Artist To Artist: Lena Willikens & Paramida
It is quite remarkable that in 2016 we even need to make comment on the issue of gender inequality in electronic music. However, the issue still remains and whilst progress has been made, more yet still needs to be done. Lena Willikens and Paramida are quite frankly two of the most exciting dj's playing out at the moment, fact. Each of their careers has followed an indpendent path in which hard graft, commitment and taste has been the key to success.
Lena Willikens has cut her teeth as a disc jockey: for more than five years she has been holding down the fort at Dusseldorfs acclaimed Salon Des Amateurs club on a Friday night. She has become a staple member of the Comeme crew and her attention to exploring the limitations of modern day club music have made her one of the most intriguing and inspirational figures on the circuit at present.
Paramida on the other hand has been committed to breaking and unearthing some of the most exciting underground talent in dance music in recent years. As the founder of Love On The Rocks she has released music by the likes of Khidja, Telephones, Fantastic Man, Ess O Ess and many more. As a disc jockey she incorporates elements of balearic ambience alongside house, disco and all between. Describing herself as 'Berlin's most hated' you might expect her music to be dark and ominous, in fact the contrast could not be more surprising.
We invited the pair to speak about their careers to date so far, life in the fast lane and more. Read their conversation below…
Lena Willikens: Paramida, do you remember that awful festival we both played? That was horrifying – we nearly froze to death back then!
Paramida: I still have strong memories of it. It was a very chaotic festival. We and Max Graef were staying in this abandoned youth hostel and no one else was there. It was quite a bit spooky, but funny somehow. The best thing was the combination of you, Max and me and the gypsy techno DJ playing before you on one stage, it didn’t make any sense at all.
Lena Willikens: While we’re on that subject: Do you also have a blacklist with clubs and festivals?
Paramida: I reckon that that festival could end up on a blacklist of clubs and festivals I would never play again. But at the end of the day, I play anywhere as long as they pay me enough. Unless the promoter is someone I can’t stand. But that occurs quite rarely, because most of the times the people are nice, it’s just the parties that suck. Lena, do you have a blacklist of clubs and festivals?
Lena Willikens: Yeah, there are a couple of places that I really don’t want to get back to. It seems to me that I must protect myself a bit against this. Even if the money is right, a gig where I feel out of place and cannot connect to the crowd can get me down so much that I immediately cast doubt on everything! Don’t you sometimes, after a bad gig, feel as if you suddenly forgot how to play records?
Paramida: Sometimes there are gigs where everything goes wrong. The audience sucks, the vibe sucks, the sound sucks, your flow sucks. And if I can’t manage then to change tack and deliver at least reasonably, I feel desperately helpless. The good thing is though that I know that after every down, it always goes up again.
Paramida At Salon – Zur wilden Renate in Berlin.
Lena, where haven’t you played yet, but would love to go?
Lena Willikens: There are many places: Sao Paulo, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, Taipei – but cities in Europe as well. I have never played in Athens or Budapest for example. And I would love to have a nice gig in Stuttgart, the city I grew up in, to finally make my peace with that city. Where did you grew up and what is your relationship to your hometown?
Paramida: I was born and raised in the depths of Hesse. In between I lived in Iran for 4 years, between the ages of 13 and 17. Afterwards I moved to Wiesbaden and I started discovering nightlife in the Frankfurt area. I remember that everyone was laughing at me when I wanted to start DJing… and of course all of them were men. How is it for you as a woman in a male-dominated field? Does it make a difference for you?
Lena Willikens: I slowly but surely got used to hanging out with mostly boys at the weekends. But a lot has changed over the last year. Many festivals and also clubs are being aware of this disparity and try to counteract it. By now it isn’t uncommon to play on a line up with almost only women without making a big fuss about it. Only recently I had a beautiful night at Under Bron with Towlie and Aurora Halal. The line up made sense musically and the fact that we all were women was a minor matter. That’s how it should be!
Paramida: Do you think that parties are always also a political issue?
Lena Willikens: No, I don’t think so. It’s a romantic idea that all are equal on the dance floor – no matter who they love, where they come from, how old they are, and what they look like. To create this feeling the crowd has to be really diverse, do you know what I mean? Of course there are parties like that, but they rather are a rarity! What do you think about this?
Paramida: I used to think that politics and parties had nothing to do with each other, because the great thing about a party is that all kinds of people come together to have a nice time. On the other hand I now realise that 'you are' political, even if you say that you are not. Lena, be honest: Do you like to party?
Lena Willikens: Of course! But by now almost exclusively at places where I play – I’m sure you know what I’m talking about! Sometimes reason prevails and I go to the hotel immediately after the gig to be fit for the next gig. But the idea not to party anymore and thereby distancing myself to much from the people you are playing for is really unpleasant. Do you know what I mean?
Paramida: Absolutely… I even think that love for a party is an important prerequisite for a good DJ…otherwise you could be just a music nerd with no connection to the crowd and the situation. What is your inspiration? Your motivation to carry on and not give up even if things are not running smoothly?
Lena Willikens: It is important to me that time and again I will get out of the club context which is to some extend very functional. Do radio shows on a regular basis where I can play music that you must dance to per se, and projects like for example Phantom Kino Ballett with Sarah Szczesny are giving me inspiration and energy. And there are also a couple of other tricks that help me motivate myself. These include listening to artists like Traxx or Vladimir Ivkovic, whose intransigence is giving me new energy and is grounding me, so to say.
Nights like just recently at Ambient Garden at De School or at the Holger Night at IFZ (where only Ambient and Dub was being played until 5 o’clock in the morning) are motivating me, because they prove that there is more than just empty-headedly partying and throwing the hands in the air.
Lena Willikens Artwork courtesy of Sarah Szczesny.
Paramida: Did you manage to get really wasted this year? If so where?
Lena Willikens: That can happen every now and then. But never so hard that I wasn’t able to play records anymore. But I did experience a couple of surprises this year. In January when I was in Japan I did drin LSD-water by accident. The water bottle was just standing in the backstage area and while I was DJing I started feeling pleasantly weird (or weirdly pleasant… haha). Paramida, how did you fuck up this year?
Paramida: I missed my flight to Lithuania, although I was totally on time. But I was somewhere else with my thoughts, so I ended up at the wrong gate and didn’t manage to arrive in time at the right gate. I had to book a new flight and had to fly to Latvia via Poland, followed by a five hour car ride to Lithuania, just to arrive in time for my set. Where was your best gig this year?
Lena Willikens: Oh, there were quite a lot nice gigs this year! I especially liked the party called Factory in Osaka where I was able to play twice this year. But the Sustain Release Festival in New York or the gig in Moscow at the Save Festival wer also great. I have to say that I’m really lucky with my bookings. What were your favorite gigs this year? At which clubs did you feel the most comfortable and where do you wanna go back to?
Paramida: Besides missing my flight the festival in Lithuania was really awesome. I played in a round tent on the beach and the DJ booth stand was right in the middle of the tent, so the people were dancing around it, which had a very cool effect.
Funnily enough, the bass was gone for about an hour during my set. But obviously the majority didn't even notice (since everyone was high as fuck) and not even technician wasn't getting it, so I thought at some point either I am tripping or everyone else is being stupid.
Having no bass would have killed any other party, but since most of the people thought it was on purpose and there was a crazy storm outside, so no one could have left anyway, it didn't matter at all.. When the bass came back a huge wave of cheers and energy flowed through the tent. To cut it short: that party was insane, I just love it when everything is out of control.
Apart from this crazy experience my two best gigs of the year were in Tel Aviv (when I was playing for Pag.TLV, that’s the oldest gay party there) and my closing set at Panorama Bar. Both sets were very personally, full of ups and downs and great moments. I felt super relieved afterwards.
Lena Willikens: Are you still working at Oye Records?
OYE Records Berlin
Paramida: I actually stopped working there after five years. Last year was the year of big changes for me. Simply because I realized two things:
1. Because of my job at the record store, the label and djing, I wasnt listening to any music anymore privately
2. I realized I wasn’t dancing anymore.
And those were actually the main reasons why I am doing what I am doing today. Therefore 2016 was very liberating, because I discovered music in a different way than in the years before and because I started dancing again. Are you still working at the record store? What was it called?
Lena Willikens: I worked at two record stores for several years: at Groove Attack and A-Musik. But sadly I don’t have any more time for that.
Paramida: Are you still doing your radio show “Sentimental Flashback”?
Lena Willikens: After the 31st “Sentimental Flashback” show I have been taking a break. But now it is time to start a new show – maybe the “Antiseptic Outlook” show or something like that. Haha… Did you know that you were one of the first people who booked me in Berlin? How long ago has it been? Four years? Was it at Wilde Renate or at About Blank?
Paramida: Oh yeah, I do remember it well. That was our “Fin de Siecle” party at About Blank, August 2011! With you, Rune Lindbaek, Gatto Fritto, Psychemagik, Christian Pannenborg and many more. That was a great party. I will never forget how Rune Lindbaek was playing for two hours without headphones and he even managed to play the same song twice and to make the people go crazy.
Paramida plays New Business at the Pickle Factory on Saturday 3rd December. Lena Willikens plays on Friday 2nd.