Cologne’s Own: Lena Willikens Talks
Lena Willikens is a DJ on the up, but she’s not exactly a newcomer to the scene. She’s a member of the revered Cómeme records family, a resident at Düsseldorf’s Salon Des Amateurs and has held down a regular show on Radio Cómeme, all of this has led to an increasingly packed schedule that’s seen her play all across the world, including the recent Dekmantel São Paulo Festival.
Her ascent has been a gradual one, it’s stemmed from a great deal of hard graft and commitment to the broad scope of music that she’s become synonymous with. “I’ve been doing my thing for almost ten years now and it didn't feel like a sudden rise of popularity to me at all”. She credits many moments over the past decade that have contributed to her success, each of them playing their own part in getting her to where she is today. From her first ever podcast for Versatile way back in 2011, through to her ‘Sentimental Flashback’ shows on Radio Cómeme and her EP on the same label she has steadily established herself as a renowned selector and is in demand everywhere.
The aforementioned ‘Sentimental Flashback’ shows had a particular style to them, often exploring different musical themes including Cosmic Disco, African Sounds and even Japanese Music. The themes though were not predetermined, which in itself is testament to just how wide-reaching the Cologne based DJ’s appreciation of music is. Instead it was the music that took priority, with the themes then coming “naturally, depending on my mood”. After a mammoth 31 shows Willikens decided that it was time to call it a day, she does have a new NTS show entitled ‘Lightning Conductor’ starting soon though, so there will be more for fans to sink their teeth into.
Radio has clearly played a massive part in Lena’s career, it’s been a key contributor in building her profile to the level that it’s at now. “I feel like I need playing without a restriction of the crowd in order to keep on playing for the crowd”. Having both radio as well as live shows is clearly something that Willikens wants to maintain, they’re both important elements of her work as a DJ and each of them benefits the other rather than detracting. “I really benefit from that freedom to play whatever – without the need to make asses move! On the other hand I love to have those direct reactions and conversations with people dancing and diving into the music I play”.
Throughout Lena’s varied career one element that particularly stands out is her grasp on such a varied, wide reaching scope of music. It’s not been a conscious effort for her though, she states that “it simply doesn’t make sense to focus on one particular style of music”. Instead she allows herself to be interested in anything, constantly on the hunt for new sounds. “There’s not a single week in the past few years where I didn’t discover something good”. This relentless search for more consumes a great deal of time and effort, she’s “constantly buying records”, whether that’s on the road in the various cities she plays in or in Cologne’s local record stores. She has a hugely admirable approach to music, “it’s crazy how much great music is out there” she gushes, there are absolutely no restrictions for her.
This broad range of music is not limited to her Radio shows, she also employs it within a live setting. She recently played a set in Paris for ‘The Peacock Society’ which she had an ambient set planned due to her early set time. Upon arrival, rather than the small crowd she was expecting she was greeted with a “hall full of raving dancers” and had to change her plans completely. She relishes those kinds of challenges though, it’s part of her love of being a DJ, “I love these moments when you have to jump into freezing water!”.
Pre-planning sets to some extent becomes something of a necessity for a vinyl DJ, especially one with a record collection to sift through the size of Willikens’. She takes quite a calculated approach to this though, citing factors such as time, temperature and whether the gig is indoors or outdoors. One of the main factors that she seems to try and predict is the varying intoxicants that the crowd could be on, “It’s of course a huge difference if you play for people which are on psychedelics or for people which are on alcohol and amphetamines”. It’s an interesting question to ponder, and highlights a certain methodology with which she approaches performing.
Lena has perhaps seen the most success as a DJ, but she is also known as a producer, having released a recently repressed EP on Cómeme in early 2015. She’s been working on some remixes since then that are “still in the pipeline” but we are sure to see more music from her soon. For her though, producing is only part of the puzzle: “I consider myself as an artist and for me that contains diverse activities”. She has her fingers in many different pies, including her live performance project ‘Phantom Kino Ballet’ alongside Sarah Szczesny which they are taking to Kyoto for a 3 month residency this Autumn.
Lena Willikens’ global reach is quite spectacular, as well as her appearance at the São Paulo edition of Dekmantel, she also completed two mini tours of Japan from which the ‘Factory’ shows in Osaka “stood out” for her. Alongside all of this she also somehow manages to maintain a residency at Düsseldorf’s Salon Des Amateurs, the tiny venue renowned for pushing on the outer echelons of dance music. It’s a venue that she’s been playing at for quite some time, she recently did two nights back to back with Vladimir Ivkovic which were “magical”. Holding this residency down does not come without it’s difficulties, “a night at Salon means full dedication and partying all night long which always ends with me being not able to catch a flight the next day”. It’s a commitment that she relishes though, and doesn’t show any signs of giving up yet.
Lena Willikens plays Field Day on 3rd of June, secure your ticket HERE