Electronic music is a vast landscape with all too many sub-genres to keep track of. So much of the most popularly consumed music today is either produced and mixed entirely electronically, or relies heavily on electronic drums and instruments and synthesized sounds.
The term “electronic music artist” seems to have found itself in the middle of an identity crisis as a result. It now describes such a wide variety of creative individuals who use technology as a medium to create their art, that it cuts across previously clearly understood boundaries. And with electronically-produced records saturating so much of what the modern listener hears, it’s often hard to sift through it all to find new and original music that stands out from the crowd.
Presented here are ten artists who boldly push past the boundaries of conventional genre in search of new sonic territory. Although a list like this is never complete, and by no means is this in any order of ranking, I hope it will serve as a starting point for anyone interested in discovering new and exciting electronic music.
1. Anna Wise
I first became aware of Anna Wise in 2009 when I stumbled upon a cover of Drake’s song, “Houstalantavegas,” by her electronic group Sonnymoon. I instantly became a fan of the group and followed them for the next few years. That’s why I was more than excited to discover that Wise was featured on Kendrick Lamar’s breakout album, good kid m.A.A.d city back in 2012. Since then, she’s been a featured vocalist on Lamar’s last three records and has released three projects with Sonnymoon.
In addition to being a great vocalist, Wise is an innovative producer and live performer. She often uses a loop station and analog guitar pedals to augment her vocals during her solo performances as well as her group performances. Over the last two years, Wise has released two solo efforts (The Feminine Act Parts 1 & 2) showing the range of her sonic influences which include jazz, LA beat music, soul, and trap music.
2. Suzi Analogue
Suzi Analogue’s music falls somewhere between Sade, Flying Lotus, and DJ Rashad. Her tracks feel like they’re simultaneously melting and reassembling while never actually losing their pulse. She seamlessly weaves her way through down-tempo glitch hop and synth footwork-inspired dance numbers with ease, while layering her vocals to create an ethereal atmosphere.
In addition to being a prolific producer and songwriter, Suzi uses her label Never Normal Records‘ blog to highlight artists who are on the fringes of conventional culture. She is also an educator and has worked as a cultural ambassador for the United States via the Next Level Hip Hop Diplomacy Program, and gives lectures with Red Bull Music Academy, Serato, and Ableton.
Electronic super producer Jennifer Lee, better known as TOKiMONSTA, has an interesting story. The prolific beat producer has been releasing music since 2008. In 2010, she signed to Flying Lotus’ forward thinking label and artist collective, Brainfeeder, and released her debut full-length album the same year. She released a steady stream of EPs, remixes, and albums up until 2015, before suffering a setback from the onset of a rare brain disease called Moyamoya. After taking significant time off to recover, she returned to making music and has continued to create her personal brand of off-kilter, soul-tinged, electronic music that veers away from the clichés of modern production, while retaining a relevant and refreshing sound.
She’s collaborated with artist such as Anderson .Paak, Selah Sue, and has even released a project with the above artist on this list, Suzi Analogue, under the name Analogue Monsta.
Yasmin Dubious, who records as Lafawndah, has been making waves as a creative force since her debut self-titled EP in 2014. A true global citizen, the young producer/singer-songwriter has lived in Paris, Iran, Mexico, New York, and now resides in Los Angeles. It’s clear from listening to her music that she draws from a wide spectrum of world influences. Her latest EP, Tan, combines styles like cumbia, zouk, and Turkish battle songs with minimal industrial beat production.
A clever songwriter as well, Lafawndah often sneaks socio-political discourse into her music by intertwining political themes with lyrics about love, sensuality, and heartbreak. She finds a unique way of combining really dissonant sonics and transforming them into irresistible dance grooves.
5. Empress Of
I remember seeing the Honduran-American singer, Lorely Rodriguez (a.k.a. Empress Of) hanging out in Boston during my college days. I don’t think we ever spoke personally but I always remember friends who knew her saying that she was an amazing talent. I finally became aware of her music in 2012 when she released fifteen one-minute videos of songs she had written over the course of a month. I remember being floored by the diversity of each of these songs and how she was able to make such a complete idea in one minute.
Well, many other people started to notice her artistry, as well, and after releasing her first official EP in 2013, she began touring extensively. She offers a kind of existentialist perspective on pop music. While she borrows many elements from pop production (heavy synths, layered vocals, big drums), she is free in her subject matter and sample choices to create sonic worlds that are both new and familiar.
6. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
Upon my first listen to “Sundry,” I got that warm shocking feeling you get when you’re unexpectedly delighted by something in a profound way. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith is an electronic music artist who mainly composes using modular synthesizers. A classically trained composer, she gravitated to modular synthesis because of the variety of textures and tones she could manipulate.
She builds dense and shifting collages of loops and oscillating patterns from her choice of analog and modular synths (such as her Buchla Music Easel, EMS Synthi, ARP 2600, Oscar, Korg Mono/Poly, EML ElectroComp 101, and the Moog Werkstatt). When speaking about her music and her process, Smith says she is inspired by visual imagery and that most of her compositions are an attempt to encapsulate an image in her head. For me, her sound feels like the result of a jam session between Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Feist, and Brian Eno. Since 2012, she has released a steady stream of recordings, as well as having scored numerous film projects. On her latest releases (EARS and The Kid), Smith has started to combine her orchestral background by adding live woodwind instruments to her compositions.
Trying to categorize Jlin’s sound is as hard a task as trying to resist moving your body when her songs are playing. Unlike conventional dance music, Jlin’s post-footwork aesthetic is equally as exhilarating as it is abstract. An admirer of Chicago’s footwork scene her whole life, the young producer from Gary, Indiana started making footwork while studying engineering and working at a steel factory. After the acclaim her 2015 effort Dark Energy received, the young producer quickly began performing all around the world and continued to develop a signature sound.
Understanding the importance of the intersectionalities between music and dance, Jlin’s live performances often feature dancers like her long-time collaborator Avril Stormy Unger or actual professional footwork dancers creating real-time choreography to Jlin’s hyper-percussive sonic tapestries.
8. Laurel Halo
Laurel Halo is a chameleon of sorts. Her sound covers a range of musical terrain, making her personal aesthetic hard to pin down, like many of the artists on this list. She is an artist who is constantly evolving and challenging herself to break free of every box her music is put into. Her 2012 album, Quarantine, was released to critical acclaim. Halo created an ambient dreamscape of synths and twisted sound design to accompany her raw, unprocessed voice, playing around with jazz-influenced melody over often repetitive chordal patterns in the music. Her projects since are often viewed as reactions to her past work.
Her follow-up record was completely instrumental and she has released a series of techno-inspired EPs. On her most recent album, DUST, she combines all of her disparate influences into a work that is, at times, cohesive, and yet also chaotic. Halo seems to shine in sonic spaces that challenge conventions for the sake of making the listener comfortable with being uncomfortable.
9. Jessy Lanza
Canadian artist Jessy Lanza combines an affection for ’90s R&B, Japanese synth-pop, downtempo, and Chicago footwork into her own original brand of experimental R&B. She has claimed that Timbaland, Missy Elliott, and Aaliyah are all strong influences on her songwriting, and she often references her background as a jazz musician. During her live performances, she makes use of a set-up of analog and digital synths as well as samplers and guitar pedals. Her music ranges between minimalist electro R&B and uptempo dance songs reminiscent of a 1980s workout tape with a futuristic twist.
10. Madame Gandhi
Kiran Gandhi, a.k.a. Madame Gandhi, made headlines when she ran the London marathon in 2015 bleeding freely to protest body shaming and menstrual stigma. Although this one moment helped her go viral, it’s her music that truly carries the torch of her message. Gandhi recorded drums on M.I.A.’s 2012 album, Matangi, and then later started touring with her. Shortly after beginning her tour with M.I.A., she started studying to get an MBA at Harvard Business School.
It was after these experiences that she decided to start the Madame Gandhi project with collaborator Alexia Riner. The result of this collaboration is the Voices EP in which Gandhi showcases her skills not only as a drummer and producer but also as a poignant lyricist and vocalist. Her music, which she describes as “electro-feminism,” is at times minimal and meditative and at other times bombastic, as live and electronic drums bombard the listener with the urgency of her message, “the future is female.”