Interview: Ellen Allien
What could possibly be said about Ellen Allien that hasn’t already been…a first generation female DJ, Internationally touring artist, label owner, and role model, Ellen has done and been nearly everywhere for her two decades+ in the scene.
Last weekend, we met up on site in North Carolina as she followed up Helena Hauff at Moogfest’s opening night. With new remixes of Mount Kimbie‘s T.A.M.E.D. available now, a huge North American tour (with stops at Movement Detroit, Electric Island Toronto, and more), a We Are Not Alone Off Week party on 15 June, there’s tons to talk about over a coffee and some cinnamon rolls.
Here, we get to cover that, and a whole lot more in an open and honest conversation straight from the American South!
“As one of the first generation female DJs, I find it important to keep going and let others see how to do it properly”
We’re speaking here in North Carolina, the real South of the US; Have you played in the South before?…because Miami doesn’t count :)
It’s the first time I am here. When I arrived, I saw so many trees and green and I thought it looked nice. It’s good Moogfest takes place here and not in New York or Chicago; outside of the big cities. There are many universities here and it’s cheaper to live. It’s also good for European artists to come and see another part of America that they may not in all the other bigger markets.
There is definitely a certain picture painted of the South, especially coming from a complete outsider perspective. There’s a lot of focus in the media about the differences between the North, Coasts, and the South…it’s good to see it for yourself and make your own impressions. I personally find it very cosy and idyllic…but, then again, you also can’t argue the reality of its history…
It seems rich here. There is money here unlike a place like Detroit. There are so many big cities in those other regions and I see so many homeless people in the street there but not so much down here.
Last night you played after Helena Hauff here. Last time I saw you was in Berlin at the Trainspotting 2 afterparty…
…That one was amazing! They asked me 1 week before to do it and I was on holiday skiing. For me to do it I’d have had to take 2 days off my holiday but my boyfriend pushed me to do it. I had only a few hours to make my selections for that night…especially with records I hadn’t played for a long time. They asked me to play all 90s music. Of course there could have been some improvements but I thought it turned out quite well…
That was a really atmospheric event…Sasha, Goldie, Modeselektor also…
It really was a crazy lineup. Sasha was amazing. It brought me back to some great sets of his back in the day.
It reminded me of his sets with John (Digweed) at Twilo in NYC in the 90s. That was a place that was a first introduction to nightlife for me…and also the first place I every used a fake ID to get in…Had you ever played there?
I was booked there and when I went to play I took a taxi from the airport. In front of Twilo was my hotel, I got out of the taxi and it drove away with two of my record bags. I ran screaming behind them but they drove right off. I couldn’t believe it! At that time there were no CDJs so it was only vinyl. I ended up not playing that night. After three months someone found the records and they were returned.
Back to last night’s event, had you ever played after Helena Hauff before?
No. We played the same event before but never after each other. It turned out very cool! We both have strong characters. When I first saw her I thought she was just amazing. She works hard and has great taste. I really respect her a lot. There are many women that get big and may go down the wrong direction, but she is cool!
Her music gets so relentless sometimes, I know you can get there but it’s not the entirity of your sound. Before the set, how did you put it together in your mind?
In the past I’ve played a lot of the stuff she is playing so I do know that style. I think it’s good to have someone come after her that plays a bit different because all night it can get a little hard. I think this is diversity is good for everyone, especially the customers. It all worked out great and Moogfest’s booker is amazing!
I am impressed by the diversity of this festival’s lineup. I mean, its real diversity that spans every possible demographic and discipline. Sometimes, even though Holland’s scene is so robust, it tends to get interchangeable…
Dekmantel changed it a lot, to come out of this routine of commercial techno events, but a lot still do feel the same. They have worked a long time on what they do. Shelter is another place I enjoy playing in Holland.
They don’t follow the template, which is always refreshing…
Yes, definitely not. They haven’t booked me yet but I hope to play there sometime. For me, as someone in the scene for such a long time, when a new promoter doesn’t book you you actually feel challenged. You really want to keep moving forward so that you aren’t ignored. But, I do understand there are so many other artists that can, and should, be featured and highlighted so it’s all good!
Moving on, I wanted to ask about your Mount Kimbie – T.A.M.E.D remixes. How were you approached to work on this project? What element of the original did you work your remix around?
I made a remix for Depeche Mode last year, which sounded very delicate when I listened to the naked lines they gave me. It was so good…everything from Dave’s voice to the instrumentals. For that one, I knew I couldn’t do anything more then what I normally do so I took the vocal and worked it out in a Berlin Acid style that I could play out.
With Mount Kimbie it was different. It was more underground and not as precise. It is very independent sounding. I told myself again that I need to work with the vocal. I wanted to make a slower track that brings the vocal to the forefront and still makes it sound good and also make sure a DJ can play it.
Then, the second remix I did more of a techno tune with less vocals that I can play at prime time.
How do you see the creative environment at Warp?
They have taught me a lot about electronic music. They know this so that’s why they asked me to do it. I grew up with the label. You can hear its influence on some of my first tracks and albums. It was nice that they asked me after so many years to do this, and its also nice they have opened back up to the rave underground. I like how they have added some deeper sounds because some of their stuff sounds so cold…it’s great but hard for me to fit into my sets sometimes. By them asking me, Marcel Dettmann, Gerd Janson, and Nina Kraviz to participate it really shows their dedicated to different styles but still of the highest quality.
With such a remix slate, do you guys communicate about your takes on the track?
I asked the label who is working on the remixes and they told me the names but I never talked to the artists. When you do music you need to focus on your own thing. When I make music I dont do anything esle. I switch off when I go to the studio as it is a moment of personal luxury. It is my personal time to give what I can give.
I can see that. When I do an article or interview I rarely read anyone else’s work. I prepare my way and do it my way also. I don’t even want the possibility of being influenced subconsciously to stray from my own approach…
Of course. It’s best to do your own research because so many times electronic music journalists don’t even do it properly. If your read others work, there’s a good chance it isn’t even going to help you…the facts may even be wrong. Journalism in this scene is a little sad. In the past people had more money to pay journalists and the industry was very different, so the content was better.
It is transient. There is no longevity so it’s always an intern who isn’t etting paid or an aspiring DJ only in it for the connections…this leads to some incredibly bland work…
Ya, they have no time to do it when they aren’t getting paid. This is obvious as they still have to find a way to support themselves, so everything seems rushed sometimes. Then, they can’t stay in the scene for the same reason. Eventually you need to make ends meet and electronic music journalism probably won’t help you do that…
…Not to mention the game of the PR apparatus, some of whom demand adjustments of content their own clients have provided. It always rubs me the wrong way because, the way I see it is, it’s actually their job to prepare their clients before the fact…not to take it out on me if they don’t do so effectively. For some, the journalist is simply an extension of their own PR platform, which naturally I strongly disagree with…
I think for fact check it makes sense. Some people just control everything and this is an example of that. Then, you see that it is all about promotion and money, not information or discovery.
Finally, as I know you have to go soon, Ive been asking everyone about how/if touring weighs on them mentally, and what kind of ways they maintain mindfulness. What are your approaches to keeping grounded while touring the world?
I dont drink. I try to eat healthy and sleep enough. I can sleep anywhere! On the plane, I take that time to rest. I’m a happy person in general though. This life isn’t for everyone but as one of the first generation female DJs, I find it important to keep going and let others see how to do it properly