s Twitter to make an off-the-cuff statement about the outrage from viewers, an outrage that he was also experiencing himself: “Talking smack on genres or tech is whatever, lame but par for the course. Misogyny / transphobia / racism / anything else is 10000% unacceptable…. BR is an international team of music fans made up of all stripes shapes & dispositions — not some bunch of V neck bros casually laughing it off. This kind of chatroom shit disgusts us.”
“It’s like they’re crouching at the starting line of the race to make a joke about how women should be in the kitchen”Boiler Room’s Gabriel Szatan
On the phone to FACT yesterday, Szatan explained that the comments on the session during Nightwave’s set escalated from tame backhanded compliments to full-on, albeit lame, bullying: “Very quickly the comments changed from, ‘Oooh, it’s cool to see a sexy DJ’ to ‘There’s Paris Hilton’ — and then the ‘Make Me A Sandwich, Bitch’ brigade came out to play.” Szatan had only been watching the French broadcast casually when he caught wind of what was going on in the comments and decided to take action, partially because he is a fan of Nightwave and also because he could not believe he was seeing this kind of vile behavior in such extremes two days in a row. “When I inadvertently became the person monitoring, I just knew we couldn’t stay quiet for two days in a row when really personal, vicious comments were coming through,” he said. “It’s something we should have done a long time ago.”
Boiler Room had intended to announce an equality initiative earlier this year, but backed down out of fear they would not be able to follow through on the promises they’d make, or that they would look like capitalizing on current trends of social awareness. “I think some of us were kind of concerned that if we phrased it wrong or if we made a commitment that we then couldn’t follow up that it would bounce back on us,” he says. “It’s the internet and it’s Facebook Live and it’s impossible to monitor it 24/7. We were cognizant of the problem, we always have been, but we were cautious about making a statement in March around International Women’s Day. We were gonna do it and come up with a programme of more equal booking policies, try to make a point that we have two dozen women in our London office, which is an almost 50/50 gender split. We didn’t want it to look tokenistic or [like we were] bandwagoning on International Women’s Day and then to go quiet.”
According to Szatan, that silence is now over. “[This] is the line in the sand. It’s difficult, but that’s not to absolve ourselves. As the biggest live streaming company in the underground that should stand for its liberal values, we know now that it’s our responsibility to lead the field,” he says. “It’s really exhausting to see this shit because you’d like to think that dance music culture is full of like-minded individuals and then you get fucking jock-bros or people who just literally see a woman on their timeline and don’t know about the music [she’s playing] so they immediately slag it off because it’s someone who has both breasts and a set of headphones and they think these two things can’t be analogous.”
This, of course, is just a small bandage to put on top of a much larger wound, but to at least make it known that this behavior that anonymous Internet Men have thrived off for a long time is no longer acceptable is a start. And what will unfold in the coming months will hopefully extend beyond just comment monitoring. Szatan hopes they will collaborate again with previous Boiler Room guests like Discwoman and The Black Madonna to figure out exactly how to solve this problem in an effective and positive way. “I am a white, straight 24-year-old [male] and it shouldn’t have come from me in the first place,” says Szatan. “Maybe there needs to be more of a collaborative effort, so people give us their opinions about what we should be doing about it and we take heed of that as we move forward.”
“We can’t allow straight-up vile transphobic, misogynistic, racist things to carry on”Boiler Room’s Gabriel Szatan
If Boiler Room can accomplish this tedious but necessary task, it will be small first step to achieving a larger goal of defusing intolerance. What is important here is that Boiler Room is taking the actual responsibility to make even the internet feel safer — not placing the onus on their users. “We obviously can’t just shut down any comment when someone is like, ‘They fucked up that mix, that song is shit’ but we can’t allow straight-up vile transphobic, misogynistic, racist things to carry on,” he says. “It’s like they’re crouching at the starting line of the race to make a joke about how women should be in the kitchen and as soon as they get the opportunity, it’s done and then they’re off.
“There’s a decent crossover in the Venn diagram between underground music fans and people who sit in their room on the internet all the time and we pick up a lot of the dregs of that crossover. Now it’s our time to stomp that shit out,” he says. “Obviously people are going to see this and double down on being a dickhead because of it. But that’s our problem and we’re going to tackle it.”