Ryan Elliott’s transatlantic love affair
Ryan Elliott has been at the forefront of electronic music for the best part of a decade, but 2014 marked a milestone year for the Berghain and Panorama Bar resident. Already regarded as one of the club’s standout selectors, last year his rapidfire mixing style and unerring tastes were propelled to wider attention after the rapturous reaction to his Panorama Bar 06 mix CD.
Growing up in Detroit before settling in Berlin in 2009, Elliott is one of only a few Berghain residents to have joined the inner circle from outside Germany. So, sitting down for a conversation after his set at Bloc. in Minehead, the subject of his adopted home is where we begin.
“Berlin, for sure, is home now,” Elliott tells me as we settle in the dressing room. “But, I always go back to Detroit in January, and I notice that I’m American, y’know? When I wake up, I make coffee, I put on the really good hip-hop station, and I listen to that before I check emails, promos, whatever. For five minutes, I just put on Detroit radio to remember where I’m from. And every time I go back home, I can’t deny it. It has a weird energy. I mean, Madonna is from there; The White Stripes are from there. Obviously all the Detroit techno guys are from there. All the Motown stuff. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about that city that sparks creativity.”
Elliott has little doubt that the city played a considerable formative influence on his career, where he formed a close early relationship working as one-half of the Spectral Sound A&R team alongside Matthew Dear. But while Detroit provided the kick-start, he’s found a home away from home.
“The first time I ever went to Berlin, in the same way I feel a certain weird thing when I land in Detroit, I felt like, ‘this is comfortable, or somehow familiar.’ That’s why I have such a connection to both Detroit and Berlin; because in a weird way, they’re actually really similar. They’re raw, they’re natural, and they’re honest.”
Like many of Berlin’s techno figureheads, Elliott cherishes this rawness as an ideal environment for art to blossom. “I have a park behind the house, and if I’m having a bad day in the studio, I turn it all off, and I just go for a walk to clear my head.” Compare that to the fast-paced intensity of larger cities, which can manifest as an obstacle to creativity. “In London you have to get on the Circle line, go to Hyde Park, or whatever. I love those towns, but they’re just too big for me. I like to be in a place where I can get my whole head around what’s going on.”
"The first time I played Panorama Bar was the best set I've played my whole life. As a DJ, it defined me"
We touch on gentrification in London and its effect on the clubbing landscape, agreeing that it has reached crisis point. So how long can Berlin resist? In a city that never seems to sleep, will the party ever come to an end? But as much as Berlin, like London, is changing, Elliott’s confidence about the longevity of the city’s scene is fuelled by the wider German attitude towards electronic music.
“I’ve thought about that before,” he admits. “At least with Berghain, they realise that it’s precious. There’s a door policy. They’re good at protecting that. But also, the German government realise that club culture, EasyJet culture, is a big part of their economy. And in the same way that set times can be eight hours in Berlin, clubbing is more of a long-term thing for Germans. It’s more ingrained in the culture. It’s more serious. You can wake up on a Sunday morning and have a nice coffee before you go.”
As if to confirm his position at the heart of European techno, halfway through our brief conversation Berghain icons Ben Klock and Marcel Dettmann enter the room, shortly before their headline slot on Bloc’s main stage. Standing at over six feet tall in their mandatory all-black outfits, their considerable presence is just as distinguishable in the room as it is during any of their sets behind the booth. I quickly offer to leave and finish the chat elsewhere, though Elliott has other ideas.
“Keep it down over there, you guys”, he jests in his unmistakable Michigan accent, “I’m doing an interview.” Dettmann and Elliott compliment each others’ trainers, before the hulking duo retire towards the corner of the room so Ryan and I can continue. It’s a light-hearted exchange, but doubtless one laced with respect. He’s clearly a part of the furniture at Ostgut Ton. “The first time I played Panorama Bar was probably the best set I’ve played in my whole life” he beams. “And to me, as a DJ, it defined me. That was the point where I knew that I could do this for a living if I wanted to.”
In a club where many grasp at hands-in-the-air house to get those infamous shutters open, Elliott’s penchant for experimentation has cemented his status. “The last time I opened Panorama Bar I played Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich for 40 minutes at the beginning. People came in, and it was, like, hypnotic. It was great.”
With such a broad swell of music in his purview, we attempt to dig further into Elliott’s methods of collecting music, and he reels off a small selection of trusted outlets: Hardwax, Rush Hour, Phonica. “But, for sure, the most important thing about being a DJ –,” he pauses to pick up my dictaphone at this point, shouting into it for emphasis: “The most important thing about being a DJ is to record shop! To go into music shops every week. You have to. You have to realise what’s going on out there.”
It’s this dedication and commitment to sourcing the finest composite parts which made Panorama Bar 06 such a rousing success. But many of Elliott’s contemporaries within the series are being drawn towards producing their own LPs. It’s a move which he’s given some consideration.
“I’ll do an album soon” he muses. “They’ve asked me to do one, and I can feel the inspiration for production coming back, so yeah…” The night is drawing in, and our conversation comes to a close. With the future in his sights, Elliott sits up and addresses me with candour in his voice. “It’s going to be a big task, just like the mix CD was. But in life, when you challenge yourself, when you get out of your comfort zone, sometimes you surprise yourself.”
Panorama Bar 06 is out now via Ostgut Ton
Ryan Elliott will appear at Field Maneuvers, Oxfordshire, 4 – 7 September