Ellen Allien - Biography
If Berlin is often considered the epicenter of European techno its easy to argue that DJ and producer Ellen Allien’s career perfectly captures the spirit of that great city’s dance music cultivation. From her early DJ success at legendary clubs like Fischlabor, The Bunker and Tresor to her own original music Allien has mirrored Berlin techno’s development. Her unique fusion of minimal techno, glitchy ambience, experimental IDM and sweaty electro is made further singular by her strangely compelling singing, use of guitars and melodic pop sensibility. While remaining an in-demand DJ, Allien continues to push her own music into uncharted territory, moving from early dancefloor oriented albums to more experimental work.
Ellen Allien, born Ellen Fraatz in West Berlin, grew up interested in music. As a child she played flute and organ and by 19 was playing drums and saxophone. In her early 20s she became interested in mixing music. After a one-year stay in London in 1989 at the height of acid house’s popularity Allien returned to Berlin with techno firmly locked in her mind. It was a fortunate match, as Berlin’s own techno scene was beginning to thrive in the early ‘90s and Allien began to work as a DJ. Her first job was playing records at the Fischlabor club in ’91. An important club for Berlin techno at the time Fischlabor proved a fertile learning ground for Allien. In the following years she worked as a DJ at E-Werk, Dubmission and the legendary Tresor club in Berlin as well as Mantra in Copenhagen and Fabric in London. By ’93 she was hosting Braincandy, her own radio show on Berlin’s Kiss-FM. She started her first label, also called Braincandy, in ’95.
By ’97 Allien started her own party night under the name BPitch Control. A success, the night led to the founding of the BPitch Control label in ’99. The label remains a vital outlet Allien’s own music as well as artists she admires such as Tok Tok, Sascha Funke and Modeselektor. The label’s output runs the gamut from dance music to more experimental strains of electronica.
After a clutch of 12”s Allien released her first full-length in 2001 on BPitch Control. Stadtkind translates as “child of the city” and the album is dedicated to Berlin. Comprised of eleven tracks of melodic, warm, bumping electro-infused minimal techno. The tracks boast an experimental textural flair that the producer would flesh out further in her later work.
Following more singles, including the stunning Erdbeermund from ’02, Allien’s second album came in ’03. Aptly titled Berlinette this record ups the ante with deeply considered production value and a greater focus on pop-song melodies. Minimal house and electro beats anchor swirling ambience and organic melodies written for vocals, guitar and synthesizers. Tracks like “Alles Sehen” and the catchy “Wish” still stand as highpoints in Allien’s career.
Taking a break for two years from her active DJ’ing and touring schedule, Allien took a bit of time to release her next full-length. In the meantime a collection of her remix work was released as Remix Collection in ’04. An avid remixer Allien has reshaped the work of Sascha Funke, Miss Kittin, Apparat, Barbara Morgenstern and Covenant among many others. ’04 also brought the release of arguably her best mix CD with My Parade.
Thrills, Allien’s third full-length, was released in May 2005. Perhaps her finest record Thrills is an album of contrasts. Featuring a more experimental sound than her previous albums, she combines elements of shoegaze guitar and dense industrial noise with her house and electro grooves. While the melodic elements are buried under deep textural work these tracks are nonetheless extremely catchy. Standouts include “Your Body Is My Body” and pulsing “Magma.” Allien’s use of gritty ambience and detailed textures makes Thrills one of her most intriguing records.
The following years brought more touring, more DJ’ing and more mix records including the amazing Fabric 34 from ’07. ’06 brought Allien’s IDM-inspired, hook-laden collaboration with Apparat titled Orchestra Of Bubbles. She also took time to remix heavy hitters in the indie rock world like Beck and Thom Yorke.
Perhaps her most obvious move away from dancefloor oriented music, Allien released Sool in ’08. Exploring glitchy ambience, textural noise and fractured song structures Sool is a stunning album for those willing to listen. Eschewing the big, tight beats that define her previous music, these songs look inward toward a dark, abstract ambience that recalls AGF, Fennesz and Matmos. Melody is still evident, especially in tracks like the guitar driven “Frieda” and “Elphine,” but in a more buried, less obvious way that lets the producer focus on deep textural exploration. Overall the record is a confident, exciting and progressive step into experimental minimalism.
In 2009 Ellen Allien celebrated ten years of BPitch Control, a giant feat for any indie label. This success mirrors Allien’s fiercely independent stance within the techno community. Her music remains her own, a singular body of work that doesn’t neatly fit into any one niche or subgenre. It’s this spirit of experimentation and independence that keeps her work so fresh while her understanding of dance music’s dynamics and work as a DJ keep her music accessible as it continues to reflect Berlin’s ever-evolving electronic music scene.