Electro Feminisms: Ladyhawke

Emily McAvan
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One of the worst traditions we Australians have is claiming the most talented New Zealanders for ourselves. As an Aussie woman blogging about electronic music, I wish I could claim the wonderful Pip Brown for my native land. With her music swiping a big chunk of the 1980s, Brown fittingly named herself Ladyhawke after the 1980s Michelle Pfieffer movie. Her music is evocative retrofuturistic electropop, nostalgia without a loss. She released her first self-titled album on Australian label Modular (aha OURS!) in 2008, and it spawned several hits in Australia and the UK.

There's a lot to like about Ladyhawke; not only is her album great from start to finish, but she played four instruments on it and wrote and arranged the whole thing. Like I said in an earlier post, this isn't the only way to judge authorship and authenticity, but it's definitely impressive for a singer/songwriter
to take control of such a stylised project. In an interview an interview with The Guardian, she attributed some of her songwriting chops to her Asperger's and a childhood spent obsessively listening to The Beatles and The Pretenders.

The first single, "Back of the Van," is really a scene-setting moment, a big-haired kaleidoscopic homage to '80s soft-rock. One of the more fascinating things about Antipodean electropop in particular over the last five years is how much the artists owe to soft-rock bands like Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan as much as to French house, and Ladyhawke is perhaps the best of the latest crop (honestly, she wipes the floor with long-time friend and collaborator Nick Littlemore's "Empire of the Sun"). One of the things I like best about Ladyhawke is her ability to evoke yearning, from "cautiously holding your hand" to the superb middle eight movement between knowledge and fear ("I know that you're leaving/I'm scared that you're leaving").

The second single "Paris Is Burning" steals a big chunk of Gary Numan's "Cars" and marries it with an unquantized breakbeat, only to head to the disco in the chorus. I hear echoes of Norman Connor's much-covered dreamy "You Are My Starship" in the piano chords but that could just be me. In any case, it is quite lovely for a song about street drinking, and I have to admire anyone brave enough to put an eight-bar synth solo into a single in this day and age.

In this video we can see Ladyhawke's more usual androgynous style—in the same Guardian interview she said she only wears men's clothes. Watching this video for the first time, I was struck by how queer she is. While she doesn't really address it explicitly thematically in either music or video as far as I'm aware, Pip is definitely out as a lesbian and last I heard had a girlfriend.

And last but not least comes the horror-themed "Dusk Til Dawn" which replays some of the disco motifs of "Paris Is Burning" but filtered through a suburban horror lens whose chief referent is probably Michael Jackson's "Thriller." It's an interesting move, a kind of low-key monstrosity of the self. From Mary Shelley's Frankenstein onwards, women have used the monster as a metaphor for all kinds of the issues of living under kyriarchy, and it's not hard to see how Pip Brown as a queer disabled woman might find playing with the Gothic a productive creative pursuit.

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