Mary Anne Hobbs: The Five Female Artists That Have Inspired Me

In the run-up to International Women's Day 2020 and the BBC Radio 6 Music Festival, legendary DJ Mary Anne Hobbs picks the women that have soundtracked her life.

Mary Anne Hobbs

by Mary Anne Hobbs |
Updated on

Here is a very small collection of female artists from a list of thousands who are meaningful in my life. It’s hard to describe what draws me to a piece of music, it happens instinctively to all of us. Musical connection works in a way that cannot be marshalled. I will know within moments if I am bonding with a piece of music, that I may carry with me for life. I don’t consciously seek out role models, but I find in these women, so much more than just a linear sense of identifying with them. These are artists with a hunger to tread far beyond conventional borders, so that on their return, they can show us something we don’t already know. It’s about a magic that cannot be quantified or captured, I just feel it.

Jehnny Beth, solo artist, and Savages frontwoman

Listen to – ‘I’m The Man’

Twitter - @jehnbeth

Jehnny Beth is like a work of fiction. If you could draw her from scratch, you would not wish to alter a single stroke of her shape as a character. When she plays live, she walks out into the crowd across a sea of outstretched hands (Google it!) and she looks like my Joan of Arc. She talks about her love of moshpits, dangerous sex (in her lyrics, and a new book of short stories) and of emancipation. She began work on her new solo album ‘To Love Is To Live’ on the night David Bowie passed away, driven by a new perspective about the impermanence of life. She’s a hero.

Laurie Anderson, solo artist

Listen to – ‘The Mother Mediation’

Twitter - @OnlyAnExpert

‘Ahead of the curve’? Laurie Anderson built that curve decades ago. When I listen to her speaking, I hear her gentleness, coupled with the thoughts of one of the world’s most ingenious minds. Laurie showed me what true love looks like in photographs with her partner Lou Reed. They hooked-up for a first date in the Microphone Department at the Audio Engineering Society Convention. I love that she’s a total geek, like me. When we met last summer, we talked about everything from her passion for Virtual Reality, to her time as the first Artist In Residence at NASA. She’s the Godmother I dream of.

Holly Herndon, solo Artist and creator of her AI baby Spawn

Listen to – ‘Alienation’

Twitter - @hollyherndon

Holly is teaching me to re-think my relationship with machines. She’s doing pioneering work with artificial intelligence. Holly has created an AI baby called ‘Spawn’, and she and a family of Artist friends in Berlin are teaching Spawn how to make music. Spawn is now singing in a voice that sounds like Holly’s, but making vocal patterns that Holly says she could never have imagined, herself. It’s mind-blowing stuff. Spawn collaborated with Holly on her lp ‘PROTO’, my Album Of The Year in 2019. If Aliens came here, they be looking for Holly, and I want them to take me with them too.

Jlin, solo Artist

Listen to – ‘Challenge (To Be Continued)’

Twitter - @Jlin_P

Jlin plays harder and heavier than any electronic Artist on earth, irrespective of gender. For me, much of the connection I’m looking for in music begins with rhythm. Jlin’s patterns feel like she’s created a new code to harmonise with the rhythm of the earth. What you hear is a woman chasing a sound that sound nobody has made before, which is certainly what appealed to choreographer Wayne McGregor, for whom she created the award-winning score for his long-form dance piece ‘Autobiography’. She’s absolutely fearless, and I love that.

Kim Gordon, solo Artist and former Sonic Youth member

Listen to – ‘Air BnB’

Twitter - @KimletGordon

In 2019, Kim released what I believe to be her greatest album, ‘No Home Record’, at the age of 65. She combined her visual art and music making practises for the first time, and you can hear her experiments with ‘collaging’ used to brilliant effect. It’s empowering for me to look at an artist who is 10 years ahead of me, and witness her wildest creative experiments coalescing better than ever before. Kim’s life has been a fascinating landscape to explore, and a kind of emblem for me of what’s to come, if you hold your nerve and keep it visceral.

The BBC Radio 6 Music Festival takes place in Camden form the 6th-8th March. Tune in to highlights on 6 Music, BBC Sound, BBC iPlayer, BBC Four and BBC Red Button across the weekend.

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