Disc jockey, recording company executive
Berlin-based DJ Ellen Allien is also a producer and head of the independent label Bpitch Control. Known for her devotion to techno, Allien has produced albums of her own work in addition to remixes of other musicians' work.
Allien was born and raised in West Berlin, Germany, and grew up with her mother and sister in a large apartment complex. Her mother was a social service worker for the city government, and Allien was left on her own while her mother worked. Allien told Ella Christopherson in Index that her mother "gave me a real sense of freedom. She was very relaxed. She never told me what I could or couldn't do. I think that's why I'm a strong-minded woman who's not scared of making decisions, or saying what I think."
As a child, Allien played flute and also experimented with playing an organ that was located in the corridor of her apartment. When she was 19 she began playing drums and saxophone. After playing for three years, she became interested in mixing music. An early influence on her musical life was David Bowie, whom she admired for his constant re-creation of himself in different roles. Allien also learned English by translating Bowie's lyrics into German. Another musical influence came from a family friend, who owned jukeboxes in bars and restaurants in Berlin. When records fell out of favor, instead of throwing them away he gave them to Allien. "So I had lots of out-of-date '80s pop singles in my room," she told Christopherson.
The time was the early 1990s, and techno was becoming the latest craze in Berlin, pushing out hip-hop, which Allien viewed as chauvinistic and overly sexualized. She was immediately enchanted with techno. As she told Julianne Shepherd in XLR8R, "It was the first time that [sex] really played no role [in the scene]—whether you are man or woman, whom you love, the way you love, why you are doing it. The only thing which counts is the love for the music, and thus a special [bond] of respect and friendship is created."
Also at that time, Berlin was changing as a result of the destruction of the Berlin Wall, which had previously divided the city in half. Areas in the former East Berlin had many cheap industrial spaces for rent, so musicians could find affordable places to perform without bothering any neighbors. A loud, thriving techno scene soon developed.
Allien got her first job as a DJ in 1991, in Fischlabor, a Berlin techno club. In the ensuing years she also worked in the Berlin record store Delirium, and as a DJ at Dubmission, E-Werk, Tresor, and Planet (in Berlin), Distillery (in Leipzig), Mantra (in Copenhagen), and Fabric (in London). In 1993 she began broadcasting her own radio show, "Braincandy," on Kiss-FM in Berlin; she followed this by creating her own label, also called Braincandy, in 1995. Allien told Christopherson that she loved working as a DJ: "I could debut material, listen to music, or just have fun and dance. The club scene gave so many people I know the courage to give up their regular jobs and start to create."
In 1997 Allien founded Bpitch Control, a Berlin-based record label. On the label's website, its mission was described as trying to "split the technoid-electronic microcosmos of the capital city with the function of being a platform for upcoming artists." The website also noted that the label is "not only defined by techno," but that it "romps about in the vast plane of electronic music—just don't get stuck on one style." Allien told Christopherson that when she founded the label, "I wanted to create my own island, to find my voice as a DJ and musician." Although she admitted to disliking some of the details of owning a business, she tried to keep the company structure informal. Shepherd commented that the label is run like a family: "It's less a collection of employees than a group of friends collaborating on an art project."
Allien, who had lived for some time as a squatter in a house she did not own, retained her underground, streetwise mentality even after she became head of her own label. She told Shepherd, "We are all a little bit similar to street kids at Bpitch." She added, "We are always out on the streets, on the roads of life. We carry the key around our necks so we can decide for ourselves when and where to return."
Allien released her debut album, Stadtkind, on the Bpitch Control label in 2001. The title means "Child of the City," and the album was dedicated to her beloved hometown of Berlin. In 2003 she released Berlinette. Like Stadtkind, it is a celebration of Berlin, and is layered with melodies and dance rhythms. Shepherd described it as "glitchy breakbeats gracefully layered with swathes of guitar, synth, and vocals."
Allien took time out from gigs and traveling before releasing her next album, Thrills, in 2005. In a press release, she described how necessary this rest had been for her creative process: "Constantly rushing around through clubs makes me feel distracted. I'm no longer grounded…. When I have more time, when I'm on holiday or just lying around in my bed, I can finally start to process things." She added, "Making an album mainly means coming down, relaxing, finding myself again. … finding out where I want to go. Thrills reflected this introspection; Shepherd described the album as "a dark, heavy, and isolated-sounding sojourn into the impermanence of self and time."
As head of Bpitch Control, Allien must decide which artists she will accept for the label. She told Christopherson, "The music has to be personal, not just the current trend. The tune has to catch me." She added, "In the past, I would sign artists to the label without thinking too much. Now I'm trying to be careful to sign people who will make really good music over the long run, not just one good record. Because if it doesn't sell, I take the loss." And Allien told Shepherd, "Music is my isle and my wave at the same time. I was always on the search for something that creates a thrill, and it's completely simple: it's music!"
For the Record …
Born Ellen Fraatz in West Berlin, Germany.
Worked as a disc jockey, 1992-; ran Braincandy Records, 1995-1997; founder and owner of Berlin-based label Bpitch Control, 1997-; on Bpitch Control, released Stadtkind, 2001; Berlinette, 2003; and Thrills, 2005.
Addresses: Record company—Bpitch Control, Oranienburger Str. 91, D-10178 Berlin, Germany. Website—Ellen Allien Official Website: http://www.ellenallien.de.
Stadtkind, Bpitch Control, 2001.
Berlinette, Bpitch Control, 2003.
Thrills, Bpitch Control, 2005.
XLR8R, April 2005, p. 50.
Bpitch Control Official Website: http://www.bpitchcontrol.de/ (May 17, 2005).
Ellen Allien Press Release, June 6, 2005, http://www.electronicpm.co.uk/epm_press_release.php?press_release_pick=423 (May 6, 2005).
"Interview with Ellen Allien," Index, http://www.indexmagazine.com/interviews/ellen_alien.shtml (May 17, 2005).
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