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Gabrielle Watson (AKA A Hundred Drums) is a woman I look up to dearly in the scene. Oftentimes, I find myself discouraged from pursuing a career in music due to the lack of representation of black women. When I first discovered A Hundred Drums, I had this sense of reassurance. Like, hey! That is me! That is MY people! Seeing her long locs, glowing brown skin, and unrelenting ambition gave me hope.

The essence she brings to the stage carries behind the scenes as well. The B-Side LA founder has made impressive moves in the past 8 years, alongside founder Murad Rezian. I had the pleasure of interviewing Gabrielle, in hopes of empowering not only myself but other black women in EDM that don’t feel like they see themselves.

Steff: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far with B-Side LA?

Gabrielle: I’d say our biggest challenge is the growing stage. We started out as the OG kids that love niche dubstep. Our events started out with only 50 to 100 people. NO ONE was booking the acts we were. Then flash forward to today, and all of a sudden the acts we normally would be the one’s booking, are getting booked by others. So we have to always stay on our toes, and always book things with a fresh twist that is a good cover of today’s growing stars while still remaining true to our roots. We will never shift from what we’ve always done in the past but we will always find a way to grow with integrity.

S: Were there any resources that you think were less accessible due to being a black woman? How did that affect you?

G: It wasn’t as much about tangible resources as intangible resources. Walking into a situation as a black woman, you could be facing a shortage of empathy, patience, or understanding. Those are resources as precious as money or hardware. That doesn’t matter if I can’t be heard when I come into a new space. I could have the fattest bank account in the world and access to the highest quality studio gear. Yet, something as simple as a stagehand not letting me in the back door because they don’t think I’m supposed to be there, and it all goes out the window. It’s been a struggle to come to terms with that. However, it’s helped me to learn how to more confidently approach situations, ask for what I need, and mentally prepare myself for any situation.

S: I like to believe that we as black women have a heightened sense of intuition, due to our unique experiences. How has that intuition impacted the way you moved through the industry?

G: My guard is up whenever I move into a new space. Even ones with which I’m intimately familiar. Our past has shown us that we need to be more aware of potential trouble, long before it becomes apparent to others. I entered into the music industry with the same mindset: be aware of my surroundings and the people I associate with. Take note of the physical and virtual spaces where they haven’t had a lot of black women come into. We are forced to develop a sixth sense for potential issues, and that has only served to keep me a step ahead as my career progresses.

S: How do you mentally handle the frustration that comes with misogynoir in our scene? Do you have other black women you can confide in?

G: I have had the good fortune of befriending other black women in our scene like UNIIQU3, Canvas, and both members of RaeCola. More importantly, I have befriended a number of black women who work behind the scenes; a place that suffers from just as many pitfalls. We try not to get bogged down in the micro-aggressions and systemic flaws in our system and try to focus on the wins that we can achieve. There’s always something that can be changed. We will do our best to voice that, but it’s also important to celebrate the victories, no matter how small.

S: What is one piece of advice you have for black women wanting to pursue a career in music?

G: Build a community around yourself. Whether it be fellow performers, artists, creatives, or even business people. Seek people who will cheer you on when you get big wins and will pick you up when you face rejection. There is a lot of it. When you have hard-working, motivated people around you—regardless of whether or not they’re directly working with you on your project—that is going to make you feel supported and inspired, and push you to succeed because community is key. Your family and friends will be there well before the fans come, and long after they go home.

A Hundred Drums’ first gig circa 2014

The more that the stage and staff starts to look like the people who attend the shows, the better the environment for everybody. Not only do we need more black and female performers, but I want to see more women of color VJ’ing, running lights—hell, signing my checks at the end of the night. There have been some major cultural stumbles and scandals that have happened in promoting shows and curating lineups that would be easily solved by having more diverse teams producing events. Brown and black members of the LGBTQIA+ communities were centered at the birth of electronic music in Chicago, Detroit, and NYC. As it grew and evolved, those minority groups were marginalized both in terms of the people making the music, but also those making money from its popularity. Bringing that diversity back into the scene is not only the right thing to do, but it will have an impact on the culture and further evolution of the scene in ways we can’t even begin to predict.

– Gabrielle Watson ( A Hundred Drums)

Black women deserve to exist in a space where we feel comfortable. Despite the disadvantages, it is important that we not lose sight of what we came here to do. We are here to make change where we can—no matter what sector of the industry. The space we take up is noticed. Eyes are on us.

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Looking for new music? Keep up with our weekly Spotify Playlist, Fresh Hunts. Updated every Friday with all the latest releases. Whether it’s the newest drops from A Hundred Drums, as well as all your favorite artists. Some old-school, or underground – we just want you to hear it.

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