I—like many of us here at LD—am a big fan of women in indie music. Jenny Lewis, Lady Lamb, and lots of other brilliantly talented ladies with flawless bangs rank among my all-time favorite artists, and were originally to be included when I decided to make a playlist of women in the indie scene that everyone should be paying attention to.
But there’s been some talk lately—and rightfully so—about the “unbearable whiteness of indie” music. As a fan of the genre, which at its core is meant to be alternative, subversive, experimental, and outside of the constraints of the dominant order, I find it troubling how small of a space there seems to be for people of color in this scene.
The popular argument that indie musicians are mostly white because indie audiences are mostly white doesn’t sit right with me. Not only does this seem like a vast overgeneralization, particularly as indie grows increasingly prominent in the mainstream, but it actively pushes people of color further into the margins, outside of the scene. Moreover, it suggests that it’s totally okay for white people to only engage with the work of other white people. Music is perhaps the primary source of emotional resonance between people in today’s world—it’s how we relate to one another. What does it say if we only relate to people who look like us?
So, with the goals of inclusivity and intersectional feminism in mind, I present instead a (far from comprehensive) list of some of the best women of color creating indie music today. Because “indie” has become a word which encompasses a lot, these artists’ styles are as diverse as their backgrounds. And though there may be other genres headings under which they also fall, I suspect that fans of bands from Belle & Sebastian to LCD Soundsystem might also find themselves fans of these phenomenal women.
A writer at New Republic postulates that one of the reasons “there are few artists of color in the indie scene [is] because artists of color who make what could be called ‘indie music’ get classified as something else.” This begs the question of how we think about genre, and how much racial stereotyping goes into it. Particularly in the world of Pandora and Spotify, where recommendations are tailored for us based on what we’re already listening to, categorizing artists based on expectations of their racial or ethnic background instead of or in addition to stylistic qualities of their songs makes it terribly easy for people never to discover more diverse music. I admit, with notable discomfort, that probably close to 90% of artists Spotify suggests to me on a regular basis are white. The systemic patterns which keep certain people on top are embedded in everything—including the algorithms that help to set our tastes.
As Sarah Sahim wrote over at Pitchfork, “visibility of people of color in independent music is absolutely paramount for the genre to evolve and truly represent those cast away from the scene for too long.”
This playlist aims to increase that visibility and be a step towards introducing indie fans to a wider array of artists, but it does not claim to be a complete list, and could certainly be even more diverse and inclusive—with your help!
Know an artist you think should be added to the mix? Comment below or tweet us at @litdarling!
1. “Body” — Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
Thao Nguyen has had a pretty successful indie career on her own, with her band The Get Down Stay Down, and in her collaborative project with fellow indie ladie Mirah as Thao & Mirah. This track from the 2009 album “Know Better Learn Faster” hooks you from the opening with a great drum beat, and exemplifies Thao’s edgy but upbeat style. The band is currently supporting The New Pornographers on their U.S. tour.
2. “The Hour” — Valerie June
Valerie June’s unique and beautiful sound lies somewhere in between blues and bluegrass. Her studio debut, 2013’s “Pushin’ Against A Stone,” shares a producer with the likes of Florence & The Machine and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, making it an easy sell for fans of eclectic indie folk.
3. “Cheap Kicks” — The Noisettes
The Noisettes blend elements of indie rock, pop, punk, soul, and motown for a sound that is catchy, fun, and musically interesting. The U.K.-based band hasn’t come out with anything in a couple of years, but lead singer and bassist Shingai Shoniwa is set to release some of her solo work next month, so be on the lookout for that.
4. “Everywhere” — Susie Suh
Not to be confused with Siouxie Sioux, this LA-based singer-songwriter has been compared to Fiona Apple for her sultry folk-rock sound. Her “Everywhere EP,” which includes this song and two others, came out just last month, and a full-length follow-up to her last LP release, 2011’s “The Bakman Tapes,” should follow shortly.
5. “Floating Zzzzzzz!” — Kinny
This track, from Kinny’s impeccably titled 2012 album “Can’t Kill A Dame With Soul,” is one of those songs that is hard to take off repeat. Her music is incredibly creatively rich, with emotive lyrics and undeniably grooveable melodies that incorporate a wide range of styles.
6. “Gold” — Andreya Triana
Andreya Triana’s jazzy style has garnered some attention in the experimental electronic scene thanks to her collaborations with Flying Lotus and Bonobo, but her smoky ballads and retro soul feel which highlight her vocals set her apart. This track, from her latest release Giants, is a flawless feel-good tribute to her first signs of success.
7. “Falling” — Yuna
Yuna began her career in Malaysia, but has been steadily growing a U.S. audience over the past few years. She cites influences ranging from Bob Dylan to The Cardigans, but her indie pop numbers show hints of R&B influences, as well.
8. “Your Love” — Moko
Moko’s music is often categorized as trip-hop, and results from 1990s influences ranging from Massive Attack to Sade. The frantic beat of “Your Love” makes it hard for you not to get up and dance.
9. “All Your Gold” — Bat for Lashes
Bat for Lashes is the stage name of singer-songwriter Natasha Khan, whose mystical indie rock has been compared to that of Björk, Cat Power, and PJ Harvey.
10. “Fog Over Water” — Connie Lim
Fans of Ingrid Michaelson, Sara Bareilles, and other prominent female songwriters will probably like Connie Lim’s piano-driven pop songs, soaring vocals, and honest emotional lyrics.
11. “Video Girl” — FKA twigs
FKA twigs, is, in fact, the girl that’s from the video—she started her career as a dancer and has appeared in videos for songs by Jessie J, Kylie Minogue, and a handful of others. Her experimental, ethereal, electronic R&B has made her a hit on the festival circuit.
12. “Swim Free” — Dawn Richard
Formerly of Danity Kane fame, this singer also known professionally as Dawn Angeliqué has veered much more into the alternative and electronic in her solo career. Her most recent release, Blackheart, which features this song, was enormously well-received by critics. Some call her work indietronica and some call it R&B, while others call it “without genre.”
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