Ellen Allien is a German producer, DJ, singer and label owner, familiar to anyone who follows the worlds of house and techno. She was resident at famed Berlin techno club Tresor in 1992, and has started two labels (Braincandy and BPitch Control) as well as releasing some acclaimed experimental music. With over two decades of work, she’s quite an inspiration.
But it’s not been all roses. In an interview, she stated that her first label Braincandy failed for reasons that have got a lot to do with women’s access to knowledge and power:
I stopped doing Braincandy because I had many problems with the distribution, and I was younger–and I didn’t know how to talk to men, in the men world!! But by getting older I learned a lot from men! There’s no macho culture here, but the most important thing for me was to know how to get the information I needed. Then it’s no problem, but if you’re young, you don’t know… Now it’s no problem for me.
Luckily for us, she persevered and created BPitch Control several years later, which hosts among others Apparat, Mochipet, and Modeselektor. She describes the music on BPitch Control as “always light—it goes in the air, because the music is not dark. And it’s Berlin. You can hear this—if you visit some clubs in Berlin, you know this is the Berlin sound.” Both of which strike me as a nice way to describe her own music too, which features her own glitched up, treated vocals, a judicious use of guitars, as well as some nicely crunchy breakbeats and four-to-the-floor techno stompers.
It’s hard to know where to start in a such a wide discography, but 2003’s Berlinette album is a good start. “Sehnsucht” (video above, lyrics available here) is a standout, oscillating between the breakbeat and the 4/4 pulse and featuring layers of what I think is effected guitar as well as synths (minimal techno shoegaze?). The high-pitched synth that comes in after two minutes in always has me reaching for the lasers.
(“Way Out,” lyrics available here)
(“Bubbles,” lyrics available here)
Though she’s released six albums, Allien’s most famous musical work is probably her collaboration with Apparat, the album Bubbles, rated among the last decade’s best techno albums. It features some chugging dancefloor numbers and is perhaps darker than her solo work, with distorted synths. I imagine it goes down well on the dancefloor, though strangely enough I enjoy it most as just-before-bedtime music.
Her next album Dust is more of a move towards pop sounds and features collaborations with Tobias Freund. The single “Sun the Rain” (video above) is a sun-kissed IDM-and-guitar track more reminiscent of the sounds of indietronica label Morr Music (Lali Puna, Guther) than Tresor. It’s a bit The XX via Berlin, only of a far sunnier disposition than the London romantics.
Light and airy, the perfect soundtrack to the coming summer.