Ellen Allien spoke to Becca Frankland about Berlin's influence on her as an artist, hitting a creative wall and the process of making an album.
Last updated: 24th Aug 2016
Image: Ellen Allien Credit: Alban Gendrot
Ellen Allien is a truly unique breed of elecronic artist, one with a distinctive creative approach which moulds her work as a label owner, a clothing designer, a musician and most notably, an exceptional DJ.
Living between Berlin and Ibiza, two of the most influential cities in the world for dance music, she manages the BPitch Control label and plays regularly Ibiza's best clubs including DC10 and Space, all the while touring Europe and beyond.
A prolific producer who releases regularly on BPitch, Allien is a one-of-a-kind artist with a work ethic to rival most and a flair which sets her apart from the rest, with an extra-terrestrial name that reflects her out-of-this-world talent when it comes to music.
We caught up with the extraordinary artist to talk about her creative process, the origins of her name and more ahead of her gig at The Social Festival in Kent on Saturday 10th September.
I read that your first taste for electronic music actually stemmed from hearing acid house in London. What was it about the scene in 89 when you were introduced to it that enticed you?
The first song that changed my feelings about music was the German version of Kraftwerk’s 'The Model'. I was dancing at a teenage club and I went crazy when the DJ played that tune. The minimalistic beats and beautiful lyrics are just amazing.
When I was very young I danced on acid house for the first time in London. When I moved back to Berlin after one year, the first techno clubs opened, Fischlabor and later Tresor. Two weeks ago I played there again together with DJ Tanith after many years. It was the club's 25th birthday and we played the after hour on the Sunday like in the 90s. We mixed old techno pearls with new amazing rave bombs and house tunes. It was so nice – smiling faces everywhere.
You named 'The Model' there, what other tracks first influenced you?
There are so many... X-101 – 'Destroyer', Softcell – 'Tainted Love', Liquid – 'Sweet Harmony', Grauzone – 'Eisbär', K-Hand – 'Global Warming', 3 Phase & Dr. Motte – 'Der Klang der Familie', Boytronic – 'You' and Aphex Twin – 'Bubblebath'.
When did you first start singing?
I loved to work with voices from the very beginning and my first release featured vocals. It’s my style to mix weird and beautiful electronic sounds with words. This is how a track or song is finished for me.
Berlin‘s place in the electronic music scene is paramount, but how do you think the city itself has shaped your character and career over the years?
Berlin has a huge mixture of different approaches to life. The history, the way to peace, the search for its own identity and the city’s reunion are always offering new possibilities. That is what makes Berlin so special. The nightlife is non-stop, so it's a meeting point for creative people. This is where groups put their goals and ideals into action.
The search for freedom, respect and independence shaped me a lot. It drives me to move things in a positive direction. I always try to look deeply into myself and to understand the world, people, animals and the spirits around me.
I’m looking for people with the same soul and understanding, which isn’t easy as I see the world’s suffering and some people are destroying our planet, but Berlin is giving me strength. There were hard times when a lot of clubs shut down and the scene became commercialised. It took some years until it all recovered. I worked really hard in these difficult times and tried to keep things moving.
Can you tell us the origins for the Allien part of your name, who came up with it?
The barkeeper of Fischlabor, the place where started to spin records, gave me the name Ellen Allien. He said that my musical style sounded like the soundtrack of the Alien movies. I kept the name and it felt good because I liked him and he was definitely right.
Having released 7 albums previously, what have you learned from each process when it comes to creating a full body of work?
It is the way I transfer my feelings through music. Music brings people together from all sorts of classes what is very important to me. Emotions and musing are the most significant parts. It wouldn’t make sense to create something when you feel empty. If I have something in my mind or want to say something, I express it via music.
Your creativity seems boundless, but as with most creative professions, I‘m sure you hit walls from time to time. In those circumstances, where do you turn to for fresh ideas and inspiration?
States of emergency are pushing me forward. I have to leave my comfort zone from time to time and rethink. This is how I find new ways to work.
How is your clothing brand an extension of your musical creativity? Have you always had an interest in fashion?
I started to design t-shirts because I wear them all the time. I found some really good material that is soft and beautiful. You can all buy them online or at chosen stores including reVOLVER in Ibiza, 127 Brick Lane in London or Apartment in Berlin.
You‘ve previously performed in the Centre Pompidou in Paris. What was the experience like for you?
Alexandre Roccoli asked me to do the music for the music and dance project titled Drama per Musica. The final performance was just incredible and it was sold out. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to tour with this project but we will definitely work together again in the future.
What vision do you have for your label for the next few upcoming years?
We are working independently with a huge global network. I would like it to remain like this. In future I would like to have less but higher quality releases. We have a new EP from the Dutch producer Boris Werner coming up. The singer-songwriter Dillon will release her first live album that was recorded with a choir at Haus der Berliner Festspiele in Berlin. I’m also working on new material.
Last up, if you could have released any track from past or present on BPitch Control, what would it be and why?
It could have been any track. All signings happen because I feel a connection to the music or the artist.
Ellen Allien plays The Social Festival on Saturday 10th September. Tickets are available below.