Ellen Allien Talks Border Walls, Vinyl, and a Female Future

Ellen Allien Talks Border Walls, Vinyl, and a Female FutureEXPAND
Lisa Wassman
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Growing up in West Germany before reunification, Ellen Allien knew all about border walls and the strife they breed. As a performer during this year's Miami Music Week, she'll play in the country that once famously pleaded for the Berlin Wall's destruction — and the same country that now seeks a wall of its own.

"I think it's very egocentric to be afraid," Allien says of the sentiments and rhetoric brewing in the United States. She's preparing to spin tonight on Virginia Key and then to play the Crosstown Rebels' Get Lost party Saturday.

Still, she understands firsthand the powerful mechanisms that incubate the anxiety necessary to create a divisive political climate. "They train the people to be afraid. If you start being afraid, you'll need someone to [make you] feel secured. You'll start to fight. Poor people who feel afraid, you don't have to be afraid of anything. You have to find solutions. Life is always about solutions. When you are afraid, you start having these things going on. And this is the wrong energy because it's very dark to be afraid."

Those sentiments might sound reductive or even hokey, but as a veteran of Berlin's underground electronic scene since 1992, Allien has seen music work miracles. "I saw people in the club scene [who were] very Nazi [inspired], and they really changed, because when they start taking Ecstasy or they meet different people of different colors, they open their minds a little bit. I think clubbing is so important to open minds of people because it's rare you can meet so many people except in the club."

It is precisely Miami's diversity and ability to get different groups talking, dancing, and sweating together that Allien cites as her favorite quality of the Magic City.

"[Miami is] completely different than Berlin. Berlin is darker. It's very melancholic. What I like about Miami is its mixed Latino and North American people. I really love the mixture."

In the 25 years Allien has been DJing around the world, she has watched electronic music and its wide tent of subgenres expand beyond the European underground to worldwide pop-culture dominance and even media saturation.

Though she's skeptical of what she calls the "big business" side of the electronic music scene, she views most of the changes as positive.

"I have to say I like how it's changed in terms of traveling, in terms of communication... I like the fact that most of the clubs have very good sound systems, the fact that we have different forms of arts, the way I can spin records or [play] raves. I'm enjoying it a lot because the scene is so big,  and it's all very independent."

Earlier in her career, Allien spun vinyl live during her sets. Then she stopped for some time before returning to wax and staying with it. She now plays live sets on vinyl at her favorite record shops around the globe in a performance series called Vinylism.

"I realized it's much nicer to play those original records from the past," she says. "When I play, it's more emotional for me and for the crowd. So I try to play the original records even if I have them on my hard drive, because it's just more fun. If I listen to a DJ, I don't care if they play with records or not. But for me, if I play a record, I feel more emotional."

She has extended that retro sensibility to her upcoming album, Nost, taken from the word "nostalgia."

"It's very analog," she says. "I used my vocals in many different ways, like robot sounds, spacey sounds, dirty tracks, or some groovy tracks where I put only one word inside to use [on the] synthesizer. I'm very happy with the result because it shows how I play in clubs. The album is about dancing, about feeling your body and using my vocals in different ways and using a lot of analog synthesizers."

As a female DJ active for more than two decades and the founder of the label BPitch Control, Allien embraces a retro approach to music-making while also pushing the electronic music world into the future, and she's cognizant of the weight of those contributions.

"As a female, I'm very proud that there are so many girls now, more girls than before, more DJ girls. When I started, there weren't so many. There's still not enough female producers. I'm happy that maybe I opened the doors. I'm a kind of pioneer for this. Maybe I'm a good idol [so] that women see that you can do it as a girl and you don't die for it. I'm still healthy."

Rapture Electronic Music Festival
Noon Thursday, March 23, at Historic Virginia Key Beach Park, 4020 Virginia Beach Dr., Miami; 305-960-4600; virginiakeypark.net. Tickets cost $40 to $135 via residentadvisor.net.

Crosstown Rebels Present Get Lost Miami, 12th Session
5 a.m. Saturday, March 25. Venue to be announced. Tickets cost $55 via residentadvisor.net.

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