We caught up with Berlin based Wallis ahead of her Irish debut tonight for Research in Wigwam. The dynamic producer delves into her roots into electronic music, Berghain, live set’s, techno trends and much more.
Wallis burst onto the techno scene with a flurry of enigmatic sounds coming from her ingenious studio space in Berlin. Swapping sociology for synthesis was a compelling decision for the young creative, from here Wallis delved into the world of modular and analogue sounds. Studying music in Berlin, and conducting sonic experiments became a daily obsession.
The Berlin based artist found inspiration from each corner of Berlin & Paris, from D.I.Y. parties, to record shop digs, to synth fairs, Wallis was became overwhelmingly committed to learning her craft with an eagle eye, but most importantly an open mind.
With Wallis’s open mind to discovering sounds also came her willingness to dismantle predispositions that come with techno’s framework. A young talent that very much takes inspiration from the past, but has her sights firmly set on the future. Wallis’s fixation on the unknown is channeled through her love for dubious modular synth’s. Honing in on education has become paramount to Wallis’s rise, yet her ability to soak herself in uncharted waters, is where sparks begin to fly for the Berlin based hardware fanatic.
I caught up with Wallis to hear more about her journey into electronic music, hardware synths, live sets, her label Jell and much more.
We started the interview by delving into the humble beginnings of Wallis’s journey into electronic music.
“I discovered electronic music by going to parties actually. I was hanging out with some people that were a bit older than me and they were going to clubs already a lot, so I started going with them, and I had my sister’s ID card. So I was technically 18 when I was 16.”
Wallis’s discovery of underground music and the techno scene was very much natural and it seemed almost instinctive. There was clearly no gain or ego boost’s by being seen at these somewhat allusive parties, and the infatuation continued and soared into a hobby.
Wallis recounts the pinnacle moment that persuaded her to take the leap of faith into buying records and learning her craft.
“I remember when we had iPods and we were drinking at a party. People would plug their iPod and play the music on it and my best friend always thought that I had the best music to play and told me I had to start DJing, and he had turntables and actually showed me what to buy. So I guess maybe if it wasn’t for him. Who knows? Maybe I wouldn’t be a DJ today.”
“I started to get really into it the music through parties, and from there, I bought turntables and cracked Ableton when I was 18. For full disclosure, I do have a license now in case anybody from Ableton is reading. (laughs)”
From here Wallis’s passion for techno snowballed into a full blown obsession which was consuming her every thought. The young DJ was still very much pursuing music as a hobby, and hadn’t given much thought to the idea of working within music.
“When I was still living in Paris I did a bachelor’s in Sociology, and then at the end of my bachelor’s I decided to do a masters, but I didn’t want to stay in Paris and just have two more years of the same existence. So I decided to move in Berlin, where I already spent so much time, in clubs mainly. Eventually I quit my master’s and went to music school, and this is where I got really, really serious. We had access to studios with a ton of gear. And then I kind of tried everything there.”
I was intrigued to know more about Wallis’s decision to leave sociology and pursue music, with a unique passion for analogue synthesisers. It seemed like a symbolic time in her life.
“I was often complaining about sociology-related work, I didn’t enjoy the tests, the library, the whole study process, cause it was very time consuming, and I knew this wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. And one day a friend of mine said, ‘Wallis you aways complain about your masters and don’t want to be a sociologist. All you talk about is music. You should study music.’ It hadn’t really crossed my mind to pursue music full time. I guess my family’ weren’t thinking ‘Oh, yeah, you should be an artist’. ‘It hadn’t really occurred to me that I could just go for it, and after that I did.”
Wallis’s music taste seemed to be very much influenced by her early years in Berlin and experimenting with hardware, and discovering new music. She recounts how she delved into the world of modular.
“When I was at the school, they had they had a ton of stuff and I told myself, I would test a new machine every month and I would be like, ‘Oh, my God, this is the machine’ and then next month it would be another machine. I went through so much stuff, but I really enjoyed modular because of it’s versatility. Even if you try, you can’t do the same thing twice, it’s impossible. There is this modular shop in Berlin called Schneider’s Leather and the owner says playing with a modular is like having a conversation with another individual because like there is what you do, but there’s also what the machine does and that’s what you can’t control.”
Wallis’s discovery of modular and hardware synthesisers seemed very much cognitive in the way she delved into her pursuit of analogue sounds. It kept very much in line with how she first discovered techno in Paris.
Wallis speaks about how she first became discovered within the Berlin techno scene, and how she became known for being a hardware nerd.
“They had a ton of gear at the school. I would test a new machine every month and I would be like,‘Oh, my God, this is the machine’ and then next month it would be another machine. I forced myself not to buy anything for 12 months, so that I wouldn’t buy anything I would outgrow too quickly. Which in retrospect was a great idea. I went through so much stuff, but I really enjoyed modular more than the rest because of it’s versatility. Even if you try, you can’t really do the same thing twice, it’s impossible. There is this modular shop in Berlin called Schneidersladen, and the owner always says playing with a modular is like having a conversation with another individual, there is what you do, but there’s also what the machine does and you have to interact with that.”
Wallis’s ascent within the techno scene in Berlin seemed distinctly unique and somewhat bizarre as it defied what my presumptions of Wallis’s career were so far, and it was certainly slightly askew to the somewhat systematic approach of getting a big release, gaining support, and then climbing the techno ladder. Wallis’s breakthrough was very much routed in her love of analogue sound, something which is integral of her brand today.
Wallis speaks about her time as a mastering engineer which kept her busy during extended lockdown period, and provided her with an income so that music could remain her sole priority during this time. This time worked as a great learning curve for fine tuning intricate details in her work.
“I think I became much faster and much more efficient. Every six months I have a new theory about what I do, and then six months later, I have the opposite theory. You learn new stuff and so then you change your opinion on something, I think with creating things, it’s always like that. So right now I’m wondering if I’m not doing too much in my mixing style, if it’s not actually hurting my music. And we can check again in six months and see how I feel about this theory. But right now I’m wondering if I’m not being too hands on.”
The French native was just on the back of a live set at the coveted Parklife festival, which is no mean feet by a long stretch. I was wondering if she found live set’s translated differently at large scale festival environments opposed to more intimate basement scenarios.
“I played a very good set at Parklife and I was happy with what I did as a live performance, but I feel that for huge stages like that, DJ sets work better. When you’re playing a DJ set you’re playing music that other people have already produced, there is absolutely no limits to what you can do,
whereas with live sets you can only pay what you are good at producing yourself, especially in modular based and synthesis based live sets. A live set is a totally different exercise than a DJ set, and I think at big festivals most people don’t know the difference so they’re just thinking you’re not
playing diverse enough and maybe they get bored of you. I feel that for huge stage like Parklife, it doesn’t translate as well as it does in more intimate venues where people can see what is on the table and how much work goes into those live sets compared to DJ sets.”
Wallis then recounts her Berghain debut last October, which was one of her greatest milestones in her career so far.
“It was so stressful, those 4 hours were really, really nerve wracking. I was so into my head and just really focusing on perfecting the set and making absolutely no mistakes. I was just so drained after my set. I didn’t even stay afterwards, my mom who came actually stayed longer in Berghain than me.
“I’m so happy that I played Berghain, you know, it’s a milestone for any DJ and hopefully I will play there again someday, and that day I will have fun with it. That first time, I was very cautious, not taking too many risks, a little bit like when you record a podcast, moving faders slowly and not doing
anything too risky because you already recorded so many version of that podcast, you are tired and the deadline is approaching, and all you can think of is “don’t fuck it up, don’t fuck it up” while playing. (laughs) I was very much in a “dont fuck it up” mindset during those four hours.”
I was wondering what kind of tracks Wallis was playing for her Berghain debut, and did she feel the need to drastically change her style.
“There’s definitely stuff that I wouldn’t play at Berghain but I would play at other places. It’s important for me to adapt to where I am playing, to my time slot, to the venue, to the crowd. There is a need for continuity in parties and I like to honour that. Berghain is Berghain, and definitely it has a
certain sound. I would never play tracks that I don’t find interesting and driving, but I feel like there’s always a middle ground that you can find. All of the tracks that I played there, I really, really loved, but I felt that they really fitted with that room as well.”
We went a little further into detail as to how Wallis approaches warm up sets, with Berghain remaining a hot topic.
“I actually played ambient for about an hour I think. I was checking the dance floor and it was just not full. So I kept going in my super weird ambient music, which I don’t get to play that often. I don’t want to start throwing kicks on an empty dance floor.”
“It all really depends on how the dance floor is looking, some parties start really fast, others take their time and people want to warm up slowly, you can feel it. Another opening set that counter acts to what I did in Berghain would be my last opening at Motion, Bristol. I was mentally prepared to play a lot of ambient at the beginning if needed, but it filled up so quickly, and people were already at 100%, I could feel it, I just played two tracks of ambient and then I started to go for it.”
We then spoke about how in the UK & Ireland crowds are more susceptible to harder sounds, so opening sets may differ here than in Germany or Holland for example.
“Yeah, I think the UK is definitely the kind of place where you can really go for it. From the beginning you start at 100% and you finish at 150%. They want vocals, they want stuff that changes constantly. Whereas in Berghain and Berlin in general it’s completely different, they love more this slow burn, groovy loopy music. It’s a different crowd..”
Wallis’s stark sense of individuality with techno led her down the route of starting her own label, Jell, but I wondered what sparked the initial idea.
“I started my label because back then I really wanted to sign a release and I wanted to get my music out there, in a proper way, but actually back then my music was not up to industry standards still, and I got tired of hearing “no” from all record labels. I think sent 50 tracks that year to the label I
dreamed on releasing and… no. Eventually I got so tired of constant rejection, I decided to start my own label, and this actually coincides with the moment where my music actually started to be good.”
“The label, Jell, launched with a various artists’s that had my track ‘Apt 1245’, which is to this day still the track that people know me for. It’s also the track that got Kobosil interested in me. This track really changed everything for me.”
Wallis then touches on other benefits of releasing music on her own imprint.
“As of now, I’m only going to release my own music on Jell. I like the idea of releasing my own stuff, keeping entire control over the whole creative process. I can do the artwork that I want. I can release it in the way that I want, and I don’t have to deal with other people and read and sign contracts. I don’t like that stuff.”
I wondered if Jell could be a space for some more left-field creative outputs, and a space to create music that isn’t specifically dance floor designed.
“I think so, yes. I feel like lately I’ve been actually buying so much music from a few years ago. A lot of industrial labels used to be really sound design heavy and I remember when I first heard Scalameriya’ Hellzone Megapunk EP on Perc Tax, how mind blown I was. So was everybody else I
feel. Like, What the fuck is this? The artwork, the music. It was so insanely good, and well-tied together. Out of this world. I think that right now the entire techno scene has changed, the sound has changed, and it’s not necessarily about being unique, but more about efficiency. You want to
get the crowd going and the music kind of serves this purpose and it’s dedicated to the dance floor, as opposed to being the piece of music that necessarily triggers an emotion in someone at home.”
“I’m actually in the process of now doing stuff that is quite different. I have an EP that’s coming out on July 8th, and then, either I will make another super dance floor oriented EP and then something really weird and experimental, or I just go straight to something weird and experimental, but I don’t think I would release this kind of stuff on Jell right now, because I think the label kind of needs to grow and I think if you go with experimental stuff, it’s not going to help it just yet. So I would probably search for a label that is already established and already has a similar sound, to help the music find its niche audience.”
Wallis’s thoughts on techno’s shift to much more dance floor orientated stuff was interesting, and I wondered if individuality was being lost all together within techno.
“That’s a tough question because I don’t know if it’s getting lost. I think that there is more people producing than ever before. During the pandemic, a lot of people started producing because they had more free time than before, and no social distractions. We are hearing a lot of music, and I
think that there is a lot of people learning on YouTube and they are just copying and pasting things sometimes. So this is not necessarily always ground breaking, although there is also some super sick producers that were born from the pandemic. There is a ton of new names in the scene, but I am curious how this will evolve because promoters are struggling to fill their parties. Even huge festivals are not selling out like they used to. It’s crazy.”
“I am very curious to see if we ever reach the same shift we did in the late 90s, when techno and hardcore sounds separated in separate genres, and minimal became a thing. The music now is very similar to back then, very sample based, really fast, lots of hoovers and rave stabs and vocals, and I am curious to see if people will also get bored with it, and if minimal sounds can still be relevant in 2022, in the age of social media and 10 seconds videos.”
“I’m actually really, really curious to see where it’s going. I think about that a lot. Are we going to go back to minimal? Can we even enjoy minimal? Especially the younger crowds, that were raised with social media, and therefore might not have a very long attention span. How would they feel about minimal, which is about patience. I’m curious to see if it’s going to follow the same the same path it did 20 years ago or not, but I have no idea. Maybe something totally new will be created, which would be super cool to witness.”
“I think perhaps people now are not encouraged to be really unique because being too unique doesn’t get you bookings. Being too weird and breaking too many rules doesn’t get the crowd going as hard, there is a type of sound that works, and let’s be honest, our music is made for dancefloors.
So perhaps there is no incentive for people to really produce too outside of the box. Most people just want to get the crowd to be like, hell yeah, and that’s the only goal as a producer, because this is what gets you bookings. I don’t think that the individuality is lost, but I think that there is no incentive for people to be different.”
Wallis was very opinionated on individuality within music, and the onus crowds, bookers, and tastemakers put on big moments rather than journey’s. Social media is capturing 30 seconds of mania, but it can never encapsulate a four trip down a miscellaneous record bag.
“There was a time where you discovered artists on vinyl and in record shops, and you had no idea what they looked like, but you knew the music. If they ever came to your city, you would go see them and you would be like, Oh, that’s what they look like.”
Since we had been chatting about the shift to soaring bpm’s, I wondered how Wallis combated playing after someone who is playing at 150bpm+..
“I always adapt to my time slot and to the party. Two weeks ago I did a b2b with Lina (SPFDJ) at Boiler Room in Berlin, and the DJ before us was playing 160 BPM. I really took it down and I put the first track and started much slower, basically I did that because we were playing 3 hours, and if you
start too fast where will you go, you can’t really go in many directions, whereas the slower you start, the more you can create a story and build intensity, and I really like that in my sets.”
“If I’m playing for 3 hours, I will have absolutely no problem, just taking it really, really far down and just changing the vibe because I’m there for 3 hours anyways and I feel that if it’s always at 100%, it’s the same as being at 0%. You need to some degree of change to give your tracks a chance to
hit exactly right. You know, it’s kind of like in the moments in your life where you’re the saddest, you just realise how good you had it before, and you become more grateful. Change of vibe is impactful, always.”
“I have no problem hammering it out if the mood is right and I have absolutely no problem taking it down. I actually have a lot of tracks that are so powerful, but slower. You can’t take tracks that are produced at 150 and then tune them down, that sounds horrible and boring. Some tracks that were made at 130 BPM, but when you play them at 135 they have this insane groove, and its just as powerful as 150BPM, but its slower so you still have proper room to grow in the BPMs throughout your set. This is what I usually do, I go through many different styles, BPMs, types of energy during my sets. I like to offer a change.”
Wallis’s radar for spotting tracks that have divergent moods, but remain intense and pacey was top tier. She also goes into selecting music that has an impact sound system, opposed to it’s sonics when first discovered.
“Many years ago I realised that what I listen to on the dance floor can be much harder than what I listened to at home back then. I remember that a friend of mine showed me this Ansome EP on Mord. I remember there was this certain track and I heard it and thought Oh, this is too hard, and then later that day we went to a party and I heard it on the dance floor, and it sounded so sick on the dancefloor, and I thought, Wow, this is so interesting. There’s a gap between “at home” and “in the club” when it comes to my taste. It was a real lightbulb moment for me.”
Wallis seems to be stepping up her game from one release to the next, from Possession to R-Label, the young producer is turning heads all across Europe with her distinctly analogue sound. I wondered what is up next for the revered up and comer.
“In regards to music now, there is my EP on Jell coming out on July 8th. One track premiered and then there is still three to go. And also the vinyls have to come because of vinyl pressing delays which have gotten crazy this last year. So I’m still really much focused on that because it’s still a day to day adventure. I also had a track come out just today on Ellen Allien’s compilation We Are Not Alone, on Bpitch.”
The conversation ended with a short and sweet anecdote as to what to expect in Wigwam tonight.
You can purchase tickets to Wallis in Wigwam tonight HERE.