A mainstay of the post-’89 Berlin techno scene, Ellen Allien (whose album SOOL is set for a May 27 release) is a multifaceted international electronic-music figure, prolific and visibly active as DJ, label owner (BPitch Control), producer, and now fashion designer, as well as general flag-bearer for techno as a wide-ranging artistic spirit. Her particular strand of minimal techno has always been experimental while never losing sight of sensual dance-floor pleasures. At the same time, it seems difficult to even call it a strand, so varied and stylistically restless are her forays, whether they’re DJ mixes, album collaborations, of which there are many, or live sets.
Your love for Berlin is well known. You have often spoken of how after the fall of the Berlin Wall, techno music and the experimental atmosphere in Berlin became an important cultural influence for reunified Germany. Has the scene changed a lot since then?
Yes, the scene has changed a lot. After the wall came down lots of people moved to Berlin. Club promoters, students, wild freaks, gays, lesbians, artists. At first mostly Germans from all over, and then for a while now lots of Americans, French, Italians and Spanish moved to Berlin. They pollinated the city with their energy. Some artists got their career breakthroughs as a result of moving to Berlin. The city for me is now more interestingly established — before that Berliners were sort of going in circles. The German depression is over!
You recently played Studio B in Brooklyn. Do you find that American audiences respond differently to your music than those in Europe, maybe because they come from more of a rock tradition and techno isn’t as familiar to them?
In New York, Seattle, San Francisco and Portland I’ve had really good parties. In Europe it really rocks; it’s unbelievable. And that’s exactly why a lot of people move to Berlin, to be able to get to a lot of other cities easily. On average in one or two hours you’re in another city, another land. Europe is the electronic mecca, without question. But I really like to play in the USA. I like the audiences. In Berlin as well, there’s a few creepy corners.
Minimal techno has been an influential style for several years now, particularly in Germany. Do you have any thoughts as to where it can go in the future? Is it important today for it to intermix with other styles and develop itself?
There are various music mixtures. Crossing styles is always successful because that way more people are spoken to and can be reached. In Europe fortunately there are lots of clubs that are oriented to minimal. Mixing styles comes more from England. But there’s a few acts who are really successful with it, like Modeselektor, for example.
You’ve run Bpitch Control for almost ten years. What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from it?
The human network! For a long time I really wanted to work in human relationships and to be creative through them. And so it is. Besides that, I’m pretty relaxed in a lot of things, how something should go and how it should. Things hardly ever throw me for a loop, because I always look for solutions and try to be open. I hate drama around me.
It seems like in your activities there’s a strong element of collaboration and exchange. Your new album, SOOL, has help from Antye Greie, a.k.a. AGF. Was this working-together similar to those you’ve experienced in the past — for example with Apparat — or is every collaboration something singular?
Very unique, very clearly structured. She is very professional and makes the job of producer great, because she’s very fast, reliable and tries exactly to realize was the artist wants, without ego. She’s an awesome woman. I’m a big fan of her music.
Your latest mix, Boogybytes Vol. 4, is very fluid and eclectic. What’s the architectural process of building a mix for you? How do you navigate between preparation and spontaneity?
Oh, I worked a long time on this mix. I tried to mix everything so that it’s neither to aggressive nor too edited. It’s supposed to be an electronic river, which is also to that effect different from my DJ sets, so that I don’t absolutely mix spontaneously, but rather with the mix I try to carry out a concept. And I think I pulled it off.