EP 03: ALINKA
Freedom To Create is our new six-part talk show series, broadcasting live from Refuge Worldwide in Berlin.
The bi-monthly episodes will explore themes of identity, migration, and creation through hour-long live interviews curated and moderated by Refuge Worldwide’s Editor, Chloe Lula.
On the third episode of Freedom to Create, Chloe Lula interviews Ukrainian-American artist Alinka. The producer and DJ—who is currently living in Berlin—immigrated to the US in the late ‘80s with her family, who lived as Jewish refugees in Chicago. Alinka eventually became a resident at Smartbar and began collaborating with Hercules and Love Affair’s Shaun J Wright, with whom she started the Twirl parties and label. Alinka has released on labels like Rekids, Crosstown Rebels, Need Want, Permanent Vacation, Harry Romero’s Bambossa Records and her newly launched second imprint Fantasy Life. She’s a regular DJ at Berghain. She and Chloe discuss the war in Ukraine, her experience growing up far afield from her roots and the healing power of music in times of personal and collective crisis.
Listen to the episode in the SoundCloud player above, or scroll down to read the entire interview.
CL: Thank you so much for speaking with me today. How are you doing?
A: Good. Good. Happy to be in Berlin for a couple of days. Yeah.
CL: So you were just playing in Sweden?
A: Yeah. to Stockholm back department festival.
CL: Okay, cool. How was that?
A: It was fun. It was a really cool location. I was like, under a bridge with just these hills. So it's just like a sea of people in front of you. Like 1500 people. So it wasn't like a massive festival. So still quite intimate.
CL: It seems like you’ve been playing an incredible amount recently. You’re constantly on tour, and just wrapped up a stint in South America. How have your shows been going since things reopened?
A: So I went to Bogota for the first time, which was really fun. And a lot of friends played. And yeah, it was really cool.
CL: We talked about this a little bit before starting the recording. But um, have your shows been going since things reopened? And what are some of your recent highlights been?
A: They've been great. It just kind of like kicked off and got really busy. So it feels like it's moving so fast at the same time, where you just like, forget where you are, what language you're speaking and these kinds of things. But everything's like, I kind of just had this moment where I'm just trying to do one at a time and be very grateful and kind of present because I think after experiencing the last two years, you don't really know when there's going to be another halt, or you know what's going to happen. So it kind of shifted my focus because I used to be always kind of, you know, I'm a Virgo, so I'm like thinking ahead and anxious about the future. Now I'm just kind of trying to enjoy every gig and yeah, I had a couple of Panorama Bar, which are really fun and shelter in Amsterdam, and yeah, just some fun ones. Bomb festival was really good also.
CL: Okay, nice. So you moved to Berlin before the pandemic?
A: Yeah, six, almost six and a half years ago, so I moved on Thanksgiving 2015.
CL: I want to jump back to the beginning of your biography. You were born in Kiev and spent your early years there. What do you remember from your childhood?
A: I remember, like little kids remember School and Camp and like going to the shop with my grandmother and playgrounds, and you know, tourist things and our holidays. And we spend time in Odessa, which now I know we spend time in Odessa because of Chernobyl. So I was six and I had to evacuate Kyiv and we had to take the train was my mom and her friend and her daughter, because they were letting women and children kind of leave first. So we spent a few months there. You know, to avoid the nuclear explosion.
CL: In your biography on Resident Advisor, you wrote that censorship was common practice in the climate within which you grew up—and we’re obviously seeing more of that today within the context of the war. Can you recall some ways in which that manifested in the country’s cultural fabric, and in everyday life?
A: I mean, we didn't like I remember not hearing any Western music or like watching films or anything until we left so it was like I heard pop music for the first time and like, ate a banana for the first time and did things that like kids probably were used to doing western parts of the world that they had access to but you know, in a communist country, it's quite different because it's like my parents somehow had a legal tapes of Beatles and Led Zeppelin and these kinds of things. But I remember, like I just learned like classical piano on these kinds of things and watched Russian television, we can only walk but learn Russian. Because that was the national language in the Soviet Union. And yeah, now I'd like to learn Ukrainian, obviously, with everything. But yeah, I remember like, the first time I had a banana when we got to Austria because we lived in Vienna and between getting to America. And then I remember hearing like Michael Jackson and Madonna and my mind, just like, I mean, I know I was young, but it's kind of like blows your mind the first time you hear proper music, and yeah, but when we moved, it was kind of just like an explosion of American culture.
And that's the like, I think when you move to the States, it's, they just expect you to become integrated, like you have to be kind of Americanized to fit in. So yeah, I was really into like skateboarding, Nirvana, and Michael Jackson and Madonna. But yeah, I didn't think about it, obviously, as a little kid. But now more so like, especially with the war and everything that's happened, I realized how much of my like Ukrainian culture and heritage that I was missing. Because, you know, it's like, we didn't learn that when I was little, and I only learned the Russian language. And when we moved, you were kind of like, it was easier to tell people you're Russian, because we came from USSR, and we only spoke Russian.
So like, a lot of immigrant kids my age from the States, I saw them kind of writing similar things when the war broke out, because everybody was talking about like, yeah, we grew up, like losing this part of ourselves. We're telling people of a Russian and now that this happened, everyone's like, I'm from Moldova, I'm from Ukraine, you know, and having this like, identity. I don't, I don't know how to the right word for it. But basically, like it happened with me two years ago, when I went to Cuba for the first time, I just realized, like, how much I was missing my culture, and you know, being able to go back and stuff. But I think with a lot of people that never got to go back. They're having that now.
CL: You made an Instagram post when the war first broke out in Ukraine saying that you “spent most of your life feeling like there was a missing piece, but not knowing why until you went back to Kiev, which is when you felt whole and complete.” Can you elaborate on that, and can you articulate what you felt when you were back in the city in which you were born?
A: A lot of it was the people and like the culture and just like the people that I met, and also seeing how far the music like reached that got me to go back. You know what I mean? Because my family, it was like, from 1988 to 2019. So, I mean, the people I met were just like the warmest, kindest people and amazing artists and just like culturally, like, going to see kids like, full hipster outfits and skateboards, playing chess and like chess tournaments and these cool cafes and just like, KF such an amazing city. Have you been ever unfortunately, you know, hopefully, one day, go back.
But yeah, I think when you grow up with people that like you kind of relate to culturally, like, you'd never have this maybe well, some people might. But when you're taking from your childhood, like home, you kind of also we left overnight, it was like, I didn't know we were leaving, I literally found out the day before we left. It was like my parents said, We're going camping because I was little and they didn't want to like me to tell people. And then we just like, left everything and took like a little bag and left.
So it was just kind of yeah, they're a bit messed up. And so you know, he didn't really get to say goodbye. And so I think that's the missing piece. But then just like meeting people, like me that grew up in this place that I really, really liked. And I just like, had this super emotional gig and they were so welcoming. And it was like one of the best gigs in my life. And I was crying like five times throughout the sets and just had the best time. I mean, I went eight times I think the last two years is like when the club was closed. So yeah, it was just like a very fulfilling like, I knew where I came from all of a sudden, and I got to like, reunite with that place. And I'm gonna correct the people, you know.
CL: I imagine it's been really difficult. Watching everything. Yeah. If you feel comfortable doing so I would. I'm curious to know more about why your family left Ukraine so suddenly and the circumstances surrounding that?
A: Yeah, I think my family is quite weird because they don't talk about these things. My grandma was the only one that would tell me all these stories about her family. I know that my grandma's gone and like, I went to see my mom when the war broke up. When we finally like started telling me family stories and stuff, but I think they tried to leave for years. I don't really know why I think they just wanted better opportunities. And you know, they didn't want to live in a communist country and my grandmother's cousin from Israel found our family somehow through letters through her husband and just found that we exist.
And she came and helped us leave, because I think you needed to have family or someone that you could go to in the states, like we had family in Chicago that were related to her. So I think it was a process, but it took a while. But then my mother was like, she said, My great grandfather was like a violinist in the Philharmonic of Kyiv. And they get sent to Stalin's camps. And my grandfather gets sent to the labor camps. And there's just like, a lot of history of, you know, trauma and living in a place where you're kinda like, okay, you know, maybe you want something else for yourself. And your kids. And so, you know, they were still quite young. I was eight, my mom was like, late 20s. When we left. Yeah. So it was both my grandmother's and my parents, and my cousin and her husband, we left at once. And then I think 91, Soviet Union collapsed, and all her like childhood friends, and all the kids I grew up with came, and all my cousins, and everyone came that year to Chicago.
Yeah. So within, like, the first two years, like everybody I grew up with, that I was hanging out with since birth was in Chicago, which was really nice. We had a little community, but a lot of people left. I think I was reading about it. I mean, it's weird. Like, I didn't look into it until I was an adult. And like last year, specifically, I think, because I always said, I wanted to go and my parents were like, it's really expensive. You don't need to go there. And I was like, I kinda want to see it. So I'm lucky that I got to go as a DJ. But yeah, I think, like, now my mother's wearing the colors every day, and reading the news and reconnecting with her friends and stuff. But I asked her when, like, before February to come when I'm DJing. And she just didn't respond. It's interesting.
Yeah. I think it's different when you live somewhere, like, I love Chicago. But you know, I have like, zero desire to live there again, because I was there for almost 30 years. And for them, like they spent their whole lives there. So they're kind of, you know, happy to travel. But it's not like, I don't know, for me, it's different, because I want to go there all the time. And I would love to live there again. Yeah, I don't know. I'm just assuming, like, their experiences were quite different because they lived there when it was Soviet Union and like, went through all the family history. And for me, it was even like, hard to go back to Chicago, because you kind of like relive, like, anything. That was difficult. It was weird. Like, I knew my grandmother was 100. And she just passed away like a Christmas but, I mean, she lived to 100. But it was like, I knew the last time I was there, probably like, I don't know if I'll see her again. So you have this difficulty visiting certain places. I think that's where you spent a lot of time, so maybe it's that, but I don't know. I'm gonna ask her because I think you know, when we can go back and be nice to have them there.
CL: What was it like for you to relocate to the US? And like, Can you remember what it was? What it was like living is? I mean, your family and their Jewish refugees? Yeah. Was there any kind of friction that came with like integrating into the city?
A: Chicago is amazing. I mean, it was really crazy at first because we weren't we came from, like, USSR, where there's like, you don't practice any religion. You know, it's like one like Russia and Russia north, like, everything was, from what I remember, my family's not religious. I mean, we're Jewish by blood with like, they don't celebrate more than, you know, they're like, liberal or whatever. But they sent all the refugee kids to like orthodox schools the first year, so you had to like learn Hebrew and English and pray and wear skirts to your ankles. And I was like, Now, I want to like skateboard and play basketball at the park.
And I was not into it at all. So I think after the second year, I got sent to like a private school, but not orthodox. But yeah, it was weird. I mean, I didn't speak the language. So it's quite difficult the first two years, but then we had other friends that were immigrants that spoke Russian, also from Ukraine, in the neighborhood, and we mostly hung out with like other immigrants and stuff, so and then my mom remarried to my stepdad was American. So then he took me to like concerts, and then it became easier because he was quite cool. He like drove a motorcycle and took me to like New Kids on the Block. You know, but then it was like, very quick. I think when you're little you learn the language pretty quickly. So I probably like was fine. wherever we went. It was probably more difficult for my grandmother and my parents, although they spoke a bit of English already. But yeah.
CL: I see that you've been involved in a lot of activism and fundraisers for the war in Ukraine. Can you discuss some of those In some of the projects that you've contributed to?
A: Yeah, I wish I did more. I mean, I just like I DJ, at the one at refuge. I didn't organize things myself. I just participated, obviously, and I was a had a track and a compilation for the standard deviation compilation that they did. And what else? I've lost my mind. Because it's been, I mean, I've just been trying to like help friends and you know, raise money and help people with whatever they need, basically. But yeah, yeah, I mean, my friends were driving to the border and doing amazing things. It was kind of cool, like, not cool. But you know, it's great to see that, like, your community come together, and people doing so much and organizing and helping even if it's like, for me, it's different, because it's my friends and where I grew up, but it was nice to see like people that have no relation to that also helping out.
CL: Yeah, yeah, I was just at Nuits Sonores last weekend. And Paul, from Standard Deviation did this presentation. Just music from Ukraine, and people who are literally fighting right now. We're still working on music. And so he was playing some of the records and talking about them. And it was really very powerful.
A: Yeah, he's amazing. Also on their label and stuff. They've done so much for the season. Yeah. Yeah, it's crazy.
CL: This same Instagram post that I referenced earlier, you made a comment about how you know, music can help facilitate healing. Can you talk a little bit more about that? Like, if and how music has helped you, like during this particular period?
A: Yeah, I mean, for me, it's like, I'm such an anxious person, my mind is always racing, the only time it kind of like, is quiet as if I'm making music or DJing or cooking. So those are like the three things. But for me, that means music, like if I was ever depressed, or in a bad mood, or anything happened, if I just sat down to write, I would completely fade away. And so, you know, especially in a pandemic, because I live alone, and like, you know, it's just quite difficult, especially if you're in a foreign country away from your family, or when you can travel and stuff. So I just produced a lot that was like, really a way to kind of forget about the world and get away from everything.
You know, I live in a one room flat with half my studio in one room. So it's like, there's nothing else to do there besides writing music and watching Netflix is kind of nice. But yeah, I mean, it's always been there. I just think about like, even the years that I quit DJing and I was still like messing around in logic, but not with the goal of actually finishing anything. And I was sitting in my office job, like watching YouTube videos, and my friends sent me Hercules love affair, actually.
And I remember being like, super sad. And just like watching these videos and being like, oh my god, it's people that like, look like me making really cool music. And like having this revival of wanting to create again, and like going home and starting to write and then met Sean, like really randomly, like, that's how the universe worked. It was like a year later, all of a sudden, he was in my life. And we started working together.
CL: How did you meet?
A: I had a band for a couple of years, like an electronic one. And my manager knew Sean and Kim Ann from booking them because he was a promoter as well in Chicago, Scott Kramer, and he was like, Yeah, sure. I just left the band. And he's moved back to Chicago, and he's looking for producers. Do you want to work with him? And I was like, I like fell out of my chair. Like, why did you take so long to tell him like they were my favorites at the time, so he introduced us. And then Sean came to my house, and I was still in this other project. And we kind of started messing around. And then me and him went to Smartbar for Kwame, and just like, talked about Chicago house all night. And then that was it. It was like, you knew that you kind of met a new friend for life. And we just started working and everything kind of happened really organically, but quickly. It was like, we like working together and just kept finishing things really quickly.
And then I was like, Okay, I'm gonna try DJing again, like now that there's no pressure and I want to have fun. Because when I quit the first time, I was like, I think it was 28. So you quit. I quit for like three or four years. Why? Why I started when I was like, 20. And I've basically dropped out of uni, at the university so I could DJ full time. And you know, in the States, it's quite hard to do that. Like, professionally. And also, I was like, I don't want to ever look at this as my job. You know, I was funny. I was like, I don't need a job. You know, like, everything's fine. I'll just have like a part time job and then, like, you don't really think of like an adult like if you actually want to do this at your as your job you should probably, like, tried to do it as a job. You know, so I just didn't also like it was so different than 2000.
You know, there was no social media like he didn't know, there wasn't that like a clear like, oh, I should work with an agency. There wasn't like, I mean, I had mentors musically, but I didn't know what the steps were. So I started touring in the UK when I was like 23 and stuff, but I never took the time to be like, Oh, I should get an agent now. And I should have proper fees, I could afford to live off this. And even though I was playing a lot, and I was playing Smartbar, like almost every month, and I just never kind of crossed that threshold of doing it from a hobby to professionally, even though like, I played eight hours a day in my house.
And technically, I was just like, probably then even better, because my ears weren't shot from playing all the time. But you know, you develop at your own pace and whatnot. But yeah, I just got burned out, I got to the point where I was like, I just felt pressure from everyone to like, have a proper career because I was getting older. And I was super unhappy, of course, doing any normal job. So it worked out kind of, but yeah, I had like a second chance very randomly. And then the second time, I was like, no, no, I'm gonna do it the right way. Like I know exactly how to do it. You know, as a business. Yeah. And things change. But then anyway, so it's a bit easier to figure it out.
CL: Did you start your imprint with Sean?
A: Yeah, that's me. And Sean. So we started as a party at a club called Berlin, in Chicago, with Scott, my old manager, and it was like Thursdays, and we had like Derrick Carter and bless Madonna, and Ellie Escobar and carried like, all our friends. Yeah. And then Mr. White, also, we started with and then he moved away. So but then we shifted to a label. Also, because I was like, I can't, like every month, like, you know, the first couple hours, you throw a party, especially in the states here, it feels like it's your birthday, and no one's coming. And then all of a sudden, it's full. But I was like, I'm way too anxious. Like, I don't want to do this anymore. Like, I just wanted to focus on the music. So I think the label kind of happened because we were making so much music. And we didn't want to be really scheduled like that everyone else controls and waiting for things to come out. So we were like, Let's just make our friends do remixes and kind of release like every other month. And that way, all the demos get out. And you know, we're growing and stuff. But yeah, yeah.
CL: You seem to be a very prolific producer. Thank you. I admire that. And I totally understand why you'd want to start your own label.
A: It took a long time. I mean, I'm still like, learning all the time. I'm sure. You know, it's like, I started in 2003. And everything sucked that I was making, like, now listening to it is really weird. I mean, I could see, like, I could hear myself in the tracks, like, what I wanted to do. But then I know that I had no idea what I was doing, if that makes sense. It took me like 10 years to like anything I was doing. Yeah. And even like, when I listen to that stuff from now, 10 years ago, I'm like, Okay, you can like improve this and change this. I think that's how it should be. I feel quite weird when I hear people's like, first track and they sound like it's like someone that's been working on it for 30 years. I don't know. That. Sounds like that. That's weird. A little too. Polished. Yeah. That's our industry now.
CL: How is it to be kind of a representative of that, like the Chicago house music sound living in Berlin? Because it seems like that's kind of anomalous here.
A: Yeah. I mean, I feel like I've changed a lot since I got here. But nothing that really, because I always kind of like, really liked different genres. And even when I only like, I don't, I think when you grew up in Chicago, they just, you just say your house DJ, but you play everything. And you're just into like, every kind of music, but we just call everything. I mean, I played like industrial and Italo and disco and whatever. And I was still like, I'm a house DJ, because, for me, that's more like, I know, dance floors. And I know it works. And I spent a lot a lot of time dancing to other DJs.
And so like, I also spent eight years opening room and playing all different hours in long sets. So for me house is not just like a genre, it's more of like a feeling and I'm happy to represent that from Chicago. But for me, that's just like a love of music and dancing, and nightclubs and raves and that kind of thing. Marsa them. Yeah, because I feel like I play so many different things now that I'm almost like, I don't know if I'm a house DJ anymore. But then I'm like, No, I'm like, I'm from Chicago. I just like music. Yeah. So yeah. I mean, I'm happy that I got to grow up there. And also like, the generations that came before me, I learned so much from him, I still, that's my favorite DJs that I really respect. And I think even like Eris and Maria, I mean, we're kind of the same similar age and came up around the same time. You got to make your heroes basically, like grew up watching, watching them play. So I feel very blessed for that, you know, it's really important.
CL: So you relocated to Berlin, about six and a half years ago. It's now been a while, but how have you been finding it? And how would you compare it to Chicago?
A: I feel like I've had like 10 lives in six years. The first six months, I was like, I don't know, I don't know if I want to stay here. Like, it's like, the bus driver yelled at me. I didn't speak any German. I've tried to put coins in the coin slot. Then I cried the whole way home from the airport. And I was like, I just kept getting lost. Like, I didn't know where anything was. It took me like six months to like, like where I was I also any like three people. When I moved here. I just wanted to move for music.
But luckily, Sean was here like, half the year. I mean, he didn't live here. But he was always here. The first year or two I was here. And he was playing Panorama Bar. And then I kind of started like that winter when after I moved here. And we were going there all this? I mean, definitely. I was really trying to like embrace it and go to clubs and parties and meet people and had a really good time. Probably too good of a time.
But yeah, I mean, it's hard like to gauge anything, I think after the pandemic, because everything feels so different right now. And I'm still having this like, I know before, I was so in love with it. And I think anywhere you were the last two years, he would have had a hard time, but I'm getting used to it again. I mean, I'm always happy to come home when I leave on the weekend. I'm like, I just I miss Berlin. Like, you can have a really nice life here and like your community and inspiration in these kinds of things. But yeah, I think the world is just a little weird right now. And we have to get used to it.
CL: You’re officially (or unofficially?) a resident at Berghain; how did that happen for you so quickly? What has your experience been like playing there?
A: I mean, I probably play there every couple of months, it's regular, because I don't really play anywhere else. I might take like one or two gigs a year and other clubs here. But I usually try to stick with that, because that's kind of home. And once they started booking me I kind of I was like, I know, I'm allowed to play other places. But I just love that room. And I kind of would rather just commit and have that be home. Yeah, cool. But yeah, I'm not official. I'm just very lucky that they booked me.
The first one was, I think, January 2016. I did the opening set. That was my test set. And then I remember it was like, I met Spencer Parker. He was like one of the first four people there. I loved him. Like I loved all his music. And then we became friends. And he kind of like he just kept coming in the booth and being like, you're so great mates. And I was like, okay, and like my nerves totally went in that I Yeah, did my thing.
Yeah, then it was like, every couple months, I think I played and Yeah, a few times a year and it kind of grew. But I was so nervous to play there. I think it took me like six times to stop having this like, oh my god, your life is over. If you don't play well, you're not gonna get booked anywhere else. And everything is like this gig or else you don't know how to DJ, you know, like everything just like I had, I had the full nightmare like in my sleep the first time that I couldn't reach the CDJs and all the screens went out and my son was running out like everything that went wrong. Did in my truck. I like woke up sweating. And now I'm just like, so excited to play there anytime, but I don't have the nerves anymore. I just like realize how grateful I am. It's also like the easiest crowd to play for. So yeah, there's no reason to be nervous.
CL: You seem to produce at a pretty rapid rate; you have a big discography and always have tracks coming out. Can you tell me about your creative process?
A: Um, I think what I know what doesn't work for me is when I have an idea of what I want something to sound like before I sit down to create, it never ever works I usually get stuck and then like completely scrap whatever I'm doing and just start over. What I usually do is just sit down and start playing usually keys or like a baseline or just start with a kick and then just start playing to it and adding layers until I have enough to start arranging but I kind of do it that way. I mean obviously if I want to make like a Martello a tract and I use different sounds or if I want to make a house try face different sounds, so it might be more so geared that way but I think after all these Here's like now I can actually sit down and get my ideas across a lot better or before, it was just a lot of experimentation and accidents, you know, where you're just like, I don't know what this button does, I'm just gonna press it and like, then you make this amazing sound and something works out.
Now I have a studio where like, I did a lot of gear trading, like everyone, like buy things, not using them. And now I have one that like, really I feel at home at so I can just sit down and start writing. And also because I have less time now, I mean, I guess I never really had a lot of time. And that kind of forced me to like to have the production style where I just want to, like, sit down and get my ideas. And I don't want to sit there and play with knobs for three hours to find one sound like it's like, I watched something was louder, or even just like loves presets. And I was like, Yeah, I like presets. You know, I don't mind.
Like I know exactly what works together for me. And I obviously change them also and use different scents and plugins, it's but yeah, for me, it was always like, I just want to sit down and get my ideas out. Because I don't have so much time to write like, now I have, you know, I can wake up in the morning and write music, which was like the biggest change for me as a producer, because that's when I like really like flipped. I think like I could hear in the tracks that first year when I quit my day job. I mean, even though COVID happened, and then it was a bit harder to write, but my records and Crosstown and fantasy life EP I wrote the first month I quit my day job. I finished like 12 tracks in the first like two weeks basically, I just wrote a track a day, I was like, there was no, I think I just had so much to give like it just started coming out.
And I can I never had, you know, my entire career, like the opportunity to just like wake up and write music and not be distracted or have the weight of like thinking about other things till 5pm. And I always just like, worked, came home, worked on music worked on music, any weekends, or like free time I had, but you still like don't have all the creative energy that you do when you can just like wake up and write, you know, it's quite. So I think the last years I feel like I progress the most just from having that creative space. And now it's just a little bit more focused just because of the travels and stuff. I just have, like, you know, like this week, I'm home for two days. And I'm doing like three remixes at once I just the I was like I plan things a bit more of like my time and I still write the same way though I have to displace it there to do it, I can't.
But usually, the tracks that I released, like, were mostly written in a day or two, or I'll like write the majority of it out and then just mess with the arrangement on day two and like do the mix down. But I always feel like if I don't do that I get stuck. Like now I have a giant folder of demos that are like 90% finished and that you know, like every producer with their drives folder of demos. But yeah, I mean, I think it's like learning to write when you're a little kid like you learn how to hold the pen. And then you learn like the alphabet of how to get your thoughts across. I think it was kind of the same for me making music. It was like, learning the equipment that I have. And then learning what I want to sound like and you know, maybe I knew what I wanted to sound like before I could actually sound that way. But now I'm getting to the point where I can actually sound exactly what I want to sound like.
CL: Do you mostly use hardware or software?
A: I use both. So I use a prologue core prologue like the 16. And then I'm a sub 37. And like, poly 800. And yeah, then a lot of plugins, Native Instruments and Arturia. I love Arturia—not that they’ve ever sponsored me!
CL: What are you working on right now? And do you have any projects lined up that you're excited about or you want to talk about?
A: Yeah, I just did two more EPs for records for Matt, that I'm really excited about. I think actually I sent they're the only ones I sent demos to this year so he kind of took most of the stuff that I sent and I just did a remix for my friend York's for Robert Johnson that he just handed in and Yeah, what else? I don't know. I just have so many demos. I'm kind of figuring it out. But yeah, I want to release again. I'm fantasy life and gets world back. But yeah, I think the next two will be records and summary Marxism. I don't know right now. forgotten everything. I just know what I just finished. Yeah, I think I just write all the time, because it's like therapy kind of.
CL: We have a selection of tracks of yours that we're going to play. Can you tell me about some of them and how they came to be and if there are things that are special to you?
A: Yeah, the one with Robert was important for me, obviously, because it's Robert Owens, and I grew up listening to him. And he's one of my favorite vocalists of all time. So it's quite an honor. And I met Robert when I first moved to Berlin. And then we talked about working together, but it just kind of, you know, everyone's schedules different and it's quite difficult. And we made this in the pandemic, like I already actually sent Steven instrumental and then he sent it to Robert. And then I got the vocals on arranged everything. So it kind of worked itself out that way. But usually I'm in the room with the vocalists. So it was a different process. But he's so amazing that it was quite easy just to line it up, even if we're not together. Yeah, that was for he, she, they, I guess that was my last release also, or that's original, and disappear into the night. Actually, I sample a lot of Netflix.
Like cooking shows, believe it or not, so like this is Anthony Bourdain. It's his show in Berlin. And he was talking about Berlin and the nightlife in Berlin. Yeah, and so that's where the vocal comes from in that one. And Day Zero actually samples Netflix also, don't tell them that. I don't remember which show but definitely, I have like, iPhone recordings from Netflix shows I watched during the pandemic and a lot of them reused in some of my tracks. Yeah, a lot of the talking locals are like cooking shows. And yeah, there's like Chef's Table. For example. It's my favorite show ever. Yeah, all the ones with Sean. You know, I just love working with Shawn because Shawn such a genius. And like, it was the best creative process. I mean, for me, it was life changing. But he's the first like proper vocalist they worked with. And I learned a lot. And the first tracks. We did it was kind of, I think some of them. We used his vocals that he recorded even for other people that didn't end up working on their tracks. And I just like wrote the music around them. I think love inspired or first like hit one for classic was that.
But romantic friend was for Twirl. And it's probably one of my favorites. And pull me in there a bit more poppy and a little bit different than what we were doing. But he would just like, he would be on his phone while I'm writing. Like, the melodies and stuff. And I would think like he hates it or he's texting and then he'd be like, are you ready? Because he already wrote like the entire lyrics out. And then he would just like get up on the record. And I was like, wow, you're crazy. You're crazy. He's Yeah, it was amazing. I miss him. I miss working with him. Actually, we haven't gotten to do that so much. I'll see him this week. He's an amazing person, if you can interview him when he's in town. Really great. He comes a lot for Panorama. I know we play at Whole Festival together in August. So he'll be here. Yeah, I mean, anything I did with Sean makes me really happy. But it was also like really nice to hear the progress of like our first tracks together to what it got to and he's making music on his own originally. That's amazing. So just hearing like, both of our stuff together and individually is really nice, because you can hear all the work and progress that went into it. Like the last decade. Yeah, I never had that with anyone. It's like, we never fought, we were always like supportive of each other. And if we had either of us have an idea, we would just try it. Like we never really, we never had one argument in 10 years in the studio ever.
So I think that's like a really rare and special thing. But it's also like, you know, we respect each other a lot as artists and as people. So it's quite easy to work that way. But yeah, I've tried working with lots of friends and I've never really like it's hard when there's two producers also. And like one doesn't do I mean, you both do the same thing. And he also got me to start using my voice like I never liked doing vocals on anything. I was like, I'm not recording, like absolutely not, he's like it'll be in the background and then all of a sudden, he's like turning it up and then I'm like louder than I want it to be. So I'm like, now I'm better with it. And he's like I talk on a lot of tracks or even like just manipulate it or use it for effects and stuff but he kind of gave me the confidence also as a producer just like I think when you find someone that you're like you know obsessed with musically and they want to work with you and then they're just like believe in you before you believe in yourself. It's kind of this the best relationship you can have for your own growth. But I think it just happens kind of you know when it's supposed to yeah and then it's magic.
CL: Yeah. I mean, it sounds like your meeting Shawn was written in the stars.
A: Yeah. I mean, it's yeah, I still think of how crazy it is. Because I was like, so miserable at my job, just like watching YouTube cry every day. And to Kate, like, my life is over, I have nothing going on. And then a year later, it's like, just kind of everything happened at once. But yeah, I got like a second chance to do what I really want in life, which is amazing and changed everything. And then I think when you kind of get that you're lucky because you just don't look back. Like I used to be such a, like, what we talked about being anxious, and always thinking about the future and putting all this weight on you.
And then I was like, No, I'm just gonna do whatever I want. And not like, I literally moved to Berlin, because I came here for a gig and then came home and like, bought a flight for five months out and sold all my stuff and hence your appointment. And I was like, you just have to do everything you want. And as soon as I just started saying yes to everything, not yes to everything, like I'm going to do stupid shit. But like, yes to all the stuff that I want to do in my career, then it just happened that way. And like Shawn just kind of popped into my life and then changed everything for the better.
But it's also like, I'm very lucky. But I also worked for it. So you have to remember that because I think we're good at like, not remembering all the work that we put in, especially when we question like, where we're at in our journey and things like that. And it's hard to do this for a career. Yeah, you know, especially for like, a long, long time. And, you know, to DJ names, and like, 20 years of your life is a lot. It's crazy. Like, I'm old now. No, I don't look that old yet. But I think it's all the tattoos or something. The Lesbian gene. Still got a few years of like, people don't know, you're 41.
CL: Yeah, it's hard work being in this industry, there are so many ups and downs. You have to really want to do it.
A: And you have to believe in yourself. Yeah. Because everybody has like super low points where they want to quit. And I can guarantee like any successful artists that you spoke speak to that's been around for a long time, went through those moments, like everybody, and everyone that's playing those, like 14 gigs a month now went through, like almost wanting to quit five years ago, or, you know, 10 years ago. And, you know, some of its luck, some of the to, you know, some of its taken out talent, and now, you know, some of its other things. And for everyone, it's different, but like, I think if you want to have longevity, and, you know, leave a legacy and whatever your purpose is, with this industry. You're gonna do it in that way, I guess, you know, and for me, that's like, my personal growth as an artist isn't attached to my value and industry or my popularity, I guess. Like, I'm very happy, obviously to be touring now. And like, actually have a career where I can make enough to pay my rent, and I can wake up and do music. And that was always like my goal. But for me, like the most important thing, I think, is just to keep growing and learning and becoming a better artist and evolving into whatever that turns into whether it's like scoring films or, you know, I would like to like, do music until I die, basically. I don't know when that will be but yeah.
CL: Is there anything else you’d like to add that I may have missed?
A: I don't think so. I talk a lot. Yeah, cool, I think you covered a lot.
CL: Cool. Thanks so much for joining me. You just listen to my interview with Alinka. I'm going to play a few of her tracks, including Day Zero disappear into the night, and two remakes of Gay Dreams Do Come True by Planningtorock. I'll see you in a couple of months.
Chloé Lula is a Berlin-based DJ producer and journalist. She is the Managing Editor of Resident Advisor the Editorial Director of Refuge Worldwide Radio and the Critical Beats columnist at The Wire magazine.
She received her master’s degree from Columbia Journalism School in 2020 and is a fellow with the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.
Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post the New York Times Politico and Esquire among other major publications where she covers gender justice human rights and their touch points with music and activism.
She put out her debut EP, ‘Errant Bodies,’ on aufnahme + wiedergabe this spring, and will release with Berlin's Instruments of Discipline and Ciarra Black’s Pendulum imprints in early 2022.
Refuge was started as a fundraising platform working in solidarity with grassroots and non-profit organisations. In January 2021 they launched Refuge Worldwide, a new radio station to amplify the music and issues that they care about, broadcasting daily from Weserstraße 166, 12045 Berlin Neukölln.
Since 2015, among others, they have worked with a young women’s centre, refugee housing support associations, a music school for marginalised persons, social equity groups, homelessness agencies, and a shelter for women and young persons fleeing domestic violence.
From their home in Berlin Neukölln they now host weekly workshops, training programmes and classes in media, creative fields and mental health. These are free to attend as part of their community outreach. Refuge Worldwide is also involved in a number of collaborative projects around the globe, with likeminded collectives, radio stations and activists.
Refuge Worldwide commits to striving for a gender balanced station, representative of minorities. The station is focused on community-building and creating space / visibility for underrepresented artists.