Wherever you find Ellen Allien, you find movement. Since 1999 she has managed the label BPitch Control in Berlin, and the t-shirt range Ellen Allien. As a DJ she rocks clubs and festivals all around the world. She is a resident at DC10 Ibiza, Nitsa Barcelona and Watergate Berlin as well as at major festivals such as Melt in Germany, Name in France and tours worldwide with BPitch Control events. Her productions have even been performed at temples of modern art such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
Most importantly she shares her enthusiasm with others: her creative base and label BPitch Control, her fellow musicians and of course her audience. For a long time now, Ellen Allien has been regarded as a fixed star in the electronic music galaxy. She is an extraordinary creature, a one-of-a-kind artist without whom Berlin’s vibrant electronic club landscape wouldn’t be the same. Fortunately someone thought of a suitably extraterrestrial name for her right at the start of her career: Allien. No name will ever suit her better.
During ADE, I meet Ellen with my Dutch DJ friend Jurriaan and his girlfriend, Ruthy in the plush surroundings of Hotel L’Europe in downtown Amsterdam. Outside the rain is lashing down, but the calm serenity of the hotel lobby instantly impresses us. Ellen is sat quietly waiting for me and waves us over.
Hi Ellen, so glad to meet you. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, I know you have a few press commitments this afternoon, so I’ll try not to hold you up. We were saying on the way in, this hotel is amazing! Have you been before?
Yeah, I was here last year. My boyfriend chose it, and I like it because its old and traditional. Romantic.
Its pretty fantastic alright. So tell us about your ADE experience?
Its been so much fun!!! The live cooking session was very interesting, I think it’s a good idea to let musician’s create meals. The tasting was very intense! I walked around the city today, Amsterdam is a very cozy city, the little buildings and small coffee shops, very friendly and funny people..
Many many years I’ve been playing here, and its not so far to Berlin. Its a very big scene here, many many DJs, great labels and festivals I always enjoy coming to Holland. I’ve been to Closure club for the first time too, very nice, clubby feeling… Rush Hour record store is a must and it ́s always lovely to pop by there. And around the corner there was a cellar party with Tom Trago and Seth Troxler.
You mentioned other labels then. Do you view any of the labels here as competition?
I don’t see music as a competition. The club owners and promoters choose what is good for their market or which direction they want to go, I think its good that there is a lot of music around and of course there is the competition between promoters and events. The artists should be in peace. Music, art and entertainment needs freedom to be amazing; space to create, positivity and socialism brings us together and let us being creative.
I just saw some DJs fighting at the closing of DC-10 and I thought ‘How ridiculous!’ For me, music has nothing to do with pride. I’ve never wanted to be famous like, I don’t know, like say Bjork or someone. I just do want I do and sometimes its better than other people, but I don’t have this in my character to be competitive. For me DJing is just playing music that I love and connecting with the people during my sets; to fly away for a while. I’ve been running BPitch since 1999 and represent music that touches me deeply on my label. BPitch Control is a platform for design music and life style.
Thats actually a refreshing way of looking at things. So tell us about starting out Ellen. How did you first break in to DJing?
I played music in cellars; like many instruments, jamming with friends for a while . It was music for fun. Then I studied Acrobatics and Dance and Art in a private school and there was a new bar next to my house. I asked them many times if I could get a job there and on the fifth time they said yes. I knew they would pay good, and it was a night bar, which later open as Tresor (but I didn’t know that at the time), so I mixed some tapes at home so we had nice music to hear, and one day the manager asked who’s music this was and I told him it was me.
He said you should came and play here but I was shy and I didn’t want to be a DJ, it was a hobby for me. So they just booked me and I played there and liked it. After two shows the biggest club came to me and asked me to play at E-Werk and then I played there and at Tresor . I got a residency there, every Sunday I played the Globus floor together with DJ Tanith. DJing in Berlin these days was very intense, we always played for many hours and the crowd was crazy. The parties were for freaks and nerds and no one from Berlin really played outside of the city, just in the areas around.
Also, because the world didn’t see Berlin as important these days. Our music didn’t arrive in the UK for a while. Then I started DJing very naturally, and I didn’t feel as much pressure. Pressure to perform I guess, I mean I still get nervous, but I enjoyed pleasuring people. I was super shy. Same time when i became a resident at Tresor and E-Werk, i started doing my own radio show on Kiss FM Berlin, that was called Braincandy!
Do you feel that shyness changed your performance? Do you now feel confident to play a more experimental sound?
After some years it started to feel normal to perform. A while ago Apparat and I performed live, and it was a very nice experience playing your own music live, and mixed with good visuals by Pfadfinderei.
I feel very comfortable now because I stopped drinking and taking drugs while I play, its made my sets more focused. I just try to connect with people, because I love people. Thats my main thing trying to connect the room with myself and the music I have in my bag. Music brings us together and effects us in a very positive way.
So when you have a difficult crowd, do you have any secret weapons?
I don’t ever see it that way. Its more like I’m in the wrong place. So I just play my music and hope to connect. It doesn’t happen so much now, but back in the day much more. These days you can use the internet to research the artists and most of the promoters are so professional. They know what they are doing. The customers are music lovers and when they pay entrance they know what they are paying for.
How do you find the scene now?
Its all about ideas, brand ideas. Every promoter has strong ideas what they wanna do. Thats the business side. But on the other hand there’s also a lot of amazing music out there, so we have something for all. There are the nerds, there are the business DJs that only make business plans because they only want to make money, but you can hear that in their music over the years. You can hear which DJs are into marketing and which do it for the love of the music.
Some festivals sold their brands, some festivals have been run by their owners for many years and they create their events with a lot of love. The commercial and the underground are two things that need each other. Sometimes things are too structured, so the experimentation is lost. If you have a club where one floor is Techno and the other is House you cannot play in both, you cannot play Electro or Breakbeats or change the music, so its missing a little bit. You can’t experiment as much. Its a game!!
Luckily there are many clubs where DJs can play longer sets, and create a journey. On the other hand, it kicks me to play big festival stages where I can bang like crazy. Worldwide we are working together with very good promoters and it ́s just a pleasure to play for them and work with them. In the past I had many problems while I was traveling or with the set ups in the clubs.
BPitch is hugely successful, what was the vision for the label.
The vision was to create a platform for artists with an own strong identity. Music, lifestyle, design and art platform for clubbers and electronic music lovers. Most importantly for us is to keep it all indie. We are independent. We have some great artists like Garry Todd, Shuffelmaster and DJ Funk as well as Jesse Perez from Miami with his Miami Bass sound. MANIK, an acid house producer and DJ from New York, who now lives in LA, and Phon.o from Berlin.
How do you find the situation now which everything is streamed rather than owned?
We stream a lot, I mean we have 320 releases since 1999, so a lot of material. And I also stream some of my DJ sets through Soundcloud. But it ́s good that some people still love to listen to vinyl and I love it too, I also enjoy nice cover artworks. My last album LISm is a soundtrack and now after 18 months I will be rereleasing it on vinyl. Just for me and the vinyl lovers!
At Decoded, we run an monthly amateur DJ comp at Decoded and one of our DJs asked us recently “If I hear a track in a chart or a mix can I still play it in my mix?” We didn’t really know how to answer, but its interesting to us that they were conscious of being original.
Thats amazing that they think like, and are trying to find their own sound, but I think a great track is a great track. You can’t change that, and there are some that you cannot do better. I’ve spent many years trying to find tracks from back in the 90s I love, and thank god for sites like Discogs that I can now buy them where I couldn’t find them at the time in the record shops!
Im so happy, and its not about copying, I just want the fucking track! Its something like collecting you know, sometimes there is no better track. My vinyl collection is very big, but there are still some some tracks I need from the past.
I remember the DJs would cover the labels sometimes, and that was so bullshit, so I don’t mind if people Shazam a track. Some of the best DJ sets are the ones I recognise some of the tracks, in fact I party more. Because I have memories of the track which come back to me. So those DJs that bring tracks back that I grew up with is such a pleasure to hear again. In fact I did it this summer, I found a track that no one was playing and I brought it back and everyone was talking about it.
Tell us about your summer, were there places you’ve never played?
Yeah, actually I played Reworks festival in Greece who I haven’t played for for many years. I think its their 13th year. And I remember when I played before, they would book many Berlin DJs but the crowd didn’t get the music, it was terrible. So I said to the promoter, you’ve booked me a few times and Im not in the right place, the people don’t want that kind of music, so I didn’t go back.
But now, when I played, it was a proper techno set, very abstract and they flipped out! I put a video up on my Facebook page, I was really surprised. They love it so much now! I played another great festival in Portugal – Forte Festival. It was in a castle with high walls, and I played very industrial, it was fantastic! Very magical. I’ve never played in a castle before it was very intense, very spiritual.
I played again at Circo Loco ten times. My residency was massive this year at DC-10, I heard so many great DJs. I really loved Boris Werner and we played back to back a few times. Steve Rachmad was amazing. BenUFO was very interesting with his DJ sets. Cajmere, every time I hear him he’s amazing. Very fast mixes, his combination of tracks is so groovy. He ́s also an amazing producer from Chicago…Donato Dozzy, I listened a few times, very trippy techno. You have to listen to him play long sets. Ben Klock was good, but his music is so fast!
Well its been a real pleasure to chat Ellen. I can see the next journalist hovering, so lets end by talking about your fashion brand. How did you get started?
We had just started tee shirt printing business, but we were starting to get tired of the tee shirt shapes, and every time I travelled I was looking for something new, and the ones I liked were already being used in the Techno scene and were expensive. So I decided to do my own stuff; things I would wear to a rave. Rave clothes!
So a friend of mine who made mens suits helped me, I started to design them and my friend would make the (shapes( patterns), and I would change things. I just wanted to do something for myself, for passion. Then we bought out two lines but it was a lot of work and I spent a lot of money, but I was really happy to be working with my friends.
I go by myself and I sell to the fashion shops in Paris, London, Berlin and Ibiza, and I sell around 10-30 items, so its super exclusive and its fun to do because every design has something to do with what happened to me. Its just the same as the music you know, its about telling a story with just abstract pictures, music and memory. The EA shirts are supposed to transport a lifestyle. You can order them from my website. Also a lot of my shirts i give to DJ friends as presents. I just want to keep it like this, Im not a fashion designer. Im a tee shirt user for always, for DJing, for wearing out its comfortable. 100% TEE USER….it ́s always great to have some label tees…from Clone, Hardwax, UR or Electronic Uniform / love hangover and of course BPitch! Haha