‘Sick Beats,’ by the awesome Eva Holder
When we think of “women in tech,” we tend to think of software engineers or game developers. But what about sound engineers, DJs and producers using technology to change our understanding of what music can be? Unsurprisingly to those among us accustomed to women’s underrepresentation in history, ladies have been central to the formation of electronic music since its infancy.
Computer science pioneer and overall genius Ada Lovelace wrote about the potential for an algorithm to create music in the 1840’s. Dot D’Alcorn performed the “first ever piece of electronic music” in 1887. Johanna Beyer scored ‘Music of the Spheres’, the first known work for electronic instruments by a female composer, in 1938. Laurie Anderson’s computer rendition of a Johannes Kepler composition, The Sounds of Earth, was launched into space in 1977. Carla Scaletti was central to the creation of Kyma, a graphical language for live, interactive sound generation and manipulation.
Yet we still see comparatively few women on the decks, or topping electronic music charts. Because no music fan should be robbed of their talent, here’s a (by no means exhaustive) list of some badass ladies redefining genres and dropping rather phat beats:
1. Ellen Allien
German dance music’s queen. Ellen Allien (aka Ellen Fraatz)’s 2001 album Stadkind, a tribute to reunified Berlin, is considered one of the definitive pieces of modern German electronic music. Resident Advisor calls Allien’s sound “highly identifiable: forceful techno that doesn’t leave the listener cold.”
Her 2003 follow-up Berlinette does the seemingly impossible– blending intense, personal emotion with a highly technical and machinistic musical landscape. Orchestra of Bubbles, Allien’s 2006 collaboration with Apparat, earned an 8.5 on Pitchfork. Dividing her time DJing in Berlin and Ibiza, Ellen also runs the legendary Bpitch Control label, putting Paul Kalkbrenner, Modeselektor and Fuckpony on the map.
Though she’d been making music in her native Russia, and touring in neighboring Romania and Ukraine for several years prior, Ishome (aka Mira Karianova)’s 2013 debut Confession caught critics off-guard.
3. Cooly G
Brixton-native Cooly G (aka Merissa Campbell)’s been releasing consistently solid blends of UK Funky, 2 Tone, dubstep and drum’n’bass since the late 2000’s.
TOKiMONSTA (aka Jennifer Lee) exemplifies everything great about LA’s electronic music scene. The first female artist signed to Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label, her style is an emblematic mix of hip-hop, glitch, electronica and jazz. She’s remixed everyone from Daedalus to Aaliyah and Tinashe. She’ll be touring in support of her most recent album Fovere this November.
Though Emika (real name: Emma Jolly) is based in Berlin, the darkness in the Ninja Tune-signed producer’s sound is palatably British. A classically-trained musician, she’s toured with Amon Tobin on his ISAM tour, been sampled by the Weeknd, and been remixed by UK dubstep legends Kryptic Minds. She released her fourth album, DREI, on her eponymous label this past May.
TĀLĀ’s music is a tribute to her heritage, and the diversity of her hometown London. The British-Iranian DJ/producer’s sound, which recently caught the attention of Columbia music execs, mixes traditional middle eastern sounds with R&B and bass sensibilities. Check out Alchemy, off last year’s Duchess EP and look out for an album in 2016.
7. Zuzuka Poderosa
Hyperdub’s Ikonika (real name: Sara Abdel-Hamid) takes her label’s deep bass roots and flips them right around with nods to glitch, IDM and house. The London DJ/producer’s comparisons to Aphex Twin are not unwarranted — it’s dance music, but you’re just as likely to listen to it alone in your basement. Her 2010 debut Contact, Love, Want Have received universal praise. She’s moved in a continuously housey direction ever since, with her 2013 album Aerotropolis and 2014 EP Position. Ikonika continues to headline shows and play with labelmates Kode9 and Cooly G.
9. Syd Tha Kyd
LA’s Sydney Bennett is a producer, DJ and vocalist behind hip hop collective Odd Future and more recently, The Internet. Moving seamlessly between soul, hip hop and R&B, she’s been called “hip hop’s next lesbian icon” by Out Magazine. The Internet’s second album, Feel Good peaked at number 11 on the US Billboard Heatseekers Albums charts in 2013. Check out the unspeakably smooth “Girl” featuring Kaytranada off The Internet’s 2015 album Ego Death.
10. DJ Rekha
London-born, New York-raised DJ Rekha (Rekha Malhotra) has been behind New York City’s famous Basement Bhangra parties for over a decade. Mixing traditional Indian sounds with more modern Indian hip-hop, techno and Caribbean dancehall, she’s been hailed by the New York Times for bringing bhangra to the New York dance scene. Her 2007 mixtape, DJ Rekha Presents Basement Banghra is a classic.
11. Rebecca and Fiona
The Swedish Spice Girls of electronic dance music, Rebecca Scheja and Fiona FitzPatrick bring a combination of catchy bubblegum beats and retro-futuristic aesthetics that’s stayed fresh since they dropped their 2010 single “Luminary Ones”. The winners of two Swedish Grammis for Best Electronic/Dance Act (in 2010 and 2015, respectively) have been known to blog about feminism and gender politics. Check out their 2014 single Holler.
12. Maya Jane Coles
Consistently listed among the world’s best-known DJ’s, Maya Jane Coles is recognised as one of the most inventive contemporary acts in electronic music. The London-based DJ, producer and audio engineer traverses the space between deep house, dubstep and electronica. Critics loved her 2012 DJ Kicks compliation, as well as her 2013 Essential Mix for BBC 1. In 2014, her track What They Say was sampled on Nicki Minaj’s “Truffle Butter.” Check out the recently released “Take Me There” under her dubstep alias Nocturnal Sunshine.
Main image: ‘Sick Beats’ by Eva Holder