Venturing into a fantastical world
Lena Willikens has fast become one of electronic club music’s most respected DJs and selectors. Her ethereal spirit runs through everything she does whether it is DJing, producing her lauded radio shows or her audiovisual Phantom Kino Ballett collaboration with Sarah Szczesny. We interviewed Lena over dinner in the backstage area of a festival in Belgium. For someone who says she does not like being interviewed, she is in fact an extremely fun and outspoken interviewee. Editor’s note: all excess background noise has been carefully filtered out.
Interview by Rafael Severi
Photos by David Brandon Geeting in Brooklyn, New York
I read somewhere that you do not like talking about music.
I hate it.
Why do you hate it?
I do not like analyzing music. I have this fear that with analyzing and understanding structures too much, I might lose an immediate connection to music. It happened to me with art when I was really studying it and being kind of intellectual about it, reading a lot, going to every exhibition opening, every art fair, trying to understand how the business of art works, because if you want to be part of that world you have to understand that aspect as well. At one point, I was sick of it and for some years could not even go to exhibitions or openings anymore. That is why I really like the concept of the Salon Des Amateurs club in Düsseldorf. You try to remain an amateur in order to still enjoy it and to not become professional and analytical. All kids can draw quite nicely and then at school most kids learn how to draw and at the same time they forget how to draw.
Are there people that you like hearing talking about music or reading what they write about music, in journalism or in literature?
I just started reading Cosey Fanni Tutti’s memoir and I love it. I love the way she talks. Music or sounds are always present in what she describes or how she describes her environment. It is a very personal view on the world, her world, and that is what I like. I do not like books that over-analyze. In literature there is a book by Thomas Bernhard that I really enjoy called “Alte Meister”. It describes how one can perhaps get too close to art and end up hating it, just because art is such a personal thing. It is very similar for me actually.
I have this fear that with analyzing and understanding structures too much, I might lose an immediate connection to music
So you studied art history or you studied to be an artist?
I studied fine art.
Have you ever tried being a professional visual artist?
Before finishing art school, I had already decided not to try and make a living out of it. I did finish my education and my final exam was about decision. I made a conceptual installation that was supposed to be a fictional club called ‘Replik’. It was at that time that Salon Des Amateurs opened and I started working there. Things all came together.
What were your really good early club experiences?
My first one was in Stuttgart in a squat where they did regular parties. And I remember a dub/jungle night. For me it was the first time listening to dub actually. I remember this as one of the first really memorable club nights.
Do you like doing interviews?
When you look at 60s or 70s stoned rock journalism, it is often so much more interesting than what is on offer now. I think it is very much because the interviewer in those days would confront the interviewee with his or her own personal obsessions. What do you think?
My biggest problem is that at one point it just seemed to me that journalists were always asking me the same questions all the time. I felt like i was stuck on repeat. I am always happy when someone surprises me, in fact very much the same as when listening to DJ sets.
Just for fun. What is your biggest guilty pleasure record?
Oh no no no [laughs]. I don’t have a guilty pleasure record.
My mother used to listen to Janis Joplin and I love Janis Joplin, but that is not a guilty pleasure. It is a memory. I love it.
What is the first record you ever bought?
I think it was Bad by Michael Jackson, but I do not know if that is a cool answer though. [laughs]
Lena Willikens & Sarah Szczesny present: Phantom Kino Ballett
17 Oct – Vooruit, Ghent
Free for members. Join us here.