Women’s History Month is coming in hot and carrying with it some fierce female talent as precious cargo. To kick off the spring festivities, Purim partying, and the much-anticipated 2019 Eurovision Song Contest (hosted by Tel Aviv), local EDM performer Rotem Or has coordinated the release of her carefully crafted LP, Everything Happens Only Once, under the DJ persona Totemo.
In light of Women’s History Month, Or sheds light on her experiences as a female artist in the local electronic music scene, the effects of Netta Barzilai’s Eurovision win on Israel, and how the sights and smells of “this little country of ours” have enhanced her musical spice rack.
How did you first get involved in Israel’s electronic music scene?
“I think it’s important to first note how intimate any music scene is in Israel. This makes the genre divisions much more surreal than in other places. I started out as a singer-songwriter, which is something I still consider myself to be, only now my music is being produced in a more electronic and pop-oriented fashion. I started by performing my songs at small clubs – at first alone or with friends. I started my career with the band after a few years of this format.”
On a global scale, women make up such a small percentage of electronic artists. How dominant would you say female DJs are in Tel Aviv?
“I don’t feel there are less women in this field than there are men, which I’d say is a pretty good reflection of the state of things, both worldwide and across genres. I do, however, feel that the roles taken by female musicians tend to be classically gender-oriented. On any given day, you’ll probably find a lot more women up front than you will producing in the recording studio.
“I feel like this is changing, though. It’s a process and we’re in the thick of it right now. Women in Tel Aviv and abroad are demanding more roles that were historically attributed to men in music.”
How supportive are your male counterparts?
“As awareness of the gender bias grows, so does the support we [women] get. This is true in all aspects of life. I’m happy to say that I’ve encountered nothing but support from my male counterparts. I feel that male DJs, musicians and producers are aware that they are gaining something by knowing there are females who can do what they do just as well, if not better. I can only hope that my experiences are shared by other women in the industry.”
What obstacles have you had to overcome in order to get yourself out there in the industry?
“Each and every one of us has our own demons to overcome when it comes to getting ourselves out there: creating, making music, performing. I suffer somewhat from impostor syndrome, so it took me quite a while to realize that I was good enough, that I deserve that stage just as much as anyone else. It took me a while to get comfortable in my own skin, which is something most women, and I imagine most men, go through as well. I think that being comfortable with your body is a crucial step to feeling relaxed onstage... and in general. It’s evident in the energy that you emit, and how the audience receives that same energy.”
BODY POSITIVITY has been at the heart of the local music scene recently, especially with Netta Barzilai’s song ‘Toy.’ Has Netta’s Eurovision win brought on any quantifiable changes?
“I don’t know if there is a quantitative way to measure this, but I’m sure that having the Eurovision Song Contest here this year will set the spotlight on this little country of ours, and that’s a good thing for all of us.”
This ‘little country of ours’ truly is such an undeniable cultural melting pot. How important is your cultural upbringing and cultural diversity in a broader context to your success?
“I think the melting pot concept is everything we hear in today’s music – and it’s awesome. You can travel anywhere and sample any exotic instrument you’d like using a pocket-sized device, with astonishing quality! Everything has a bit of a ‘foreign’ taste these days. I think people would get bored if things didn’t continue to evolve and swirl in this way.
“After returning from our second tour in Asia this summer, I began experimenting with the Chinese guzheng and erhu. You can hear them on my new LP Everything Happens Only Once. I truly believe that being brought up in a culturally diverse country contributed to my search for these new sounds. This, in turn, contributes to the exposure of my music to new and faraway crowds.”
Would you say that collectively, you and your fellow female artists have a certain flavor or distinct style that is uniquely Israeli?
“All of us have our unique styles, but all of us are also constantly turning our gaze outwards to see what else is out there. I never want to lose myself in the process, but I’m always trying to differentiate myself. It’s simply part of my nature.”
How would you say the sights and smells of the city influence the music?
“Everything I see and hear, all my experiences, eventually find [their way] into the music.”
Do you find it more difficult to make a name for yourself on the international sphere as a woman? How have you worked on breaking that Israeli bubble?
“Every coin has two sides. This is also true for gender. I don’t necessarily believe it to be any more difficult for women out there, at least not from my experience. I am always trying to reach out to new platforms and new countries. In the last year, I played many shows in Israel, while also touring Europe, namely Germany, Poland, Austria, England, and as I mentioned before, Asia and the Far East.”
In your opinion, how has the rise of readily available technology influenced the music world?
“Naturally, the streaming services we’re surrounded by have changed the rules of the game dramatically. I feel like everything is going at a faster speed these days. This could be a bad thing. I sometimes listen to new stuff and I feel like it’s not quite done yet, like it’s kind of raw, and not necessarily the good kind of raw. On the other hand, it seems that everyone’s mind is so open to new music that they may be less accustomed to.”
Where do you see yourself and other women in the industry fitting into the scene in the future?
“I can only hope that more and more women see that it’s possible and choose to join us. There is room here for everyone, in every role.”
Rotem Or (Totemo) will perform an album release show at The Barby in Tel Aviv on March 14. Her new LP will be available March 1.
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