Music

National Sawdust and the Blow Make Women Producers Visible

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In a searing interview last year, Björk broke a decade-long silence about the erasure of her work as a producer. Throughout her career, she said, the men she’s collaborated with, not her, have been credited with creating her albums. She spoke out because she wanted to empower other women—as she had once been after seeing images of other female producers at work. “I remember seeing a photo of Missy Elliott at the mixing desk in the studio,” she remembered, “and being like, a-ha!”

Musicians Khaela Maricich and Melissa Dyne, who have played together since 2007 as The Blow, feel the same way. They take immense pride in controlling every aspect of the music they create, from the vocals and composition to production and performance. But they also realize that this kind of auteurship is something women are often denied. “I think there’s this really prevalent image of ‘the producer’ as a kind of world-maker, this magic figure who can create a sound, create a hit,” Maricich says. “This power, like many positions of authority, tends to be envisioned as being the role of a dude. The producer makes the world and gets someone, frequently a lady, to play a character in his world and sing and dance around inside of it.”

After years of feeling a sense of loneliness as women in the world of production, Maricich and Dyne decided to look into whether this had been happening all along. Unsurprisingly, it had: they found scores of images of female producers and technologists stretching as far back as the 1940’s. “[They were] working with audio gear and inventing the production techniques and styles that are commonly used today,” says Dyne. Maricich said the trove was, in a way, shocking. “There were all these historic women [and nonbinary or trans artists, like Wendy Carlos] who had done seminal work in electronic music and sound production whom we had never known about. We were the ideal audience for this information and somehow we had never known.”

They began to document their findings on WOMANPRODUCER, a website they created to catalog the contributions of women and nonbinary people to the field of production. The site hosts photos and writing about producers as diverse as the early hip hop mastermind Sylvia Robinson and the French electronic pioneer Elaine Radigue. They hoped the project would help to alter the perception of what a producer looks like.

Starting next week, they’re bringing it offline with three nights of music and talks with female producers from a wide range of disciplines and genres. The first show, on October 18, will feature a talk and performances with The Blow and pioneer Pauline Oliveros, who through her technique of Deep Listening and founding of the San Francisco Tape Music Center became one of the most influential figures in twentieth century experimental music. The second evening (Oct. 20) will include performances from Angel Deradoorian, Yuka C. Honda, Val Inc, and Suzi Analogue. On the 25th, Maricich and Dyne host a panel discussion with Neko Case, goth-pop artist Zola Jesus, Suzi Analogue, and Miho Hatori. 

“Production is so vast—we all produce and none of us sound the same at all” says Suzi Analogue of the artists appearing in the series. She was attracted to the event in part by the diversity of artists participating, and how that diversity can encourage other women to produce. “It’s not very clearly defined when you say ‘I produce.’ That gray area has been a huge reason as to why it’s taken more time [for female producers to become normalized.]”

Maricich and Dyne see the events as another way, like the site, to make invisible female creators visible (the shows will be recorded and added to the WOMANPRODUCER archive). They’re planning to bring similar events to other cities soon and working on a video series featuring female and nonbinary producers interviewing each other in their studios. “We want to hear more of the voices that haven’t been included in the mainstream: trans artists, nonbinary, whatever way people define themselves,” Maricich says.

Maricich feels that learning to produce is a deeply empowering experience and thinks everyone deserves access to it. That dream, she believes, is possible through community and the mutual reinforcement it encourages. “Just having the gumption to tell myself that I am ‘the dude’—the producer, the king of [my] sonic world—has been a feat,” she says. “The more that we surround ourselves with other producers who don’t fit the traditional image, the more I feel like we do have the cojones to make our own sounds and stand behind them.”