Even the least observant and the most proudly aloof members of the electronic music community couldn’t have walked past the deep reservoirs of hot water surrounding Peggy Gou in recent days. It has all come courtesy of a Facebook essay by former neighbour and fellow DJ Daniel Wang, and like any online spat involving a high-profile figure, it’s kind of funny. Young teens will tell you that hearing a name you recognise get bad-mouthed over the internet for something they’ve done or the type of person they are, and then hearing that name fire back with rebuttals of their own, seeing random spectators chiming in with their opinions and stirring the proverbial pot while frantically reading about who these people actually are and why they’re relevant to you, is a funny thing. Young teens live for this online. But this episode involving Peggy Gou and Daniel Wang raises a kaleidoscope of questions that deserve proper attention, and it all revolves around sex.
To spare you the long, and frankly, drawn out monologues by the two parties in question, the essence of the back-and-forth is as follows. Daniel Wang, an underground disco DJ born in California, living in Berlin, wrote a very personal and emotionally charged essay on Facebook recounting his run-ins with his then neighbour, Peggy Gou. He describes her as vain, narcissistic, rude, and abusive while drawing on anecdotes and personal experiences that aim to expose these traits. He also accuses her of having a ghost-producer, and of stealing from the record shop she worked at while living in his building. He types all of this while “trembling” and “wanting to vomit”. The tone is weirdly dolorous, and highly personal. The post lacks any real incisive substance and to my nose, smells envious and bitter. That being said, its actual contents, if true, are troubling.
Gou responded with a video on Instagram. She said the two used to be friends and that Wang used to be a “lovely neighbour”, but that his attitude towards her changed after she stood up for herself during an incident which wasn’t then described in the video. While admitting that she can be difficult sometimes and isn’t perfect, she rejected his description of her as abusive and arrogant. She then posits the danger these types of posts can have in leading to sexist behaviour towards female musicians. Her tone was characteristically calm and suave. Wang has since collected more anecdotal evidence from people who claim to share his experience, to which Gou has not responded.
For context, and at risk of detouring slightly, public contempt for Peggy Gou did not begin with Daniel Wang. She has fallen victim to the paradox that makes cool people famous and then as soon as they become too famous are instantly uncool. She has been slandered for safe, unimaginative sets and shows, excessive personal branding that doesn’t conform to the dutiful and pure standard laid out by techno pioneers before her, and is associated with a body of the population that are not big music fans and have typically more commercial tastes, but have heard her play some catchy tunes at a festival in the summer and were drawn in to the brand. If this slope sounds familiar it’s because this is what tends to be referred to as ‘selling out’. When people talk about how much they hate David Guetta, Tiesto or Like Mike, this is what they mean. EDM DJs are guilty of borrowing from underground music and repackaging it in a universally palatable format, shedding all of its charm and class and keeping only its loudest and most obnoxious ingredients. I mention these DJs because it’s important to keep a sense of perspective. To suggest Peggy Gou has found her level among these names would be laughable, but she is beginning to be ridiculed in a similar way, for doing similar things on a very different scale.
My description of the events surrounding Wang and Gou will inevitably become outdated as the situation grows and morphs as usual, but one thing I’ve noticed (at the time of writing) that forms the basis for this article, is that by and large, women are defending Peggy Gou, and men are defending Daniel Wang. There are men defending Peggy Gou, and there are also women defending Daniel Wang, and as the initial knee-jerk is replaced by a more considered reflection of how everyone feels, once a few days have passed and the bodies have been counted, I’m sure the picture will look different. But, my initial thought when reading the comments sections from each corner of the ring was that it almost resembled a gender war. It reminded me of the time I watched Marriage Story with my family, and Dad and I sided with the husband, while my Mum and sisters sided with the wife as they engaged in an arduous divorce. What is it about drama like this that drives one to back their boys, and others to stand up for their sisters?
The male dominated comments section on Daniel Wang’s post would argue that its scrutiny of Peggy Gou would be equal if she was a man, and that this is a conflict to do with art, personality and attitude, not sex. However, I fear that extra pleasure has been taken in tearing Peggy down on account of her status as a successful and confident woman, however subconscious this may have been. Female arrogance is an arrogance that men can’t relate to, can’t understand, can’t control and therefore resent. Other women understand it because it speaks to them, and they can appropriate it because they may face similar situations that warrant its appropriation. Similarly, male arrogance is often resented by women who can’t relate to it, and who don’t perceive it the way other men do, while men - hopefully while recognising its potential damage - can see themselves in it. This predisposition will always exist. Men will always defend other men, and play their advocate even when they do virtually indefensible things, because there is an inherent sympathetic code attached to one’s sex. Women will do the same, and themes of sex-based loyalty crop up in break-up politics, marriage and scandal all the time.
Wang’s stories of Peggy Gou strolling past her struggling assistant carrying large heavy bags up flights of stairs, yelling at her staff for being late, insulting and swearing at customers in her record shops, and stealing records, are all things that are never ok by anyone’s standards, and if are to be believed, would severely taint her image. However, it’s not up to me to measure their truth. Wang has made his accusations, Gou has denied them, and so for the sake of argument we should assume that the truth lies somewhere between the two. Everyone must employ their own judgement, but the jist of Wang’s essay is that Peggy Gou is a diva, and that is how she will be treated by the rest of this article.
While dance music preaches messages of love and care, if there’s an industry in which divas should exist, is it not dance music? As a DJ, you step into your place of work with your music to play to people that have paid to see you, for promoters that have paid to book you, and a club
that has facilitated both of those things
just to get you there. For five or six hours a night, it is all about you. And then you get on a flight and go somewhere else, where, once again, it is all about you. Are we to believe that men don’t throw their weight around backstage, aren’t a pain to deal with and don’t ever shout at assistants? Where’s their coverage and their comeuppance? The issue at the heart of this is that it reveals an especially high bar for female behaviour, and a low scrutiny threshold reserved for misbehaved women. We encourage grace and courtesy over confidence and fire, in an industry that demands confidence and fire in order to harvest success. The male dominated sphere that doesn’t understand female arrogance shirks from it and demands docility. We have made considerable strides in the embrace of women in music production, composition, engineering and overall acceptance of their creative greatness, but still can’t handle them as fully fledged artists. We welcome their talent, but not their agency.
If there was ever a time for women to feel confident in starting to produce music or DJ, it is now, and as a music fan, it has never felt more level in terms of standard, coverage, and critical reception. We must now ensure that these crypto-misogynistic attitudes over how women behave at work don’t pervade music like a 1960s ghost, and hold everyone to indiscriminate scrutiny. I believe that as the electronic music community welcomes more women, at fan, artist, and corporate level, we will see a more equal judgement of female artists and their behaviour. For now, in the case of Peggy Gou, while the men stomp around and beat their chests, shrieking “she must have a ghost-producer!” she will never be received fairly. Although, if you’re having doubts about the ghost producer question, I wouldn’t recommend listening to her latest Soundcloud offering.
My advice to budding creatives, male and female, is to talk to each other. Talk about experiences of mistreatment, sexism, favouritism, bigotry, kindness, compassion, justice, and try and paint a contemporary picture of how things are and what we can do to reach the genuine meritocracy we’re after.