Sometimes It Does Take Two: An Interview with Ellen Allien and Apparat
East meets West in an Orchestra of Bubbles.
"Here we don't follow only our own vision. Here we share," says DJ, producer, and founder of the record label BPitch Control, Ellen Allien of her recent collaboration with Apparat, otherwise known as producer and Shitkatapult Records co-head Sascha Ring. Orchestra of Bubbles, the duo's first full-length collaboration, is the junction between two seemingly divergent electronic paths, bringing together the immediacy of Allien's heavy-hitting dance beats with the IDM-leanings of Ring's work as Apparat. However, the project is not the first time Allien and Ring have collaborated. In 2003, Ring provided drumbeats for Allien's critically acclaimed album Berlinette. That same year, Allien added vocals to Apparat's track "Fuse", released through BPitch Control as a B-side for his 12" "Koax". Undoubtedly, stylistic differences have only made for a strong artistic bond between the two.
Raised in West Berlin, Allien came of age as the Wall crumbled and acid house filtered its way throughout Europe. By the early 1990s, she had become engrossed in Berlin's then-fledgling club scene and began working as a DJ at various clubs. For Allien, it is this connection to the dance floor that provides the soul of her work.
"When I produce dance music, I want it to be music that I would like to hear in the club and at home," she says. "If I [weren't] a DJ, I probably wouldn't produce dance music. I love to dance and to bring people to dance. I love the feeling of being together and dancing together. Dancing frees you in a way and loosens you up. You feel your body, every muscle, and you forget the day. You let yourself go."
While Allien was growing more enamored with Berlin's nightlife, Ring was pounding a drum kit in the countryside of the former East Germany. Undoubtedly, his past as a drummer has influenced his approach to production.
"Even if I haven't really played drums in the last 10 years, I think what I learned was an important base for electronic music. I never really 'program' drums. I just hammer them into my computer using a midi keyboard. You gotta see my keyboard."
Like Allien, Ring also felt the inevitable pull of Berlin. He relocated to the city in 1997, three years before he released his first album and subsequently joined Marco Haas (T. Raumschmiere) as a partner in Shitkatapult.
"I got involved in the label biz while Marco was setting up the release of my debut album in 2000," explains Ring. "It just took him so long that I thought I should help him a bit. I started doing more and more and at some point he asked me if I [wanted to] be his partner.
"We never really had a mission," Ring says of the label. "We release whatever we think is good. That concept seems to be a little problem sometimes. It feels like the customer needs some kind of red line. It's probably easier to do a techno-only label."
Conversely, Allien's BPitch Control has focused primarily on club sounds since 1997. In the years that have passed, BPitch Control has earned a reputation roster of smart, party-rocking artists, including Kiki and Sascha Funke. However, even with access to the leaders of the dance floor, she keeps her ears open for new discoveries.
"I listen to every demo," says Allien. "There are a lot of them indeed!"
The high volume of quality demos landing in Allien's mailbox led to the recent launch of her new endeavor, MEMO.
"There were a lot of demos we liked, but didn't find suitable for BPitch Control," she explains. "Therefore, we thought about a sub-label that would only release 12" vinyl and MEMO was born!"
In between managing the release of Orchestra of Bubbles and continuing work on various other projects, Allien and Ring have been rehearsing for a series of live performances set to begin in Europe during festival season. PopMatters was able to catch up with the duo in between rehearsals and various solo live dates.
What do you believe the other brought to the project?
Ellen Allien: I am a fan of Apparat. I knew that if we would do something together, it would be something exciting. I was convinced of that because we like the same kind of music.
Sascha Ring: Ellen had lots of ideas when I was not very creative. It's pretty cool if there is somebody taking over if your batteries are low. It was also pretty cool that Ellen kept on "complaining" when something sounded too aggressive or distorted. I tend to put a lot of noise in my songs. This time we did a very smooth sounding record and that's probably Ellen's influence. And finally she made me sing!
Since Ellen grew up in West Germany and Sascha grew up in East Germany, are there any cultural differences that affect the way you approach music and, specifically, this album?
EA: Both of us went through the experience of the Wall coming down. The young people at that time -- no matter if from East or West Germany -- tried to get rid of the East-West depression. Techno was something that united East and West. I think music did a lot to bring people together. Regarding Apparat and myself, I think our musical interests brought us together. Part of it is probably also that we were looking for someone who worked in the same way, who could inspire the other one and with whom we both could do something we couldn't have done by ourselves.
SR: Hmm, not really to be honest. It's kinda strange -- I mean people grew up in completely different surroundings with a wall in the middle, but you can't really notice who is East or who is West German. Sure, there might be some "typical" persons but generally this wall didn't really work. I guess both of us enjoyed the time after the reunion. East Germany was a big playground with all its abandoned military bases and warehouses. We did lots of parties. That was actually when Ellen and I met the first time. We invited her to play a party in my hometown 12 years ago.
Did you encounter any difficulties working with another person on this project?
EA: Being patient.
SR: It was surprisingly easy. You have some discussions sometimes and sure you have to compromise but, in general, it was pretty relaxed, maybe because it was kind of a break for both of us. We spent most of the winter in the studio, didn't care about the outside world.
Since both of you run labels, why choose to release Orchestra of Bubbles on BPitch?
EA: BPitch Control is a label with a worldwide network and we thought it would work better for that album.
SR: I'm just closer to BPitch than Ellen is to Shitkatapult. I already did two records on the label, I know everybody, and I hang out with the BPitch dudes. It would be more confusing for anybody at the record store if Ellen Allien was suddenly on Shitkatapult.
What individual projects will you work on in 2006?
EA: We will work on our live set. In April, my remix of Safety Scissors will be released. There will also be a split single with Audion, a.k.a. Matthew Dear, on Spectral and my fashion line goes online [www.ellenallien.de]
SR: I'm working on a lot of electronic/orchestral rock tracks. I'm singing a lot. Dunno if this is gonna be an Apparat album, but I wanna finish it this summer. I'm also working on a dance single with Nathan Fake.
Ellen Allien - Down