Happy International Women’s Day!
Today, protests have ignited across the world, creating a global consciousness of social disparities women face on a daily basis. South Korean women, Disney princesses and leading feminist protesters march to the #MeToo movement.
At Crack, we asked 10 women in the music industry to talk about their unsung heroes – from label heads to pioneers of motherhood, and to those stamping their mark in their respective fields. Helena Hauff, Midori Takada, Cera Khin, Ms Banks and more open up about their female icons. We hope you’re taking notes.
Sadie Dupuis (Speedy Ortiz)
On a borrowed $85, Johnnie Mae Matthews formed the Northern Recording Company in 1958, the very first label owned and operated by an African-American woman – and maybe the first label owned by a woman period. Though Northern started as a vanity label to launch her career as a soul singer, Matthews’ efforts at the label launched the careers of a few other Detroit legends. She released the debut single by a group that would become The Temptations (who she also managed), and taught Berry Gordy how to snag distribution deals for his artists on Motown Records. Though she was offered other recording deals, she ran Northern Recording Company until the release of her last single in 1980. In 2018, women are still woefully underrepresented as label heads, and many of us go the DIY route to release our own and our friends’ music. It’s inspiring to know that Matthews was able to make that work 60 years ago. Her music isn’t well archived on streaming services, but you can check out some great Northern Records 45s on YouTube, like Lonely You’ll Be and Help Me.
My unsung pioneer is my mother because she was an amazing artist that made sure I was doing what I loved to do – not what society wanted me to do. She was a free spirit and very set on never working in a corporate cubicle. Seeing the world with me was her goal in life. I would call her an unsung pioneer of motherhood.
A lot of people didn’t understand how someone could take her child out of school and bring them along for the journey of travelling the world. I think people around us, especially in America, thought it was ‘bad parenting’ but if she hadn’t showed me the world like she did I wouldn’t be who I am today. I wouldn’t be where I am today musically either. Talking about where I’ve been and at such young age is something I really take pride in. So thank you mama Mia for listening to your heart.
Mia Mark has a lot of artwork out there but I don’t really know all the people that bought pieces from her. I have a bunch of them which I’m actually in the process framing. If you ever happen upon a school named Phorms in Berlin. She painted a bunch of paintings in and all over that school.
Kakushin Nishihara is a punk healer. Her combination of biwa and voice is a raw and brutal ritual that instantly projects you into alternate realities. Her vibrations calls the outcast ghosts and the untamed spirits. She was initiated to biwa for years by a traditional master but her language is completely singular. She’s an ancestral hi-fi masteress, archaic yet hyper-contemporary. I had the chance to play with her for my friend Tianzhuo Chen’s performances and I think she is a powerful emanation of an alternative new form of raving.
My unsung pioneer is Gillian Welch. While she does have a devout following of fans in the folk/music world, she is underrated in a greater sense. I consider her to be one of the greats in songwriting and I think she deserves to go down in the history books as such! I would recommend listening to Soul Journey (2003) and Time (The Revelator) (2001) all the way through, if not just the entirety of her discography!
K-Hand is a Detroit techno pioneer. She runs her own label and made so many releases in collaboration with other more widely recognised Detroit producers. I don’t think people realise the volume of her work and how hard/fast some of the techno was. Honestly just go to her Bandcamp and start listening.
The story goes that when she was a teen, Phew saw The Sex Pistol’s concert and decided to form a post-punk band called Aunt Sally which released a sole 1979 LP on the well respected label Osaka Underground label Vanity Records. In the early 80s, she followed her own path and established herself as Phew.
She collaborated with Ryuichi Sakamoto to produce her first experimental single. In the almost four decades since, she’s continued to carve out her own peculiar niche in rock, often working with legends who abet her vision, including Anton Fier, Otomo Yoshihide and members of DAF and Einstürzende Neubauten.
Phew’s mesmerising voice – understated but resilient and impassioned – has remained active through the years. She recorded her latest, Voice Hardcore, as a follow up to her brilliant Light Sleep album, which was released earlier this year.
Despite the fact that she made versatile and notable projects and released amazing LPs, she is still pretty under the radar, it seems that she is often only recognised in the context of her better known collaborators. There’s a good quote from her in an interview where she said: “I am not an athlete, I’m a musician.” She obviously embraces her true creative self over ego. I would definitely recommend her first album called Phew which came out in the early 80s. This is one of the many great works.
I would like to name my mother as my pioneer. She is the one who recognised that I was left-handed and protected me from people around us, who tried to “cure” and change me to being right-handed. In Japan, there exists a taboo where it is not good to be left-handed. If a child is found to be writing or eating with their left hand, it is generally thought that the parents need to correct their child’s dominant hand. When I was a child, my elementary school teacher cautioned my mother, saying that if I did not correct it, I’d have problems in the future and live as a minority in society, so it is best to get it corrected now. After hearing this, my mother said to my teacher: “My daughter is fine as she is. It is society who needs to change their way of thinking that the left hand being the dominant hand is bad.”
For the most part, pioneers emerge as society’s minority. The sense of discomfort that people have against minorities, the actions that they try to do when people who go out of step with familiar customs. I hope that discrimination does not go to a point where the right to live for a minority is taken away from them as well.
It is not necessary to be famous. If a world emerges where each individual’s livelihood is equally recognised, you would not need to have a expression like “unsung pioneer”. Traditional African music, for example, is structured so that independently different cycles can co-exist. It teaches us the feeling of being detached from the notion of hierarchy.
Andrea Parker – her music is excellent and she runs Touchin’ Bass, one of my favourite labels ever. I’m just surprised that people don’t mention her and the label more often. But that’s a bit of a thing for a lot of underground electro labels anyway. The Swamp Invasion Expedition is probably my favourite EP by her. Also, just anything on Touchin’ Bass really.