We welcome Human Error back to Four Four, as the Dublin crew continues their bi-weekly interview series, where Human Error resident ‘Aero’ sits down with industry heavyweights to discuss life since the beginning of the pandemic.
Very few artists from the isle of Ireland can boast a discography quite like Ellen King or as most of you may know her as ELLLL. The Cork native residing in Berlin is well acquainted with releasing record upon record of finely crafted off-kilter and experimental techno and bass. Ellen’s work is often described as techno, which has become a bit of an umbrella term for many records that are in absence of falling into a specific genre. Having already been an avid fan of Ellen’s music I was familiar with her style, but in preparation for the interview, I listened to track after track from the Berlin-based producer. It’s safe to say, I find it even more difficult to put her music in a box after consecutively listening to her somewhat illusive discography. So maybe after all I will confide in the term left-field techno, which is a phrase I truly do loath but, in this instance it seems fitting for the multifaceted music that ELLLL releases.
ELLLL has been releasing music since 2016 and in that five-year span of putting out music, she has found herself on label’s that many producers would dream of. This includes stellar labels such as Glacial Industries, First Second Label, Local Action, Femme Culture and more. Her return to Daire Carolan’s ‘First Second Label’ came early this year and following up from the immense ‘Febreeze’ EP was no mean feat but once again Ellen pulled it out of the bag. ‘Housebreaker’ cemented itself as one of the standout records of the year having been released only 36 days into 2021. The record boasts a trio of interpretations of ‘Housebreaker’ the original, the ‘Atlanis Dub’ from ELLLL herself and a remix from London’s ‘Parris’. The record is a great representation of ELLLL’s music, it’s got one foot in the club while the other the foot resides in a chilled-out spacecraft of some sort.
ELLLL has been playing and championing the UK influenced bass music and experimental styles of techno for many years now. Coming from Cork which has a history of being known for a quite hard-hitting techno sound, Ellen strived for something more askew from the popular 4/4 sound. Ellen’s experimental fusion of divergent genres creates an eclectic cocktail of dancefloor bliss. Weaving through electro, techno, bass, breaks, dubstep and more has seen ELLLL share the stage with some of dance music’s most treasured artists such as Alienata, Lone, SHXCXCHCXSH, DJ Flush, Boys Noize, Special Request and many others. It’s clear from the artists that ELLLL has been paired alongside that she’s capable of crisscrossing between genres and fabricating a mystifying dancefloor inquiry. While also playing alongside some of the greats in contemporary dance music, ELLLL has been holding her own amongst these giants for some time now. Cementing herself as regular on the festival circuit with slots at the coveted AVA Festival in Belfast, The Anachronica stage at Electric Picnic, Higher Vision Festival, Life Festival and more, parading her extensive knowledge of dance music to a larger audience. Ellen hasn’t just been catching the keen eye of festival promoters or acclaimed label owners, but rather industry tastemakers. Showcasing her musical virtuosity on leading platforms such as Hor Radio, Redlight Radio, DJ Mag, as well as two Boiler Room appearances. Her first appearance on Boiler Room in 2016 in Hangar (Dublin) is comparatively significant in unveiling a more eccentric side of techno in an Irish dance music setting. It is also significant in the fact that we saw a female on such a celebrated lineup of Irish techno alongside Sunil Sharpe, DeFeKT and All City’s Daire Carolan and Sonel Ali. Techno had been very male-dominated in Ireland for many years prior to this and it was seldom to see a female of this calibre on the lineup and a testament to Ellen’s hard work through adversity.
While Ellen has been focused on achieving her own career goals through great DJ sets, live sets and releases while living in the electronic music playground that is Berlin, she has also been keeping a keen eye on nurturing talent in Ireland. Ellen is pulling the strings for the Irish collective ‘Gash Collective’ which provides a platform for women involved in left-field electronics in Ireland.DJ’s and producers alike. The collective encompasses radio, events, workshops, mix series, merchandise and recently their first various artist’s compilation on both 12” and digital mediums. The brand is one of the most forward-thinking electronic music collectives the island has ever seen. This is not only through their mantra of female and LGBTQ inclusion but through their use of avant-garde venues, concepts and workshops. The collective has been a free and open space for females looking to gain access into the somewhat daunting world of dance music in Ireland. As much as Ireland as a country has come on leaps in terms of inclusivity and acceptance of females and LGBTQ in positions of power and authority or just acceptance in general in recent years, it’s without collectives like Gash that makes a real difference of creating a safe space and change from the ground up and without these spaces and collectives, we would never see real change as we have on a national level. Without creatives and visionaries like Ellen, dance music in Ireland would be a lot duller!
Ellen has achieved pretty much every major foot a producer or DJ would desire, from Boiler Room, dream labels, esteemed radio appearances, coveted festival slots and playing alongside some of the industry giants. ELLLL continuously pushes for a more contemporary sound and strives for a more divergent dance music scene, both within the club and it’s surrounding circles. Finding home in Berlin, Ellll has been pushing these boundaries from afar from our little island, but always keeps a firm eye on nurturing younger talent of more marginalised communities within the dance music scene in Ireland.
Questions & Answers:
Despite all the challenges the last year has brought you’ve remained tremendously busy. How have you been keeping and how have you been coping with time away from the dance floor?
All things considered, I’m doing alright! It was a big adjustment period at the beginning (when everything initially started shutting down in early 2020). I’ve been teaching, playing live and writing music in some shape or form for the better part of the last ten years or more. So not having that external outlet took a lot of getting used to in more ways than one.
In the last 12 months you’ve put out a serious body of music. How much of this was made during the lockdown and do you believe the change of reality inspired you to share more frequently?
I did quite a few compilations last year, all tracks would’ve been written in lockdown for those projects as the deadlines are usually quite tight, but the FSL record, for example, was largely written before that.
Regarding compilations, I would agree, the change in reality encouraged me to share more frequently. It suited me at that particular moment to have short deadlines to turn things around. That being said, I feel the compilation market is a bit saturated now. I was up to my eyes in comps at one point, peak Lockdown converging with peak Bandcamp Friday. I’ve started saying no to compilations at the moment to focus on other projects.
Your recent 12 inch ‘Housebreaker’ on First Second Label received distinguished plaudits since its release. The record features some really dark, dingy and clubby vibes and is in stark contrast to your previous release on the Dublin label, which was more floaty primordial tip. Was this change of style representative of your headspace when writing the record or had you been gravitating to this murky sort of sound as of late?
Compared to the Febreeze record in particular, yeah it’s certainly a different vibe, but it wasn’t my intent to write a ‘dark’ record per say. When I start writing music I don’t decide on a genre or a vibe. I would never sit down and think ‘right, I’m going to write a Dubstep track’, for example. I just start chopping samples and see what comes out of it. If I try and impose a specific genre on something, it’s probably not going to be very good. It’s like trying to make something happen that was probably never meant to be in the first place.
For these two records, Housebreaker in particular I utilised a lot of orchestral and melodic samples which are very colouristic and vivid for me. I start with some sounds I like, and maybe mentally I associate those with an image, feeling or movement. Sometimes it can be really apparent and I’ll have this clarity, which gives me a theme, I can shape the track around the theme and off I go then. The track kind of writes itself.
Other times, however, it is much more challenging for me, it’s like I’m reaching for something, but I’ve no idea what it feels like yet. You’re in the dark waiting for that light bulb to turn on (… and sometimes it never turns on and you have to abandon it!)
In December you released ‘Gash Collectives’ debut compilation. It’s a stunning VA showcasing the talent of all female and LGBTQ+ producers from Ireland. Have you got any advice for any female and LGBTQ+ artists trying to break into the Irish scene as we have a more concentrated scene in comparison to other countries?
My advice would be to try research and then connect with similar-minded collectives or initiatives. Whether this is a local collective, community radio or international platforms that you can virtually reach out to. Just drop them an email, share some music and start building connections and relationships with people.
I think a great way for people to start getting their feet wet are short guest mixes. They can feel imitating at first, but they’re usually a great way to get the ball rolling. You’ve something to share with people and have the feeling of accomplishment for completing a project, and enthusiasm for wanting to start the next thing.
I think it’s easy to be really in your own head about this kind of stuff, especially if you’re making music outside of a ‘scene’. Maybe you don’t live in a city, or you feel very disconnected, unsafe, uncomfortable etc. There are more people than you realise that feel the same way and the first step is trying to find and connect with them 🙂
In the last 12 months nightclubs all over the world have feared closures and unfortunately, your home town of Cork has been dealt a tougher hand than other neighbouring cities. With both The Kino and Dali shutting their doors, how do you see the future of club culture in Cork post coronavirus?
This is a difficult topic for me to comment on as I haven’t lived in Cork in a few years or been actively involved with the music community on a day to day basis. However, on a very basic level, it has always seemed to me that the city has been crying out for investment in nightlife and culture for many, many years. Without this, unfortunately, this cycle of closures will continue.
As the future is very much unknown, how are feeling about the coming few months and are you going into the summer with a more positive outlook for our return to the club?
I mean honestly, no, in terms of the music industry I’m not feeling very positive about it at all. It’s been depressing to see Plague Raves happen across the globe while Corna infection rates climb. Now I’m seeing lineup announcements for summer festivals recycling the same rota of artists again and again (especially in countries that haven’t even gotten the Covid situation under control yet). So much for diversity or inclusivity.
The disparity between top tier DJ’s, producers, performers, and smaller artists has become insanely large. It makes me concerned that the landscape will be inevitably changed for a long time, with a very high and difficult barrier for entry. Likewise the same can be said for clubs, venues and promoters. What will happen to small independent spaces that were running on a shoestring? Will only big superclubs survive?
There doesn’t seem to have been any change at all, it feels like it’s gotten a lot worse. Hopefully, some real, actionable change will happen, but I haven’t seen it so far.
Keep up to date with all ELLLL’s releases and news by giving her socials a follow here: Facebook, SoundCloud, Bandcamp and Instagram.
You can watch ELLLL’s Boiler Room from 2019 below. The perfect mix for a sunny day like today.