Wendy Carlos – Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major

This is an absolute classic. Not only when it comes to the involvement of women in the production of electronic music, but it is a milestone for the development of the electric soundscape in general while being crucial for the prominence and commercial success of classical music as well.

Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 is taken from Wendy Carlos’ ‘Switched-on Bach’ that brought a radically new approach to the interpretation of classical music, by being one of the first records to play classical pieces only with electronic instruments, namely a Moog Synthesizer. It was also the first classical record to sell more than 500.000 copies making it a certified platinum album and later earning Wendy 3 Grammy awards.

Wendy Carlos has also been a pioneer of synthesized environmental sounds, with her 1972 album ‘Sonic Seasonings’ and later went on to write and produce film scores, for movies like ‘A Clockwork Orange’, ‘The Shining’ and the original 1982 version of ‘Tron’.

Her personal and her professional intersected many times as she started taking female hormones only in 1968 and she still released ‘Switched-on Bach’ under her birth name of Walter Carlos. And it was only the commercial success of that record that allowed her to make a full transition and undergo surgery in 1972. She had her first public appearance after the operation in 1979, with an interview in playboy, where she described her artistic development as well as her personal transition and the medical process.

 

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Blouse – Into Black

Charlie Hilton, Patrick Adams and Jacob Portrait are Blouse. They are a indie/shoegaze band from the US that have released two complete albums as of yet, with the first one, their self-titled debut album ‘Blouse’ being the more successful one among fans. For their second album, they ditched all things all electronic. But one is inclined to ask, why they did that if the chemistry between all members worked so well before. (To be fair, it’s not a bad album at all, and I might actually be a bit biased with this blog being about electronic music…)

But there’s no use crying over spilled milk, especially not when we’ve still got such a fine album as their debut, with incredible tracks like ‘Into Black’ that also comes with a fitting atmospheric video above. They’re bass heavy electronic sounds really reminds one of the intimacy that is created in the sounds of ‘The XX’. If you don’t know Blouse yet,  you should definitely give this tune and the rest of their album a listen.

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Purity Ring – Fineshrine

Purity Ring are a long-standing favorite of mine, since I discovered them while listening to Grimes (who is also their labelmate on 4AD), XXYYXX and the likes. They consist of Megan James and Corin Roddick from Edmonton in Canada and play together since 2010.

Roddick’s production and James’ vocals form a memorable combination that NME described as being “ethereal but gutsy, bold but whimsical, doused in confidence and meaning and always poking at the membranes of the here and now, never ones to bow to the status quo”.

What is rather easy to miss are the lyrics, that are written by James and sometimes consist of personal notes from years before they even thought of forming an electronic band. They are easy to miss, because the production soundscape sounds so dreamy and perfectly coherent, while the vocals are often quite heavily distorted. So multiple replays of Purity Ring’s tracks are always highly recommended, if only to discover a new level inside their deeply emotional lyrics, and ‘Fineshrine’ is a formidable place to start.

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Alina Baraz – Drift

There is a special something about US-singer Alina Baraz that makes me return to her so often. She has a very calming timbre which suits the beats of Danish producer Galimatias perfectly, who worked with her on a lot of her songs, including ‘Drift’, in a collaborative effort.

They also just announced a new track with the name of ‘Urban Flora’, that is due to be released anytime soon. Good times!

 

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Samaris – Ég Vildi Fegin Verða

Samaris are a three piece electronic downtempo group hailing from Iceland that incorporates many of the elements a lot of people have come to love about Icelandic music. The ethereal vocals, wide and roomy while at the same time minimalistic soundscapes and a certain melancholy about their whole performance.

Ég Vildi Fegin Verða’ is a trip-hop track that incorporates vocals, electronics and clarinet sounds, all base elements of Samaris’ compositions into one dreamy tune that narrates old Icelandic poems.

One has to mention that Samaris consists of two women (Áslaug Rún Magnúsdóttir and Jófríður Ákadóttir) and a man (Þórður Kári Steinþórsson) of which only Þórður is responsible for the electronic elements in their music, whereas Áslaug and Jófríður do the singing and play the clarinet.  I mention it only to take note of the fact that even in the (naively imagined) feminist north of Europe and within a mostly-female band the electronic instruments are still a domain of men.  But they are composing the music together and all of them form parts of an electronic band so they have a more highly legitimate place here.

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La Roux – Uptight Downtown

It’s already time. Time to revisit La Roux, now that Elly Jackson released the second album, ‘Trouble in Paradise’, under the monicker of ‘La Roux’, the first as a complete solo-artist, after producer Ben Langmaid left the project. And La Roux is noticably taking a different turn this time around. The cold synths á la Kraftwerk are gone and have been interchanged by warm disco-like beats.

‘Uptight Downtown’ is a perfect example for the direction she is taking with her album that came out just two days ago, on the 22nd of July. It’s over the top dancy and has an easy nod-along feel to it.  So everything La Roux is allegedly trying on this record, seems to succeed. Whether this will be at the expense of a longer lasting impact of the music is yet to be shown. But it sure is a catchy tune and the album should become a big commercial success for her.

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Light Asylum – Skull Fuct

In accordance with popular opinion I think that the 80s were quite a remarkable decade when it comes to music. But contrary to the popular belief that it was a particularly bad 10 years, I am convinced that the 80s laid some of the most important foundations for todays electronic music landscape. After all where would we be without the likes of Kraftwerk (‘Computer World’ was released in 1981), Frankie Knuckles (who started in the 80s), and New Order (even Joy Division’s ‘Closer’ came out in 1980).

Light Asylum are clearly inspired by the post-punk darkwave movement around the latter.  As The Guardian describes it: ‘In the 70s and early 80s, synth-pop was radical, sexually ambiguous, fraught and futuristic’ before it became mainstream and lost its appeal. But thankfully ‘Light Asylum are here to kick synth-pop back to the dark side’ now. Hell, they even start ‘Skull fuct’ with almost the exact same bass drum repetition as New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’.

New-York based Light Asylum are ‘synth-master Bruno Coviello’ and ‘the gorgeously androgynous Shannon Funchess’ who does vocals as well as the drumming. Especially Shannon’s presence is an irreplaceable force on stage as well as in their music videos. As a bonus, they have a good taste in music and gave readers an insight into what they consider synth-pop’s crucial tracks. There are some nice influences to be found in there.

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