I’m in the Band ✕ D.C.: The Social Power of Music, Episode 1: First Ladies DJ Collective
Editor’s note: I’m in the Band is a podcast hosted and co-produced by Bratmobile and riot grrrl co-founder Allison Wolfe. Each episode explores an artist’s journey through personal history, coming to consciousness, creative process, and cultural activism.
In conjunction with the D.C.: The Social Power of Music program presented by the 2019 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, I’m in the Band presents a special two-part podcast series highlighting the contributions of two women’s DJ collectives based in Washington, D.C.
In the shadow of the White House and the Capitol, the D.C. punk scene movers and shakers have employed do-it-yourself methods to reject mainstream values and create the community in which they want to participate. Of course, socialization follows us wherever we go, and U.S. punk scenes often haven’t been as diverse as the nation as a whole. The early D.C. punk scene of the 1980s and into the ’90s mostly revolved around men in bands… or so I thought when I first burst upon the scene as a riot grrrl in a band in the early ’90s.
Yet not everyone who contributes to a music scene is on stage in a band. In addition to musicians, many women—from photographers, fanzine writers, DJs, show bookers, and record label workers to people dancing and hanging out at shows—co-create the fabric of their scene and help move it forward. Without them, there is no scene.
When the Smithsonian Folklife Festival invited me to engage women in the D.C. punk music community and create audio stories from those conversations, I thought of the women DJs I knew when I lived there in the early 2000s. Through collective organizing, these DJs created vibrant, truly diverse, and do-it-yourself events that exemplified how cultural activism often emerges organically from friendship and community.
I first got to know some of these women while helping organize Ladyfest DC in 2001 and 2002. Ladyfest, an idea I came up with in 1999, was a series of nonprofit, alternative music festivals by, for, and about women. The character of each festival reflected the people and resources specific to its community, and the lasting connections and activities that each Ladyfest generated inspired me.
Within the organization of Ladyfest D.C., some young DJs hosted after-hours festivities that reached beyond the confines of punk. They continued to be active after Ladyfest and formed a socially conscious DJ collective called First Ladies. The First Ladies DJ Collective strove to create nights of inclusion, encouragement, and solidarity with a dance beat.
In the first episode of I’m in the Band’s special two-part series, co-founders Kristina Gray, Maegan Wood, and partner Les Talusan of the First Ladies DJ Collective each discuss the upbringing and experiences that informed their creative visions and how their collective activities made waves in the D.C. music scene.
Allison Wolfe is an arts journalist, musician, and riot grrrl based in Los Angeles, California.
The First Ladies to Anthology of Booty: Women DJ Collectives in D.C. discussion took place at Lost Origins Gallery on August 8, 2019, in conjunction with Antonia Tricarico’s exhibition Frame of Mind: Punk Photos and Essays from Washington, DC, and Beyond, 1997–2017. This project received support from the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative.