by Maya Stoner
Founded by Felisha Ledesma, Daniela Karina Serna and Alyssa Beers, Women’s Beat
League is a Portland organization that hosts classes for those who identify as a female and want to learn how to DJ and/ or produce music. Hosted in the depths of the S1 gallery, the first workshop I attended was an intro class taught by the incredibly knowledgable and talented producer NEYBUU that covered the basic elements of synthesis. For just a five dollar suggested donation, I learned about the three elements of sound, the five most common waveforms, the seven main components of a synth and more in an environment that made learning new technical skills feel a lot less intimidating. Sitting in a room full of women with laptops and raised hands, eager to ask questions about sustain or attack or whatever, I felt empowered to take on a whole new world of music.
Who are you and what do you do, individually speaking?
Felisha Ledesma: I am the Executive Director of S1 [ S1 Portland ] and coordinator extraordinaire.
Daniela Karina Serna: I’m a DJ of peripheral sounds, and a lifelong curator of vibe.
Alyssa Beers: Mostly I’m an accounting student, a dance floor maniac, everyone’s biggest fan, and a DJ for music to BBQ by.
What lead you to come together and form Women’s Beat League?
All:Women’s Beat League was born out of a conversation on the beach. We realized this same conversation had been going on forever , even outside of our group of women. Since Felisha is the director of S1, a local gallery and project space, we realized we had the access to physical space and equipment so we decided to stop talking about it and just make it happen.
What do you wish to accomplish with WBL?
All: With WBL we hope to connect female identified DJs and producers of all skill levels to forge a sorely needed network of skill sharing and mutual support. Ideally this will grow into a community where we can all reach out to one another for collaborations, bookings, equipment sharing, and knowledge building.
Why is it important to create spaces specifically for women to learn?
F: It’s hard for me to even explain because my life is so entrenched in this mentality. In the art and music world, it is a constant battle to make women’s voices heard, and I have always had that as a priority in my bookings and staffings. Clearly women want and need to have access to safe spaces like this because the turnout has been monumental.
D: As a new DJ, it can be really hard to find a mentor. It can be intimidating learning new equipment and not everyone has the patience to explain the ins and outs. I just really wanted a space that took away the anxiety and self consciousness of learning and that offered me the opportunity to connect with people through that. I no longer feel silenced as a DJ and I now have a clear place in the dance music scene here.
A: I just wanted a place where we could shed our egos and ditch the competitive vibes. I had a feeling that if we limited it to women only, that there would be an immediate sense of community that allowed for comfortable question asking and no fear of judgement. I was right!
How have you personally benefited from knowing other female-identifying
DJs and producers? What does this community mean to you?
D: An important lead up to WBL for me was Mexico City via Portland DJ Coast2C [Sofia Acosta] giving me a CDJ lesson. Shortly after we took a vacation to Mexico, she booked us a DJ gig, a huge opportunity for a new DJ. This boosted both my confidence and skills, and dually was important as a lesson in asking for what you need to manifest things into happening. As I saw the positive effect it had on my DJing, I knew I wanted WBL to be the same thing but on a larger scale.
F: I feel lucky and inspired to be a better performer and DJ from even just being around the amazing teachers at Women’s Beat League. I have been surrounded by strong women my whole life, but recently Sappho, NEYBUU, Troubled Youth, Christina SciFi Sol, Natasha Kmeto and Coast2C have made me extra appreciative.
A: I had always thought that my place in the music scene here was only on the dance floor. As fellow DJs, Felisha Ledesma and Daniela Karina have really championed me getting out there and just going for it. They inspired me to play the music that I want to without the worry that it isn’t cool enough or obscure enough. They taught me that with a sense of humor and a fun attitude you can pretty much do anything.
What are some examples of classes WBL has hosted?
F: The classes we have hosted have all been introductions so far. We wanted to gauge
community interest, but they were all well-attended and people asked a lot of questions! So far we’ve hosted: Intro to Turntables, CDJS, Synthesis, Beatmaking in Ableton, Traktor and Controllers and Music Theory. We also have open deck nights so people have some time to come practice freely.
What kind of specific skills/ classes does WBL plan on teaching in the future?
F: We are working with our past instructors to extend their intro ideas into full workshops.We quickly identified that Intro classes were barely dipping our toes into the huge breadth of information our talented teachers had to share. Christina Scifisol will be first up in December teaching Ableton. By the end of the series, you will have made a song! We are planning more classes for winter/spring so you can check back on the S1 website for more details or join our Facebook group.
What kind of equipment and programs do WBL classes cover?
F: We want to make sure we provide a wide range of programs and tools. We are going to focus on the basics learning to beat match on turntables, CDJs, controllers/serato, etc. We are planning on bringing Natasha Kmeto back to teach a full series of music theory. We just want to cover everything you need to feel confident to play or DJ live. We are always open to suggestions, so if any students have specific ideas for what they’d like to learn we’re very into it!
Any advice for women who are interested in DJing or producing but feel intimidated by male dominated scenes?
F: There are other women out there who want to play in bands, who want to DJ back to back, you have to make an effort to find them and I can tell you it’s well worth it!
D: Do you. Everyone has a voice and a right to have it be heard. Whether you know it or not you have something to contribute to your community.
A: The best way to squash a rude music dude is to practice hard and crush their tiny ego with your rippin’ set.
To get involved, donate time or money, or generally get at us with questions, concerns, or love, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.