Björk, St. Vincent and more on the trailblazing women whose music you need to hear

By Emily Mackay, 8 June 2018

6 Music celebrates the BBC's Hear Her season with 'Hear Her Day' (Friday 8 June) - a day full of programmes presented by women, playing music written and performed by women.

To mark the occasion, we've asked some of our favourite artists for recommendations on the music made by women that they love best – from mind-bending electronics to feminist folk, here’s what they chose.

St. Vincent's Annie Clark recommends Fiona Apple

Tidal, by eclectic, classically trained New York singer-songwriter Fiona Apple, was one of the 90s great alternative albums, released when she was just 17. St. Vincent's Annie Clark, who describes Apple as "a great writer", says her favourite example of one of her heroes's work is On the Bound, the funky strutting opener from her 1999 second album, When the Pawn... "She's a true freak of nature," says Clark. "That brain of hers is really something."

She's a true freak of nature
Annie Clark on Fiona Apple

St. Vincent has also taken over the 6 Music Instagram account to celebrate Hear Her Day.

Courtney Barnett recommends The Breeders

One of the best surprises from the 6 Music stage at the Biggest Weekend in Belfast was seeing Kim and Kelley Deal of The Breeders get onstage with Courtney Barnett to sing Nameless Faceless, Barnett’s track about the online – and real life – harassment that women suffer.

It's easy to draw a line from the Deal sisters’ sweetly skewed, gnarly rock and Courtney's effortlessly cool lo-fi riffs. In fact, Barnett told us backstage that the riff she most wishes she'd written is that of the Breeders’ mighty Cannonball, from 1993's Last Splash. “It’s just so good. I cannot elaborate further”. And indeed, who needs to elaborate any further on pure genius like that?

Soak recommends Marika Hackman

Derry’s bittersweet balladeer Bridie-Monds Watson, AKA Soak, was charmed by the subversive wit of Marika Hackman’s 2017 album I’m Not Your Man. Hampshire singer-songwriter Hackman, previously known for a gothic folk sound, reinvented herself as a louche indie-rock raconteur for this, her second record, with raucous backing from London four-piece The Big Moon, subverting the traditional male rock persona and heteronormative rock assumptions on the likes of Boyfriend: “I've got your boyfriend on my mind / I think he knows you stayed with me last night / It's fine 'cause I am just a girl / It doesn't count."

It puts people in their place, and I like that
Soak on Marika Hackman

Says SOAK: “It’s such a statement album, specifically Boyfriend… it’s got attitude and it’s so real about how people regard gay relationships as so much less significant... it puts people in their place, and I like that.”

Phoebe Bridgers and First Aid Kit recommend Laura Marling

Still only 28 and on her sixth album, Laura Marling has been a big influence on many, and especially young women. Swedish sisters First Aid Kit cite her as formative for them right from her 2008 debut Alas I Cannot Swim. "We followed her entire career because she started right before us, and she’s the same age so she was a huge inspiration to us,” says Johanna Söderberg, while her sister Clara describes Marling as “one of our biggest influences for sure”.

Laura’s guitar-playing sounds like she’s from a different century
Phoebe Bridgers on Laura Marling

For Angeleno singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers, the album to hear is Marling’s most recent, Semper Femina, an exploration of female roles and sexuality and the idea of the muse. Bridgers is also a fan of Blake Mills, the US singer-songwriter who produced the album and has previously worked with the likes of Conor Oberst, Fiona Apple and Perfume Genius. “I think that their musicality is super-complementary and also insanely different,” she says. “Laura’s guitar-playing sounds like she’s from a different century, from the past and Blake’s guitar-playing sounds like he’s from a spaceship in the future, so I think that they came together in a really cool way.”

Dream Wife's Alice Go recommends Anna Calvi

Alice Go, guitar hero of three-woman revolution Dream Wife, is a huge fan of London gothic rocker Anna Calvi, particularly her 2013 second album One Breath: “she’s an absolutely incredible guitarist and that album’s special.” Calvi has just announced the release of her third album, Hunter, due out in August.

Public Service Broadcasting's J Willgoose Esq recommends Laura Veirs

Colorado-born singer-songwriter Laura Veirs is an Americana veteran, and runs her own label, the excellently named Raven Marching Band Records. Public Service Broadcasting’s J Willgoose sings the praises of her most recent album, The Lookout, released earlier this year.

“I’ve been a big fan for a long time,” he says. “She’s a great guitar player and singer and she writes fantastic songs. It took me a while to get into, but listening to it a lot on a long flight to Australia and back it really wormed its way into my head, and I formed a bit of a bond with that record.”

Björk recommends Kelela

Björk’s taste – and her DJ sets – are known for hardcore eclecticism, running the gamut from Rihanna to John Tavener to Death Grips. When she popped in to talk to Lauren Laverne in January this year, one of five artists she picked out was Washington singer and producer Kelela, who she describes as “incredible on every level”.

Incredible on every level
Björk on Kelela

The feeling is mutual: Kelela’s debut album, Take Me Apart, was released in 2017, and in the album’s press release, she’d said: “Despite it being a personal record, the politics of my identity informs how it sounds and how I choose to articulate my vulnerability and strength. I am a black woman, a second-generation Ethiopian-American, who grew up in the ‘burbs listening to R&B, jazz and Björk. All of it comes out in one way or another.” Björk’s video collaborator Andrew Thomas Huang has also worked with Kelela on the video for the song LMK.

Hannah Peel recommends Gazelle Twin

Multi-talented multi-instrumentalist Hannah Peel, who as well as her wonderful solo career has played with The Magnetic North and John Foxx and the Maths, is a big fan of Brighton electronic artist Gazelle Twin, and had high praise for her new album Pastoral, in particular the song Hobby Horse.

"Dirty, electronic, inside-your-brain, deep, kind-of-scary stuff," was Peel’s alluring description. Gazelle Twin herself, AKA Elizabeth Bernholz, said in the album’s press release: “Pastoral is a record that juggles British identities… a musing on how a sordid past becomes ‘quaint’… and how there is horror in every idyll.”

Beth Ditto recommends Patti Smith

Patti Smith has been an inspiration to generations of musicians with her fearless, raw, mystical music and poetry, and her 1975 debut, Horses, is one of rock’s all-time greats. To Beth Ditto, former leader of feminist punk firebrands Gossip and now a successful solo artist, Smith is also a source of life-hack wisdom.

Ditto returns often to advice given to a young Smith by the writer William Burroughs: “Build a good name, keep your name clean, don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful, be concerned with doing good work and making the right choices and protect your work. If you build a good name, eventually that name will be its own currency.” Smith recounted Burroughs’s advice at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in 2012, also adding, “You don’t do your work and say, 'I only want the cool people to read it.' You want everyone to be transported, or hopefully inspired by it.”

6 Music offers an intimate portrayal of the fascinating artist this Sunday (10 June) with Patti Smith In Her Own Words.

Orbital's Paul Hartnoll recommends The Unthanks

You might not expect rave titans Orbital to be secret folkies, but such is the power of sister duo Becky and Rachel Unthank and their dark, dramatic take on Northumbrian folk as The Unthanks.

In 2015, they appeared on Paul Hartnoll’s solo album 8:58, on a cover of The Cure’s A Forest. “I think they’re brilliant, the way they twist traditional folk music into something that just sounds contemporary and modern to me,” says Paul. “And the way they work together as a pair of sisters, their voices – one is like glass and one is like smoke and the two together is just incredible.”

Lykke Li recommends This Mortal Coil

Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins was one of the defining voices of 80s alternative music. 1984 track Song to the Siren, performed with her fellow Cocteau Robin Guthrie for their label 4AD’s in-house dream-goth supergroup This Mortal Coil, is a lovelorn mixtape classic of the era, whose emotional power kept it in the UK indie charts for 101 weeks. It’s a cover of US folk singer Tim Buckley’s 1969 original – oddly enough, Fraser would go on to have an intense relationship with Buckley’s son Jeff that began based on their admiration for each other’s voices.

She uses her vocals like an electric guitar
Lykke Li on Elizabeth Fraser

“Everything about that song kills me: the lyrics, the melody, the way she sings it,” Swedish dark-pop maven Lykke Li says. “The way she uses her vocals sounds like an electric guitar. Everything. I die.” Lykke Li’s new album so sad so sexy is out today.

Neneh Cherry recommends Cardi B and Nina Simone

Swedish-born UK hip-hop pioneer Neneh Cherry knows something about women inspiring women – her 1996 track Woman is a female riposte to James Brown’s It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World, and now Neneh’s own daughter, Mabel, has a successful music career. Cherry’s favourite album of 2018 so far is Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy. "I’m really happy for her, she makes me happy, I thought it was fantastic seeing her on the stage on Coachella seven months pregnant,” she says. “I like her sound, I like the attitude of it.”

Her playlist choice for #HearHer, however, was a true classic: Nina Simone’s never-bettered 1965 cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins I Put a Spell on You, from the album of the same name (also the title of Simone’s 1992 autobiography). “It literally puts a spell on me when I hear it,” says Neneh. “I think it’s so powerful and fierce, and I don’t think I can listen to it without it giving me goosebumps.”

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