An anonymous dancing student handed DJ Officer Gavin a note complimenting her performance during her 2018 Dance Marathon set.
Gavin said she hopes to frame the unexpected and appreciative note one day.
Maddie Gavin, a fourth-year cognitive science student otherwise known by the stage name Officer Gavin, has been DJing UCLA events for the past two years. What began as a hobby led to a radio show and performances at venues such as the Coastalong Festival, Silent Disco, Westwoodstock Student Music Festival and the Beat ‘SC Bonfire and Rally, she said. Her favorite mixing technique involves combining throwback songs, such as Gwen Stefani’s “The Sweet Escape” with electronic dance music genres, such as house music, to create an energetic experience for the crowd, Gavin said. While she wouldn’t necessarily want to perform under the label of a female DJ, she recognizes the importance of her position in inspiring young women like her at UCLA, she said.
“When people are responsive, they are feeling it with you. … You can tell they have that trust in you and they’re going along for the ride,” Gavin said. “They’re open-minded to a song they might not know. Those are the best times.”
Gavin said she performed at smaller venues, such as friends’ parties, until her first major gig at Westside Welcome, a 2016 Student Committee for the Arts event. In her first few performances at larger venues, however, Gavin said she was exposed to the challenges women may face in the DJ sphere. While her overall experience as an artist has been rewarding, she has experienced moments when her sets weren’t as widely acknowledged as those of her male counterparts.
“I started to see this ‘boy’s club’ kind of deal and I was like, ‘I got to get in this, I got to change this,’” Gavin said. “A lot of electronic is very male-oriented, and I just don’t get that.”
Gavin said the rise of female DJs such as REZZ and Alison Wonderland is beginning to alter the typically male-dominated field. However, opportunities for the representation of women remain scarce, as music festivals include few female DJs, often in nonpeak slots. Motivated by girls who expressed an appreciation for her work, Gavin said she is glad to have set a precedent for female DJs.
“I just feel like it gives those girls the chance to see somebody else doing it,” Gavin said. “You never think you can do it if you never see someone like you in the same position.”
Gavin’s prominence as a DJ has inspired other female students to learn mixing techniques, said Dani Moss, a second-year Asian languages and linguistics student who works with Gavin through UCLA Radio. Moss said Gavin’s support for younger female DJs and her development of the Officer Gavin brand showed Moss the possibilities of performing herself.
“She definitely has made her mark. … I look up to her a lot, and she’s a big influencer,” Moss said. “(Fellow female DJs and I) were all talking about how we’re going to have to fill the void when (Gavin) leaves UCLA.”
Gavin’s enthusiastic performance style has pushed Moss to want to develop her own DJing techniques, Moss said. Gavin’s energy was certainly felt during her Dance Marathon performance, said Tiernan O’Neill, a second-year art history student. As a member of the Dance Marathon morale team, he said he danced alongside Gavin during her set to keep the marathon participants active. O’Neill said Gavin’s throwback mixes and interaction with the crowd invigorated the tired students to continue on, and the students ultimately called for an encore.
Alumnus Conner Lund said Gavin’s skill as a DJ has progressed since he taught her basic mixing techniques when they both joined UCLA Radio, as she has become adept at merging different genres for the best audience experience. Performing without headphones allows Gavin to move freely and react immediately to feedback from the crowd, he said. As for Gavin’s position as a female role model, Lund said he and Gavin have taught mixing seminars to interested members of UCLA Radio, during which Gavin introduces fellow DJs to performance opportunities.
“Since I’ve been at UCLA, it’s definitely been male-dominated, but that doesn’t scare her at all,” Lund said. “There’s definitely a lot more women in UCLA Radio that have started to mix and started to try and live up to the hype that (Gavin) gives off.”
Gavin said she encourages other students, both male and female, to attempt DJing, as they may realize that it is not as intimidating as it seems. Though she hopes more female DJs will find the opportunity to bridge the gender disparity, she also wants the conversation to move beyond gender and focus on technique and skill, not losing sight of the fact that the role of the DJ is to create a shared moment of exhilaration.
“It’s kind of like intoxicating in a weird way, like a sensory overload, but it’s the most fun I can have,” Gavin said. “Electronic dance music is very community oriented, … and I just love seeing people have an experience and having that experience with them.”