PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Ellen Allien: Watergate 05

Top Berlin spinner crafts a mix with seamless transitions, rising tension, and an exceptional finale.

Ellen Allien

Watergate 05

Label: Watergate
US Release Date: 2010-02-16
UK Release Date: 2010-02-22
Artist Website

Some music lovers are of the opinion that "albums", as artistic statements and commercial products, have lost quite a bit of ground in the Internet Age. "It's all about singles these days," is the sentiment, along with, "And disposable singles at that!" Don't count the album out just yet, though. There are listeners who still seek a full musical experience, who don't want to cherry pick portions of the whole for the sake of a skip-free playlist. Not only that, there are artists who still envision full-scale, front-to-back sonic journeys. Some online retailers won't even let you download individual songs from the package. No, you gotta buy the whole thing.

Of course, album cohesiveness is another matter entirely, more of a consumer expectation than a truism. Perhaps DJ mixes can sell us on this illusion, offering a touch of that take-it-all-or-leave-it perspective. After all, they almost demand our full attention, usually because they contain frequent changes in style and tone, often mixed in succession but sometimes mashed up and overlapping. DJs tend to be choosy about the songs they select for these mixes as well as the sequences in which the songs are presented. There's a context to the mix, and it might get muddled if the songs are taken out of order. It's fascinating how layered and multifaceted this all is, considering that a given DJ may choose 10 or more tracks for a set, and each track might be performed by a different producer, artist, or band, and each of these tracks may contain contributions from any number of vocalists, musicians, and collaborators. With such variety, the trick is to blend these bits into a coherent presentation.

Knowing this, we find Berlin, Germany's Ellen Allien. For our purposes, it is sufficient to know that Ellen Allien is a superb DJ, which is no small compliment given the male-dominated nature of the DJ field, but since we're also concerned with context, we should keep a few other tidbits in mind. For one thing, she's the founder of BPitch Control, a record label that celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2009. For another, Allien has launched a fashion line complete with winter and summer collections. Allien's topnotch producer status, along with her solo work and DJ-in-residence spot in Berlin's Watergate dance club, makes her an intriguing figure. Watergate, like London's Fabric nightclub, distributes its DJ mixes to the masses. It's good advertisement.

Watergate 05, Ellen Allien's mix for the Watergate club, seeks to conjure an experience, of moods and of musical styles. Central to the experience is Allien's song selection, and she's done a fine job of stitching a wealth of electronic and techno fabric together without leaving too much sticking out at the seams.

DJ Yellow's "Lost" opens the mix, serving as a worthy introduction to the set, in its tone-setting and contemplative way. It also serves as a bridge to carry Allien's fans from the pensive minimalism of her last proper solo record, 2008's Sool. Sool was experimental in parts, with a touch of an industrial edge, brimming with ideas but never running over into excess. Allien exhibits a similar level of discipline here, content to let the calm of "Lost" ride like a breeze through John Tejada's "The End of it All" in an impeccably seamless transition. Vocals enter the proceedings with Lump's "Music Lover" and Luciano's "Celestial" while the rhythms begin to glide upward, adding a touch more tension with each successive track. The gentle skating cadence of "Music Lover" relents to the busier percussive elements of "Celestial".

While the sequencing, in true "album" fashion, is well considered, the rising tension in this sequence means that the playlist doesn't get red hot until later in the game. Oh, it's all very good and exceedingly well selected, but everything starts to come together around track nine, "Action 2". The vivacious cut from Juno 6 is the point where the mix begins to feel urgent, and where Allien has masterfully translated the language of the dance floor into something fluent for the CDs and the audio files. Matias Aguayo's "Bo Jack", Alexi Delano's "Molar One", and the Apparat remix of Röyksopp's "This Must Be It" keep the momentum, with the latter being a serious highlight, and Allien's own remix (and clever rearrangement) of Uffie's "Pop the Glock" shines like a disco ball.

However, it just might be that, when the set comes to a close, Watergate 05 sells itself. Despite the slightly sluggish first half, and even with the more inspired back end, the mix earns its keep with its final track, "Fine Mouche". There are other versions of Brigitte Fontain and Khan's tune she could've chosen, but none of those would have been as unexpected or as remarkably fresh as this one, the original "Tango Piano" version. So whimsical, so gorgeously off-kilter with its dramatic piano, "Fine Mouche" takes all the rules Allien created for herself in her careful song selection, and it shreds those rules with aplomb. The entire mix, then, is the sonic equivalent of a suspenseful film that sets up its premise and slowly unfolds its wares until the breathtaking resolution. The question becomes whether you, the listener, can credit the set for its carefully planned set up, or whether you demand more from the mix leading up to its masterstroke.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.