Women in Electronic Music: The Pioneers of the Scene

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Women in Electronic Music: The Pioneers of the Scene is a blog that discusses the women who have been influential in the electronic music scene.


The women in electronic music scene are a group of passionate and innovative artists who have been at the forefront of the genre for generations. From early pioneers like Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire, to modern-day legends like Ellen Allien and Nina Kraviz, these women have shaped the sound of electronic music and inspired new generations of producers.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the history of women in electronic music, from the early days of experimental sound design to the rise of female DJs and producers in the mainstream. We’ll also look at some of the key figures in the scene, both past and present, who have made a significant impact on the music we love.

The Early Days

The first electronic music was created by a woman – Olive Hall. She was an American composer who created “Electronic Study No. 1” in 1947. This was just a short, two-minute piece, but it was a groundbreaking work. From there, other women began to experiment with electronic music and create their own unique sounds. In the early days, there were a handful of women who were making electronic music. They were mostly working in isolation, but they were still making a huge impact on the scene.

Suzanne Ciani

In the early 1970s, Suzanne Ciani studied electronic music at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she built a Theremin from schematics. (A Theremin is an early electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact by the performer.) She became one of the first women to make a commercial recording of electronic music with her LP, Seven Waves, in 1982.

Laurie Spiegel

Laurie Spiegel (born 1945) is an American composer and visual artist. She was one of the earliest composers to work in the electronic music studio at Bell Laboratories in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She is best known for her composition The Expanding Universe, which was included on the Voyager Golden Record, a compilation of sounds and images selected to represent the Earth on two spacecraft launched in 1977.

Spiegel began her musical training on piano at age seven. She later took up violin and studied composition, theory, and electronic music. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Yale University in 1967, and a Master of Arts in Music from Stanford University in 1968.

In 1969, Spiegel was hired as a staff scientist at Bell Laboratories, where she worked on various projects related to human-computer interaction. It was during this time that she began working on music composition software, which would eventually lead to the development of her best-known work, The Expanding Universe.

The Expanding Universe is a six-minute piece that uses data from a cosmology simulation to generate its musical score. The piece is meant to evoke the feeling of awe and wonder that comes from contemplating the vastness of the universe.

Since its release, The Expanding Universe has been praised by numerous composers and critics. It has been performed by orchestras and ensembles around the world, and has been included on several compilation albums of electronic music.

Wendy Carlos

Wendy Carlos (born Wendy Suzanne Carr on November 14, 1939) is an American composer and electronic musician. Her 1968 album Switched-On Bach was one of the first classical music albums recorded using electronic synthesizers. She also composed the soundtracks to Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Shining (1980), both of which won her Grammy Awards.

Born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Carlos attended Brown University, where she studied physics and music. She became interested in electronic music after purchasing a theremin. In 1962, she met Robert Moog, who later helped her develop new ways to modulate sound using his Moog synthesizer.

In 1968, Carlos released Switched-On Bach, an album of Bach pieces played on a Moog synthesizer. The album was a surprise hit and won several Grammy Awards, including Best Classical Album and Best Engineered Album – Classical. It became one of the best-selling classical albums of all time and introduced many people to electronic music.

Since then, Carlos has released several more albums of electronic music, including The Shining (1980), Beauty in the Beast (1986), Secrets of Synthesis (1987), Tales of Heaven & Hell (1997), and Sonic Seasonings (2002). She has also composed for film and television, including the soundtracks for A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Shining (1980). In recent years, she has been working on live theater projects with collaborator Bernard Waggaerth.

The First Wave

When thinking about electronic music, the first thing that comes to mind is probably a man – women have been historically underrepresented in the scene. But there have always been women making waves in the world of electronic music, even in its earliest days. Here are some of the most important women in electronic music, the pioneers of the scene.

Afrika Bambaataa

Afrika Bambaataa is a true pioneer of the electronic music scene. He is credited with helping to popularize electro music in the early 1980s with his track “Planet Rock.” He has also been a big influence on hip hop and techno music.


Kraftwerk is a German band that was founded in 1970. They are considered to be one of the pioneers of electronic music, and their style had a significant influence on subsequent artists in the genre. Kraftwerk’s music is characterized by its use of synthesizers and electronic rhythms, and the group’s live performances often make use of visual effects and stagecraft.

Yellow Magic Orchestra

In the late 1970s, a group of Japanese musicians came together to form a band that would change the face of electronic music forever. Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO) was a trailblazing group that helped to bring electronic music out of the underground and into the mainstream.

YMO was founded by composer/producer Haruomi Hosono, keyboardist/pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto, and guitarist/violinist/mandolinist Yukihiro Takahashi. The three musicians had all been involved in the Japanese music scene for years, and they decided to join forces in 1978 to create a new type of music that blended Western and Eastern influences.

YMO’s music was a combination of disco, pop, and traditional Japanese instruments, and it quickly gained popularity both in Japan and abroad. The group released its debut album, Yellow Magic Orchestra, in 1978, followed by a string of successful singles and albums throughout the early 1980s. YMO’s popularity peaked with the release of their 1982 album, Technodon, which featured the hit singles “Behind the Mask” and “Riyuu.”

By the mid-1980s, YMO had become one of the most successful electronic music groups in history. They helped to pave the way for future generations of electronic musicians, and their influence can still be heard in today’s dance music scene.

The Second Wave

Depeche Mode

Formed in 1980, Depeche Mode is one of the most influential and iconic bands to emerge from the UK electronic music scene. The band’s unique sound and style has influenced a generation of musicians and fans around the world, and their popularity endures to this day.

Depeche Mode was founded by Vince Clarke and Andy Fletcher, who were later joined by lead singer Dave Gahan. The band’s name comes from a French fashion magazine, which was a favorite of Clarke’s.

The group’s debut album, Speak & Spell, was released in 1981 and featured their first major hit single “Just Can’t Get Enough.” The album helped to cement Depeche Mode’s position as pioneers of the Electronic Body Music (EBM) genre.

Depeche Mode has released 14 studio albums throughout their career, selling over 100 million records worldwide in the process. They have won numerous awards and accolades, including Grammy Awards and induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The band continues to tour and perform to sold-out crowds around the world, demonstrating that their music is as popular as ever.

New Order

New Order was a post-punk and new wave group from Manchester, England. The group was formed in 1980 by singer/guitarist Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook, and drummer Stephen Morris.

The group’s musical style blends elements of post-punk, new wave, synth-pop, and industrial music. They were one of the most successful bands of the 1980s and one of the few that managed to retain a large following while reinventing themselves musically throughout their career.

The group disbanded in 1993 but reformed in 1998. They released a new album in 2015 and continue to tour.

The Cure

The Cure was an English rock band from Crawley, West Sussex, formed in May 1976. The group consisted of vocalist Robert Smith, guitarist Porl Thompson, bassist Simon Gallup, and drummer Laurence “Lol” Tolhurst. The Cure first gained popularity in the punk and new wave scenes in the late 1970s with their debut album Three Imaginary Boys (1979) and several singles including “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”.

The group’s popularity increased with the release of their second album Seventeen Seconds (1980). Shortly after the album’s release, Tolhurst departed from the group; drummer Andy Anderson was recruited to replace him on the band’s next album, Faith (1981). The Cure achieved mainstream success with their fourth album Pornography (1982), which peaked at number four on the UK Albums Chart. Despite receiving mixed reviews upon its release, Pornography was certificated gold by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and included three top 40 singles: “The Hanging Garden”, “One Hundred Years”, and “A Forest”.

In 1985, The Cure released The Head on the Door, which reached number six in the UK. Two years later they released Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me; it entered the UK chart at number seven and was certificated double platinum by the BPI. The band’s ninth studio album Disintegration (1989) became their best-selling record to date; it entered the UK Album Chart at number three and was certificated platinum by the BPI.

The Third Wave

The first wave of women in electronic music were the pioneers of the scene. They were the ones who blazed the trail for the rest of us. The second wave was made up of the women who came after them, who built on what the pioneers had created. And now we are in the middle of the third wave.


Björk is one of the most influential and innovative musicians of our time. She first came to prominence as the lead singer of Icelandic alt-rock band The Sugarcubes, but it was her solo work that truly made her a global star. Her unique blend of electronic music, classical influences, and distinctive vocal style has won her both critical acclaim and a huge international following.

Björk was born in Reykjavík, Iceland in 1965. She began playing music at a young age, and by her teens was a member of several different bands. In 1986 she joined The Sugarcubes, who would go on to release two albums and achieve international success. Björk left the band in 1992 to pursue a solo career, and released her first album, Debut, the following year.

Since then, Björk has released eight more solo albums, each one exploring different sonic territory and pushing the boundaries of what pop music can be. She has also scored several films, including Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark (2000), for which she won the Best Actress award at Cannes. In addition to her musical work, Björk is also an active philanthropist and campaigner for a variety of causes, including environmentalism and women’s rights.


Portishead was a groundbreaking band in the early 1990s, helping to pioneer the trip-hop genre with their unique blend of electronica, hip-hop, and jazz. The band was led by singer Beth Gibbons, who wrote most of the band’s lyrics, and producer/multi-instrumentalist Geoff Barrow. The two were joined by drummer Adrian Utley for live performances.

Portishead’s debut album, Dummy, was released in 1994 to critical acclaim. The album featured the hit singles “Sour Times” and “Glory Box,” both of which helped to propel the album to commercial success. The band followed up with the release of their self-titled second album in 1997, which features the singles “All Mine” and “Over.”

Portishead took a hiatus in the early 2000s but returned with their third album, Third, in 2008. The album received positive reviews and won the band their first Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album. Portishead has since released one more studio album, 2012’s We’re New Here.

Massive Attack

Massive Attack is a British musical duo from Bristol, England consisting of Robert “3D” Del Naja and Grant “Daddy G” Marshall. They are considered one of the pioneers of the trip hop genre, and their debut album Blue Lines was released in 1991. The group has released five studio albums, one collaboratively with Danger Mouse as part of the project Jack Beats, and tworeturning member Tricky.


In conclusion, the women in electronic music scene have contributed immensely to the industry in terms of creativity, innovation and genre-defining work. While their stories may be largely untold, their impact is undeniable. These pioneering women have inspired generations of female electronic musicians and producers, and continue to do so today. We hope this article has given you some insight into the fascinating history of women in electronic music.

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