If it's true that the electronic dance music industry is male dominated, with women facing unfair challenges, then aspiring female artists couldn't choose a greater role model than Ellen Allien.
As a DJ-producer, Allien has been at the forefront of the Berlin techno scene pretty much since the wall came down. And as head of the internationally renowned BPitch Control label, she has also emerged as one of the foremost tastemakers on the global techno scene.
Allien's talents extend beyond just music, however. She is a full-blown renaissance woman with sidelines in fashion, photography, design, and even the performing arts.
Ahead of this Saturday's headlining gig alongside Martin Buttrich, LINK and Miami Rebels at Story, we here at Crossfade chatted with the talented Miss Allien about the origins of her label, the experimental evolution of her latest album LISm, and how women do it differently than men in EDM.
Crossfade: How did your first get drawn to electronic dance music? What was the electronic dance music scene in Berlin like immediately after the wall came down? And how is it different today? Has it become more touristy or commercialized?
Ellen Allien: It is actually much more interesting now than it used to be when it started out, since more and more international people are living in Berlin, giving much value to the scene. Of course, there is some commercial stuff going on, but we still have a big underground scene. As long as creative people move to Berlin, the city will continue to be interesting. The key to Berlin is the freedom and the creativity -- both factors are full-on.
What was the concept behind BPitch Control when you first launched the label in 1999? And how has that concept evolved over the years?
The core concept and motto is "do it by yourself." BPitch is a platform for electronic music, from listening to indie to techno, house, and breaks. Now we are a big record label with a worldwide network, with its own booking agency, events, and also a fashion line.
BPitch has drawn comparisons to seminal electronic music labels like Warp Records, because of your eclectic artist roster which includes diverse artists like Modeselektor, Jay Haze, and Jahcoozi. What's your criteria for selecting artists and records to release? What sort of general style of aesthetic are you looking for to define the label?
I am looking for artists that impress me, artists that have something to say, people with strong personality and talent. That's the main and only criteria.
You've juggled the multiple roles of DJ, producer and A&R manager. Which is the most rewarding role for you and why?
DJing is making people and me dance -- it's rock 'n' roll and giving good times. Producing is a bit deeper -- it's telling stories about my life. A&R is searching for the best I can find -- it's searching for the future, which isn't so easy, it's a daily challenge. It's just the same with the graphic design and video art that we develop day by day. It would be better not to sleep, this way we would have more time. [Laughs]
BPitch has always stayed at the cutting-edge of electronic dance music. Where do you think EDM is headed in the future? Are the techno and house forms exhausted? Or is there still room for innovation?
Electronic dance music music is an important part of the music and club business. It's huge for big festivals and clubs worldwide. Surprises are always welcome, for BPitch and the crowd. For example, we signed a new artist, Dillon, who makes music between EDM and songwriting, and is being very successful. Her live performance is amazing -- people and BPitch love her. Electronic music is also getting more and more into other art fields like theater and cinema, which is pushing the genre toward constant innovation.
You've managed to keep a successful label running despite challenges brought about in the industry by the Internet and digital distribution. What is the secret of your longevity? How have you adapted to the challenges?
Creativity, clear minds, patience and passion are the keys.
As a female artist, have you found it challenging to get ahead in the male-dominated EDM scene? Do you think women are on their way to making a bigger impact?
Many women are making music nowadays: singers, songwriters, women that make EDM. Now the doors are open and women trust themselves much more than they used to. Women just go their natural way. I think men are more aggressive in the way they are searching for success. They are longing for the power, while in my opinion women normally make music much more in order to express themselves.
How did you first get involved in fashion? What's been going on with your fashion line lately?
A long time ago, actually. I started to study tailoring, but then music got stronger and I became a DJ. Then I ran my own radio show. I used to work in a record store, and now I own and run my own label and booking agency. At a certain point, basically when I had a bit more time, the passion for fashion came back and I started founding Ellen Allien fashion. I first made total looks, but now I've decided to concentrate on t-shirts. I would call myself a t-shirt designer. I love it.
Your latest album LISm is based on music you scored for a dance performance piece. How did you approach the writing and production on this differently than with past projects? Did you study the choreography of the dance performance and use that as a reference for the writing and arrangements?
The starting point for LISm came in 2010 when two choreographers and dancers asked me to compose music for their dance performance "Drama per Musica." The performance took place in March 2011, under the direction of Alexandre Roccoli and Sevérine Rième, as part of the Spectacles Vivants Festival at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. After that, I let the music "rest" on my hard drive for more than one year, till I started to rework it in winter 2012.
After six months in Ibiza -- I had a residency at DC10 during the entire summer -- I moved back to Berlin, and I started to record new sounds for my new soundtrack LISm. The story, the message, and the content of LISm are completely new -- I just took the music I produced for "Drama per Musica" as an inspiration. Thatʼs how I got back to the studio in 2012, together with Bruno Pronsato, recording new vocals, instruments, and composing new sound collages.
LISm is a very personal soundtrack that represents my inner world. During one year of my life, I attended a dance school where they would teach everything, from acrobatics to art history. Thatʼs when I first worked together with dancers and choreographers. And during my career, I have regularly continued to do so. For "Bim" from my album Sool, for example, I worked together with the dancer and choreographer Morgan Berenguer. Also in "Trash Scapes" from Berlinette, I worked with dancers. The last one was the video for "Take Me Out," taken from my last single Galactic Horse.
How was the music performed during the actual March 2011 show in Paris? Was there an orchestra? Or was it an exclusively electronic performance?
It was a contemporary dance performance, with three dancers on stage creating noises through their movements that were recorded and reproduced live during the show. The show was very electronic -- I would say industrial, from both an aesthetic and musical point of view. The soundtrack itself was a bit more techno than LISm.
Is it possible that there will be more live performances of this dance piece in the future?
So what's next for you? Any forthcoming projects or releases we should look out for?
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At the end of March 2013, BPitch Control will release a new compilation featuring various artists, titled Where the Wind Blows. I compiled it, choosing from many "new" artists such as Joy Wellboy, Eating Snow, David K, Thomas Barfod and many more. I am satisfied with the result! A German artist, Carsten Fock, made the gorgeous cover artwork.
The new Ellen Allien fashion collection "Shadow Dance" will come out in the next weeks. End of April will see the launch of the Moleskine special edition with my track "Journeys." The next months will also see some brand new releases from artists like David K, Safety Scissors (yes, they are back!), Douglas Greed (AKA Eating Snow), and some singles from Viadrina, Bruno Pronsato, and soon also new stuff made by Ellen Allien.
Ellen Allien and Martin Buttrich. Saturday, January 26. Story, 136 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. The show starts at 11 p.m. and tickets cost $30 to $40 plus fees via wantickets.com. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-538-2424 or visit storymiami.com.