Jules Bourbeau ’25
In the 1960s, a trans woman named Wendy Carlos completely revolutionized electronic music with her album covering several Johann Sebastian Bach pieces using a synthesizer. Since then, trans musicians have continued to make some of the most innovative and groundbreaking music around. In honor of LGBT history month, here are ten under-appreciated transgender and/ or non-binary musicians that you should add to your listening repertoire.
If you like punk… Tune into The Muslims. I almost feel like I’m reading theory when I listen to The Muslims because of the impressive social criticism they manage to fit into songs that usually don’t last any longer than two minutes. Unlike most academics, however, they also manage to be outrageously funny. They aim to offend, not in the way that edgy Internet goons do, but in a way that disrupts the existing systems of power. You’ll enjoy THE HIRS COLLECTIVE. As the name suggests, this is not a band, exactly, but a collective. That is, they have a fluid membership in which collaborators can switch in and out as they wish. I own their record, Friends. Lovers. Favorites. on vinyl, and few things delight me more than taking the pastel pink LP from its flower-covered sleeve and getting blasted with insane hardcore drums and screaming as soon as the needle hits the first groove.
If you like pop… Look into Ezra Furman. I first heard Furman’s music several years ago, and one day last autumn I wondered, “What have they been up to lately?” As it turns out, she had transitioned and moved to Massachusetts to attend Rabbinical school. Good for her! She knows how to write a good, upbeat pop number, but some of her songs can emotionally wreck you if you’re not careful. Not only is she a talented musician, but she also has a knack for writing. I suggest reading her commentary on trans day of visibility. Try listening to 4th Curtis. This self-described “all-trans band and all-SJW dance troupe” might arguably be more indie rock than pop; even so, their endearingly messy and lighthearted sound has always struck me as more pop. Fans of bands like Soccer Mommy and Snail Mail will like them.
If you like folk… The Reverent Marigold is for you. They are of the classic anti-folk school shared by bands like AJJ and The Mountain Goats, but they have dabbled in more traditional (pro-folk?) songs on occasion. I suggest starting with “JUDAS,” which depicts Jesus Christ and Judas as transgender lovers and devolves into hysterical cries of “Hosannah!” They always seem to have interesting recording set-ups, whether that be in a trailer home or on a tape recorder. Somehow the vibes infuse into the music. Also, be sure to support their brand-new album, Sick, Trans, Glorious Moondream, which dropped on October 6th. You’ll like Anjimile. They are relatively new to the scene with only one album, Giver Taker. What an album it is, though! The record takes us through the process of healing and self-discovery. It touches on sadder topics at moments but never abandons the promise of growth. Listening to Giver Taker feels like Anjimile has granted us a deep privilege, like being allowed entrance into a sun-dappled birch forest that they have carefully cultivated for years.
If you like rap and R&B… Listen to Shamir. His most recent release, Heterosexuality, is also my favorite of his, but simultaneously happens to be the most pop-ish. “Cisgender” is my top pick, addressing his non-binary identity. He has an incredibly impressive vocal range owing to his base deeper voice accompanied by frequent use of his higher head voice. Even beyond his vocals, the instrumental tracks of his work have a soft, smooth sound to them. He teeters heavily into alternative rock as of late, but delve deeper into his releases for sounds that verge on club bangers. Check out Backxwash. She absolutely blew my mind with her first full-length album, God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It, when it released in 2020. Everything about it is pummeling, from the beats to her brutally real verses about religious trauma inspired by her upbringing in Zambia. Her second album, I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND DRESSES is just as powerful, but leans even more into metal-like vocals. She has mastered the art of sampling, and if you’re a fan of the rather niche genre of horrorcore, you will definitely enjoy her work.
If you like electronic music… Give Dorian Electra a listen. They are a gender fluid hyperpop artist who has been making music for a decade, interestingly often in the form of educational music videos, but only released their first album in 2019. Flamboyant defined their terrifically camp style through 11 tracks about masculinity and the queer experience. They followed up with My Agenda, a concept album which satirizes incel culture. The title track is a fantastic introduction to Dorian Electra, in part because of the sheer delightfulness of a concept about turning the frogs gay in the form of hyperpop featuring The Village People. Try Black Dresses. This duo consists of Ada Rook and Devi McCallion, both of whom identify as trans women. Their music is primarily noise pop with notable influences of metal and industrial sounds. If you, like me, enjoy the occasional song that feels like you are taking a cheese grater to your brain, you’ll love Black Dresses. As is unfortunately common with being a trans person on the internet though, they received their fair share of unwanted harassment which caused the group to disband in 2020; however, less than a year later Black Dresses was back and releasing new music, albeit leaning into the gimmick of still being broken up: a zombie band, if you will. While their early work is absolutely worth listening to, they have only improved since becoming “undead.”