DJ Spotlight: Ellen Allien on her motivations, her new label, and favorite DJ mixer
We chatted with the Berlin techno auteur to discover more about her favorite tools as a DJ and producer, as well as her upcoming album and new label, UFO Inc.
In today’s DJ Spotlight, we’ve asked Ellen Allien 16 questions, focused on techno music, producing and DJing, and raving in Berlin.
Tell us about your first introduction to electronic music? Later, which artists, clubs, and promoters made your head and heart turn to electronic music?
My first introduction to electronic music was in Berlin, listening to “Neue Deutsche Welle” played on the radio. The music in the clubs in Berlin was more or less minimal. The first techno club I went to was here. In the beginning, I didn’t like the music at all; it was way too fast for me.
Later, clubs like Planet and Tresor opened. This changed everything for me. I met nice people being less aggressive than in hip hop clubs. The guys respected me as a woman; I had better conversations and also the mix of the crowd with a bigger amount of gays made me feel more comfortable. There was a point I started to feel the music and was also able to dance to the faster beats.[Still] today, I have this need to dance, especially when the tracks are hard and melodic. Later in London, I saw for the first time these mixed crowds dancing to acid house: but they had only 4 hours as the clubs closed early.
BPITCH Control is your label, founded in 1999. Tell us about your vision for the label and its recent development. What direction BPITCH has taken now since you started the label?
Last year, I focused on music that I play by myself and can’t stop to play during my DJ sets: for example, talented new artists like Lewis Fautzi, Maxime Iko, Boston 168 and Tim Xavier. Regal is our latest lease in 2019. Boston 168 is an Italian producer duo with a lot of potency. I love their rave inspired cosmic techno. Tracks like ‘Daydreams’ make me fly.
At the beginning of this year, I founded a new label called UFO Inc. The first release is my EP “UFO” (embedded above). The second release on UFO was by Alien Rain March 25, 2019.
I always had UFO Inc. in my mind, till Serge from Clone motivated me to start it and today I am very thankful for this push. With UFO Inc. I will focus on a rough and raw approach to techno.
In a recent interview with Move D, he mentioned, “techno was more daring in the 1990s.” Do you feel the same?
At the moment techno is very nerdy. Back in the days it was rougher and spontaneous. The music came out much faster. Today, there are more variations of techno which for me is much more interesting.
You have residencies at some of the best venues in the world: DC10 Ibiza, Mundo Madrid – do you have any tips on gaining a residency as a DJ?
Not to forget the Melt Festival and Nitsa in Barcelona. The most recent residency I have is in Berlin at Griessmuehle with my event series “We Are Not Alone”, a 24-hour rave, which is one of the best parties at the moment for me. We have all our freedom there, the crew at Griessemuehle is fresh, motivated, professional, and over-satiated. Every time it’s outstanding and uplifting there … I am doing my best sets there. Our next “We Are Not Alone” will be the June 09 – 10, 2019.
There are not really tips to gain a residency; it is the relation that you build up with the crowd and the promoter. The vibrations and music has to fit to the bookers’ ideas how he or she wants to build up his club and lifestyle. If they want you to come back to play it becomes often naturally a residency.
At your residencies, do you find that there are tracks that work really well in some of them, but not others? Let us know if you have any interesting examples.
Not really, I play a similar style in different locations, in locations where I can play my sound, where it fits to me. I need rave attitude, wild clubs, where the mono bass drum is kicking. Clubs where you can feel techno, luckily Griessmuehle kept their promise to install a new sound-system and the sound is extremely better now – awesome.
“I need rave attitude, wild clubs, where the mono bass drum is kicking.”
What’s your favorite DJ mixer, and why?
My favorite mixer is the Allen Heath Xone 92. I need a fader. The new model [Xone 96] is unfortunately still not perfect, but the EQs are much better.
The PLAY differently MODEL 1 is also very good but has a lot of features I don’t need during my DJ sets.
Is there a piece of DJ technology that you wish existed, but doesn’t?
A button for the light man to stop the smoke machine.
Technology-wise, I feel more like [going] back to the roots. I love to play with turntables even if they often don’t work very well and I have to switch to CDJs. At the end, the music is the answer; it’s about mixing the right tracks at the right moment. Effect machines are going on my nerves, no need for me.
“At the end, the music is the answer; it’s about mixing the right tracks at the right moment.”
How have you evolved today as a producer? Are there any new tools or musicians or artists who recently inspired you?
For my recent tracks “Ufo” and “Körpermaschine”, I tried to go in a more epic and physical direction. “Alientronic”, my new album coming out May 17, 2019, is a connection between techno, alien-dance and electro. It has a dark emotional colouring. Every track is based on things that move me.
What I [find] inspiring for me is the crowd when I play, or synthesizers: Moog, Arp 2600, Prophet, 303, 909, Juno. The biggest inspirations are my emotions, which I express through music. Techno is the perfect sound for me. I love to dance to it; I get well with the techno producers and the crowds in the clubs. Locations, clubs, or situations in clubs are the first kick to start a track, then realization with synthesizers. I work with different producers, who are realizing them with me such as Hannes Bieger, Tim Xavier, and Matteo Pablo Sanchez.
“Techno is the perfect sound for me.
I love to dance to it.”
How do you approach different crowds and scenes? What’s your secret to adapt to a crowd?
It is all about feeling the crowd. Once entered the venue, I can feel the atmosphere and together with the people I try to build up a special moment. I love to watch them, to concentrate on them and to choose the right tracks at the right moment. These are the wildest nights.
Have you ever had a “techno hangover” – like thinking you would stop DJing and do completely something else?
Yes, at the end of the 90s when in Berlin almost every club closed and my gigs were not so exiting. But it became better after my first album. I was invited to other countries and was able to discover the world, which made it much more interesting. Since then, I had no ‘hangover’ anymore. I have more a hangover from sleep deprivation.
Your love for vinyl and collecting records has stayed strong, and gave birth to your in-store parties “Vinylism”. How do you feel about new DJ technology?
The different possibilities to perform have changed DJ sets. Different styles keep [everything] in movement and gives more variation to the listener, which I think is very important.
At the end, the crowd is deciding what they prefer, and the DJ [decides] where and what he wants to play. I feel very comfortable with the new technology. The best for me is to mix vinyl and digital, like I am mixing the past with the future in my DJ sets.
What are the best tracks to close your sets?
Often with a classic, I like this. A track that has moved me.
If you were not DJing & producing, what would you do?[I would be] painting pictures.