In her long career, Ellen Allien has seen many changes in the industry, from the transition from vinyl to digital and eventual triumph of the MP3, to the various genres, fashions and fads that have come and gone in dance music. Through it all, she’s remained committed to her own particular, underground vision of techno.
Who is Ellen Allien? A German techno DJ, producer and label boss who has been in the business since the 90s, launching her BPitch Contol label in 1999 and her UFO Inc. label in 2019. She has an extensive back catalogue including a series of quality artist albums and her DJ sets are generally a pounding lesson in the art and craft of raw techno.
She runs two quality labels, BPitch Control and UFO Inc., held down (pre-COVID) several long-term DJ residencies, and was in-demand as a traveling DJ worldwide. Ellen has also released several successful artist albums that have often taken in broader influences like electro, ambient and experimental electronic music. This summer, she dropped her tenth studio album ‘AurAA’ – a confident collection of emotive techno and electronica. We caught up with Ellen for a conversation about her DJing style, technique and philosophy.
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First of all, thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. Can you start us off with a quick intro for anyone who might be unfamiliar with your work?
I’m a Berlin-based artist, Ellen Allien – female techno DJ, producer, and label owner of BPitch and UFO Inc.
Tell us a bit about your DJing; what style do you play?
I love to play techno and edits from tracks I love from indie music… playing just techno edits which are not on the market… I mix the future present and past… My music is very physical and emotional, melodies and rave attitude acid kissing the floor.
And what about format – you use both vinyl and digital is that right?
Yes, I use both, depending on the situation. I mostly use USB because the turntables are often not stable to play on, and it’s important for me to perform 100% without technical problems.
Which do you prefer DJing, between the two?
Playing vinyl is just more pleasurable, it’s just sexy mixing like that…
What’s the worst technical problem you’ve ever had DJing then?
A monitor fell on me, a big one… it wasn’t really fun, my leg was blue afterwards. It was just very dangerous; stage building should be safe, and so should the club or festival.
Tell us about how you mix between two records and how you perform transitions.
Building up the energy and emotion step by step… the mix should be uplifting, creative and/or unusual. Rave techno attitude for the dance floor is my thing… happy and hypnotic.
With digital mixers, DJs can now access lots of FX. You don’t use FX when DJing, is that right?
Yes, I don’t use FX in my sets – there’s no need.
So in terms of equipment, what do you bring with you to gigs?
My music. The set up is made by the promoter… two turntables, two CDJs or four – and an Allen & Heath mixer.
Even the best DJ in the world occasionally makes a weak programming decision or a poor transition. What do you do to recapture the vibe if things are flagging a bit on the dance floor?
It’s all about the selection of the music. Music which only I play makes it special – and of course in an uplifting and freaky way, as the more people don’t understand what I am doing, the better it is.
Obviously a vital aspect of DJing is crate-digging, either in the real world or virtually. How do you source your music, and what advice can you offer to young DJs searching for tunes?
The important thing is finding your style and keep it up on a high level. Don’t copy the copy.
Do you use rekordbox, and do you compile playlists? How do you keep your music collection in order?
I just started with rekordbox, but I never do a playlist. I can’t play a playlist because it puts me in a box too much. Every DJ gig should be different and mixed… OK there can be two or four tracks I often play together because it’s just so good that my ears are screaming for it… but my sets are moving on… I am a very active digging person; it’s my addiction.
So how do you approach your DJ gigs? Do you have a clear idea of what you want to play?
Only tracks I adore are on my USB or in my record bag, tracks I really want to share. I am the filter and the collector for the crowd who are into fast Berlin emo-techno.
Do you change your style or what you play depending on the size of the room?
Not really… If I feel it’s too fast I can go down a bit, but my style is my style and the people come to hear it. They’re waiting to hear me play my sounds for them.
What do you feel about DJing? What does it mean to you?
It’s my life and it’s what I want to do – sharing music and dancing up to the moon to feel high and light.
What’s the difference between a good DJ and a great DJ?
A great DJ is more creative and mixes the people into a dream.
You’ve played in many of the world’s finest and best venues; for all the young DJs reading this, what advice would you offer to them?
Live your dreams, dig better, mix better, connect better: switch into the music world.