Meet Ellen Allien, topping the bill at Groove On The Grass
What’s On teams up with Hype to profile and interview Ellen Allien, who will DJ in Dubai at Groove On The Grass at Emirates Golf Club, near Dubai Marina.
Born and raised in Berlin, Ellen Allien has managed to foment a whole sound and scene around her very specific taste in art, fashion and music. But weirdly for someone so synonymous with her home city, it was actually during trips to London way back in the ’90s that Ellen first fell in love with electronic music. Listening to uncompromising tech-house DJs such as Fabric’s Eddie Richards and acid house man Colin Faver’s residency at long gone Soho club Wag, Ellen began dancing to an electronic beat. Once back in Berlin and having witnessed the fall of the Wall, she immediately got involved in the local scene, working behind the bar and decks at the Fischlabor club.
It was a time when sweaty techno parties with shaven headed bald blokes dominated the scene but that didn’t put off Ellen Allien, born Ellen Fraatz, rather it spurred her on. After securing a residency on Kiss FM entitled Braincandy (which also turned into a short lived techno label from 1994 to 1998), she also secured club residencies at legendary techno spots E-Werk and Tresor. The ensuing 20-odd years have seen her evolve from wide-eyed club kid into an international DJ star who plays definitive clubs and festivals on a weekly basis, with one such stop off coming at the Groove On The Grass season closing party on Friday.
Don’t set any expectations as to what you might hear that night, though: as a DJ, Allien is someone who draws on her years in the game, someone who pilots more unpredictable DJ sets than your average newcomer. She is as able to do a sun-kissed festival set as she is to put together a dark, moody, after-party selection, where techno, house, indie leaning dance, minimal and dark wave pop are all fair game. Testament to her skill is the fact that she has been tapped up for a wealth of official mix CDs, from Fabric 34 (recorded on vinyl in one single live take) to Watergate 05 via Boogybytes Vol.04 on her own BPitch Control label.
BPitch Control actually started out in the late ’90s as a party series in the wake of the closure of some of Berlin’s key techno clubs, but before long it became Allien’s prime outlet for recorded material. Right from the off Ellen made it her MO to pair off with other producers: Heiko Laux, Holger Zilske, Apparat and AGF have all teamed up with the techno temptress throughout her career
yet always does she retain a sense
of her own sonic self in everything she releases.
To date that includes an impressive six full-length albums, with the most recent one being 2013’s LISm – although it was actually a concept album of sorts, one that was initially made as a soundtrack for the dance performance Drama per Musica, which was performed only once,
live at Paris’ Pompidou Center in March 2011.
“The performance was amazing and a very intense and interesting process,” said Ellen at the time of the album’s release. “After the show the music stayed on my hard drive. I thought first I will do an album track by track… but after listening again to the recordings of Drama per Musica I wanted to rework them – filtering the best passages, writing new lyrics and new music. The new sounds and arrangements came in a very natural and honest way, just like something I want to listen to at home. It was important for me to surprise the listener so they cannot expect what comes next.”
Previous albums have been just as noteworthy for their standalone aesthetics, be it the accessible collection of enchanting, wandering melodies, abstract lyrics and sparse arrangements that was Dust in 2010, or the subtle, mysterious and minimal design of Sool back in 2008. What ties all her work together is a focus on the overall listening experience. Ellen always seems to have an eye on longevity and rather than crafting of-the-moment bangers, her albums are always proper art projects that are about more than the here and now.
BPitch Control, too, is run through with a similarly art school approach that reflects the Berlin city in which it is based. As such, it’s home to acts as diverse as techno pin-up Paul Kalbrenner, deepsmith Sascha Funke and multi-genre live specialists Modeselektor, but also more intimate singer/song-writing acts like recently emergent star Dillon, whose two albums on the label so far have been some of the most tender and introspective to date. Many fans now hold BPitch Control and its dancefloor-oriented electronica in the same regard as Cologne’s mature electronic pop outlet Kompakt – that is, a major standalone proposition that has its very own sound, close family of artists and global appeal.
“The label is always moving and never gets rusty,” Ellen rightfully claims. “Every year we discover new and fresh music. I guess, for me, it is really important to make people happy and to find enough freedom to be creative, to make and release new tunes and to see how far I can go.”
Twenty years after starting out that innate drive in Ellen to go further is as strong as ever. Whilst no one knows what is round the corner for this enduring tastemaker, what we do know is that it will always be worth checking out.
Groove On The Grass, Emirates Golf Club, Dubai. Friday, May 16, Dhs160 in advance, Dhs200 on the door. Metro: Nakheel