Lena Willikens: Craving the Unexpected
I’m sat with Lena Willikens backstage at a Hessle Audio x Cómeme showcase at London’s Village Underground.
The DJ/producer’s sound occupies its own space on the genre’s spectrum, weaving krauty drones into her productions and delivering DJ sets renowned for their unexpected turns. Germany has a long history at the more idiosyncratic end of techno, but in a scene where it sometimes feels that no stone is left unturned, Willikens is rolling a rock right over.
“I moved to Düsseldorf as the local electronic music status quo there got my interest,” Willikens explains. “I ended up working at Salon Des Amateurs, a space where kraut and techno, past and present are all interwoven.” She’s now been a resident at the infamous nightspot – known for its eclectic mix of music and open-minded crowd – for six years.
“The scene in the city has had a huge impact on me, and playing a long-term residency forces you to play different music every time you’re at the space. It’s challenging, as you don’t want to bore people with the same shit. You want to surprise them with your latest discoveries.” Willikens is perched on the edge of a greenroom sofa, slowly dragging on her cigarette. She’s sporting a t-shirt designed in collaboration with visual artist Sarah Szczesny, who also directed the video series for Willikens’ Phantom Delia EP, which was released in January and ranged from minimal wave to dark and mutated techno.
Her first release of productions, the Phantom Delia EP was issued via the Berlin-based label Cómeme, whose support has helped establish Willikens as a talented purveyor of her slightly left-of-centre sound. “People that like to pigeonhole music can be irritated by me, but these are not the people that I’m trying to address,” she claims. “For me it’s about sharing good music with open minded people. As a consumer myself I love being surprised, when there’s a mood change, or a weird beat, break or change in tempo. Everyday life is full of ups and downs and that is mirrored in the way I DJ as well as produce.”
Having known Matias Aguayo, founder of the Cómeme label, since relocating to Cologne six years ago, Willikens was subsequently asked to host her monthly Sentimental Flashback show on Radio Cómeme, which has become synonymous with the unlikely blending of records from labels like Crème Organisation with music from Ethiopia, Iran and countless other musical outposts; cosmic disco to post-punk and contemporary dance music to early Japanese synth pop. “I don’t think in genre and culture borders at all,” she says. “There are so many treasures in terms of musical output that I can’t find a reason why you should only dig in your own society. Everything is interwoven and influenced by each other, so the term ‘world music’ doesn’t make that much sense to me.”
Testament to this statement, Willikens appeared at this year’s Live Soundtrack Festival in Barcelona, performing music to the film Japanese Girls At The Harbour, which saw her accompany a DJ set with music performed on the Theremin. “I played the piano for 13 years, so I know how it feels to merge with your instrument,” she explains. “I’m more interested in instruments which are barely under my control like synthesizers and my Theremin. I’m planning more performances of this kind in the future.”
Enthusiastic and obliging, Willikens is keen to wrap up the conversation, as Berlin based Borusiade – who Willikens discovered on SoundCloud and personally recommended to Aguayo at Cómeme – is stepping up as punters flood through the Village Undergrounds’ doors. Willikens is on deck a few hours later with a set that is nestled between Pearson Sound and Ben UFO. It’s a set that defines her uniquely distinct and daring style, as she steadily forms a landscape throughout its duration, building a densely textured picture of sound, in full control of every aspect as the mix progresses.
“I never plan my sets,” she had concluded earlier. “Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m going to play until I’ve heard the last track of the DJ playing before me. I see it as more of an intuitive, trippy excursion. I just hope I can take some people with me – what I really want is for them to lose control and leave their bodies.”
Lena Willikens appears at Clock Strikes 13, Corsica Studios, London, 19 December