(but not as brief as you might think)
Since regrettably few female electronic music producers are given due recognition, I thought I would compile a list of my favorites, new and old.
In chronological order:
Delia Derbyshire was an English experimental electronic musician, active starting in the ’60s. After earning a degree in music and math, she attempted to work at Decca Records, who denied her because they didn’t hire women, so she went to work for the UN in Geneva for a while before returning to work at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. There she made most of her music under their name, including the Doctor Who theme, one of the most famous TV show themes. BBC asked her to “do music for drama and documentary programmes set in the distant past, the unseen future or deep in the human psyche – in fact any area where an orchestra would be out of place” (http://www.delia-derbyshire.org/). ← this also says that she was told “her music was ‘too lascivious for 11 year olds’ and ‘too sophisticated for the BBC2 audience’” (I’d recommend reading this bio if you’re interested). Her reputation has been recognized by musicians like Madlib and Die Antwoord who have sampled her work (and lots of people say she basically invented electronic music which is debatable but still v cool). She was an incredibly influential early electronic musician who deserves way more recognition today from music listeners as well as producers, so here are some tracks to check out:
^ sampled by Madlib on Freddie Gibbs’ “Real” and Danny Brown’s “When It Rain”
Laurie Spiegel is an ambient electronic musician who worked and recorded music for much of her career at Bell Labs, an interdisciplinary laboratory credited with the invention of CDs, the transistor, and the laser. She started working with analog synths in 1969 and transitioned to programming interactive computer software at Bell Labs for composition in 1973. She made a piece for the Golden Record, a compilation of human music made for extraterrestrial life called Sounds of Earth sent out in 1977, that accompanies both Voyager probes somewhere in the universe. Less coolly, her piece “Sediment” was used in the Hunger Games movie in 2012. Her album The Expanding Universe contains one of my favorite pieces ever, “Appalachian Grove II”, and is generally a beautiful work of ambient music. She can play guitar, banjo, mandolin, and lute as well, and does not see electronic music as antithetical to organic human-ness: she says, “electronic music did for getting things from the imagination to the ears of an audience what the internet later did for everybody being able to self-publish, democratizing it in ways that obviously have pros and cons” (check out this interview: http://www.newmusicbox.org/articles/laurie-spiegel-grassroots-technologist/).
– https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8zNngWWDiv8 (Appalachian Grove II)
Holly Herndon is interested in the intersection and interlacing of humanity with technology, focusing on the advantages of the internet-obsessed age and its potential to unite and connect rather than isolate. She has a long history with dance and electronic music and grew up going to clubs in Germany, DJing when possible. She is currently a doctoral candidate for Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. She incorporates choral melodies into her glitchy mechanical soundscapes to balance them with the more human “fleshy side of technology” (http://pitchfork.com/features/update/9619-fix-the-future-holly-herndons-collective-vision/). Herndon is an intellectually and musically innovative force to reckon with – her music does not attempt to compromise with the audience. It is a challenge to listen to, and layered with meanings to consider that are relevant to our current relationship with the physical and technological world. I would consider her not only a musical pioneer but also an important voice of a different, more optimistic perspective on technology and the Internet age.
Jessy Lanza is a Canadian pianist, singer, songwriter, producer, studied jazz formally, and has collaborated with Caribou and DJ Spinn/the Teklife crew, among others. She cites the “golden age of R&B” and artists like Missy Elliott and Aaliyah as influences, as well as Ryuichi Sakamoto, Miharu Koshi, ’80s synth and piano musicians, and the Yellow Magic Orchestra. Her albums Pull My Hair Back and Oh No have been rotating around in my head for the past year since I first heard them – incredibly catchy, original electronic pop R&B stuff. Highly highly recommend just for listening pleasure; however, she has also earned a place on this list for her assertive power in the music industry as a female identifier. She is a proponent of music education for girls, and did a workshop targeted to girls ages 14-18 that taught the basics of Ableton and other music production software. (Ikonika, E.M.M.A., Dexplicit, and P Jam, all female producers, also held a larger London workshop for the same purpose last year). She’s a personally inspiring songwriter and producer to me, and her music is just great – check it out:
– https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhvjL98MJEU (Teklife collab)
Ebony Naomi Oshunrinde, known as WondaGurl, is a Canadian beatmaker who has produced for Travis Scott (“Antidote”), SZA, Young Thug, Kanye West, Jay Z (“Crown”), and Drake (“Used To” and “Company”). She taught herself through Youtube tutorials and formed her own Youtube channel soon after, whose description was “I’m not a guy I’m a girl” – telling of the often exclusively male environment she was stepping forth into. Jay Z picked up her beats when she was 17 to use for “Crown”, and she has been gaining acclaim as a producer ever since. She has collaborated with other female beatmakers like Cooly G and Crystal Caines, who produced for A$AP Ferg. Her success is an interesting reversal of the usual paradigm of female vocalist backed by a male producer, as she is the mastermind behind some of the most acclaimed current male rappers.
These are just a few of the unsung (or only recently recognized) heroines and pioneers of electronic music production, and in writing this article alone, I have found countless more than I knew before just by looking for them. This is by no means a comprehensive list, so I would urge you to ask around about your friends’ favorite female producers, composers, and one-woman shows, because there are a lot more out there than first meets the eye.
Others to check out:
Fatima Al Qadiri – http://fatimaalqadiri.com/ – has a very cool website
Maya Jane Coles
The Black Madonna
Resources for discovering female producers: