On the Radar – No 219: Plum

Plum. Picture: Tom Joy (facebook.com/tomjoyphotography)
Plum. Picture: Tom Joy (facebook.com/tomjoyphotography)
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THERE is an element of the waiting-for-two-buses analogy when it comes to female-led electronic music. Not that either would be too pleased at the comparison, but last year we featured Fiona Soe Paing and now it’s the turn of musician/producer Plum to enter the spotlight.

Shona Maguire, to use her real name, is a one-woman musical whirlwind who grew up in Aberdeenshire and now resides in Edinburgh, arriving via around 28 different countries. There’s a sort of ‘mad professor’ element to her work, where anything can be an instrument and she’s pretty keen on making some of her own too – sample pads made from roofing rubber have now made it into her wildly eclectic and energetic live sets.

Her profile was raised significantly as she became the first female nominee in the ‘best electronic’ category at the Scottish Alternative Music Awards recently. Plum is not a newcomer – she’s been making music her whole life and has released several records over the last six years – but recognition can be difficult in such a male-dominated genre.

“Female electronic music producers are very rare right now, so I hope that my shortlisting inspires other female artists to produce great electronic music and compete with the best,” she tells us.

But people are starting to take notice, including one of Plum’s own musical heroes. Canadian rapper Buck 65 is a fan of her work: “I’m glad more people are starting to catch on to what I’ve known for years. It’s rare to find music that is equally intelligent, beautiful and moving, all at a high level. But my friend Plum is that kind of rare artist”

With a compelling backstory that includes living in the back of her car, working with North Korean refugees and studying music production at Hackney’s Point Blank Music Production College, she certainly has stories to tell – so much so that her 2012 album The Seed was funded by her fans.

Explaining how her songs come together, she says: “Mostly I start with lyrics, which tend to be jotted down in the middle of the night when a thought comes to me, or when someone says something in an interesting way”.

“I used to start a lot of tracks on the guitar, but these days I tend to sit for an obscene amount of time at the computer before I get something I like, then I just add and add layers until it’s too crammed, then I edit out what I don’t like”, she adds.

Plum’s musical journey started at the age of three, trying to figure out Three Blind Mice on the piano, before her granddad taught her to play The Snowman. The SAMA nomination is the latest recognition for a lifetime spent making music – something she says it’s difficult not to do.

We shall have to wait until the 8th of March to find out whether the current Plum-love and the efforts of her uber-fans will be enough to snatch her the win in the public vote. What her nomination has done though is put the issue of a lack of female representation in electronic music firmly in the spotlight.

Currently Plum’s own ambitions are more focussed on not being patronised by sound engineers and to always keep experimenting with sound – although a SAMA win would be nice too.