Ellen Allien: Music, fashion and individuality
During the first stages of my love affair with house and techno, one of the tracks that really stood out for me was ‘The Kiss’ by Ellen Allien. There was something about it that was captivating, the energy, the sounds, the playfulness and sensuality – I loved it, and made sure I investigated Ellen Allien’s back catalogue and DJ sets. Not only does she run her own successful label (BPitch Control), she also runs her own fashion line and, of course, tours the globe on a regular basis. Ellen will soon be back in London playing at one of the year’s biggest weekend events, Bloc, ahead of her appearance we had a chat about her past, present and future.
I read that it was a year spent in London in 1988 that inspired you musically – what kind of music were you listening to at this time and which clubs/parties were you going to?
I used to go manly to Wag club. I loved it since the crowd used to get there pretty early and because it was full of black people dancing like crazy. The club closed early at around 3 or 4am, I don’t remember the exact time, I was very young back then and I simply had lots of fun. Deee-Lite started to get big at that time, and I actually saw the singer many times at Wag.
Who were your musical inspirations when you were first getting into house/techno? And which were your favourite clubs?
At the beginning I didn’t really like house nor techno music. It was too fast for me and I didn’t like to dance to it. I didn’t fancy the first techno club which was called Ufo in Berlin either; there was way too much fog and too many strobes. However, I got caught when the Planet opened up, a club run by a gay man and a woman (today she is running a restaurant). Planet was attended by a myriad of different types of down-to-earth people, from freaks, to gays, to funny figures of each kind… and I felt much more respected as a woman than in hip-hop clubs like WMF. I preferred the music of hip-hop clubs, but the men in these clubs used to hit on me in a very dumb and stupid way. After a while I got into the music at Planet and I started to dance for hours and hours, to meet plenty of new people and basically to change my circle of friends. The first record store I went to was Hardwax, which had strong connections to electro, house and techno from the US as well as to British electronic music. My record collection is entirely labeled by Hardwax. Now I no longer buy vinyls but exclusively digital music in digital shops.
Would you say the fall of the Berlin wall helped to facilitate the growth of electronic music and club culture in Berlin?
Yes, electronic music was the genre that brought the eastern and western youth together after the fall of the Wall. The clubs turned into an important meeting point where people from the East, the West, as well as people from around the world met, communicated, interacted and of course had fun. That was the point in time when new record labels, DJs, producers, artists of any kind came up, and all this empowered by the rise of the new media.
How did you make the transition from clubgoer to DJ to producer?
I have been collecting records since I was a child. A family member managed the jukeboxes around the city and I therefore received the old records once he exchanged them with new ones. I had so many of them, especially singles! Then I got a Technics turntable for my birthday and I got one myself and started to mix, just for fun. Then a bartender discovered one of my mix tapes and persuaded me to play at his bar. After that I started my own radio show on Kiss FM titled Braincandy, a residency at E-Werk which was the best club in town at that time, just as Berghain today and I played each Sunday at Globus (the techno floor of Tresor).
Why did you decide to set up your own label? How long did it take for you to make the BPitch idea a reality? Did you encounter many problems in setting it up?
Before BPitch Control was founded I had another label called Braincandy, just like my radio show. Since I have been working in record stores around Berlin I was in contact with distribution companies. With my first label I made lots of errors, lost money and couldn’t continue, then E-Werk closed up and I was clueless. I decided to make another attempt using all my experience and concentration, that’s how I founded BPitch Control in 1999. Today it is one of the most important record labels in Berlin and I am proud of it. We work with many talented artists, which is the most interesting part of the whole thing.
Is there a certain sound that you would associate with BPitch?
Electronic and indie music with proclivity for melodies and vocals.
You also have your own fashion label…how did you get involved with that? What kind of clothing do you create?
At the moment I am only designing t-shirts because that is what I wear every day. The two most important elements to me are the cut and the material. In fact especially the two last collections concentrated on a very smooth textile which feels just like a second skin. Each collection has its own history and backgrounds that is also why they mostly don’t look very alike.
It’s the first time Bloc has taken place at this venue – have you seen it and what do you think of it?
I don’t really know the location but I saw some video clips Bloc made to preview the new location and I can just say that it looks amazing. I am looking forward…
Is there anyone else on the line-up who you really want to check out? (Snoop maybe or Gary Numan??)
This years’ line-up is one of the best line-ups I have ever seen. If I did a rave it would be the dream line-up I would like to book myself. I don’t want to miss Steve Reich, Gary Numan, Squarepusher, Apparat’s band and many more. I mean, the line-up is just the bomb, the promoters were able to bring together all my favourite artists. All of them did important things for our scene.
What are some of your favourite places to hang out in London when you’re not DJing?
I love London’s parks and their trees. It’s so nice to watch at kids playing and people going about their normal life without any commercial influence.
Can you tell me a bit about what’s coming up over the next few months – I believe you have another album on the way, when can we expect that?
At the moment I am working on two new tracks for the upcoming BPitch Control compilation. I am also thinking about the place where to produce my new album, maybe LA? Let’s see. At the moment I am spending a lot of time in Ibiza since I have a summer residency at DC10, my favourite club out here.
And for the label? Any new artists/signings to watch out for? And who’s featuring on the new compilation?
The new BPitch Control compilation will feature BPitch artists like Kiki, Chaim, System of Survival, Jahcoozi, Aerea Negrot, Camea, We Love, Thomas Muller, Skinnerbox, Telefon Tel Aviv, Apparat, Cormac, myself and many other guest artists as My Favorite Robot, Kim Ann Foxmann, Tomas Bradford, Maya Jane Coles, Miguel Campbell, Viadrina, Bruno Pronsato…
Finally, with everything you’ve achieved so far, what more is left for you to do? What are your hopes for the future?
Peace for the world.Berlin, BPitch Control, ellen allien, House, music, techno
Recent Posts on Arts
- Friday Book Design Blog: Collier Books - great paperback design... and some of the worst Narnia covers I've seen
- Pulled Apart By Horses' European tour diary
- Friday Book Design Blog: Fitzcarraldo Editions
- Children’s books for October: Meg and Mog, The Demon Dentist and The Whispering Skull
- Friday Book Design Blog: Slightly Foxed and Notting Hill Editions
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter