On International Women’s Day, a showcase for those women who work in the world of electronic music…
International Women’s Day, which falls on 8th March each year, has become an opportunity to not only recognise the achievement of women throughout history, but to also raise awareness of issues such as gender equality, violence, women in science & technology and to promote the aspirations of girls and women worldwide.
Historically, women have made a significant impact on the world of electronic music, with people such as Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram, Bebe Barron, Wendy Carlos and Laurie Anderson being pioneers in their own distinct ways.
To celebrate the contributions that women have made to electronic music, we thought it made sense to flag up some of the musicians, composers and singers that TEC has championed in the past. This selection is by no means definite and certainly isn’t designed to present a complete picture of women in electronic music, but is purely a sampling of the broad range of electronic music that women are active in.
One of the most striking artists to emerge recently came in the form of 2020 album Mercurial, which delivered magickal pop perfection care of Glasgow-based musician Elisabeth Elektra.
The album marks the cumulation of an intriguing musical journey for Elektra, one that’s seen her collaborating previously with the likes of Ben Power (Fuck Buttons, Blanck Mass) Andrew Liles (Nurse With Wound) and John Fryer (This Mortal Coil). Along the way, she’s also provided support for the mighty Human League and indie ‘super-group’ Minor Victories.
Elektra suggests that she’s a “believer in the power of transformation via art”. It’s certainly evident in her colourful outfits, which utilise a lot of pastel tones and shades, giving off a snow queen/mermaid aesthetic. Meanwhile, her music tracks along on occult-inspired pop outings that offer up unusual lyrical narratives. Songs such as ‘My Sisters’ and ‘Inanna’ have an engaging, off-kilter appeal. At the same time, there’s recurrent themes of love and loss present.
But Elektra also throws in a few surprises. ‘Inanna’ is a banger inspired by the Sumerian goddess of love – which might seem an odd direction to move in, but the kinetic energy of this composition is tough to ignore.
Elisabeth Elektra has proved to be a talent whose euphoric electropop seems like a timely escape from our troubling Covid-infected culture.
There’s a good combo of the ethereal with the more intense part of the electropop spectrum in dark pop chanteuse Polly Scattergood’s material. Her 2013 album Arrows received critical acclaim and Scattergood describes herself as a storyteller: “I write about emotions and moments, not all are biographical”. Keeping things interesting, Scattergood also lent her vocal talents to a reworked version of ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ in recent times.
Her 2020 album In This Moment (see TEC review) offered up a more meditative outing which invited the listener to slow down and reflect. It presented a stillness of sorts that resonated long after the album has finished. As an example, ‘Red’ is a stirring piano-led reverie presented as a “clarion call to womankind”. Scattergood’s vocals are front and centre in a slow burning narrative about taking ownership and fighting back (“We’re the ghosts you can’t erase”).
As an album, In This Moment is also perhaps a perfect showcase for why Polly Scattergood is one of our national treasures.
One of the talents that graced the electronic music scene during the early 2000s was the pop perfection of Annie. Tunes such as ‘Heartbeat’, ‘Songs Remind Me of You’ and ‘Anthonio’ served as a showcase for engaging electropop topped off by the Norwegian musician’s whispery vocals.
Originally starting out with a DJ stint in Bergen, Annie moved into music of her own quite swiftly, releasing her debut single ‘The Greatest Hit’ in 1999. The disco pop number put her name on the map and paved the way for a career picked out by accomplished electropop bangers.
Her 2004 debut album Anniemal was a critical success with Pitchfork describing it as a “dozen slices of stylish, sophisticated electropop”. Annie’s equally excellent follow-up album Don’t Stop arrived in 2009 (which featured the stunning ‘Songs Remind Me of You’).
Annie’s 2020 album Dark Hearts (see our review) demonstrated that her talents were still at their peak. This included the stunning ‘The Streets Where I Belong’, a bittersweet potted biography of Annie’s own musical journey. As an album, Dark Hearts embraces a wistful melancholia with some stylishly crafted melodies which, during what was a fairly glum year, offered a solace of sorts.
She’s Got Claws
First emerging as an electronic music act in 2011, She’s Got Claws (aka Micci) took titular inspiration from the classic Gary Numan song. Musically, this venture pulled from an interest in the likes of Trent Reznor, The Prodigy and Chemical Brothers, but with an emphasis on multi-layered effects on vocals in a bid to craft an intriguing machine-like style.
2017’s War Torn (see The Electricity Club review previously) was an impressive collection of songs that demonstrated Micci’s ability to deliver a starker, yet engaging collection of songs.
Doppelgänger, the latest album (see TEC review), crafts some sterling tunes bursting with hooks and crunchy electronic percussion alongside Micci’s distinctive vocal style. Boasting some production talents from OMD’s Andy McCluskey also gave She’s Got Claws some well-deserved kudos. The end result is a raw synth-pop selection which dazzles from start to finish.
The album First Contact via Newcastle Upon Tyne trio AXLS proved to be an impressive sci-fi-inspired outing. One of the album’s undeniable strengths was the vocal talents of Victoria Owsnett. Her ability to change her style and approach to match the mood of the ever-changing story kept the whole album sharp and dynamic.
Owsnett has been writing and producing her own music since 2014. Drawn towards a definite electropop style, she’s crafted an ability for emotional energy in her compositions that really catches the listener’s attention. In terms of influences, Owsnett has cited the likes of indie electro artist Lorde and the catchy pop of Fickle Friends as touchstones. But she’s happy to switch up genres as the occasion demands it.
Her solo debut ‘Thrones’ offered a composition which manages to be both an airy pop outing as well as an edgier slice of synth-pop. The lyrics deal with social hierarchies, exploring the impact that they can have with those that are at the bottom of the popularity ladder. It delves into the curious mechanisms of cliques and tribes and how it can impact those outside the circle (“Not inviting losers to their parties/Walking round like God’s gift to the world”).
For those that found First Contact’s polished pop tunes appealing, ‘Thrones’ feels like a natural progression and marks a strong debut for Owsnett as a solo artist. Its slick synth melodies slide effortlessly underneath Owsnett’s mesmerising vocals.
Hailing from Los Angeles, Violent Vickie describes herself as a “Dark Synth-Riot” artist. Embracing themes that include consumerism, relationships, gender, hedonism and all points in-between, Vickie (in collaboration with co-producer/recording guitarist E) carves out a strange dreamscape of sound that can be unsettling, but always intriguing.
Her 2020 album Division showcased a darkwave journey into a selection of compositions that offer up moments of raw sleazy electropop one moment, then curiously ethereal beauty the next.
Aiming for a darker approach to electronic music can be a tough gig to successfully pull off. It’s easy to fall into overwrought goth trappings that labour too much on the theatrical. But Violent Vickie clearly has a talent and ability to hone the music into compositions that engage the listener at deeper levels. Her songs explore emotional seams that can be unsettling at times, but also cathartic in execution.
Having detached herself from her earlier title as Marina And The Diamonds (settling instead for a straightforward ‘Marina’) Welsh musician and songwriter Marina Diamandis has continued to produce quality pop tunes, often with a personal touch (and often with a dark wit). Her 2010 debut release The Family Jewels was critically acclaimed as an album that could combine quirkiness with a sharp talent for composition and smart wordplay. That ability evolved for 2012’s Electra Heart, a sort-of concept album that played around with ideas of female iconography.
Her 2019 outing Love + Fear (see TEC review previously) offered a more intimate album, inspired by a quote by psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, which suggests that all human emotion stems from love and fear. As an album, it certainly covers a broad scope of ideas that reflect Marina’s vision of life, love and everything in-between. Meanwhile, Marina has been firing up her creative talents for fresh tunes recently which includes the breezy feminist anthem ‘Man’s World’.
When we last left Austra, the album Future Politics was gracing our musical choices back in 2017. As an album, that effort was evolving away from the baroque pop elements that had been part of Austra’s DNA since their 2011 debut album Feel It Break, but Katie Stelmanis’ distinctive vocals were always front and centre, tying the whole thing together.
Following the release of that album and the subsequent tour, Stelmanis took a slower approach to considering its successor. That long gestation period delivered 2020’s curiously-titled HiRUDiN, an album that Stelmanis has described as “an experiment in vulnerability and collaboration”. It’s also an album that, lyrically, delves into toxic relationships as a theme. The emotional punch of ‘Anywayz’, in particular, offers “the terrifying realisation that when you lose someone you love the world doesn’t stop” suggests Stelmanis.
HiRUDiN delivers an album that’s intensely personal and open, yet throws in some curveballs in its arrangements and flair for engaging melodies. It’s proof that Katie Stelmanis is still a powerful songwriter – and that Austra’s ever-evolving musical journey is not over yet.
Learn more about International Women’s Day via www.internationalwomensday.com