I'm not going to lie. Ellen sounded like she was unwinding; the kind of unwinding one might do after staring at a computer for eight hours a day. Some might look at this like "hey, Ellen's unwinding." Others might look at it like "hey, I'll have whatever she's having." Needless to say this proved for a very fun interview, one that proved that all the careful planning in the world sometimes falls aside to the whims of the world's premier female dance music pioneer.
From squatting in pre-wall-coming-down Berlin apartment buildings to creating a dance music scene heard all the way around the world throughout the '90s and beyond, to releasing her upcoming album, Ellen's been crafting the future of dance music since she began. She's inspired legions of upstarts to create their own, too, from Miss Kittin to her friends and collaborators Apparat, from DJ Hell to Busy P - Ellen's created a loose blueprint of how to win by simply following the beat of one's own drummer. Or in her case, Roland 909 drum machine.
I dialed the number to Germany and Ellen picked up. She asked how the weather was in Los Angeles. It appeared that the reins of the interview were not mine to control. A minute or so into the formal part of the interview she pulled a conversational U-turn away. We'd previously been talking about the Icelandic volcano ("It's crazy, yeah? But what can you do," she said).
There was a lull in conversation for a few seconds as I scanned my cards. "Cake," she then said without any provocation. "I would like some... Computer, coffee, cake. In that order."
BUST: Is that what the next album is going to be called?
BUST: Computer, Coffee, Cake.
ELLEN: Yes! I like that! My next question in my hard line of journalist integrity that I try so hard to bring to every interview should have been, logically, "What kind of coffee, and what kind of cake?" Instead, I was reminded of my Editor Kelly McClure's wise, sage words that had arrived taped around a brick thrown through my window... that I must ask Ellen about her fashion line. Ellen Allien's fashion line draws more from the forest - in her words - than the dance floor. I asked Ellen about her fashion line.
ELLEN: It's about being free. I drew a lot of inspiration from walking home, and from switching off my normal day. Like you're flying, like it's new. The ideas are mostly coming from nightlife and traveling. Things are more tribal in this collection.
BUST: How do you mean tribal?
ELLEN: More loose clothing for men, and definitely more tribal for women. I had some time exploring other cities and I have many moments of positive energy. That's my job. How I'm feeling.
BUST: It's your job how you're feeling?
ELLEN: To project that positive energy out there, yes.
BUST: Do you feel when you were starting out that it was harder to project that positive energy in a male dominated scene?
ELLEN: I was never interested in, well, impressing them. I just, you know, wasn't. It wasn't me. And I believe that a woman can be more respected if they just look at it that way - to act equal... to be treated equal. When I started I didn't know or I didn't realize that this would be my future of this would be my job in the end. It was my passion, so when other countries realized that Berlin was making music, like it was saying something important. Berlin has this power of doing things without much money and the 'New Berlin' - the united city - I would say gave me the power to "go on," you know?
The pauses were becoming longer and Ellen became more distant as the interview went on. Not in a negative way; I gathered that she was exhausted and didn't want to think anymore about work. That's the impression I got when I brought up music; in retrospect, it didn't help that the question was based around the overlying fact that dance music has yet to take off the same way as it has in Europe. To this, Ellen handed my own loaded question back to me.
BUST: Why do you think dance music hasn't taken off in America the same way it has in Europe?
ELLEN: It has. Because of the size of America, it can make (the American dance music scene) look a lot less concentrated*. What you said isn't true. New York, Detroit, even Los Angeles all have (muffled phone, she possibly said "vibrant") dance music.
(*Note: Germany is roughly the same size as New Mexico.)
Finally, having reached the end of this conversational cul-de-sac I asked her how she was tonight. I hadn't yet, not even at the beginning. She laughed a little.
ELLEN: I'm taking good care of myself. If I'm in Berlin and I have a day off I'll get drugs or have fun, y'know, drinking.
BUST: For fun or...?
ELLEN: I could be sad. Or I could put my energy into making something.
And with that, I'd run entirely out of questions. I thanked her implicitly for the interview, we said Goodbye, and I hung up the phone. For the next couple of hours the interview bounced around my head and I realized how strange and somewhat unnerving it can be talking to someone that hyper-connected to their creative side. It was a humbling experience, to say the least.