Tung's Take: Goodbye To The RA Poll

For the past 11 years, electronic music fans have looked to Resident Advisor’s top DJs poll to find out who’s who in the ‘underground’ scene. At the end of each year, RA’s readership have voted for their favourite DJ, resulting in a litany of 100 of the so-called biggest names in electronic music. RA have just announced that the list is no more.

Why's the poll been axed? 

The RA poll has historically been hugely popular but, year in, year out, a problem has persisted. Of the top 100 DJs chosen annually, only a handful of spots on the list have been awarded to women. We’re talking less women than I have fingers: 7 in 2016, 9 in 2015, 7 again in 2014. 

Okay, so this is a good step, right?

Right! In a reasoned and thoughtful opinion piece posted on the site, RA cited a desire ‘to be a force for good,’ a mission they were not able to fulfil while peddling a list which represents the scene as (almost) entirely male, and which has an enormous knock-on effect in terms of artists’ demand and bankability. They’ve instead pledged to internally compile three end-of-year features which highlight the artists and records they’ve been most into over the course of the previous twelve months. They’ll present these lists unranked. 

The fact that RA has taken a step towards the celebration of the scene’s diversity is, of course, super positive. Given the motivation for the change, it seems highly likely that those three new features will recognise a diverse breadth of artists, which will hopefully have a positive effect on expanding the current tunnel-vision of the RA readership.

But will axing the poll really change anything? 

It’s a good place to start. RA is a powerful force in the electronic music scene, and they’re taking responsibility for the sway they hold. They've acknowledged negative catch-22 the poll has created: booking agents want RA top 100 artists, most of whom are men, which leads to mostly-male line-ups and therefore greater exposure to the kinds of audiences who cast RA top 100 votes. By championing a more diverse group of artists, the hope is that the industry at large will embrace more women DJs and producers in line-ups. 

That being said, there’s still more work to be done in-house at RA. At the time of writing, of the last 50 albums (including compilations) reviewed, 10 featured women. Of the last 50 singles reviewed, 5 featured women. Their events reviews fare a little better thanks to their coverage of festivals, but of the solo shows just 9 out of 50 featured a woman on stage.

So what more can they (and other publications like them) do? 

By continuing to skew the gender balance in their coverage of albums, singles, and live events, RA perpetuates the idea that there just aren’t very many women DJs, producers, and electronic recording artists about (see this mega depressing round-up of bad opinions on the subject). They’ve been proactive in their axing of the top 100, but they need now to turn their attention to the rest of the site. We’re not talking an arbitrary 50/50 split, but are we really supposed to believe that for every 5 singles featuring women, 45 featuring men are released? Choice comes into it here. 

And it matters who is making those choices. While I was on my arduous journey through the reviews section, I noticed another imbalance: of the last 50 album reviews, 46 were written by men. The last 50 singles reviews? 39 by men. It’s been widely reported that diversity in the work force fosters innovative and forward-thinking output. I can’t help but think a more diverse contributor base would help things along. 

We’ve still got a long way to go, but in taking this first big step RA have made clear their intentions. Let’s hope they keep up the good work. 

Follow Anna on Twitter @annaerichmond