The electronic music scene is a boy’s club. From problems of all-male lineups to rampant sexist comments on Boiler Room streams to general dance floor harassment, it’s obvious that being a female DJ or producer is a profession lined with red tape. Constantly under scrutiny, female artists are given less room for mistakes, meaning less room for growth. That’s why nurturing creative spaces—with the necessary equipment to practice—are so important. Enter: No Shade.
New York-transplant Lele Herrera (alias Hunnid Jaws) started No Shade—the Berlin-based DJ training program and club night series funded by Music Board Berlin—with fellow expats Linnéa, Carmel Koster, and Polymaze. Herrera’s roots in stateside feminist music crews spurred her decision to establish a similar community in her adopted city. The ethos is simple: to foster the careers of emerging female and non-binary artists. To do this, they offer a range of skill-building sessions, whether it’s software and live hardware tutorials or practice on industry standard CDJ-2000NXS, and, at the program’s conclusion, there’s the promise of a paid gig at a No Shade party held at partner venue, Mitte’s ACUD MACHT NEU.
It’s a fresh undertaking (just one year old), but one quickly gaining traction. No Shade workshops have begun traveling around cities in Germany and the founding members have ambitions of expanding their reach throughout Europe. After all, underrepresented artists exist everywhere. Herrera sat down to chop it up with MASS APPEAL one evening, discussing her personal sound evolution, raving in Berlin, and why No Shade is ultimately more radical than throwing shade.
Courtesy of No Shade
What are your main hustles?
I’m a music artist. I’ve been living in Berlin for two years. My main thing is producing, DJing and putting on this DJ tutorship program called No Shade. It originally started when me and my other femme friends found each other through a Facebook group. In Berlin, we created a little network and tried to get people to learn and become familiar with CDJs and other equipment. We take applications from up-and-coming aspiring DJs who don’t have access to the equipment, which is everything when you’re starting to DJ.
How did you come up with the No Shade title?
Well, the term “throwing shade” comes from the vogue, queer community and it comes from an old night that Carmel used to throw, so we decided to adopt it into this platform. It’s funny because the same day we launched this, there were a bunch of throwing shade events that were launched, so our theme is a bit more supportive. It’s pretty radical to not be shady.
What influenced you to start No Shade?
Before this, I was always in feminist music crews. I was part of Bass Honeys, which is just helping women be safe at parties and give some sort of voice to the women behind the scene in New York. Just to see this elevate and see this become something more substantial and like a school, like an underground badass school like Order of the Phoenix.
Courtesy of No Shade
How frequent is the program?
The program is really constant, maybe two or three weeks leading up to the event we give tutor sessions, starting with basic lessons to overseeing them transition through tracks and showing them different techniques. It’s actually really beneficial to see something like this in place because it’s kind of the trend now to offer workshops and one-time deals, and it’s not really enough time to really learn anything and to give someone the space to like come up through this and also play a gig at the end, that’s also part of the deal. We train them, but it’s all about the performance at the end and we give them a lot of leverage. A lot of the graduates have gone on to play more gigs around town and it has catapulted their careers.
What was it like when you originally started DJing?
Between men in the industry, it’s all about pulling each other up, versus when I had to learn, it was like pulling teeth. No one was really willing to help me. I had very few people. I was lucky to be pulled up through my friend Felicia [DJ alias Dis Fig], who gave me the space to perform for the first time in New York. I mean, I train wrecked it. It was the worst set ever. I don’t know if everyone crashes and burns, but I was so high anxiety because I didn’t really have a chance to practice outside my controller and my weird little set ups. It’s about access and if you don’t have access to the equipment you’re just going to learn the hard way. You need always be on top of your game or performing your best, otherwise you don’t get the call back or you can’t make the right industry connections. So it’s really good to see this network come into place.
Was there anything in Berlin similar to No Shade before you started the program?
I always had crews that I hung out with, but I wasn’t officially a part of any labels or crews or cliques that would help mobilize me, but there are these parties—one called Room for Resistance that’s all about creating space for queer and non-binary to perform and a place to go out. Even aside from the techno scene, a lot of the parties that exist have this kind of ethical background, but it’s not really out there. I think it’s kind of nice to put that in the forefront. It is frustrating though because I get a lot of press and attention for my gender, and everything I’m getting steered toward has this lean to it, but at the same time it’s like I can’t choose otherwise. I’m not using my marginalization to propel me, but it’s a part of the game, you know? I can’t escape it either way, so let’s build together.
Courtesy of Lele Herrera
What would people expect to hear at the typical No Shade party?
That’s actually what we’re working with right now. We get a lot of artists who want to play tech house or something, and it’s not that we shy away from that, but we work within a more experimental realm and we would love to cater to parties that are a bit more curated, a specific type of sound aside from club kid strains of music, not four-floor but half-time half-step music. I’m always so impressed by the new people that come out.
How has Berlin influenced you musically?
I come from grime, bass sound, so I was a UK-original dubstep girl. I’m dubstep grandma now, but I’ve grown. I play hyper techno, I play mutations of bass music, and even noise, ambient music lately. If you don’t adapt or if you’re not interested in combining these things, you need to have a vision and it has to change. Being in Berlin has made me more open. Coming from New York, there’s also such a strong hip hop and Latino background. You just hear music on the street and that’s how you follow these trends. Hot 97 and these prominent radio stations are mainstream. There’s a different type of musical knowledge there versus here… the club scene is where it’s at. People trust club nights and venues. They party for days, and there’s a different kind of endurance here. I’m lucky I’m really open-minded. If I hear something I like, I’m ready to incorporate it into my musical repertoire.
What’s the future of No Shade?
We’re expanding our reach! We’re going a workshop and night in Hamburg next week, actually. I hope that it keeps continuing and we get to work more with different communities because we always get messengers on our Facebook page saying, “You guys inspire me, I wish I could apply!” Why not extend a hand, create a bigger network, and have some fun with it.