Ellen Allien - Allien Encounters
Tuesday, 10 June 2008
Techno has long been perceived as a male domain, but Germany's Ellen Allien is leading the fourth wave: a generation of plucky female auteurs, their music transcending the gender-divide. It's not as if women haven't been active in techno, a music that, emanating from black Detroit, advocated resistance, progress and utopianism.
Detroit's Kelli Hand began producing ‘machine soul’ in the ‘80s but, disinclined to engage with the media, she never defined her part in techno's powerful mythology. Like the archetypal 19th Century female novelist, she adopted an androgynous handle - K Hand. Significantly, Hand rejected an offer from Jeff Mills to amalgamate her Acacia Records with Axis, determined to retain autonomy.
Today DJ/producer Allien, pushing what she's dubbed ‘electech’, belongs to the same eclectic milieu as Miss Kittin, Mira Calix and Barbara Morgenstern. Allien has consistently denied the existence of overt sexism in contemporary electronica. She's bringing a new femininity to techno, rather than sublimating it.
If nothing else, Ellen is a high achiever. Already this decade she's aired a succession of solid 'artist' albums, the latest, SooL, just out. And she presides over a techno empire, BPitch Control, home to Modeselektor.
As such, Ellen juggles multiple roles - DJ, producer, label boss - yet little fazes her. “First, I have no different roles, because all the things I'm doing, I'm doing because I like to do them - it's my passion,” she says in broken English on a balmy day in Berlin. It's not really a problem for me, because I like to do that. It's my passion, as I said.”
Before Ellen Fraatz morphed into Ms Allien, a monicker perhaps referencing her childhood idol David Bowie, she spent a year in London. It was here in the ‘80s where Ellen was exposed to acid house at The Wag Club. She returned to Berlin, throwing herself into the nascent techno movement.
Dimitri Hegemann, later of Tresor fame, touted Ellen a DJ gig at his bar Fischlabor, where she was employed part-time. Allien was soon DJing in all Berlin's 'it' clubs, including E-Werk. That's not all; she landed a gig in a record store. She hosted a radio program on Berlin's Kiss FM. She promoted parties.
And Allien launched her first label, Braincandy. Alas, Braincandy lost money when techno fell out of vogue in the late '90s, and so Ellen dissolved it, starting afresh with the bolder BPitch Control.
Allien's fourth solo LP, SooL, represents a dramatic departure as she delves into minimalism. SooL is a parallel universe of glitchy sonic textures and ghostly atmospherics. It might be the soundtrack to a spooky installation. There are conspicuously less vocals. But, for all her love of the abstract, Ellen isn't without sentiment. The song Frieda is for her Granny. Indeed, Allien is the product of a single parent family and, with mum working, Frieda helped raise her. Ellen's music is emotional as well as cerebral. She describes it as “spiritual”, too.
Certainly Allien has been prolific of late. Last year she put her name to a Fabric compilation and remixed Beck's Cellphone's Dead and Thom Yorke's The Eraser. (Thom, Ellen reveals, is an old BPitch supporter.) In addition to SooL, she's currently plugging another mix CD, this one in BPitch Control's Boogy Bytes series.
Australia will finally experience Allien's electech DJing in June. She was reluctant to tour in the past. Ellen was informed that the Australian scene was all about trance (!) and so she figured that her music wouldn't click. Felicitously, Allien has since heard otherwise.
“For years people tried to book me and in the end I never came because it’s very far away,” she says. “But now I'm so curious to go. I have to come - really.”
WHO: Ellen Allien
WHAT: SooL and Boogy Bytes Vol. 4 out now through Stomp/BPitch Control