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Flamenco, DJ politics and Vinylism with Ellen Allien

Here's what a catch-up with Circoloco regular Ellen Allien reveals.

We all know that feeling of finding a set or a track that makes your heart race. The day I discovered Ellen Allien's Future Kappa set in Turin was the day I found my new favourite techno DJ. With energy and grace, the German producer, DJ, label and clothing brand owner now lives on the Island, spending her time creating new projects such as the innovative Vinylism, as well as blowing the roof off of venues such as Amnesia and DC10.

We caught up with her in one of Talamanca's bohemian bars, sporting one of her own branded t-shirts. Instantly her presence is calm yet focussed, with a touch of giddiness. Though the island hosts some of the most renowned parties to date, Berlin takes a firm stand at the number one city of techno. Ellen's moving to Ibiza is a choice that some may question.


Moving to Ibiza.

“I had always gone straight to Formentera. At that time I didn't like the music so much, especially clubbing outside of Berlin. The music I was hearing was a bit too commercial for me. In the past Ibiza was more cheesy house and 'trend' based. Then my Italian booker said 'ah no! You have to play Ibiza!' I didn't really want to! Then she took me to Pacha and I also played Amnesia. There was one year that Circoloco was closed; everyone would say to me 'DC10 is dead, it's over' so I finally went and it was insanely good. What a f***ing good club! Then they invited me to play and come back for a season, so I made a BPitch party there and then they invited me on Mondays. Not long after I fell in love with someone on Ibiza who was working here in the summer. Before I knew it they had they asked me to play 10 times in the season."

Though from an early age Ellen was surrounded by music, it wasn't the parties that drew her to Formentera. It was the artists who created sculptures and paintings, as well as nature and the hippy lifestyle. Though the love for Ibiza that she feels now was not felt so much in the past, the clean air and white beaches are her cure to late nights and over-working, "When I'm on Ibiza I recover so much faster. In Berlin, I need two days. Here I'll take three days but on the beach. The sunshine, the salt from the sea and the clean air - it's perfect.”

"Everyone would say to me "DC10 is dead; it's over" so I finally went and it was insanely good. What a f***ing good club!"


As a DJ

The scene in Berlin is renowned for its eccentric ravers and uncompromised techno. It's hard for DJs not to notice a change in crowds when playing around the world, "It's very different, you get as many tourists in Berlin and the crowds there are... wow. However, you feel the Spanish mentality and the spirit of Spain here; there are tourists from all around the world. You also feel it at Nitsa in Barcelona, where I've been a resident since forever!"

Ellen is the type of DJ to become fully immersed in the atmosphere of a party. There is no hierarchy between herself and the crowd. Learning about the culture and style of partying in each place is as important as her sets. "The Spanish people don't watch you and wait until you play well. They let you play well. I learnt that in Nitsa club. They are always in front of you clapping their hands in a flamenco way, always pushing me to start playing rougher, harder and groovier! They are always with you, and we are one with the crowd. You have people from all walks of life, people coming from work, rich people, workers, so many different cultures."

Apart from Ibiza and Berlin, Ellen Allien can be found bustling around the globe at an impressive rate. Although money and status may be an important aspect of the DJ life for some artists, the music as always rooted itself in the soul of Ellen's career. "I just want to play! I'm not interested in business. I love to play DC10. I also played at Hyte, to be with the Germans!"

Though the running theme of the venues and parties you will find Ellen at screams techno, her open mind plays a huge part in her career. In the past she has played parties such as elrow, showing how she can adapt to different crowds and sounds. "I can play very dark but the most important thing is the hypnotic side. House music is happier, you want to smile and show off crazy dance moves. Techno is something you move with. It takes a while; it's a hypnotic, flying moment. It means something to me mentally. I like to relax whilst dancing. I like dirty analogue sounds. To find another state of mind for me is the best way to do it with hypnotic tunes. There is a lot of music without vocals that transport you to another level, melodies, tones."

"I saw Jeff Mills as a kid. I grew up with that sound. Kraftwerk are my heroes. They are everybody's heroes! Very minimal with German vocals over the top, this was the pop music in Berlin. We had Nina Haarg. She is more underground electronic. This is why I am who I am. I am very open-minded. My favourite DJ out here is Jamie Jones. Why? Because he has this Cashmere, Green Velvet groove. He has the Chicago groove, he has the basslines mixed with the right vocals and he's great!"


Vinylism

For a producer like Ellen Allien, it would be fatal to not inject her immense knowledge fn music into unique side projects. Luckily for us vinyl-heads, Ellen's recent creation is 'Vinylism'. "Vinylism is a project that I started last year. I was invited by Sonar. I asked my promoter if I could play some tracks in a record shop before, so I could meet some people. We found Lucky Records; the record store owner introduced me to loads of new Icelandic bands. He and I sat in a restaurant until 12:00 just talking about music!"

For Ellen Allien, vinyl plays a huge part in her career. Like most respected DJs, a hefty bag of 60 to 80 specially picked records follows her on her journey. "All of my collection is on vinyl; all of my bombs are vinyl. If I couldn't find them in Berlin, I would buy them somewhere else." Records were not always her forte. The transition between digital and vinyl came when certain records were only vinyl. Unsurprisingly, her risky side came into action and she started to dabble with spinning records. However, as important as vinyl is to her, she doesn't need it to be happy.

"All of my collection is in vinyl, all of my bombs are vinyl. If I couldn't find them in Berlin I would buy them somewhere else."

For Ellen, the music speaks. The selection is key. "We did a vinylism at Spacehall Berlin, which is a f***ng amazing record store. They have a lot of rare indie stuff and in the back techno and house. It was f***ing insane! It was like a club. He put all of the records on the side then opened a bar, there was a queue for metres. It was like a club."


Her album Nost

This year alone for Ellen has already been the year for new beginnings and creativity. May was the birth month of her brand new album Nost, released on her record label BPitchcontrol. As far as her discography goes, Nost compared to her 2013 release LISm and Dust in 2010 is different, to say the least. "For me, every Ellen Allien Album should be different. Some tracks are close to what I did before, but this time I wanted to make an album that I can play in the clubs. My last album Ism was more of a soundtrack, a 45-minute art concept. It was more about sounds, more abstract and electronic; it's a journey, a soundscape. For this album, I wanted something more physical, which is one of my favourite tracks on Nost. My other favourite is Mind Journey, the lyrics go "this is not a mind journey; this is a body journey" are the same concept I meant with Physical. The album is much more danceable. You can hear it is an Ellen Allien album, the vocals, the beat structures, the instruments. Always a different concept."

For most people, nostalgia is something that stays in the past, something we may mourn for. This more negative view of nostalgia is something Ellen picked up on when researching the notion of nostalgia in bookshops. For her, the term has a more positive meaning: being happy that she had the journey in her past. Now Ellen views it as a flashback. This mindset is projected with her sets, bringing back old tracks like a trip down memory lane. "Every time I play them now, I get goosebumps, my temperature rises. It's like a flashback; it brings back memories. This is why I called my album Nost, it's short for nostalgic."

Ellen Allien's Nost is now on offer here. Keep an eye out for Nost Remixes part 1 out September 1st.


Her label BPitch Control

Since 1999, Ellen Allien has owned her own Berlin based record label BPitch control. At the mention of this, excitement fills the room as she lists off new artists she is currently working with. "The last one I signed was Gary Todd. He's an amazing DJ and a talented producer; his music is just outstanding. We also signed Dillon; she's a singer song writer - check her out. Phon.o also makes a glitchy kind of house; he's amazing, too. We also have the project We Are Not Alone, where we invite people around the world to make parties. In Berlin we have BPitch Control parties at Ipse; it's a summer location with an open-air space, on the river with the trees. You can dance outside; it's beautiful."

"Every time I play them now, I get goosebumps and my tempreture rises. It's like a flashback; it brings back memories. This is why I called my album Nost, it's short for nostalgic."


Staying grounded.

It's no news that the DJing lifestyle is as full-speed as it gets. Just a simple click on her website shows a handful of projects Ellen owns. Fashion, diary and concept are just some of them. Whilst other artists may fall into the trap of constant partying, Ellen finds comfort in relaxing and channelling her creativity into new projects. Ibiza is her home for playing; Berlin is her muse, the city where she thrives for production. "Music is my passion, it doesn't feel like I am working hard. Many people ask me, especially as a woman, how I deal with all these travels. I say, it's hard, but I just want to play. If I can play, there is no trouble."

"I think the human being is strong if you find something you love. If it's a person or even a dog or a plant, you watch it every day and it grows with you. The human being has a lot of power, a lot of energy. It is important that you feel love and that you have a positive energy although positivity and being optimistic is not always good. If you have too much, you don't see the truth anymore. I'm very optimistic, but too much can kill the movement, but if you're optimistic to change something, it's perfect. If you're too optimistic that you don't change, that doesn't work. I try to exchange with art or exchange energies that I have with the public when I play. I give them something and they give it back."

In past interviews, Ellen has never held back in her spiritual side. Her femininity works to her advantage with her feelings towards nature and the earth. Ellen expresses the difference between those who destroy and those who create, though throughout she maintains an understanding of the reasons that artists do things differently. "I think all different energies are important, so let's just keep it how it is. The nerd or the mathematic person, they are all important, as well as the importance for the arseholes to be arseholes!"


Gender balance

It's clear that Ellen sees things the way they are. In a no-nonsense manner, she looks to create and to inspire only, but this isn't always so easy for female DJs. It's a touchy subject and a subject that a lot of DJs are fed up of hearing about. Though after the recent controversy, it seems impossible to dodge the issue. Taken out of context or not, mentioning the sentence "Women are usually worse at DJing than men" is never going to get you very far.

Suprised, Ellen graciously prods further and sees things from both sides. Having DJed alongside each other at Circoloco, she mentions how Konstantin seems like a lovely guy; however, in her take-no-shit manner, firmly announces that he is jealous. "He's jealous, but I understand. The women are coming, they are getting stronger. Nina, The Black Madonna, myself I have been here since the beginning. There are so many girls coming now; it's probably scary for them. However, I will say that line ups are still hardly trying to book women. You will still find 30 men and only 5 women playing the same line-up."

"You will still find 30 men and only 5 women playing the same line up."

It's hard to imagine any sexism been thrown in Ellen Allien's direction, with such a hard-working journey behind her; with albums, EPs, stores and countless ventures behind her, unfair would be the word. But this is not the case; it still thrives in the music industry. After asking why women should have to prove themselves as producers, we approached a different angle. "You have to prove yourself as a DJ anyway, man or woman. It doesn't matter who you are; you have to make the people happy because they are paying an entrance. Men have to prove their talents also."

After a short Spanish lesson from our waiter, we moved on to our shared love for the electronic equivelant of Patti Smith: The Black Madonna. Ellen uses her to shed light on an often frustrating issue, "After Nina Kraviz, we had our stereotypical beauty. The Black Madonna isn't your mainstream, typically beautiful woman when it comes to the media's eye, but she is so active, so intelligent. She plays disco, house. People were waiting for someone like her. She knows her music, her system; she is bringing so much into the scene. She arranged pannels at Sonar to talk about this issue, she's unique and great to watch."

It's not right to talk about an issue with no solution, otherwise it's called moaning. "When festivals book women, they only book the same few big DJs. This is not the same for men. I think this is because the bookers are men. We need female bookers; this can help. I don't tend to talk about it much anymore; I just want to work. I'm not bitter because of the male to female ratio. It's like Berghain: it's a gay club so it's full of gay men, and maybe they want more men. At the end of the day, when women play places like DC10, they're talked about more. Maybe we look more fun, maybe we play better!"

This sums Ellen Allien up to a T. A sprinkle of cheekiness mixed with a business-like mind. She treats me to dinner and we continue to chat about all things music. After all, this is her passion. She has built up a career and holds herself with strength and pride, all whilst remaining humble, down to earth and inspiring to others.

Ellen Allien plays DC10 on August 7.

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