Photo by Sigrid Malmgren
Founder of Bpitch Control, one of electronic music's largest labels, a popular touring DJ and a fashion designer, as well, Ellen Allien lays legitimate claim to the title of Berlin's Techno Queen. The born-and-bred 42-year-old Berliner Frau discovered electronic music in London and then brought her newfound love back here to the German hotbed. Allien, like her label, covers myriad genres – minimal, acid, abstract techno, trance – depending upon the project. Which is apt, as she's one of Berlin's great connectors..
You're the foundress of BPitch Control Records, a DJ and a fashion designer. Do you feel sometimes you're a modern heroine?
Ha ha! Actually, not that much. But let's say I consider myself to be "a woman in particular doing a great job for women in general". I mean, when I started to DJ, the scene was mainly ruled by men. So I've always thought I have to be good at what I'm doing. That it was all about the image of all women. Now things have changed: there are loads of girls who DJ. Nobody can deny it: we've been a big part of the scene for 10, 15 years.
So your opinion about what you represent has changed?
I've grown up in a kind of hippy atmosphere – which means it was very girl-friendly. My mother was a joint-smoker; she came to see me at my first gigs, and so on. Women weren't considered inferior creatures. Still there were many fields of society women couldn't really be part of. Nightlife was one of them. But it's not like that anymore.
Still there are more men than women who DJ.
According to me, it's all because of the concept of nightlife. I have many colleagues with drug and personal problems. Being a DJ is sometimes quite unsafe. And women may be afraid to take risks. A lot of women keep considering nightlife a male thing.
And you? How do you deal with the nightlife?
I have an older sister and she used to take me to clubs when I was 11. There was a school club around our house, so she used to bring me to these gigs – until midnight max – but still! So I've grown up with older people around me. I've learned to deal with many situations. Plus, I'm not into drugs. OK I love to take some, especially when I'm in Berlin, because I feel home. But I never take drugs when I travel. I want to be serious and fresh the next day. I remember my sister being in a breathing mask in a hospital bed after a party. I was so shocked that I told my mother: "Mum, I will never lie in a hospital bed because of hangover, I promise."
Is DJing relaxing or do you consider it as your job?
I love nightlife. It's the moment you don't think about anything else except dancing. Our lives are not easy everyday: everybody wants to be perfect at everything, to have a good job, to be good looking. When people dance, people just don't care where you come from. You just meet strangers and have fun. Some people prefer hanging out with their friends. But I like to talk with strangers. Not just to be with my group of friends. I feel more relaxed after a party. Of course I'm tired. But my brain is much more liberated.
I've met great people thanks to parties. And some of them work now for BPitch! You know, I used to play during afterhours in Tresor. One day, the door keeper came to me, and said "Ellen, you're watcher. You are like me, standing in the corner, doing nothing and just watching people." Yeah, that's it: I love people.
Have you always been into electronic music?
Actually it's funny because I used to be a big hip hop and bass music fan. I spent my time hanging out in many hip hop clubs in Berlin. I was actually addicted to black music... and to black guys! My first boyfriend was black – well, "choco" to be more precise. Now everything turns into a coffee addiction and I also like whiteys. Anyway, in these hip hop clubs I got fed up with all these rude guys groping my behind. That's why I started to go to techno clubs – I felt more respected as a woman and met international people, it was perfect. I remember I found the music too fast at the beginning. But after a time it was OK, I kind of started to enjoy it. The thing that brought me to techno music is the social aspect first. I felt in love with the music after.
Yeah, you're also a fashion designer. The t-shirt you're wearing, is it from your collection?
Yeah, it is! I try to design one or two collections a year. It's not very professional, but it reminds me of the period I enjoyed tailoring. I do it with a friend of mine. It's nice to talk about shapes, colors, fabrics... and not only about bass, piano and beats! It's beautiful to create things, I love it.
All these hats you wear... How do you deal with it every day? Must be exhausting, sometimes.
I feel like I've managed to keep my interior peace. My life is eventful but I try to keep everything well-balanced. I feel good, you know, I feel like a Berlin-ite. I've seen everything from the beginning in this city and I guess Berlin helps me to feel whole. My blood carries both the pain for the Second World War and all the happiness for the new Germany.