Before the first beat drops, DJ Lady Syren has put in plenty of hours to make sure the party doesn’t stop.
“What you see at the show is just about a fourth of what I do,” says Syren, aka Amanda Marshall. She books the gig, promotes the heck out of it, hauls in gear and curates song collections knowing she’ll still have to read the room of revelers to map the night’s sonic journey minute-by-minute. It’s an elaborate operation and one she’s being doing it full time since 2011.
“I don’t clock out,” she says.
The open-format turntablist got her start hanging out during shows by her boyfriend, DJ Neili Neil, and immediately wanted in on the action. “I didn’t want just to push a button,” she says. “I wanted to know how everything worked.”
Since then, she’s performed solo and as part of a collective, the Extended Network. Syren lives in Richmond and regularly travels to 10 cities to play. She pulls music from multiple genres and is known for her on-the-fly mash-ups and sick remixes found on such sites as Mixcloud.
While women DJs like Syren are becoming more prevalent, electronic dance music still has a gender-equality problem. Female artists remain underrepresented at the big-name festivals, and the 2016 highest-paid DJs list from Forbes once again featured no women — and was called Electronic Cash Kings. Ouch. But the issue can be more complicated, Syren says.
“Sometimes the female DJ thing is gimmicky,” she says. “Some performers don’t help by DJing in their bra. They got that gig because they look cute and they borrowed gear.”
A website for women in the industry, DJane Mag, continues to hold a modeling contest that has zero to do with skill, something that hasn’t gone uncriticized. “I’m not saying I show up in sweatpants and tennis shoes — I obviously care about my appearance,” she says. “But I want people to remember my dope transitions or blends. Not my outfit.”
Syren says she’s been fortunate when it comes to being respected, regularly getting compliments about her set like her male counterparts.
“It’s male-dominated,” she says, “but if you learn the technical aspects and develop your skills around that, you will stand out. You’re being looked at under a microscope, so the more you know, the more people will take you seriously.”
DJ Lady Syren performs at the Vintage Room at Pearl in Richmond on April 22 at 10 p.m.