HigherFrequency  DJ Interview


Ellen Allien

Describing herself as an 'hyper-active DJ, producer' and someone who 'doesn't stay still', it is easy to understand that with all this passion and exuberance even after fifteen years in the business she still finds herself doing a job she absolutely loves.

Coming from Berlin she has witnessed the total cultural transformation of an entire city, and grown up alongside a musical scene which over the last few years has had the whole world nodding to it's beat. German techno is something in itself. Taking from the sounds of the Detroit and New York scenes Germany's own pioneers have cultivated a sound with it's own European identity and proceeded to take this to the far corners of the world.

However far from lauding the recent praise poured on her home town of Berlin as being the 'new place to be' she is quick to let people know that "All over the world there is nice music and a nice club scene", not just Berlin !

The saying goes 'Art imitates life imitates art etc etc' it seems Ellen personifies this, putting everything she has into her music, taking from and giving back to the scene in so many ways "music is my stuff, I make it, my flavor, my art".

Not satisfied with the Airport - gig - Airport, lifestyle of many musicians, Ellen - in Japan for a one off performance at this years Wire event,- took a week out (not a week off) to promote her latest album and other treats from her label and to soak up some of the summer heat. HIgher-Frequency got together with her in Shibuya to talk about her label B-Pitch Control, her new album 'Thrills' and...well...lots of other stuff.

* If you would like to view the video interview...Click here !

> Interview : Mark Oxley


HigherFrequency (HRFQ) : Well thanks for having this interview with us. We have a few questions we would like to ask you.You are playing at Wire this year as well, it will be your third time, do you enjoy playing there, how would you describe your feeling playing at Wire ?

Ellen Allien : I mean l I play in Europe every year at a lot of festivals and Wire is now one of them in Tokyo, and I really respect Takkyu Ishino because he is a real music lover and I know him from Germany from Mayday. And it is a good sign if they invite me back three times.It is nice. And I really like to come to the same event, because I know the people, I know how it works, it is like friends meeting again, like a friends party. And it is a different thing playing for - I don't know how many people are dancing - but like 10,000 people, it is a very strange feeling. I like to play in big clubs and small clubs and I like playing different kinds of events.

HRFQ : Well talking about that, leading on to the next question, you are going to be playing in front of a 1000 people or so, even more, tomorrow, do you have to prepare yourself mentally for something like that ?

Ellen : Well two weeks ago I was playing in Barcelona at Sonar, by nightfall I was playing in front of 20,000 people. And it is like they are really far away and you don't see their faces you just see the arms going up, up. So, what can you do to get the arms up ? Because thats the reaction. If they don't put the arms up then I see nothing, I don't know if they are having fun they are too far away. But mostly I am thinking about what to play, because I like to play good music and to this I have to prepare my set before I play.Because I only have one and a half hours and I usually I come into it after half an hour or one hour, there is no time to come into it the records have to start !

HRFQ : Alright. Talking about your latest release 'Thrills', hows the reaction been so far ?And are you happy with it ?

Ellen : I mean, the happiest process for me is, if I make some music. Everything that comes after is promotion, and this is work to present myself and to let people understand what I am thinking and feeling. The reaction ? I don't know because I am still in the process of doing the promotion. If I go to the office I see the press map. and it is very big now, it is a lot. Because my profile is all over the world, more now. I think people will enjoy listening to the third album because it is different from the others, and I think that is very important.

HRFQ : Looking back at your previous albums "My Parade", "Stadtkind", "Berlinette", and now "Thrills", for you as the artist is there any logical progression there ?

Ellen : Every time I work on an album I have another idea to do something, and I search for different equipment in the studio. Mostly I find myself completely changing the idea and the equipment. "Stadtkind" was more like finding myself, saying 'Hello, here I am' 'I am a musician', The second title 'Berlinette' was really an experiment with digital recording and with my voice; trying to put breakbeats together with Trance elements and breakbeats in a very 'pop-py' but also strange way, it was really a bit of an experiment. And 'Thrills' was really trying to find the right analogue synthesizers to create a rough sound. A rough sound with not so many vocals and a red line. And every album was really something different. Really trying to find the right equipment to let my emotional feelings speak. And I must say that 'Thrills' was the most fun production, it was really easy to produce and fantastic to work with the 'ARP 2600', a super synthesizer, it was so much fun. I have to say that I like analogue recording more than digital now.

Ellen Allien Interview

HRFQ : A Why did you take that course, when a lot of people are just using software synthesizers and things like that ?

Ellen : Before not everybody was using digital synthesizers, now everyone is using that, and you can use that on the production side. But I tried to make something fresh, even if it is old skool, it still sounds different from what is out right now in Germany. In Germany there are a lot of producers and a lot of things sounding nearly the same. I tried to have fun and to make something special. I don't know if I made it but I tried.

HRFQ : Are you always going to use them, or Are you going use them again, or are you going to go back to digital ?

Ellen : Well my next album I want to produce with Aparart, it is a project. 'Ellen Allien and Aparart' or find a new project name. And for that it is also digital analogue, but we want to record guitars and strings and real bass, and it will also be different.

HRFQ : We looked at your album cover and we think it is really cool, and beautiful, and a few people in the office think it gives them a bit of an oriental flavor an oriental look, how much did you get involved in the art direction of the cover work ?

Ellen : I mean, I am the art director of my label, 'Bpitch Control', and of course of my own stuff every cover that goes out on Bpitch I decide if it is right or not. We talk before with the artist, thinking about what the artist wants to say, what the emotional process is and the idea, and yeah, the emotional input of the album and music. Then we talk to the graphic designer, we make a sheet with, emotional feeling, style of music and little ideas. And for 'Thrills' I said 'I want to take some designer stuff from Berlin, I worked with Carol Roche, they are from Berlin, very nice designers, I said 'I want to have white clothes on, with movement.' But the movement has to also say that, I am like a tree, I am quite and peaceful on the inside but on the outside I am surrounded by craziness. And I really feel like this at the moment, that the world and my life are very crazy, but I feel within myself very peaceful. It is a professional, emotional, brilliant feeling! Because it takes a long time to come to that point. That was the idea for the cover. And I took a very good photographer from Berlin who has been working for ID and a lot of fashion stuff, and real photo's, Florian Kolmer. He took these photo's around Christmas time. But every picture if you make movement, is really hard to photograph to get nice pictures, but every picture was good because we had fun.

HRFQ : So you were just moving around in the studio ?

Ellen : Yes, I was jumping, I think every movement looked good because he was pushing me in the right way, we had good light, it was a very professional shoot.

HRFQ : Yeah, it looks good.

Ellen : Yes it is not easy to get something like this.

HRFQ : Yes I know, I know. Alright. You have been running your own label Bpitch control sice 1997 and you are in Japan at the moment and I'm sure there are loads of budding producers in Japan who would love to release on your label. For those people, how you usually how do you go around picking up new talents?

Ellen :At the moment it is very hard to find 'talents' because making music is very easy, and I listen to a lot of music which shouldn't be sent to Bpitch ! On one hand, I am happy that people have the chance to make music, because it is easier now to learn the programs on the other side it is boring for me to listen to it ! But I am happy that they try, and have found a hobby, because life is not easy and if you have a hobby where you can make something with your hands then it is a nice thing. Not everybody can do that. Most artists I sign are in Europe, like friends, friends which make a move to produce, more and more, getting deeper in the sound so even if I say 'no' we can still talk together about the music. We had some signings with ___11:20__________from Paris, and Tomas Andersson, from Sweden only with a demo. But it is very hard to find, I wish I could sign somebody from Tokyo or Japan, But all the Japanese stuff was not really........I mean the abstract stuff was really good, music to listen to, but I want to release dance music because I am a DJ, so it has to be a mixture between music to listen to, and dance music, not just music to listen to. So yeah I am waiting.

HRFQ : Leading on to the next question actually, when you do listen to something, as a label manager and listen to something as a DJ are you listening with different ears, or what ?

Ellen : No. The first important thing, when I am listening to music is that it has to do something to me. To do something beautiful, I am getting more open, so it has to be special, fresh, and the next track has to good as well. If there are ten tracks then five have to be good. If there is only one good track then it is not enough. Because then, it is clear that the person does not have the right tastes at the moment or takes time. And after all, if the person is nice it can work. If the music is nice but the person is not nice then I don't want to work with them. Because then you have problems. They have to be a nice person. But mostly if it is nice music then the person is really nice. It is not very often that someone is really rude or egoistic or strange.

HRFQ : Sure sure. I mean we have to say the same thing, doing interviews we haven't met any bad people.Ok, you are from Berlin, I don't know but how would you describe the scene in Berlin at the moment ? And is there anything you have noticed over the years, any changes ?

Ellen : Before the wall came down, Berlin was really small, and East Berlin was very different from the West. The wall came down and then there was a lot of movement, a lot of people moved there from England and America, to enjoy the new free form of living. Because there was a lot of free and cheap places to create music and art and now it is the same, it is quite a cheap city for Europe, one of the cheapest cities in Europe, and a lot of people are moving to Berlin to make art and music, it is really alive because now it is getting very international and lots of (cultural) exchange. After Hitler everything was dying in Germany, but now people come again. They are not worried that we are going to kill them again. ha ha. And yeah a lot of freaks are coming to the city and it is a very nice feeling. I work with a Japanese girl who runs this label ___14:57_________ from Japan, with Neo and Leo, and it is nice to see how they make a business in Germany and to see how they make a network all over the world. And we are also working together like that to see how different the people are, their attitudes, trying to put something together; also understanding our different mentalities. This is something I really like. And this is Berlin at the moment. Richie Hawtin is there, Miss Kitten moved there, Ricardo Villalobos from Frankfurt and also other people from the art scene. It is great, really really good.

Ellen Allien Interview

HRFQ : Really buzzing at the moment ?

Ellen : And peaceful very peaceful, there are no fights, because you play at a particular place etc......yeah really peaceful. Really really nice. Oh I want to also say that a lot of people are saying that the best music is coming from Berlin or Germany, it is not true ! All over the world there is nice music and a nice club scene. The only thing is it is cheap, and rough, you feel like you are in a squat, everything is being built around you.

HRFQ : Is there anything in the pipeline right now ?

Ellen : At the moment I am working on a single with Matthew Deal right now for Ghostly, because we did a tour together in America, we are working on a single, he sends me some files I send him some files and we rework the track. He always sends me one track and he always says 'Helen, Helen,' like a ghost, ha ha, and in winter I want to work with Aparart on my next project, we want to do something new. And I just made a track on T_____7:11___________new album, I will sing for him. And the new 'Modselector' album is coming out on BPitch control, and it is very very amazing, really good, between Hip Hop, Grime and Techno, it is super.

HRFQ : We will have to check it out. Thats a real pitch so we will have to check that out.

Ellen : I can give you a copy. I will show you the cover. Coming out in October over here. Yeah it is a monkey !!

HRFQ : Well thanks for that, we will have a listen to that later.

Ellen : It is not all full tracks, some are about half tracks and talking on the music. It is really funny. It is great.

HRFQ : Alright last question, having read your bio, music seems to be an emotional and passionate artistic outlet for you, does anything else in your life compare ?

Ellen : To music ?

HRFQ : yeah.

Ellen : No ! Music for me is the deepest and most emotional flavor I have in my life. Films are different for me and other kinds of art are really different to me. Because I like the mixture between what I am doing, with the DJing, it is rock and roll, you know traveling around the world kicking people and they kick me, it is really nice and producing is really finding myself, letting everything out, running the label is working in a group, and it is great to do that, really really great, and the other stuff is more for me to consume things like pictures or films and other stuff, but music is my stuff, I make it, my flavor, my art.

HRFQ : Alright. Great. Thanks very much, it sounds like you have a perfect balance.

Ellen : Yeah, yes.

HRFQ : Alright, thank you, thank you very much and enjoy your gig.

End of the interview

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