Alinka is the kind of DJ other DJs tell you about. She has a power on the decks that sets her apart from the masses, and she’s resolutely focused on her first love – House Music. As Terry Matthew (5Magazine) says “There are at least a few people in this thing determined to keep House Music weird. Chicago’s Alinka is one of them.” Freshly relocated to dance music mecca Berlin, she’s ready to push herself and her label, Twirl further than ever before in 2016. A&R Simon Huxtable sat down with the canny Chicagoen to chat about her move, plans for 2016 and DJing.
Hi there Alinka, thanks for finding the time to chat to us at Decoded Mag. How are you?
Hey Simon, I’m doing well! Still recovering from all the holiday fun but can’t complain!
We understand you’ve recently moved to Berlin. How are you finding the city? Have you started learning German yet?
I love Berlin! It’s been really inspiring so far. I was here in the spring and it was the one city that felt like home to me other than Chicago. I’ve made a lot of new friends and of course there’s always something magical going on here. I’m still settling in and getting over the anxiety that comes with moving to a new country, but I’m definitely very thankful to be here. Everyone’s been very helpful and welcoming. I’ve started my duo-lingo practice haha, but I’m going to take a real course soon. I actually spoke German when I was 8 as we lived in Vienna for a year on our way to Chicago so hopefully it will come back easily.
How long did it take to arrange VISAs and export all your stuff? For those looking to move to Europe this year, what advice would you consider most important?
I had someone helping with my visa process so that was actually not as difficult as it could have been thankfully, I got my 2 year visa the week I arrived. I didn’t actually export much. I have my records in storage in Chicago, and I scaled down my studio to just the essential gear and what I could fit in suitcases and brought everything on the plane with me and then picked up whatever else I needed when I arrived. I think the best advice I can give is don’t panic, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and give yourself a break because it’s not always easy and exciting.
Okay, lets get on with your music. We understand you got your first break as a warm DJ for Justin Long at the infamous Smart Bar in Chicago. Tell us about landing the gig and how it was working in such an iconic residency.
Justin and I were very close friends at the time, he was a very big influence on me. I think he started the .Dotbleep party just after my 21st birthday and we were playing and hanging out together a lot at the time. I was still pretty fresh and just starting to play out more so he asked me to be his opener for the party. I’m very thankful for that time we shared, I learned a lot and Smart Bar is really incredible, we had a lot of amazing memories in that time.
During those 7 years, you got to play alongside some seriously talented DJs. Were there any that stood out for you in particular? Either because they were heroes of yours, or had an aura around them.
I’m just a big fan of the Chicago DJ’s really. I can’t remember if it was in those years as it’s all a bit of a blur now but playing with Justin, Heather, Diz, Derrick, and the other incredible Chicagoans that was always the most fulfilling experience because that’s who I learned from watching and they’re still the best in the business to me. Outside of that Brett Johnson and Jesse Rose were always great, we had a lot of fun!
Last year we ran features on the value of resident DJs and warm up DJs. We feel that a lot of modern club promoters, maybe through inexperience or greed, disregard having a pool of local talent to build a brand in favour of booking a whole roster of names for each night. How do you feel the scene is moving in this regard?
I think there’s a bit of both, I do see some clubs that really take their resident programs and openers seriously and take the time to develop artists. That always shows in the quality of their events and the club itself. Clubs like that are known around the world, as are their residents and for good reason. I do wish more places would strive for that kind of community. I also think it’s a reflection of the times because there’s so much competition out there that some people are only focused on immediate results, and are afraid to take risks which is unfortunate because the quality suffers especially in the long term. That goes for booking headliners, residents, openers etc. If you only go for the sure thing every time then sure it’s consistent but also boring and predictable. I think there are enough innovators in this industry eventually things will shift, perhaps they are now.
We understand you’re hitting the ground running with a gig at Panorama bar early next month. Excited!?
Well I sort of cried when my agent Jerry messaged me about it! Actually, I thought he was fucking with me because I was having a meltdown about moving and so I thought he was trying to make me feel better. Anyway, obviously I’m excited! I think it’s such a magical room, it’s hard to put it into words really. I’m very grateful for the opportunity.
I have played in Berlin before at Chalet, Ipse, and Renate all of which are fantastic. Berlin just feels like that special place for me. I feel the most free here that I have in a very long time, artistically and personally. It’s nice to have the space to grow and the room to breathe creatively. I’m sure it will be challenging like every other place but I’m looking forward to it all.
I guess the move was inevitable, what with your own Twirl parties being hosted at ‘Berlin Nightclub’ in Chicago! haha.. Do you have plans continue to run the parties in your new home town?
Haha right?! I think right now we’re mainly focused on the Twirl label but we have some ideas brewing so it’s always a possibility.
Twirl Records launched in 2014. Can you talk us through its development, finding distribution etc? And what you have scheduled this year?
Shaun and I met through my old band manager after Shaun moved back to Chicago. We met to see if we could collaborate and immediately bonded and everything kind of grew from there. I ended up leaving the project I was involved with at the time to DJ and make dance music again after taking a few years off. I sort of fell in love with house music all over again, and got a second chance at life. So Shaun sort of saved me, he gave me the confidence to finally create what I always wanted to.
We started Twirl as a monthly party and after a year and a half Shaun and I decided to end it to focus on developing the label. We wanted more creative control over our music and also to be able to showcase the artists we love. We signed with Paradise Distribution as my old friend is a label manager for them, and we wanted to go with someone that we know gets it and really cares about the music. That was definitely the right call as they’ve been very supportive and helpful. Then we met with Jeff Craven of Large Recordings and he gave us advice on all the label stuff.
My friend John Mork helped finalise our label art, and we went with Dispersion for PR. Then we then recruited our friends for remixes and it all kind of just took off from there. We set out to only do 6 releases a year for now as we wanted each one to have space and feel special. Our next release is from a UK artist called Spatial Awareness, he did an amazing remix for our anniversary compilation this fall and this is the first artist we’ve signed original material from for the label so we’re very excited. There’s a remix from Hannah Holland who is amazing, and one from Shaun and I. The Ill City Exit EP is out January 15th. The rest of the year is going to be a surprise but I promise it’s very exciting!
Of course, You and Shaun are no slouches in the studio. And your first few EPs with Twirl have been snapped up by Derrick Carter’s Classic and ‘Love Inspired’ was featured on a compilation for Defected Records. Things are going well. Any new releases of your own you can tell us about?
We just put out another single called “Matters Of The Heart” on Classic which was remixed by The Black Madonna and there’s also a Classic vinyl out now that has our track “Wang’s On Broadway” as well as the Black Madonna remix and a flip side with Chrissy with Miles Bonny remixed by Rahaan. We’ve also done a remix of Boy George for Fetch Records that will be out in January. Also, I guess this is letting the secret out finally, we’ve signed an EP to Crosstown Rebels that we are very excited about and that will be out this spring. Of course we will have more releases on Twirl as well.
Sexism in the music industry is one of those topics mentioned in hushed tones, but the more female artists I speak with, the more I get the impression its still pretty hard to make your mark compared to your male counterparts. Is it your experience that female artists need to work much harder to succeed?
You know this is something I never wanted to talk about before because I had this idea that if you were really good, then you wouldn’t have a hard time as a woman, but I think the last few years I’ve witnessed some stuff that really made me see things differently. It’s not that it’s necessarily harder to make your mark because that’s challenging for everyone especially in today’s market, but you definitely deal with a lot of nonsense being a woman in this industry.
I guess for me it wasn’t until I had a male music partner that this stuff started to really affect me. Getting left out of reviews for our tracks or business emails or people assuming I don’t produce the music, stupid shit like that happens all the time. Radio shows leaving your name out, magazines. It’s really not hard to write two people’s names when it’s two artists. I’m not really sure why it happens but it does way too often. It’s usually comical to me but after a while it can become frustrating. Luckily, I have a wonderful music partner that stands up for me every time and doesn’t let that shit slide.
We are months away from festival season and Ibiza. Have you experienced a European festival? How do they compare with the US?
I haven’t actually experienced a European festival but I’m looking forward to it! I have been to Ibiza but in the off-season so I’m looking forward to some time there as well. I think outside of the full on electronic music festivals most of the ones in the US just dedicate a stage to dance music and it’s usually pretty commercial, though it seems like they’re catching up as you have people like the Black Madonna playing Coachella this year which is huge and an amazing shift.
I don’t really pay attention to the EDM thing or what’s going on with that side of the industry. I think everyone has an entry point and where you go from there is up to you and how much you care about music. I think people looking for substance will obviously end up figuring it out eventually. As long as you don’t try to come in the DJ booth to request “house music like Avicii” we’re all good. Some of us are actually working in there not just waving our arms around!
Its been lovely to chat with you Alinka. We wish you every success this year with Twirl and your own career.
Thanks, it was great to meet you.