Electro Feminisms: An Introduction

Emily McAvan
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Hi you lot. My name’s Emily Manuel, and I’ll be blogging here at Bitch for the next little while about women in electronic music. About myself: I’m an Australian currently living in the U.S., white, borderline able-bodied, lesbian. My partner and I have four cats and a house full of books. During the day, I work as the editor of Global Comment, a progressive internationalist online magazine where I publish many fine writers including former Bitch bloggers Sarah Jaffe, s.e. Smith, and Chally Kacelnik, and I also do a bit of freelance writing around the place, including for Billboard magazine. Some of you might know me best from my blogging as “Queen Emily” at Questioning Transphobia and Hoyden About Town.

All too often when journalists write about music we forget to talk about the actual music of music to concentrate on lyrics. A lot of music writers come from a literature background, which I do share, but my own background in electronic music is actually as much a technical one as a producer, dj and musician. As a result, my interest is as much in how sounds works as lyrical content. This is especially important in electronic music designed for the sweaty climes of the dancefloor.

In carving out this path, I’ve been far from alone—women have always been involved in electronic music: behind the scenes producing, as musicians and vocalists, voices being sampled, as djs and dancers. But women’s contributions have, as in just about all forms of cultural life, been excluded from the official record, relegated to the marginal, the exception, curiosity. Even when women have been central, their contributions have often been excluded from the canon.

So over the next eight weeks I’m going to explore many of the key figures in both the experimental and pop sides of electronica. I’ll cover pioneer producers like Delia Derbyshire of the BBC Radiophonic Orchestra (she most famously co-wrote the Dr Who theme), disco and electro divas, Bjork, and right through to the present with underground producers like Ikonika and yes, even a bit of everyone’s favourite Swedish popstar Robyn (whose wonderfully inflated CV is above). One question I’ll be coming back to is how we attribute value to women’s roles in music, and what could be changed.

As well as that, some of the things I’m going to talk about include: futurism, who gets to be an author, why so many women talk about robot sex, and female embodiment/disembodiment.

I think it’ll be a lot of fun, and hope you enjoy!

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20 Comments Have Been Posted

WIll the originators be mentioned?

There are a lot of notably women in electronic music, from Laurie Anderson in the 80s to modern experimentalists like Leila Arab and Mira Calix. .. but will the originators be falling through the cracks? People like Clara Rockmore, who one might argue was the first female electronic luminary (theremin virtuoso back in the 1930s) or BeBe Barron, the lady who helped generate the first fully electronic score for a Hollywood film back in the 1950s (note, and this was even *before* the CV synthesizer was even invented!).

Here's Barron's obituary that highlights some of her achievement: http://createdigitalmusic.com/2008/04/obituary-bebe-barron-pioneering-el...

Hi Enon My area of expertise

Hi Enon

My area of expertise is mostly from the 60s on, but I'll do some research and post about those ladies if I feel I have something worthwhile to add...

I'm really looking forward to

I'm really looking forward to this topic. Thanks!

ROBYN! That is all. I have


That is all. I have nothing more constructive to say.

<3 Delia. So excited to read

<3 Delia. So excited to read this!!!!!

A world of yes to electroc-feminisms!

That's all. I look forward to each word. Especially the ones about the words not being the way.

yours respectfully,
Ian Grey


As a lady composer (not of electronic music particularly, but I definitely have an interest in it), I am looking forward to this post series! I always hate how women are left out of the music history books in particular.


I love Global Comment! Can't wait to see more about this topic which, admittedly, I don't know much about.


Sounds good; looking forward to reading it!

Thanks everyone :)

Thanks everyone :)

Robyn the Great

Hi. I hope my going on a bit here but Robyn is just so amazing and maybe these thought might be of some use.

I was listening to "Konichiwa Bitches"and was thinking it a half-step, a delightful almost-there to the absolute perfection-of-aesthetic that is Body Talk.

The main problem with "Bitches" is that sampled kick drum, and, on "Eclipse", the sampled stand-up bass and some sort of sample-based or--yikes!--real piano.

They all place Robyn somewhere in the hip hop continuum when her perfection would turn out to be in pure electro.

Deal is, in taking Korg and Roland arpeggiators, Juno syths, nonlinear reverbs, DMX drum machines and so on, in buccaneering the entire vocabulary and syntax of Yaz, Human League and early Depeche Mode, etc, she's somehow stripped those elements of their subtexts and is using them with such utter discipline of intent, they're not retro or hipster or anything other than Robyn-ized. Nobody in music is pulling off anything of such sweep, elegance of execution *and* such charm.

How she's doing this beats me. :)

I think that Robyn's got two

I think that Robyn's got two sides to her - one's the hip-hop swagger and the other's the electro balladeer. My friend Sarah Jaffe has written about the former at Bitch I think.

I think I'd be more likely to plump for "Be Mine" as the bridging moment - it has all the arpeggios and the strings and the heartache but has a breakbeat instead of the 4/4 kick that defines her best songs. And yeah, I agree it's quite a feat to use those 80s tools and not come off retro.

looking forward to the posts

looking forward to the posts on women in electronic music! I have often been a bit ticked off by how many well-known DJs / producers use female voices ( of much lesser known women artists) in their songs but never give any credit.

Anyway, at the risk of being a kill joy, I can't say I like or support "Robyn" at all. Maybe it stems from the fact that my first impression of her was of her in a music video dressed up in pseudo-"pan-Asian" costume.. Yes she may be making an ultra parody of mainstream music but why use "Asian" culture as a part of that parody?


(from 1:39 onward please )

I actually hadn't seen that

I actually hadn't seen that video before - I'm not a very visual person a lot of the time. It certainly doesn't seem like a parodic moment in the video, just bogstandard exoticism. I can totally see why that'd put you off.

I definitely don't defend everything every artist I'm going to write about has said or done, so I'll incorporate a critique of her race politiics where necessary...


I know, she's more electro-clash and has kinda moved away from it with each successive album, but her transgressive lyrics and bare-bones musical style changed. my. life. I love her. Let's talk about her!

I am pro Peaches.

I am pro Peaches.

I am so pleased about this. I

I am so pleased about this. I have been researching women and electronic music space for many years and there's hardly any work out there, relative to the amount of documentation about electronic music.

I can't wait for the series.

Warm wishes,


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