Chica Gang: “There were a lot of parties in Madrid – but we didn’t feel like they were for us”

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Safety on dancefloors has long been a key concern, especially for women and LGBTQ+ clubbers who have typically not always felt at home in traditional club spaces. While the pandemic has brought about a natural pause in proceedings, it has also encouraged the industry to think harder about how club culture can be more welcoming, inclusive and generally enjoyable for underrepresented groups and gender minorities. 

Madrid-based DJ collective Chica Gang started their Chica platform with this specifically in mind. They aim to promote women and LGBTQ+ artists, creating a safe space and more visibility in the process. As one of the music industry groups working with Ballantine’s Scotch whisky through its True Music campaign, Chica Gang have been spearheading this conversation in an attempt to bring real change to dancefloors in Madrid and beyond. 

In partnership with Ballantine’s, Chica were asked to select an emerging collective to receive £10,000 as part of the True Music Fund, which supports artists and collectives in progressing equality within their scene. Chica Gang’s Rocío Torres and Alba Loughlin tell us more about their chosen collective – female and non-binary-fronted Barcelona DJ school Sin Sync – as well as Chica’s own work in Madrid and their hopes for the future of nightlife.

Can you tell us a little more about Chica Gang and how this project came to be?

Alba: We’re a collective founded in 2017 to encourage art created by women and the LGBTQ+ community. We started by hosting parties, but after the first few parties, we officially became a DJ collective too. At first, it was Flaca, Rocío and I but now the DJ collective is made up of just Rocío and I. We have the exact same musical background because we started DJing together. 

Rocío: We actually both started DJing the same night! It was an after-party for a Princess Nokia concert in Madrid. We did that together and now, here we are. 

What was the original mission statement for Chica Gang?

Rocío: I think it was to create a space that didn’t exist in Madrid yet for us girls and for the LGBTQ+ community. We went to a lot of parties and concerts, and often didn’t feel like those places were for us. We didn’t ever feel super comfortable and there wasn’t much representation or people that we could look up to that we saw ourselves in. We felt like it was time to create that space, not just for girls our age and LGBTQ+ people our age, but for other generations to have people to look up to and have spaces where they felt like they could party and felt like they belonged. We also wanted to create a community because I think we felt really isolated. Now we have a huge community of artists and people who love the same stuff as we do. 

Can you tell us about the Madrid music scene in terms of inclusivity on dancefloors? How have things changed since Chica Gang started and what do you think still needs to be done?

Alba: Because of COVID, there has, of course, been a big pause but before COVID and after Chica was created, I think there were new initiatives always coming out. Now, you can really notice a difference – a lot of people are going out, and everyone’s looking for their own space and looking for that certain sort of space. Before Chica, there were maybe only like two collectives but now there are a lot more or new artists coming out and creating a space of their own.

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Rocío: Yeah, I think there’s a really diverse community now with different collectives. But because of the pandemic, people don’t have money and it’s been difficult to keep parties going. We have lost lots of spaces. So I think what Alba said is so true; people are excited and looking forward to occupying more spaces. Hopefully, more will be opening soon and though they’ll be focusing on the wider public, it will be nice to have the opportunity to do our thing in those spaces. Right now in Madrid, there’s a lot happening but at the same time, there aren’t really places to make things happen.

You have a focus on creating safe spaces on dancefloors. Would you say that you’ve inspired other collectives and club nights in Madrid to do the same?

Rocío: I think that the urge to create a safer space is in every person who puts on parties and we may have inspired people in Spain to start thinking about it more. We’re really trying to make safe spaces work but I also don’t think we’re the first ones to try. We are really inspired by other collectives, for example, Pussy Palace from London. We admire their proposals for safe spaces, and we would love that to happen here but I think it’s more difficult in Spain. That’s why we tend to tip-toe around talking about safe spaces here because we are really working on it and it’s like a battle that we haven’t won yet. 

Can you talk a bit about what your parties usually involve?

Alba: Well, the other day, we had our first party since COVID, and actually I think it was the best one we’ve ever had. It was honestly the best night of our lives. It was very different from the rest and I don’t know why exactly. Maybe because for some reason, since COVID, the people that have followed us have been really looking forward to us coming back, or maybe they discovered us for the first time in the pandemic, and they wanted to know what it was like? I thought a lot of people that were there seemed very happy to be comfortable in that space with all their friends, and they were grateful for that. But I think we’ve always had a strong community vibe in Chica. People go because they know they’re going to have a good time. They’re going to like the music that’s playing and they’re going to feel comfortable there.

How do you choose the artists you want to feature at your nights?

Alba: When we started, the main thing was to invite artists that we wanted to see. So it was a bit of that but also, people that we thought should be there and that represent something that should be known or heard.

Rocío: For example, when we brought Nadine Artois from Pussy Palace or the girls from Bossy LDN, we loved their DJing and loved them as artists. But we also loved that we had the chance to meet them in person and to find out how they work. They could give us tips which is so rich for us because it helps us build something bigger or something that helps us create the space we want to create. Also what Alba said, this last party was different – I think it’s the most Chica energy we’ve ever had, because the people there were so diverse and everyone was in sync. But it really also felt like a safe space – we were watching queer people doing mosh pits, not having any trouble or being scared of what was going on. I felt like that was the true spirit, or at least what we want it to be from now on. Everyone was so happy, even the DJ, Danny L Harle. He’s pretty big and we were scared that he maybe would have wanted a bigger venue but even he was enjoying it so much. 

Can you tell us about how you got involved with Ballantine’s campaign and why you wanted to get involved in the first place?

Alba: I think it was just interesting to have the opportunity to choose another collective and help them make something out of their idea. 

Rocío: Yeah, and also we thought that it was really interesting at the start of the project to hear about other experiences from artists across the world, and see what needs to be changed through data and stats. Having the opportunity to tell our story and for people to know what the situation was like here was cool. Also, we felt that Ballantine’s were really interested in our project and really respectful with everything we were doing. 

How did you come to select Sin Sync for Ballantine’s True Music Fund? What do they mean to you?

Alba: At first, we had a few options but after debating for a few days, we thought Sin Sync were perfect. Like them, we also do classes in a cultural centre in Madrid called La Casa Encendida and we have a project called Bam Bam where we run DJ workshops. But I think Sin Sync is a very interesting project because they’ve been doing this on their own for a long time and they’ve really developed it into a solid idea. So for me, it was kind of obvious to give them the grant, to see what they could do with more resources.

Rocío: Our work with Bam Bam was a big reason we chose Sin Sync. We feel that giving people who are just starting out the tools and the knowledge to work on music is super powerful. Also, I think it’s cool that Alba and I learned to DJ together and that Flaca taught us originally. This is a nice connection between us doing Bam Bam and choosing Sin Sync because we lived that experience. When other friends or other girls help you, and you have the tools, you can really start doing something. 

What are you currently working on and what do you have coming up in the future?

Rocío: We’re playing Boiler Room Festival BCN on November 26, and we are so excited about it. There are two floors and for one of them, [Barcelona queer collective] MARICAS did the curation and are playing there. We did the curation in the other room and there are lots of amazing artists like Juguete, Chico Blanco, Isabella Lovestory, Dinamarca and Dorian Electra. We are really excited to have the opportunity to do another Boiler Room. Apart from that, we are going to continue doing our parties here in Madrid and we have new relationships growing in Barcelona so I think it’s going to be an exciting year. Before the pandemic, we had plans outside of Spain but festivals were obviously cancelled. Our big wish is to go to other countries and to other cities to see what communities are doing. We feel like that’s really important for us right now, more than big festivals. They’re more than welcome to still invite us of course, but those smaller communities are where we need to be.