In a genre ostensibly centered on themes of inclusion, liberation, and progressivism, the disregard for the remarkable role of women in both the development and advancement of the Electronic avant-garde is unfortunate, and even antithetical to the cultural aspects of electronic music that I find most appealing. Even with interest in the godmothers of the genre like Laurie Spiegel, Daphne Oram, and Eliane Radigue on the rise, it seems to me that retroactive credit is easier to give than current appreciation. Confirming this, Journalist Abi Bliss insisted in issue 350 of the Wire that if we don’t want to be “wondering why we never managed to see a recently rediscovered female innovator perform in her heyday, we need to be asking whether those artists are being given their due platform right now.” To their credit, London based electronic label Hyperdub seems to have solidified their commitment to doing just that with their release of both Laurel Halo and Jessy Lanza’s first full-length records. Though the two share little musically, it seems worthwhile to nonetheless write about two of my favorite new musicians in the same breath.
Within seconds of the album’s opening track “Airsick,” Halo’s unique position within the cyber-dystopia of Hyperdub’s sound is made abundantly clear. She offsets the dark and often industrial sound of her label compatriots with a sense of reserve and control atypical, in my experience, for the group. Wandering, muddy electronic ambience is sliced wide open by imprecise, forward voices. “There’s this brutal, sensual ugliness in the vocals uncorrected,” Halo explained in a 2012 interview with Fact Magazine, “and painfully human vocals made sense for this record.” This bizarre interplay speaks to this album’s most exciting qualities. Quarantine is somehow simultaneously human and grimily digital, its intimacy offset with the unsettling distance of the electronic drone and hiss. Indeed, Halo’s voice sits in stark contraposition to the subtlety and anticlimax of her own restrained beats. In a remarkable piece on LCD Soundsystem earlier this month, Stereogum’s Ryan Leas charged all of us “living in this millennium… to tap into the juxtapositions and the dissonances and the confusions, and do something with it.” I can think of no more succinct articulation of Laurel Halo’s accomplishment on Quarantine than this. She identifies, exploits and deftly captures the digital dislocation that, for me at least, defines our own steady integration with the inhuman. This is an album of unrelieved tension and unlikely emotional resonance—a truly remarkable first LP. Look for her next release, Chance of Rain, this October 28th.
If Halo’s album is best categorized by an unrelenting contemporary aesthetic, Jessy Lanza’s 2013 debut Pull My Hair Back is perhaps most noteworthy for its stunning re-appropriation of the R&B tradition. Undoubtedly the most accessible album I’ve ever heard from Hyperdub, Lanza’s new LP speaks to the label’s increasing dedication to sonic and personal diversity. Her effortless voice in conjunction with producer Jeremy Greenspan’s subtle dance elements work to create an album that’s as eminently listenable as it is innovative. Standout tracks “Keep Moving” and “Against the Wall” highlight the unusual care with which synth and bass are integrated with Lanza’s airy voice; the two coexist in a way that results in an extremely well sorted album. Lanza’s keen sense of musicality elevates this LP to excellence—a fact made only clearer on her more minimal contributions to Pull My Hair Back. Stripped back compositions like those on “Kathy Lee” and “Fuck Diamond” add variety to the album while underscoring Lanza’s own self-assurance as a musician. Often boldly minimal, her tracks exude a confidence and capability unusual for a first LP. A wonderful counterpoint to the relentless masculinity of the label’s traditional output, Lanza’s debut is a genuinely refreshing bit of intelligent pop and a highlight of this year’s musical releases.
In an insightful piece a few months ago on the place of women in the musical avant-garde, Abi Bliss argued, “the realms of electronic and experimental music often present themselves as somehow post-gender, as though synthesis and sequencing is enough to disembody music.” The degree to which the beats, samples, and manipulated voices that dominate the contemporary musical aesthetic manage to homogenize our perception of their creators is striking. This means that even talented female producers and musicians discovered online have a tendency to never make it to the stage, club, or festival. They remain culturally invisible and musically marginalized. With this in mind, I hope you’ll take the time to listen to Laurel Halo and Jessy Lanza and maybe even buy their albums, go to their concerts, and genuinely engage with two of the most promising voices in contemporary music today.