Dismantling Womanhood: Electronic Music and the Artificiality of Identity

Everyone knows that women are social constructs. Okay, maybe not everyone, but there’s been enough work in the fields of gender studies, sociology, literary theory and philosophy over the past few decades to champion the now quaint idea that to be a “woman” is merely to reproduce certain signs, images and gestures. Yet it seems that, for all the pioneering sentences written in this vein by the likes of Simone de Beauvoir, Germaine Greer and Judith Butler, today’s musicians haven’t really caught up with the school of thought that says gender is little more than a discourse that serves to control people.

In many ways this failure can’t really be helped. Since at least the 1950s, the popularity of popular music has rested on the familiar boy-meets-girl narrative it sells to the public. As Neil Young put it not so long ago, “People want to hear about love.” Consequently, if musicians want to retain their profitability they have to tell people stories about this four-letter word, which entails that they have to tell people stories about gender. Their bids for success have therefore reinforced the belief that human beings are neatly divided into two categories — Men and Women — that oppose and pursue each other in perfect complementarity.

Yet for all the seemingly inexhaustible mileage the music industry has wrenched out of the shopworn trope of romance between women who are ‘women’ and men who are ‘men’, it’s heartening to observe the increasing number of female artists whose work explicitly challenges the gender stereotypes that are all-too often foisted on them. Holly Herndon, Björk, FKA Twigs, Laurel Halo, Inga Copeland and Fatima Al Qadiri all number among the expanding count of musicians who have recently produced music that, either directly or indirectly, questions the very notion of gender as a stable concept. More interestingly, they’ve achieved this almost exclusively via electronic-based music.

It’s precisely this connection between electronic music and the fundamental critique of gender it facilitates that will be the subject of this essay. Surveying the current state-of-the-art in electronica and its offshoots, it will outline how these forms vividly represent the artificiality and constructedness of gender, and how they also articulate deep-seated reservations women have regarding their struggle for identity and equality in a supposedly ‘post-feminist’ world.

Leaders Among Men

Even if this struggle is still ongoing within today’s society, there’s nonetheless little doubt that female musicians already possess enough freedom of movement to produce a large portion of this year’s most engaging and innovative albums in electronic music. LPs such as Holly Herndon’s Platform, Björk’s Vulnicura and Felicia Atkinson’s A Readymade Ceremony are often more inventive and interesting than comparable albums by their male peers. These albums meld digital and analogue instrumentation into a heady mix of fractured angst and abstracted grace, and they do so in a way that reflects the situations and predicaments of their authors to a degree that arguably can’t be found in PC Music’s Vol. 1 or Four Tet’s Morning/Evening.

Given the wealth of female-produced electronica achieving this kind of balance and depth, it’s hard to know where to begin with any attempt to encapsulate what they’re doing in a few pages. However, if there’s one release that defines the status of femininity, feminism and female electronic music in the Digital Age, it’s Herndon’s Platform.

Within a few seconds of being introduced to this album, it becomes abundantly clear that, via its technologized cut-ups, Herndon is expressing something very particular to her experiences as both a woman and a human being. Flickers of voice and denaturalized rhythm abound chaotically during “Interference” and the fragmented clippings that follow it, evoking the sense that her life and self exist as no more than a series of disjointed moments that bear no essential connection to each other.

This disjointedness is important, not least because it starkly exemplifies the kind of disintegration and stuttering other female artists are coming out with in 2015. In Felicia Atkinson’s A Readymade Ceremony a confusion of unlikely samples and sound sources are thrown into the wash with each other, in Dark Energy Jlin’s convulsive beats and heaving synths refuse all stability, and in SETH’s This is True (Sunseth) dreamlike vignettes chop and change without ever solidifying into a coherent linearity. It seems that, whether they’re making a conscious point or not, these and other female electronic musicians are attracted towards division, disunity and disharmony.

Beyond portraying a dislocation general to everyone whose social existence depends on computers, touchscreens and Whatsapp, this musical dissolution and atomization is significant from a feminist perspective. This is because it conforms to an ‘anti-essentialist’ view of gender and the feminine, a view that has long been one the principal weapons in the movement against inveterate sexism. In its inconstancy and disorder it repeats the radical feminist argument that womanhood is a construct as incoherent as the society that produced it, a set of signs that are imposed from the outside and therefore refer to nothing inside the individual who presents them.

In other words, the glitches, blips, clicks and sighs of a Platform or A Readymade Ceremony all depict the absence of a female ‘centre’ or ‘foundation’ that would ensure the perpetual stability and consistency of feminine identity over time. These albums therefore tap into an illustrious heritage of thought and research in the social sciences, as manifested in seminal works ranging from Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble to Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. In the former, Butler affirmed that “Gender is the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance” (Butler, 1990: 43-4). Whether true or not, it’s precisely this sentiment that finds its way into these albums and makes it palpably richer than so many electronic albums produced by men.

Moreover, similar approaches to femininity are present in other recent LPs by female artists, even if they don’t quite reach the deepest depths of oblique disintegration. For example, Inga Copeland’s Because I’m Worth It offers a comparable denial that women have an eternal nature. Mocking L’Oréal’s now iconic/vampiric advertising slogan from 1973 and menacing the listener with harsh waves of static, the 2014 LP bravely challenged the assumption that women form a homogeneous demographic and can therefore be marketed to by a single throwaway catchphrase.

By extension, it and its lo-fi dub challenged female stereotypes. In “advice to young girls” Copeland instructs girls on how to overcome the passivity and docility that’s often expected of them, complementing a windup drum machine and a whirring drone with such lines as, “You sneak out of the window/ And meet your friends in the corner/ Together you’re strong” and “The city is yours.”

Like Platform, A Readymade Ceremony or Like I’m A Warrior, Because I’m Worth It is enhanced by its mirroring of the kinds of issues, problems and circumstances its maker faces as a woman, as well as its putdown of how women have traditionally been typified by men (and often women themselves). This is also what heightens the experience of such albums as Vulnicura — in which the placid elegance of Björk’s strings is undercut by the choppy resistance presented by electronic percussion — and FKA Twigs’ LP1 — where the almost hallucinatory production underlines the almost hallucinatory nature of Woman with a capital W.

Even when the intention is not obvious, the increasingly complex and multifaceted use of electronics reflects the increasingly complex and multifaceted lives of women throughout the world. Additionally, it’s this perfect marriage of form and content that has made female electronic-based music so resonant and prepossessing over the past few years. Albums like Gazelle Twin’s Unflesh and Laurel Halo’s Chance of Rain (not to mention Quarantine) are more impressive and indelible than records by male counterparts, and they will be for as long as female musicians allow their art to be informed by the ever-changing dynamism of their social situation.

Artificiality, Irrationality, Idealization and Denial

But beyond “disintegration” and “incoherence,” how exactly does the form of electronica represent the content of women’s lives, and why have female artists harnessed it to present a critique of femininity? Well, aside from LPs like Platform and their splintered dismissals of anyone who thinks that women have an ‘essence’ that makes them women, there’s also the fact that the artificiality of electronic-based music is an ideal match for the artificiality of womanhood.

That women are artificial is simply a corollary of the nonexistence of a feminine essence. Nonetheless, their constructedness is important in its own right, because it’s one of the main reasons why female musicians who want to oppose the myth of femininity very often choose to do so via the medium of electronic music.

They choose to take advantage of the genre’s palette, which is synthetic, plastic and imaginary enough to emphasize the condition of women as correspondingly synthetic, plastic and imaginary. When they use sequencers and samplers — the products of a techno-patriarchal society — to achieve ‘self-expression’, their dependence can’t help but suggest that they are also products of this patriarchy. Even when a specific lyric or song is ostensibly directed towards other subject matter, their reliance on feats of engineering always insinuates that they too are feats of engineering, the endpoint of countless demands to wear this, walk like that, bear these kinds of name and consume those kinds of consumables

To take one example out of many, Marie Davidson’s Un Autre Voyage from April is chock full of neon synths and disembodied FX that, via their gaudy fabrication, highlight the fabricated nature of the world and self their performer inhabits. During album highlight “Excès de vitesse” they bleep, pulse and flash around in such a regimented and regularized manner that the listener would struggle not to think that the individual they trace has been robbed of all spontaneity and authenticity, has been reduced to some glorified marionette that jerks on demand and calls it autonomous movement. Even worse, this sense that its protagonist acts only in accordance with the wishes and examples of others is heightened when Davidson huskily intones, ”Tu avais vu sa photo dans un magazine/ Sans y penser, tu reproduit ses gestes” (“You had seen her photo in a magazine/ Without thinking about it, you mimicked her gestures”)

Davidson isn’t the only musician who focuses on the socialized tendency of many women to simulate hegemonic stereotypes and memes. Other notable portrayers of this unfortunate bent include Fatima Al Qadiri, who in 2014 released an Asiastisch LP riddled with uncanny appropriations and imitations of Chinese femininity, and Sis (aka Samia) from 18+, who along with Boy (aka Justin) has spent much of her time since the duo’s inception in 2011 hiding behind CGI avatars and delving into the caricatured nature of sex(uality). With all these artists, electronic and digital media are at front and centre, their exclusive employment generating the impression that female identity is not grounded in anything organic or natural, that is, in anything untouched by human hands.

Their choice of medium is important, for numerous reasons. Firstly, electronica allows them to directly attack the longstanding equation of women with nature and the natural. Examined by de Beauvoir in The Second Sex (De Beauvoir, 2011: Loc 1821), this identification has roots dating back to Ancient Greece and its pantheon of nature-personifying goddesses (including Mother Nature herself, Demeter). Since then it’s figured prominently in human culture and history as a disguised myth, informing a view of women that casts them as inherent givers and supporters of life. Its main objective is to celebrate and therefore condition women as mothers, wives and domestic servants, but it also has the no-less inhibitive task of creating the illusion that, because woman is one with nature, she couldn’t possibly be a social forgery.

It’s therefore salutary that such records as Elysia Crampton’s American Drift and FKA Twigs’ LP1 exist, since their work counters this (mis)perception. Once again, their exploitation of heavily processed, filtered and treated music foregrounds the processed, learned and performative character of femininity. Instead of emanating organically from the Earth, the vertiginous laptop concoction that is Crampton’s “Petrichrist” paints a femininity that is constantly being recreated and reimagined without pause, compelled to flux from one truth to the other in falsification of the notion that there is such a thing as the ‘eternal feminine’. Likewise, FKA Twigs’ “Video Girl” dresses itself up in a crystalline, too-perfect melody that sets the self-alienating context for Barnett’s halting confession, “I can’t recognize me.”

Yet female musicians aren’t turning to electronics purely with the intent of countering this nature=woman myth. If the rationalized beats and frigid structures of a Maria Minerva or Laurel Halo are anything to go by, they also rebuke the platitude that women are intrinsically emotional, irrational and impulsive. As Oscar Wilde said, a “woman’s life revolves in curves of emotion,” yet in Minerva’s Histrionic we don’t find some hormonal Caprice jumping histrionically from one impulse to the next, but rather sequences of buzzing mathematical precision and twinkling computational logic.

The same also applies to Halo’s Chance of Rain, in which the relentless techno of cuts like “Oneiroi” and “Thrax” couldn’t possibly be more removed from the cliché of the melodramatic woman. The album is a meticulous convoy of swirls, hi-hats and keys that all mount and evanesce as if occurring at the highest possible level of emotionless abstraction, and while Halo neither sings on the record nor caps it with a feminist commentary, its mere coldness and convolutedness is enough to undermine any preconceived ideas you might have regarding its female creator.

As progressive as their music is though, innovators like Halo can’t quite shake preconceived notions of women. That said, not all of them want to: many gravitate towards electronic music precisely because the musical “idealization” characteristic of the medium embodies the idealization of women by men (and other women). Artists such as Zola Jesus and Glasser trade in meticulously dreamlike music that’s been shorn of every blemish, arrhythmia or atonality, that’s essentially programmed via computer to run perfectly in time and in key. Absent from a “Dangerous Days” or “Shape” is any rawness or fallibility that might suggest the individuals they illustrate are anything less than perfect. Of course, no one on Earth is actually perfect, so the most recent albums of these two — Taiga and Interiors — end up avowing that this ‘perfection’ exists only in language, the imagination or music.

In “Shape,” Cameron Mesirow (aka Glasser) sighs “My home has no shape/ Nothing to sustain me.” For some, such a line might invite negative connotations of impermanence and insubstantiality, yet it should be countered that musicians of a feminist persuasion are drawn towards electronica chiefly for such connotations of insubstantiality, and this isn’t simply because they aim to expose the idealizing tendencies of society.

More significantly, they are pulled towards electronic music because its digitized virtuality evokes a self and a world that have been divorced from categories of nature and the Real. It enables artists to explore themselves in the absence of certain physical constraints, be these the limitations imposed by live acoustic instrumentation and/or by their own bodies. This is key for a very simple reason: it feeds into the feminist project of denying biology and sex as the basis of personal identity.

Many names within electronic music have been party to this denial recently, from the Eylsia Crampton of American Drift to Pharmakon in her devastating Bestial Burden. However, if there’s one record that stands at the peak of any burgeoning anti-physiological mini-scene, it’s Gazelle Twin’s Unflesh. Released in 2014, its bristling amalgam of power electronics, industrial, ambient and noise mercilessly attacked the supposedly necessary connection between the (usually female) body and the destiny it foists on people. In the jolting yet cavernous “Guts,” Elizabeth Bernholz’s computerized voice pronounces, “Deep inside/ Every part of you/ There’s a will/ To resist the cell,” and during heaving closer “Still Life” she repeats this mission to transcend biological determinism with the line, “Shedding my dead skin.”

Throughout Unflesh and its protestations of being “stuck in the belly of the beast,” electronics are utilized for a number of reasons. On the one hand, the tight regularity of sequenced music testifies to the seemingly inevitable and inescapable regularity of the human body, while on the other, the fact that this music is merely an artifact of human design testifies to how its regularity can be redesigned once again and surmounted. Because it can be reshaped, and because it serves as a figure for the human body, it consequently proclaims that the regularity of this body need not consign the individual to the same rigidly installed consequences and lives forever.

More specifically, Bernholz’s anxious vibrations and rays of static indicate that particular kinds of human body need not have the same social and existential consequences for the individuals who own them. As with other female musicians like Holly Herndon and Pharmakon, her music therefore enters into a current of thought known as ‘cyberfeminism.’ Having first emerged in the early ‘90s, this term describes a diffuse range of theories concerning digital technology and the potential it has (or not) to liberate women from traditional female stereotypes. As summarized by a retrospective Vice article, the purveyors of cyberfeminism “were techno-utopian thinkers who saw technology as a way to dissolve sex and gender divisions.”

Because Gazelle Twin, Pharmakon and also Holly Herndon equally regard digital technology and media as furnishing a Platform through which women can contest the identities and roles society expects them to fulfill, they can equally be said to be involved in this cyberfeminist struggle to disconnect biology and reproduction from personhood and identity. And it’s because they share in cyberfeminist thinking that they’ve been led towards the one form of music that best articulates the movement’s concerns, issues and aspirations: electronica. It’s electronica that most powerfully communicates the constructedness of gender, and therefore it’s also electronica that most powerfully communicates the hope that gender and our society’s management of it can one day be changed for the better.

A Note on the Social Context

Assuming that electronic music is undoubtedly the genre most expressive of feminist ideas and sentiments, the question still remains as to why — in the age of supposed liberation and equality — an increasing number of female artists have been immersing themselves in samplers, sequencers and laptops in order to strike a blow for female rights. Well, despite the questionable and decades-old claim that we live in a post-feminist world, in a world where emancipated women can now forget about activism and consume happily until the end of time, it’s sadly the case that nominal equality hasn’t translated into actual equality for women. A perusal of the copious statistics on gender equality, reveal that, in the UK alone, women earn on average 19% less than men, are twice as likely to suffer dometic abuse, and constitute only 29% of the nation’s MPs.

Things aren’t much better in the United States or in the rest of the world, for that matter. And if you go beyond official statistics and legally enshrined rights, you also encounter plenty of supplementary anecdotal and socio-cultural evidence which rules that the status of women hasn’t been improved as far as it can. If only one example were needed, the massive internet traffic and discussion generated by Kim Kardashian’s now infamous “butt cover,” as well as the fact that Mrs Kardashian-West’s photo shoot made her the most talked-about woman of 2014, lends credibility to the suspicion that a large swathe of women still function primarily as the ‘butt’ of male sexual desire. They may have the right to vote, the right to education and the right to maternity leave, but if society continues lavishing the greatest rewards on those women who conform most closely to a narrow stereotype, then women will be incentivized to continue playing the part they’ve been playing for centuries.

It’s therefore no wonder that a healthy number of female musicians are becoming more politicized and also more electronicized. In Apocolypse, Girl, Jenny Hval vents the above misgivings to perfection, smattering such rants as “Take Care of Yourself” with uncertain synthesized arpeggios and using “That Battle is Over” to scratch us with the caustic lyric, “And feminism’s over/ And socialism’s over/ Yeah, say I can consume what I want now.” While her album isn’t overtly mired in electronics for much of its running time, she inflects the highlights “White Underground,” “Heaven” and “Angels & Anaemia” with enough digital ripplings and atmospherics to spawn a mood of anxiety and insecurity. In contrast to the more guitar-centric and brasher material of her first solo LPs, this stylistic evolution into the murky depths of post-Kid A alienation betrays a deepening concern for her place in society and for female rights in general, a fear that the modern-day liberation of women is merely a superstructural mirage intended to obscure underlying inequality and injustice.

As a counterattack against this socially entrenched inequity, Hval projects a scenario where gender is completely fluid and where individuals can assume the identities they want from scratch, without being compelled on behalf of their reproductive systems to accept this kind of job or that kind of life. In “Angels & Anaemia” she sings “And when I touched you I turned you into a girl”, in “Sabbath” she dreams of being a boy, and in “Holy Land” she and her body are reminded “of being reborn.” Taken together, these lyrics and the LP as a whole push the view that what’s needed to end female repression is, not simply a change in the law, but also a bottom-up evolution in how we as individuals and a society construct identity.

It’s partly because of these beliefs that Hval incorporates electronics into Apocalypse, Girl, recruiting their ethereality so as to conjure the delicacy if not intangibility of gender and identity. In addition, the thinness and bleakness of the LP’s synths invokes the fragility of the advances women have made in securing dignity for themselves, as well as the feeling that their journey towards equality is still tentative and incomplete.

That it is still very much a work in progress is borne out by the foregoing data on gender gaps, but it’s also evidenced by something of a crisis within feminist politics itself. Commentators throughout the social and political spectrum have recently lamented a narrowing in the scope of feminist causes, activities and discourse within mainstream media and society, as well as the schisming of more committed feminists into numerous individual factions that have their own incompatible agendas.

For example, in a Guardian article from last year, Julie Bindel noted an increasing movement on the part of activists towards superficially recriminating sexist individuals rather than the inherently sexist institutions and structures which foster their behaviour. On the more theoretical and academic side, a recent series of articles on 20th Century feminist theory enumerated how feminism as a cause had been fissioning since at least the ‘70s, often as a result of infighting and the inability of activists to cooperate with each other.

Even more worryingly, writers such as Naomi Klein, Ginia Bellafante and Nancy Fraser have argued that feminism has been co-opted by the very system it aims to reform. Klein, for example, described in No Logo how advanced capitalism has reduced the struggle for equality to a set of mere signifiers that can be wielded to sell Nike trainers and thereby keep this same capitalism alive, while Fraser contended that feminism has been used to cultivate an all-consuming focus on personalized identity politics that obscures the kind of systematic economic inequality and class warfare that often births gender inequality.

It’s within this context that the likes of Jenny Hval, FKA Twigs, Gazelle Twin, Holly Herndon and Jlin have risen to prominence. Responding to the diffidence and self-doubt that has increased within feminist circles since the turn of the century, they’ve produced music that addresses the quandaries feminism now confronts. Even if their music only teases at a possible way out for the woman torn between, say, a stereotyped identity and no clear identity at all, we can at least be thankful for such dilemmas insofar as they’ve resulted in a notable upsurge in substantial and significant art.

The Sociology of Musical Genres

But it’s not only the wider political and social climate that has driven the ascent of female electronica: it’s also the narrower musical context and the way in which music interacts with its cultural setting. In particular, the all-but obvious yet very important point should be made that electronic music is one of the most progressive genres in music. It has been ever since Karlheinz Stockhausen composed Study II in 1954 and Morton Subotnick recorded Silver Apples on the Moon in 1967. With the appearance of these and other seminal works, the genre was established as one of the few musical paradigms affording creatives with an almost unlimited space in which to innovate and experiment.

This is significant because, even if it can’t quite be formalized into an exceptionless law of nature, the more progressive a genre is on a formal and aesthetic level, the more it will be on a social and political one (and vice versa). If it reveres newness and originality above everything else, then it will accept into its fold performers who deliver newness and originality, regardless of their social origins or status. Going even further, if a musician doesn’t belong to a social bracket that’s well represented in a particular genre, then in many cases she will in fact be more likely to inject fresh ideas into it than anyone else, since her creative process hasn’t been constrained or stifled by membership in a group that identifies itself in terms of particular sounds or styles, and therefore resists deviation from these same forms.

Conversely, the less innovation is prized within a genre, the more scope there is for a single dominant group to claim a monopoly over it. Put differently, if it becomes fixed to a single template, then renown will be decided less by musical creativity and more by social factors.

To elaborate, if a budding metaller has more resources, contacts, money and power than a rival, and if newness is disparaged within the metal scene, then his socioeconomic position alone will be enough to make his success more likely, even though his music might be completely derivative.

Luckily, electronica is considerably more open to novelty and invention than metal, which among the musical genres is (unsurprisingly) one of the most notorious for its conservatism, bigotry and elitism. This openness is perhaps one of the primary reasons why women have figured so heavily in the best electronic-based albums of recent years, since the genre promises entry to anyone who can offer something a little different, and not simply to those who are best positioned to master musical dogma or who are most socially acceptable.

Added to this, electronic music removes several other barriers that often prohibits women from entering other genres. To begin with, it lacks the history of machismo and misogyny that has sometimes blighted rock, indie, metal and all the other guitar-based genres. Without this chest beating and the phallic symbolism that imbues the guitar with its dubious majesty, women are somewhat freer to pursue their art without being offended or harassed. Additionally, the fact that they don’t have to enter sweaty, testosterone-soaked rock clubs in order to establish themselves on a scene, and the fact that they can write, perform and record electronic music in a relatively protected isolation, makes it less likely that they’ll be confronted by the kind of sexism that might dissuade them from taking their career any further.

At the risk of this article being accused of sexism itself, it’s also plausible that female musicians are encouraged in their relationship with electronica by the less physically demanding nature of electronic instruments in comparison with guitars and drums. Of course, this isn’t to say that woman can neither handle guitars nor handle them as well as men, yet it is to say that samplers, synths and laptops require so little exertion to play that they effectively level the playing field between women and men. At the push of a button they produce the same sound, regardless of physical strength or size. It’s this equality of effort that empowers a greater number of women to prove that they are every bit as creative and as capable as men, without having to worry about their fingering speed or fretting strength.

Maybe this is going too far now, so rather than attempt to link the profusion of female electronic musicians to changes in the lunar cycle or the price of Brent Crude, it’s now time to return to the essay’s central assertions. To begin with, female artists have increasingly leaned towards electronica because it represents their current situation more faithfully than any other genre. The often fractured constitution of electronic music perfectly encapsulates the divided constitution of the postmodern woman, of the woman caught between her oppressed past and her liberated future. In parallel, its reliance on synthetic instrumentation complements the analogously synthetic makeup of this same woman.

Not only this, but the often ambiguous and ambivalent tone of electronica is an ideal fit for the presently uncertain and insecure status of the women’s lib movement. Artworks like Platform and Because I’m Worth It voice the uneasiness many women experience in the face of (post)modern society and the constraints it still succeeds in framing around them.

Less noted but no less consequential, they also underscore the unfortunate position of all those members of ‘the fairer sex’ who have jettisoned the archetypes of the past, but without being able to assume any new, positive or distinct identity as an alternative. As Simone de Beauvoir remarked in The Second Sex, the traditional characterization of woman has been that she “represents the negative,” that she is “considered not positively, as she is for herself: but negatively, such as she appears to man” (De Beauvoir, 2011: Loc 8882; Loc 3500). Hence, the fact that, even with their advances, the trailblazing artists covered in this review are still refusing any definite identity and are thereby clinging to their stereotypical ‘negativity’, would strongly import that they are still inadvertently conforming to the classical profile of women.

Ergo, there is still plenty of work to be done. Yet electronica provides an unparalleled space for female artists to perform such work, to experiment with and negotiate identity in a virtual testing ground for the selves and roles they might later adopt outside of music. As the likes of Holly Herndon, Jenny Hval, Inga Copeland, Elizabeth Bernholz and Felicia Atkinson have proven, the genre yields a vast array of tools for both critiquing the troubled present and hypothesizing a less troubled future. Even if such a future never arrives, we can at least rest assured that the imperfect present will spur these artists towards creating more of the most intriguing and unforgettable music to have crystallized in recent memory. Maybe this is only a trifling compensation for something much more important to us as a society, but then again, hasn’t art always served primarily as a simple consolation? Isn’t its main function to compensate the disempowered with the ‘power’ to consume their own disempowerment as an aesthetic object? Yes or no, there can be little doubt that women are churning out some of the best electronic music around, and that this music is increasingly making us all more aware of the unjust conditions of its emergence.

[This is an earlier draft of an article that was published by The 405http://www.thefourohfive.com/music/article/dismantling-womanhood-electronic-music-and-the-artificiality-of-identity-143]

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