According to several UK broadsheets, 2009 was a year dominated by female musicians: from predictable Mercury nominations for La Roux, Florence and the Machine and Bat for Lashes to an unpredictable win by Speech Debelle; from Lady Gaga’s established pop empire to Little Boots’ hyped up impression of underground electro; from Britney’s world wide Circus tour to Taylor Swift’s triumph at the 51st Grammy Awards – it seems hard to argue with such a statement.
However, dig a little deeper into the glittering façade and you’ll uncover a murky and contradictory truth; while a few are admittedly self-made, other apparently independent women are heavily guided by male management and production: Ellie Jackson has Ben Langmaid, Florence Welch has Paul Epworth and James Ford, Beyoncé Knowles has her notoriously controlling father-come-manager Mathew Knowles, and Britney Spears a string of men including her former manager Sam Lutfi, paparazzi boyfriend Adnan Ghalib, attorney Jon Eardley and father Jamie Parnell Spears. While Katy Perry and Rihanna have been objectified and sexualised to market their music, Gaga and Swift, who have both refused to conform to a socially accepted perception, are berated and mocked for their ‘perverted’ notion of femininity. In this sense, 2009 was more a year of female submission than it was a year of dominance.
After this revelation it should come as no surprise that the two women the mainstream media are promoting for 2010 are not as strong-minded as their management have duped you to believe. Marina & the Diamonds, a.k.a. 24-year-old Marina Diamandis, sings about the pressure she feels to reflect the Hollywood ideal and her time as a female player, but she was scouted by Derek Davies of Neon Gold Records and has formed a long-term musical partnership with producer Benny Blanco. Hereford’s Ellie Goulding has received constant airplay and promotion from Scott Mills, Chris Moyles and Marc Riley, and as though the idea of ‘developing a sound’ is not dubious enough, the 22-year-old sought help from notorious idiot Frankmusic. Suddenly not so empowering anymore, are we girls?
That is not to say female collaborations with male musicians are distasteful by nature; that’s a notion as ridiculous as it sounds, and as TV on the Radio guitarist Dave Sitek is producing the majority of 2010’s anticipated albums, I would almost immediately contradict myself if I were to claim it. Neither does this information discredit Diamandis and Goulding’s future career to the point where their music is unlistenable. What it does do is shed some deserved light on sexism within the music industry. Female musicians have a lot to contend with: they’re expected to appeal, but if they intend to target a certain niche they must not flaunt their sexuality for fear of being labelled ‘manufactured’. Additionally, although many use it as a marketing strategy, the feminist and all-female ethos behind the 1990’s Riot Grrrl uprising is now nearly impossible to recreate due to male supremacy in music management, production and promotion.
There are female musicians out there, hundreds of them, that are underrated and underexposed simply because they are women, and the prospect of entering such a restricted industry is too overpowering to bare or fight against. Nevertheless, some are fighting, and their talent shouldn’t be forgotten or ignored. These are the women I think you should keep a mean eye on during 2010:
Caitlin Rose has been turning heads stateside for well over a year: in 2009 she performed at SXSW, supported Herman Dune and Phosphorescent, toured America extensively and collaborated with other members of the Holly House collective in Nashville, Tennessee, her native city. Towards the end of the year she focused her efforts on Britain, played a wide array of gigs in the capital, caught food poisoning in Brighton and attracted the attention of several influential figureheads, one of whom was Marc Riley, who has since played her songs on his BBC Radio 6 show. Caitlin’s set to re-release her Dead Flowers EP on February 15th, making it available in the UK for the first time under Names Records.
There’s no scooting around the subject, her music is country, through-and-through. Some of you may recoil at the word, but Caitlin writes the kind of country that could spin an uninitiated listener on their heels; it’s blissfully heart wrenching, sung by a woman with a voice decades older than her soul. Highlights thus far come from her cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers”, “Sinful Wishing Well” and the as-of-yet unreleased “Shanghai Cigarettes”. Her unrecorded song “Things Change” offers an awe-inspiring glimpse at material to come and remotely echoes Laura Marling’s “Darkness Descends”.
As of February 1st, Caitlin is adding the final touches to her highly anticipated debut album with producer Mark Nevers, who has previously worked with Eef Barzelay and Clem Snide. Of her future sound, Caitlin admits, “This record will be a far cry from the acoustic EP. I play live with a band now and want to work within the noise we’ve been making, inspired in part by hearing Linda Ronstadt sing “Tumbling Dice” and all those strange dreams I keep having about Tom Petty’s teeth!”
Where to hear her:
Brighton’s local unsigned heroes Esben & the Witch may not have an all-female line up, but the perilous and harrowing charms of lead vocalist Rachel Davies govern every track on 2009’s 33 EP, which is available for free download from their official website. Their debut single “’Lucia, At the Precipice” is due out in February on Too Pure Records.
As close to Goth as it is possible to get without withering into a rotten heap of charcoal eyeliner and adolescent misery, in the past the trio’s music has been likened to Edgar Allan Poe; they’re certainly as atmospheric, and their lyrical content as dark: quoting suicide, engaging yet surreal thoughts and medical mysteries, “Marching Song” and “About This Peninsula” will have you clawing at the wallpaper as quickly as any adaption of The Raven. The composition of Dance to the Radio’s “Skeleton Swoon” is reminiscent of The Cooper Temple Clause during their more self-indulgent moments – machines and instruments being charged with a kind of warped electricity that shouldn’t exist for the safety of our own minds.
The band are about to embark on a short UK tour. Catch them on the following dates:
4th February – Hobby Horse, London
7th February – The Prince Albert, Brighton
9th February – Brudnell Social Club, Leeds
10th February – The Harley, Sheffield
11th February – The Deaf Institute, Manchester
12th February – Library, Lancaster
13th February – The Jericho, Oxford
3rd March – Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
Where to hear them:
Another unsigned female artist destined for world domination is British singer-songwriter Laura Hocking. Born in the Midlands, raised in the North and now living in the South, Laura’s travelling experiences have faired her well, and on record the knowledge she’s acquired translates into the most accomplished and socially understanding form of folk music. Accompanied by Jane McMullen and Matt Lloyd live, she’s gigged the capital city consistently since 2008 and is self-releasing “Girl Wrestler” on 7 inch in February, followed by a second single, “Strongmen & Acrobats”, and a downloadable EP later on in the year.
Always bluntly honest, frequently touching and often inspired, her vocals have been compared to Close Harbour’s Emmy the Great, and while some of her songs sit too close to her forerunner for comfort, Hocking’s recent material displays a softer side to her talents, particularly on “Ending Elinor” and “Greenwich Meantime”. It’s charismatic, addictive stuff, and with a strong army of fans already behind her, the possibility of her career passing us by unnoticed is becoming increasingly unlikely.
Where to hear her:
Like Esben & the Witch, Haunted Stereo are not an exclusively female act, but Sarah Burkill and especially Anja McCloskey’s presence within the band is crucial; McCloskey frequently takes centre stage, possessing it with her poignant vocals. Haunted Stereo’s last EP, Cross the Sea, received a great reception from both the mainstream and independent press, and the band are all set to release double A side “On a Pin/Lock the Door” on Sotones Records on 17th May.
Their music ranges from acoustic pop to folk in genre, blending classical composition and mounting melodies with enchanting lyrical tales; it’s not hard to appreciate why they’re compared to Arcade Fire. Chosen as Q Magazine’s track of the week, “Cross the Sea” is a mounting foray into a cluster of strings so magical they match the Black Forest in Germany; similarly “Ivory” is a breath of fresh air that has the listener crying for more. Other standout tracks include “There’s No One Colder Than a Good Drunk, Benjamin” and “The Ballad Of Osnaburgh Street”.
Although Haunted Stereo are not currently on a full UK tour, over the next few months they’re playing a variety of dates, including:
17th January – Hamptons, Southampton
31st January – Eastney Cellars, Southsea
17th February – The Art House, Southampton
18th February – The Old Queens Head, Islington, London
5th March – Iguana Bar, Manchester
Where to hear them:
Some of you may already be aware of Holly Miranda through The Jealous Girlfriends; a Brooklyn based outfit pioneering in dual vocals reminiscent of Josh Homme and PJ Harvey; she took centre stage alongside sometimes-producer Josh Abbott. In 2010 the Detroit native is going it alone, with her debut solo album The Magician’s Private Library due for release on 22nd February. She’s already toured in support of The Antlers, Vampire Weekend, Wild Beasts and The XX, and is currently supporting Tegan & Sara on the American leg of their world tour.
Unlike The Jealous Girlfriends, Miranda has chosen the lo-fi, soft-rock road to success, and understandably so: her velvet-smooth vocals may compliment the laborious riffs and drilled percussion of her previous project, but without Abbott in tow they would be lost to a wall of noise. As a solo artist, her vocals rise up to create an atmospheric, lulling soundscape; so medicinal they’re as capable of curing a cold as a packet of Halls. Aided by Dave Sitek’s production, it’s not hard to understand why the album has recently engrossed the more attentive of music bloggers, with the upbeat “Forest Green Oh Forest Green” particularly sparking some interest.
Where to hear her:
First Aid Kit, a.k.a. sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg, are both residents of Stockholm, Sweden. The two initially caught the media’s eye because of their tender age, now 17 and 20 respectively, but with 2008’s mini-album Drunken Trees they made it clear that age does not correlate with musical talent. After touring Europe and Britain in 2009, their progression was only marginally prohibited when they failed to obtain an American working visa; a common problem for artists this side of the Atlantic. They intend to tour the country alongside confirmed dates in Europe and Britain during the spring months of 2010, and debut full-length album The Big Black & Blue is due for release on Wichita Records on 25th January.
The Söderberg’s purvey in bluesy folk, and are not dissimilar to Sheffield’s Slow Club. Their ability to create a whole new world of heartbreak and soul-ache is what is truly unique about their music; their pared vocals are a captivating addition to the tales they spin. As “Hard Believer” demonstrates, they’re often as reviving as they are philosophical, and their spirit is infectious on tracks like “Sailor Song” and troubadour ballad “A Window Opens”.
Their UK dates are as follows:
19th February – Sneaky Petes, Edinburgh
20th February – King Tut’s, Glasgow
22nd February – The Rainbow, Birmingham
24th February – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
25th February – The Georgian Theatre, Stockton
26th February – The Adelphi, Hull
27th February – Bodega, Nottingham
1st March – Bungalows and Beers, Sheffield
2nd March – Arts Centre, Norwich
3rd March – Jericho Tavern, Oxford
4th March – Union Chapel, London
6th March – Louisiana, Bristol
7th March – Hamptons, Southampton
8th March – Hope, Brighton
Where to hear them:
Previously performing under the name RiotBecki, Rose Elinor Dougall broke away from The Pipettes in 2007 to persevere a career as a solo artist. Since then she’s been a busy lady, touring the country to promote several releases including debut single “Another Version of Pop Song” and follow up “Start/Stop/Synchro”. In 2010 she’s teamed up with Lee Baker to release debut album Without Why, and she’s also contributed to Mark Ronson’s forthcoming sophomore album.
The music she pens under her own name is a far cry from the 1960’s Spector-influenced pop of The Pipettes. Lending her vocals to ethereal and sublime melodies, Dougall has had free reign over her panel of buttons and her production has profited from a Stereolab inspired revamp. There’s a romantic if nostalgic glory to ballad “Start/Stop/Synchro” and her vocals frequently echo First Aid Kit.
Dougall will be touring the US and UK in March, with dates to be announced in the near future.
Where to hear her:
I admit that this is a cunning if devious way of preaching the work of three separate entities in one: Whalebone Polly is composed of singer-songwriters Rachael Dadd and This Is the Kit, a.k.a. Kate Stables. In 2009 the two collectively released the gorgeous Taproot and Sill EP, which was preceded by 2008’s Recording With the Window Open. In 2010 Dadd is gearing up for the release of her Moth in the Motor EP and will be supporting Alessi’s Ark on tour in February to promote a mini-album on Broken Records; meanwhile This Is the Kit will continue to play gigs in England and France, and plans to tour America this autumn.
Both women make the most enjoyable kind of folk music: truly from the heart and devoid of electricity. Dadd’s Moth in the Motor has already generated a lot of interest within the industry, but the world’s attention should not stop there. Whalebone Polly’s “The Turnip Turned” proves the pair to be in a select group of Britain’s most competent singer-songwriters of the decade, and as though not graced enough, they have the character to match; they are genuinely lovely people worthy of your devotion.
You can catch Dadd on the following dates:
23rd January – Café Kino, Bristol
27th January – Folktales @ the Scouthut, Bristol
3rd February – The Wilmington Arms, London
6th February – Union Chapel (Daylight Music), London
10th February – Moles, Bath
12th February – The Cube, Bristol
14th February – Portland Arms, Cambridge
18th February – The Birdcage, Norwich
20th February – The Hope, Brighton
21st February – Nation of Shopkeepers, Leeds
22nd February – Bungalows and Bears, Sheffield
24th February – The Basement, York
26th February – Café Oto, London
28th February – The Hamptons, Southampton
…and Stables on these dates:
26th January – La Compagnie Generale de Rock, Paris
3rd February – Kick the Plug, London
13th February – The Witches Hat, London
14th February – TBC, Bristol
22nd February – Shakespeare and co, Paris
Spark Out’s Eleanor Ist may be taking her very first steps into a musical career – recording on a webcam microphone in her bedroom and releasing her material as free downloads via her Last.fm and MySpace page – but she’s as talented as any of my other recommendations. As yet unsigned, it’s only a matter of time before hype begins to magnetise towards her, and with tip offs from the Von Pip Express and Lincolnshire Echo already under her belt, I predict her music will take leaps and bounds into the limelight during 2010.
By far her best track to date; “Dead Girl’s Waltz” replicates the stupendously clear vocals of Kat Flint, minus the Scottish accent, with added electro buzz and chilling content. Elsewhere on “Another Boy” she calls to mind Nat Johnson and her previous project Monkey Swallows the Universe.
Where to hear her:
My final recommendation is awarded to a three-person collective from Nashville, Tennessee. For the purpose of this article; Buffalo Clover is fronted by the serene and homely Margo Price, who plans to record a solo album this summer while preparing herself for motherhood. In 2009 the band released debut EP Strong Medicine and single “Midnight Circus” to a good reception stateside. While plans to visit Europe in early 2010 have been scratched due to Margo’s good news, their determination to cross the ocean hasn’t wavered and I can guarantee they’ll be with us sooner rather than later.
As they themselves assert, they make real roots music with hints of gypsy and country. Margo’s vocals have a Southern charm but also the melancholy warmth found in Jenny Lewis’ material; to be frank, written words cannot do Buffalo Clover justice. I’ve tried before and I really don’t think I’ve managed to properly portray the comfort their music makes me feel – it’s like coming home. I am waiting on the edge of my seat for further material. Keep the dream alive for me and give them a chance in the meantime.
Where to hear them: