8 female producers behind today's most innovative sounds

In 2016, a new guard of young, crazy talented producers are being celebrated for the music they make. Yet a startling gender gap persists in production. We take a look at women across the musical landscape who are crafting fresh, exciting sounds.

by Emily Manning
24 August 2016, 3:12pm

WondaGurl: What do Drake, Jay-Z, Rihanna, Travi$ Scott, and Young Thug have in common? They've all enlisted Ebony Naomi Oshunrinde, aka WondaGurl, to cook up some of their biggest bangers. Oshunrinde, only 19-years-old, has been making beats since age nine, at first on a small Casio keyboard. Speaking to The Fader back in 2013 (when she was just 16 and had already landed an assist on Jay-Z's Magna Carta Holy Grail with "Crown"), Oshunrinde spoke about her childhood prowess with computer programming, and her mastering of various software programs that make blockbuster jams like Scott's "Antidote" so easy for her. "I dream about completely taking over the game, in a Timbaland kind of way," she told the magazine this year.

Abra: Last month, the Awful Records core artist made her major label debut with Princess, a six-track EP released via True Panther. Like all of Abra's previous releases, every note on the outstanding record is hers alone: she wrote all of the lyrics, produced all of the sounds, and performed all of the arrangements (most often in her bedroom closet). The result is spectacular — a singular, experimental collage of 80s pop-inflected synths and drum machine hits laced with layers of evocative harmonies. Music media outlets have long dubbed Abra the lone siren of Awful Records, a title that is now factually inaccurate with Alexandria in the mix. But even before Alexandria's Aaliyah-esque vocals found a home in Awful's sinister fray, Abra should have been far given more praise for her abilities behind the boards in addition to her entrancing vocals. Princess — especially its tracks "Vegas," "Crybaby," and "Thinking of You" — contains some of the freshest sounds of 2016. Like-minded artists would be wise to (try and) link with the Atlanta dutchess and bask in her darkest waves. Abra's rich compositions are as hypnotic as the Pokemon she shares her name with.

Asma Maroof: While touring with NGUZUNGUZU — the production duo she co-founded with Daniel Pineda — people often thought Asma Maroof was a singer rather than an architect of encompassing electronic sounds. Much like her Fade To Mind affiliates, Asma's practice is elastic, spanning genres from footwork and drill to reggaeton and radio R&B and warping them into sexy and sinister club cuts. Having been in the game for 10 years — during which time she's released five NGUZUNGUZU EPs (including the very aptly titled Perfect Lullaby trio), toured as MIA's DJ, and teamed with Fatima al Qadiri and J-Cush to form supergroup Future Brown — Asma is going solo these days, working on a record she calls "fun and playful, with a sad tinge."

Grimes: There is no conversation about female producers in 2016 without ecstatic mention of Claire Boucher — the singer, songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist behind some of contemporary music's most exciting compositions. Boucher's 2012 breakout record Visions collected ambient, dance, electronic, and pop influences to concoct bubblegum cyborg melodies. Nearly four years later, Boucher broke from the synth-pop sound she made so popular and gifted the world with Art Angels, an audacious and experimental album for which she learned guitar (her hero Dolly Parton's "Jolene" chords specifically), drums, ukulele, and violin to create. This excellently nerdy interview with Future Music magazine touches on all of her production preferences, from Ableton software for vocals to her data-rich files. Reading it reminded me of this interview with Cramps guitarist Poison Ivy Rorschach — the woman behind the psychobilly outfit's iconoclastic riffs — who is apparently never asked any guitar-related questions. Boucher has spoken repeatedly about the dearth of female producers; it's not only important to upend this gender imbalance, but to get as geeky and in-depth about the sounds they're making, too.

TRAKGIRL: DMV-based Shakari Linder has linked up with Luke James and Timbaland, and got her first big league placement in her sophomore year of college, with Omarion. The young gun grew up in a musical family (her mom is classically trained in seven instruments), but felt she wanted to pursue music differently. She bought her first beat machine at 14, synched up to her Gateway computer, and made it pop. Speaking to the Huffington Post in May, Linder said she barely knows any other women in the game: "I can count on my hand, actually — probably five."

TOKiMONSTA: Classically trained pianist Jennifer Lee became the first woman on Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder label in 2010; her layered, astral electronic loops have only enjoyed more popularity since. Lee's teamed up with collaborators Anderson .Paak and The Drums' Jonny Pierce, and is presently touring with both Duran Duran and Nile Rodgers. Perhaps her most notable venture, though, is establishing Young Arts Records — a creative platform that rethinks traditional label structures by allowing fans to more directly participate in the process through crowdfunding.

DJ Haram: Discwoman — a Brooklyn-based collective, platform, and booking agency — was established in 2014 to address electronic music's gender parity by creating safe spaces and getting women paid for the excellent work they do. DJ Haram signed on to the collective's booking agency in March, and celebrated by dropping a serious heater. The Philly-based producer's "Birds of Paradise" treats the up-tempo trappings of Jersey club to broader global sounds, including distorted trumpets and tambourines. Presently, Haram is broadcasting this encompassing dance sound around the world; she's on tour in Europe, and her next stop is Berlin Community Radio.

HANA: Hana Pestle is most often billed as Grimes' backup singer and BFF. While this is true, the former college coffee shop circuit singer is fast becoming a producer to watch in her own right. Mike Diamond aka Blood Pop (Pestle's boyfriend and the mastermind behind Justin Bieber's megahit "Sorry" who has reportedly logged recent studio time with Lady Gaga and Britney Spears) inspired her to rethink the trajectory of her career, and, together with Grimes, has helped her learn the tools to craft her own sound. "That's kind of the point where I'm at right now: I'm making music that I really, really love. It's completely my own writing, no other co-writes. And I think that's why this stuff is so special to me: because it's 100% mine. I'm singing exactly what I want to sing on top of music that I made that I'm super proud of," she said last year.

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Text Emily Manning

The Female Gaze Issue