Karen Gwyer (Don't be Afraid / US)

Karen Gwyer discovered electronic music lying in bed, late at night, unsure of exactly what she was hearing. She was a teenager in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and though she didn’t know it back in the early 1990s, she had the good fortune to live within broadcast radius of a major musical revolution: Detroit techno. The radio that her musician parents had given her when she was a little girl was tuned to WCBN’s “Crush Collision,” a weekly showcase of underground techno and house, much of it emanating from right there in the Midwest. Unlike most radio shows, electronic beats would roll on interrupted, anonymous and impervious to scrutiny. A ballerina since childhood, Gwyer instinctively understood that this was dance music, but she was too young to understand what nightclubs or warehouses or raves might be like; she could only imagine them. 

Decades later, her own music has a similar effect. It leaves you without obvious reference points. The rhythms and textures are recognizable as techno, but her rough-hewn tracks stand at arm’s length from the rest of the genre, at odds with most club music’s loop-centric functionalism; they sometimes feel like a series of coded messages. This isn’t music for crowds on autopilot. It is an invitation to sweat, to scowl, to grin maniacally; it is both body music and head music, and it invites you to travel deep inside yourself. There is an urgency to her work that you don’t often find in club culture.