Coachella-bound Black Madonna has emerged as one of electronic music’s most potent advocates for change
A few days after audio surfaced of Donald Trump bragging to “Access Hollywood” about grabbing women “by the pussy,” rising electronic music figure The Black Madonna said on Twitter: “How much of the world is held together by the silence of women.”
The prescient tweet, which went viral after a retweet from “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, tapped into a simmering rage in the air that was about to boil over. It also captured the kind of political rabble-rousing that has established the 41-year-old DJ and producer, born Marea Stamper, as a highly influential figure in today’s electronic music scene — and one of its most potent advocates for change.
She’ll return to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival this month as not only one of contemporary techno’s most exciting producers but one of the scene’s most vocal advocates for female performers and fans.
In person, Stamper exudes a grounded warmth — kind eyes twinkling behind thick-framed black glasses, bright smile, emphatic gestures. That exuberance is evident in the way she gleefully claps her hands above her head to the strutting disco and jacking house she deploys in the DJ booth, often singing along to every word.
Her music brims with the same hearty jubilance, tapping into the celebratory spirit of classic house and disco of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. ”He Is the Voice I Hear,” the inaugural release on her label We Still Believe, is a 10-minute-long, spine-tingling tribute to legendary DJs such as Larry Levan and employs sumptuous orchestral strings and twinkling piano keys to deliver soulful catharsis.
On a Coachella bill with such heavyweights as Jean-MIchel Jarre and Soulwax, she offers an alternative connection to electronic music’s roots — right back to the queer, multi-racial dance floor of the New York’s legendary Paradise Garage.
Now based in London, Stamper hails from Chicago by way of rural Kentucky, and her roots in the Midwest rave scene run deep. In the late 1990s, she dropped out of high school — where she was relentlessly bullied for her gender nonconforming looks — to hawk mixtapes at Midwest warehouse raves.
Moving to Chicago to work at house music label Dust Traxx in 2006, she worked her way up to become both a resident DJ and the first female talent booker at important local nightclub Smartbar.
“Change is an ongoing process,” Stamper said over the phone last week from her former home base in Chicago, where she is recording a long-awaited debut album. “The important thing is to leave the ladder down for the next one behind you and lend a hand.”
Stamper has parlayed her growing prominence to redraw the borders of the electronic music industry, ushering historically marginalized groups into the fold. At Smartbar, she has co-organized the Daphne festival, an annual series of workshops and parties held since 2015 that focus on women and non-binary artists.
Similarly, she used recent residencies at BBC Radio 1 and London’s tastemaking XOYO nightclub to champion women, the LGBTQ community and people of color. “An illusion a lot of people have is that there’s only one seat at the table,” Stamper said. “There’s a bench, and I can share it.”
Stamper’s voice is one of many calling for electronic music to be more inclusive. In recent years, a wave of social activism has swept the industry, with the rise of feminist DJ crews and proliferation of programs such as Daphne all over the world. “Dance music is not immune from things that are going on in the world,” Stamper said. “This has been a really galvanizing time for women, historically, and that’s true within dance music as well.”
There has been a lot of progress, Stamper continued, but the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements shine light on where there is still much work to be done. “I definitely see men talking about equality on lineups more than ever before, but there’s a lot of stuff we haven’t figured out how to handle,” she said.
As men are toppled from positions of power across the entertainment world, Stamper’s solemn statement — how much of the world is held together by the silence of women — now sounds like a rhetorical question — one that she thinks electronic music has yet to answer.
“In dance music, we accept sexual assault as the cost of doing business,” Stamper said matter-of-factly. “For all of the disclosures I’ve seen women make, myself included, I haven’t seen a lot of fallout for men.”
She believes that nightlife is particularly vulnerable to unchecked abuse because of the blurred lines brought about by alcohol and other substances.
“What does consent mean in a room full of people who have been drinking?” she asked. “When this space becomes a workplace too, these questions become extremely difficult to resolve.”
Digging up every person guilty of sexual misconduct in the scene would a near-impossible task due to how deeply entrenched this problem is, Stamper argued. Rather, she suggested the first step is to have tough but critical conversations about consent. “What we can do is make sure that the people understand what consent means — and that practicing it is expected of them, as members of this culture,” she said.
“In my generation, I didn’t know many women who hadn’t had something happen to them,” she added, “and I always like to imagine a world where that isn’t the case... but that world starts today, so that the next generation of people who participate in our world are safer and don’t have to say ‘me too.’”
“More than rectifying the past,” she said, “I hope we can create the future.”
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