Nine Songs: Tune-Yards
Three years ago Tune-Yards’ Merrill Garbus asked her record label if they knew any female producers and their silence stunned her.
This led Garbus on a journey that ended with her hosting her own radio show, which she uses largely as a platform to shout out artists that aren’t getting the recognition they deserve in the mainstream.
“Shouting these names of women producers aloud is like shouting the names of people affected by police violence in the black lives matters movement, but this is another way of uncovering women artists” she quips. For the show, Garbus invites two collaborators a month to make an exclusive track that is then broadcast on the show. This, as well as the friends she’d already established through making her own music, has led her become part of a community of “women navigating the waters of recording software and out there playing live shows and struggling for gigs.”
The women Garbus has chosen here are formidable parts of this community; Garbus has met with them, emailed them and learned how they use technology to its best effect. This article is a living example of how this community works - these artists shout each other out, elevate one another and expose each other to new audiences. Garbus thinks that this mind-set is more important today than it ever has been:
“There’s this scarcity in music, where people think there’s only room for one person on top but that’s just bullshit. I think that scarcity mind-set is one of the ways we got to where we are in 2018. I think we need to act with a generosity and admiration of one another.”
“In the last couple of years I’ve started DJing more and ‘TNT’ is a song I’ve played to make the dancefloor hoop and holler. It’s as explosive as the title suggests and Miss Eaves is talking about masturbation, about food and eating it. She’s putting things out there that many women don’t talk about publicly and certainly don’t rap about publicly.
“Hearing a woman saying the words ‘I’m TNT I’m b-a-n-g’ over and over again feels like an anthem for the times. I want to hear more of that, women speaking about their power in music. I met her when she did a collaboration with White Hinterland on my show and as soon as I heard one of her songs I listened to her albums. When we hear each other talk about the nitty-gritty honesty of our thighs rubbing together in the summer and how it chafes, just details about being a woman and talking about stuff a lot of people don’t want to hear about, but I want to hear your whole truth, we egg each other on.
“She’s very unique in being brave and bold in speaking her truth that emboldens me to do the same. Also I think KEISHH, who produced this, is a truly unsung brilliant hip hop and dance music producer. She’s making music that is as catchy as any of the dance music producers I know out there, certainly many of the male producers, I hope she gets her due.”
“Han Han is Philippine-Canadian and a badass rapper and ’World Gong Crazy’ is another one I’ve heard pretty recently, this is an album I can’t believe more people haven’t heard.
“I personally love hearing rap in different languages, what is interesting for someone who doesn’t understand the language is the rhythm and being able to glean a little of what she’s talking about because of her emotions. When I DJ I’m thrilled to play this track.”
“Hip hop is where I learned social consciousness. This song is Georgia Ann Muldrow reflecting on her own experience of the world. I’m really surprised that more people don’t know her name, I think one thing I’ve found by doing the radio show is that I have to really dig down to find out whether female artists are producing their own music.
“Georgia Ann Muldrow is one of those women, if you look up videos of her creating, she’s a brilliant producer, she gets compared to J Dilla and on top of that she can sing and is brilliant with words. She is everything, she’s another person I wish so much success and prosperity to. She’s in a lineage of hip hop artists producing socially conscious, ridiculously musical work.
“I just wanted to highlight that this album is one of the best of her albums, it’s not something that’s happened a long time ago, she’s making this music right now. Talking about tungsten, it’s similar to ‘Look at Your Hands’ like, where did this smart phone came from? Like parts of this machine are reasons for war and strife in other countries. Georgia Ann Muldrow is thinking so big and that’s the way we all need to think right now.”
“I think ‘Izilo’ is a completely infectious song, I didn’t know Thandiswa Mazwai before Googling what was happening in South African dance music. That’s another one that I play when I’m DJing, it’s got that huge womping 4*4 beat.”
“I heard this through my friend Amari who sent me the cassette. I am a fan of hip hop, but mostly 90s’ and early 2000s’, but now that I’ve seen her play live, her timing and rhythm is uncanny and again she has incredible musicality.
“I think what she’s hearing are these dream worlds of sound, I think that’s really visionary to be able to recycle that. I’ve played her probably more than anyone on the radio show. This track has an amazing vocal and it’s just one of those impactful tracks - when you play it live it gets the dance floor going.
“Linafornia showed me how she was working her samplers, this year I got a CDJ, which I always figured was this weird pseudo turntable and we ended up using it on our recording process where we would loop ourselves. I think it’s scientifically proven that there aren’t as many women in technical fields as there are men and some of that is this kind of ‘that’s not for girls’ attitude. Curiosity of how these things work is something that is encouraged in boys and not in girls.
“Before I made the first Tune-Yards album I had no idea how you use this stuff and I hadn’t seen other women doing it, in the studios men were running the console and had their hands on the tools. Of course, the sound is in the tools; if you don’t know how the tools work you don’t know how to get the sound you want, you don't know how to exploit the sound for your own art. I think it’s really crucial for us to have our hands on the tools as musicians.”
“I like everything about her. I think that she allowed me to appreciate digital sound in a way I felt kind of allergic to before, there’s a way that she synthesises sound. I know that she is so attentive to the nuances of a particular sound, it made that type of music beautiful to me in a way it never had been before.
“Synthesisers for me are relatively new interests and I feel like she’s so far ahead in terms of music creation. ‘Interference’ was the most accessible of her songs for me in terms of DJ music, I play it often and I think it’s got a beat that people can dance to. She’s doing stuff I think decades from now people will be in awe of.
“It’s new in a way that nothing is new, part of that is disturbing me. There are other women producers making sounds that I’m kind of uncomfortable with, but I think it’s because they are sounds of now, they’re disconcerting.”
“It feels like a song where you need to elbow people, like ‘I need some space!’ I got introduced to her through Xenia Rubinos and like Georgia Ann Muldrow she’s doing her own production. The words in this song speak for themselves. Female rap is one of the art forms where women get to speak their piece and that’s quite rare, even in song writing.
“I love that she says ‘I’m not one thing, I’m not two things.’ I guess there’s a call out culture. I’m white, I grew up in white supremacy, in racism, therefore as a white woman I’m going to be sketchy. I have racism in me and when I hear other people claim ‘you might think you know me but you don’t know me, don’t make me in to a two dimensional object, I’m 3D, I’m 4D, I’m 5D,’ it allows me to own the thing that I claim and even though there are these tough aspects of myself that I’m looking at, it doesn’t mean I’m only that.”
“I love U.S. Girls, they make brilliant music and they have been for decades now.
"‘Damn That Valley’ is so awake and alive, I would be walking to it and I’d go into a run. Meg Remy is another one who is saying very uncomfortable things about her experience as a woman. She tells stories that are not two dimensional, they’re one dimensional stories that are complicated.”
“I’m pretty speechless about Moor Mother. I’m happy that people in the Bay Area are speaking about her and amplifying her music. I think Moor Mother shocked a lot of people with this record - "You can see my dead body at the protest."
“It doesn't sound like anything else, it's like speed metal and rage and sweat and teeth and blood. I saw a small performance of hers here in San Francisco and it was everything and nothing like the recordings; she rides the audience and the pulse of the room and does her thing. We're lucky if she gifts us with this art, the truth she speaks and the guts she spews, for decades to come.”