As Bristol-based collectivegears up for its upcoming club tour and cultural exhibition, the organisation’s founder reflects on the music industry she has long been a part of.
Since Lady of the House’s formation in 2020, Laila Mckenzie has tried to use her platform to honour the ground-breaking female figures in dance music whom she believes have been undervalued and undermined.
That’s why from March 8 – which is also International Women’s Day – the tour and cultural exhibition set to take over St Philips venue Lost Horizon will update the narrative and acknowledge female contributions to the history of dance music culture.
Having also released a book titled Lady of the House – Stories of Women In Dance Music, which documents the history of women’s impact on the industry, Laila is speaking out on the significance of amplifying marginalised voices that have long been undermined and underestimated.
In an interview with Bristol Live, she said: “All the events and workshops are led by women so we can give that representation that women are leaders in this industry and field.
“Then there’s intersectionality that we face as black and brown women, we’ve not only got our gender as a barrier, but also the colour of our skin. We want this industry to be representative of everybody and include everybody.”
With an extensive career in the music and nightlife industries, Laila explained that based on her own experiences of racism, classism and misogyny, she defied the odds by succeeding in an industry that had been heavily whitewashed.
She added: “I started working in this industry when I was 16, working in nightclubs collecting glasses, and it was a different time because the rules were different.
“The music industry is pretty brutal anyway no matter what genre of music it is whether it’s dance, rock, indie or pop. It’s run by people with money and people with privilege.
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“It didn’t come from those people but it came from black people, LGBTQIA people, women, Latinos. It came because they didn’t have a space and over the years it became a business, which is fine. But we need to evolve in the right way and that’s what I’m aware of after 20 years of going through this struggle that things need to change.
“For me, as a single mum of two in this industry for 16 of those years and coming from a low socioeconomic background and being from a council estate, I came from nothing.
“I’ve faced barriers and it’s been exhausting. It shouldn’t be that way because that’s not the way it started. I had to work harder than my male, white, middle-class counterparts.
“I sacrificed a lot of time with my children because I felt that I had to push myself even harder. That’s still not changed even in the position I’m in now.”
Laila hopes that the Lady of the Night exhibition and UK tour can battle the institutionalised sexism that has halted women in the industry to flourish and simply access opportunities, aid and recognition.
She said: “There are so many amazing women, especially black and brown women who are the voices of dance music. Jocelyn Brown, Barbara Tucker, Ultra Naté. All these women are mentioned in our book [Lady of the House – Stories of Women In Dance Music]. They might not be recognised by the general public but the general public knows about their work.
“Our manifesto at Lady of the House is to celebrate, champion and honour women in dance music and beyond. They will work so hard and somebody else will take the credit for it, and it’s mostly the white man that does. I’m not going to keep allowing that to happen anymore.
“That’s why I’m doing what I do so that hopefully it can inspire other people to start studying who these people are and also might inspire the next generation to believe that they too can make it.”
Plans are under way for the highly-anticipated exhibition launch next month with guest appearances from DJs, artists and producers such as Sita Abellan, Alex Mills and Barbara Tucker lined up. Laila believes Lady of the House has a promising future.
As she continues to champion her female peers, she wants a future where women are not only present in making history, but one in which they can finally write it in their own terms.
Laila said: “I want this to go beyond dance music and it’s already becoming a movement in dance music in the sense that everyone is talking about the history and legacy.
“I want to take it one step further which is reaching the under 18s and young people who are leaving secondary education to think about their next steps of career progression.
“I want them to understand that there are many roles in the music industry that aren’t just about being a singer or a dancer.
“There’s lots of opportunities that people might think aren’t for women or for people of colour. I want to show that lots of us do these jobs and lots of us can do it.”
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