A veteran of the dance music scene in both London and Berlin, Ellen Allien has been a crucial female voice within the music community for decades. Her BPitch Control label has signed artists like Ben Klock, Seth Troxler, Safety Scissors, Apparat, Modeselektor, and Sascha Funke, to name a few, so it was a thrill to catch up with her just minutes before her set a couple weeks back at Detroit’s Movement Festival. It quickly became clear where her music gets its ineffable character: in real life, she exudes all the same upbeat energy as her famously danceable techno. Here, Allien tells us about falling in love with electronic music, taking up the extraterrestrial moniker, and her favorite moments at this year’s Movement Festival.
How has your experience at Movement been so far?
I love coming to Detroit… I love playing at Movement. I’m really happy to be here. It’s always a very magical experience for me.
What artists have really impressed you this weekend?
Yesterday I saw Magda; she played an amazing set. Audion, I didn’t see for too long, but he was great as well. I saw a lot of artists at the Electric Forest stage, actually, which I really like. Awesome vibes.
You’re playing a set in just a few minutes. What can we expect?
Well, I have some new releases from BPitch that I’m excited to play. Some old Chicago tracks, too. Some old favorites as well. It’s raining out, though, so I’ll have to pick up on the vibe of the crowd. It will be different, definitely. I’ll have to try to keep them warm! Rain, rain, rain… happy music! Or dark rain techno! I don’t know, it could be fun.
Tell me about your moniker. Why “alien?”
Actually a friend gave me the name. I started playing at Fischlabor, and a friend that was organizing events there told me that my sound was like cosmic, like an alien. At first, I said, “I don’t want to be an alien!” [laughs] but he had me play my first gig there, and he just stuck me with this name—Ellen Allien.
If you met an alien from another planet, and you had to describe your music to them, what would you say?
Ooh! I would say… a mix of Berlin vibes and Detroit vibes. Some dark techno, with some happy tones as well. It’s got electronica, house, techno, breaks—a mix of everything. The history of electronic music shows in my music because I have such a diverse background. It’s a journey.
I read that when you first moved to London and heard electronic music—acid house—for the first time, you hated it. If you met someone who, like you, resisted electronic music at first, what track would you play to change their minds?
I would say anything from the first Warp album, WAP1. It was a very important record…it shows the darkness of electronic music. It’s a must.
What made you fall in love with electronic music?
I’ve always loved the deep techno sounds coming out of Chicago and New York. There’s a lot of German producers whose sounds I love as well, and a lot of the younger kids today, they aren’t familiar with these artists, but they’re artists that have really shaped my understanding of electronic music. Damon Wild, Jeff Mills—I saw him play when I was younger, and I was watching him, like, “What is he doing? How is he doing that?!” [laughs]. But also, many of the artists I’ve signed to BPitch have kept me in love with electronic music.
Speaking of BPitch, what is the best part about running your own label?
Sharing music! The business stuff is beside the point. It’s about sharing these things together; it’s amazing to keep this scene going. There are so many stories; it’s amazing to work with such incredible talent. I try to find artists that have character, whose music has character as well. It’s so exciting to be a part of something like BPitch.
What can we expect from you this year?
I have some very exciting releases coming up. We have an album from Safety Scissors forthcoming. I’m very happy to have him on BPitch. We actually just played together in New York; he played live, it was very good. We have an album from a very talented Belgian band called Joy Wellboy coming up as well. They’re very modern, and freaky in a way!
Photo by Jordan Loyd