LENA WILLIKENS P H O T O
: L U S E R S C H
Ahead of her set at Edinburgh’s Terminal V later this year, the Germany-based DJ and producer Lena Willikens speaks to Kate Walker about her eclectic output and approach to selecting
L ena Willikens is best known as a DJ and producer of electronic music, yet her varied career is woven from many different strands. First coming to DJing while studying sculpture at art school in Düsseldorf, visual artwork remains interconnected with Willikens’ music, and as one half of the collaborative project Phantom Kino Ballett, she curates immersive audio- visual performance work. She has also held many radio residencies over the course of her career, and currently has a monthly slot on NTS.
But these multifarious segments of her career are tied together by an overarching philosophical thread of sonic exploration that Willikens employs in an approach to every project and performance. She says she’s excited to bring her trademark unpredictable experimentation to Edinburgh – alongside a belter of a line-up – at the newest edition of Terminal V festival, which has been rescheduled from April to October due to COVID-19. ‘I had a lot of fun when I played last year at Bongo Club with Violet,’ Willikens reminisces. ‘Festival gigs are very different from club gigs; the festival crowd is sometimes less perceptive but therefore more outgoing. I sort music before my gigs but I don’t prepare too much. I don’t want to limit myself with a fixed idea of what to play before I enter the club or a festival stage. I like to respond spontaneously to the crowd and the atmosphere which the DJ before me might have already built.’ Willikens has become known for her often hugely obscure track selection, playing everything from industrial techno chuggers to experimental new wave and minimal synth. This boundary pushing is at the core of her sets, and often even she doesn’t know what’s coming next. ‘To surprise myself and risk things which might not work while I’m DJing plays a big role in the fact that I’m still enjoying it as a job. I’m not trying to control everything but leaving room for mistakes and also moments where the adrenaline level rises and you just make the right (or wrong) decision in the last second.’
As a selector, it’s almost like Willikens aims for these points of rawness, when a record skips or a track isn’t built to be mixed seamlessly into the next. ‘Moments of chaos are important to me, which doesn’t mean that I like to play randomly! It’s about letting things happen and not planning or wanting too much. I compare DJing to a conversation I have with the crowd; in a conversation I also don’t know exactly what I’m going to say in five or ten minutes.’ Of course, every crowd is different, and Willikens brings her intrepid exploratory outlook to her interaction with an audience, adapting and reacting to them in what she hopes will be a truly collective experience. ‘I think my favourite moments are when the DJ doesn’t have to think anymore about what to play next and the crowd realises that they’re not only consuming but are really part of this energy soup. There are nights when you feel you have the total freedom to play everything you want and the crowd is with you and appreciates that you’re not just trying to please them; these are the nights which can give you energy for weeks to come.’
Terminal V, Royal Highland Centre, Edinburgh, postposed to Sat 31 Oct due to COVID-19 virus.
24 THE LIST 1 Apr–31 May 2020