photos: Soledad Munoz is the founder of genero, an electronic music label that celebrates the work of women-identified artists working in a genre dominated by men. Photo: Brit Bachmann / VIVO Media Arts Centre.

Challenging the binary

Soledad Muñoz helms a new record label for women

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When Soledad Muñoz was a kid growing up in Chile, she was always the only girl at skate parks. This only made her feel the need to prove that she was better than the boys. Doing so made her feel less invisible.

“At the time I just thought girls wouldn't go because they weren't good at skating. Because our bodies weren't built for it or whatever,” she told me from across the table at a Main Street Vietnamese restaurant.

Muñoz has dark curly hair, big brown eyes and a big smile. The 29-year-old Chilean-Canadian is a triple threat; she’s a visual artist, a musician, and she’s well versed in critical and feminist theory. On top of that, she launched genero, an electronic music label, a little over a year ago.

She started playing piano when she was five, after her family moved back to Chile—her parents originally came to Canada as refugees escaping the coup and military government of Pinochet. When she was older, she moved back to Canada to study fine art. She currently lives in Vancouver.

Seven years ago she started playing electronic music. “One day I decided I wanted to make one of my (visual art) pieces make a sound, and from there I started building circuits so that vibrations would make things move. And from there I started building synthesizers. And then I stopped liking keys, since synths are all about knobs.”

Electronic music is an art form for Muñoz. She loves making new sounds from machines. She started building her own equipment, circuits and modular synthesizers because she didn’t want to create the same sounds as everybody else.

But when it came to joining the electronic music scene, she realized it would bejust like the skate parks in Chile—male dominated. Just like she did in Chile, Muñoz started going to modular synthesizer symposiums even though she would always be the only woman there, and she was often treated in a patronizing way. “I had to change my name to a gender neutral one, especially for online forums becauseI would receive such terrible responses if I posted anything as a woman,” she explains.

"I don't understand why, but society seems to think that men like machinery and women don't like to get their hands dirty. What genero is doing is proving that's a lie."

A feminist music label

“That's how it's always been. I don't understand why, but society seems to think that men like machinery and women don't like to get their hands dirty. What genero is doing is proving that's a lie,” said Muñoz. The label’s name, genero,has four meanings. It’s what people call fabric in Chile (Muñoz used to workas a knitter). It also has widespread meanings in Spanish: “to generate something,” “gender,” and “genre.”

“Unlike other labels, this one was created on the basis of feminist theory. We're not interested in having lots of DJs play our music. We produce cassettes, not vinyls—in part because it's cheaper. But mostly because we're more interested in creating as much music as possible,” says Muñoz. All songs produced are also available online.

But what most sets genero apart from other labels is that Muñoz only signs female artists. And the women who arein the label have to learn to produce their own music. “We live in a society wherethe pop music industry heavily objectifies women's bodies,” Muñoz says, “so we need more women who take a leadership role and produce their own material.” Women represent fewer than five per cent of music producers and engineers. So while Muñoz wants to make sure more women produce music, she also wants to make sure she’s not repeating the same power dynamic.

“It's not about telling women whether they should show their bodies or not. Iwant to create something new and empower women. One of the big challenges is (making it clear) that I'm not the boss. I don't like ordering people around. I think that falls under the patriarchal system. I'd rather work communally so that it's more of a collaboration,” she explains.

More than a music label

So far, she hasn’t had any issues signing artists. “There are so many of them! And they're not being listened to, so we need to get together in order to be heard.” Muñoz says that she had the advantage of already having one foot in the electronic music scene. So, even before starting the label, she already had an artist to work with. The second one came before she was done with the first, and on and on. The only thing Muñoz wants from the artists she’s signing is a shared interest in changing the world. And minimal violence, a duo that describes their music as something between house and techno, understood the concept right away. I met with Ashlee and Lida, two members of the band (they chose not to share their last names), at a coffee shop near Main Street to talk about their experience with Muñoz.

“We tracked her down, just noticed what she was doing,” says Lida. Muñoz had already heard their music and weirdly enough, she had met themon the same table where we held our interview that day. “Initially, just reading the concept of the project looked really cool. Once we met with her we weresold on her. She had a lot of really good ideas. It fit what we wanted to do.”

Ashlee and Lida have only been making music together for under ayear but already feel things are shifting in the electronic music scene. It’sstill an uphill battle that can still feel intimidating, so it always helps to have someone like Muñoz helping you out.

“Just being females that use hardware to play electronic music gives us a sense of empowerment. And having someone like Sol (Muñoz) backing us and givingus the opportunity to perform has been very helpful in navigating the pathways between critical theory, visual arts and music,” Lida explains. “Genero is more than a record label because it's trying to accomplish something more than music.”

For Muñoz the entire pursuit is about making a difference. She’s not even making money from it, as all the money invested into the label and used to produce music has come from her pocket.

“I do what I do because I like it, it's my ideology and I know I'm not going to make money from it. But now there are five women with records, who didn't used to have that.”

 

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