Ellen Allien's the Pitch Controller
Every year, Berlin-based producer/DJ Ellen Allien, who plays Avaland on May 3, compiles a handful of dance tracks into a set that she will take with her on the road and eventually record to CD. It is, as she says over a cross-seas phone call, her “diary of the year.”
“Sometimes the sets are not so tight, but then they become tighter and tighter; that’s when I mix it, to hold the feeling while I still have it,” she adds.
On her latest mixed CD, the fourth volume of the Boogy Bytes series from her own BPitch Control record label, Allien wisely refrains from mashing together obvious dance-floor bangers and instead focuses on maintaining a steady hand as she gradually builds to a 2 a.m. Saturday-night high. She admittedly works with slower tempos in this instance, concentrating on tracks brimming with noise elements and deeply pulsating bass lines. Opening with the effect-laden German voice of “poem producer” AGF, Allien plays with subtle sounds for the disc’s first five tracks, and reaches a sweat-drenched peak when she mixes the eerie synth melody of Konpiùta’s “Christmas Fairytale (Moessap Edit)” with the knee-buckling vocal line of SozAdams’ “Eyes Forlorn.” And once Allien finds dance-floor gold, she digs for more, splicing together tracks that haven’t hit the U.S. in a manner so familiar that it is hard not to move. But at the same time you are catching the groove, you can’t help but notice the nuanced pattern she weaves. It is a cerebral dance mix as well as a physical one.
“I try to find a tight mix to fill the club with interesting music that people can listen to with their brain,” she explains.
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Allien approaches her own productions in a similar fashion.
“[It’s] a journey of my personality,” says Allien of her compositions, the latest of which appear on her forthcoming full-length album SOOL.
“The albums are not to scream out my personality or tell the world my problems,” she adds. “But when the person is dancing, you can put them into your life. It’s not to reflect my personality on them. It’s to give them a peek.”
To even attempt to peer inside Allien’s mind is a daunting task. Born and bred in Berlin, she is more than just the city’s unofficial champion. She is the person who makes things happen. Part of the city’s burgeoning techno scene for the bulk of the 1990s, Allien launched BPitch Control in 1997 as a series of parties. The record label of the same name was founded two years later. In the decade that has followed, BPitch Control has become one of the world’s most respected electronic-record labels and is the home base for artists like Modeselektor and Sascha Funke. Although the label now functions with a support staff, Allien still maintains an active role in the company, sifting through demos that come her way, signing new producers, assisting in the development of BPitch’s established artists and approving album art. She has maintained a steady pace of releasing her own albums, essentially one every other year, not including her DJ discs, and has accumulated a substantial list of remix credits for musicians ranging from the BPitch crew to the EBM group Covenant to Beck and Thom Yorke. In addition, she launched her own fashion line in 2005. That she can accomplish so much in between a seemingly endless streak of DJ gigs and not sound like she might fall asleep during the interview is almost unfathomable.
SOOL, which was released April 29, manifested as most of Allien’s productions do. Last summer, she began to formulate the concept of the album, something “more minimal and reduced” than her previous solo efforts — Stadtkind (2001), Berlinette (2003) and Thrills (2005) — something that relied less on melody. The ideas were numerous, and Allien kept track of those creative notions until winter hit Berlin. She then entered the studio with a few co-producers, primarily AGF, but also Holger Zilske (Smash TV) and Apparat, her partner from the 2006 album Orchestra of Bubbles. The end result is a collection of 11 tracks that move consciously in a different direction from what one might expect from the purveyor of Berlin club music, filled with longer-than-average pieces, cut-up vocals and unusual arrangements and rhythms.
“The album is made for home, while jogging or doing housework, before you go clubbing, making love, cooking, whatever,” she explains.
SOOL isn’t a complete departure from Allien’s previous work though. For example, “Its” harks back to the driving beat of her breakthrough single, “Stadtkind,” this time topped by Space Invaders squelches. However, the Berlin groove is balanced by moments of intense introspection, like the hushed, ambient ballad “Frieda,” which is for Allien’s grandmother, who passed away years ago.
“I feel her around every day, nevertheless,” she says. “It is one of the most crucial feelings I ever experienced, to feel that the dead people are still with me; love cannot die. They are always with me, their soul is around.”
Allien played the album for her friends and colleagues, and no one seemed certain that the music could be applied to the international clubs where she plays several nights a week. Still, she tried out a few pieces while spinning in Italy, mixing them into the middle and end of her DJ set.
“In Italy, people were open, listening and dancing,” she proclaims enthusiastically, before whistling a few bars of “Ondu” and adding, “People were whistling.”
According to Allien, the live responses to SOOL’s tracks have been similarly surprising in other countries.
“When I apply it, it works totally out! It is crazy!” she exclaims.
Coinciding with the release of both SOOL and Boogy Bytes Volume 4 is Allien’s clothing collection, *PLUS*. Featuring pieces for both men and women, the collection ties in conceptually with SOOL and focuses on “organic motifs” printed on white jersey.
“Those organic prints are crucial for *PLUS* — they represent the human body’s energy flux,” she says. “Hence, the name *PLUS* stands for the positive energy, which we all need for being happy and that never shall become subdued by negativity.”
And maybe, in summarizing her clothing line, Allien gave the best explanation of herself.
Ellen Allien will deejay at Avaland on Sat., May 3, with Claude VonStroke and Sascha Funke.
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