Alison Wonderland (what a name, by the way) is not only a successful DJ and producer, she is a classically trained cellist, and aspires to one day score music for movies. She possesses this rare musical-emotional drive that I’ve only seen in a handful of artists; perhaps this is why her audiences are so engaged in her performances?
She smashed it in 2015 at Coachella, EDC Las Vegas, and Lollapalooza; and her self-made Australian festival, Wonderland Warehouse, is going from strength to strength. She hopes
to grow that internationally sometime soon. And why not?
Then there’s Run, her debut album, released on Virgin EMI back in March 2015. Not only did it debut at the top spot on both the iTunes and Billboard Electronic chart, but such is her respect and organic growth within the DJ circuit, she has also released a deluxe edition: a major collaboration project with a string of recognised names in record production, each of whom has put their own touch to a track from the record. Run showcases Alison’s songwriting prowess as well as her production skills which, I’m about to find out, is what she is all about. Emotional. Energetic. Engaging.
As I sit down with Alison in the newly refurbished club lounge in London’s Langham Hotel - way too grandiose a venue for the both of us, we decide – I quickly learn that even spying a pot of honey can be an emotional experience.
“I have to do this, because my mum’s not here, and she would do this if she was here,” Alison smiles, grabbing a mini honey pot and pouring it out into a tablespoon, then into her tea. “Oh, and I can talk music to you for hours, I’m just warning you.”
Alison is immediately charming, and entirely humble. She starts talking about how ‘super-fortunate’ she is to have met so many cool people in this business, and laughs at how ‘they’re all very nerdy’, including herself.
“I am totally geeky. I am, like, best friends with my computer,” she laughs, taking a sip of her honey-glazed tea. I ask her about her European tour. “A year ago, I didn’t think this would be happening. Even in America. If you pre-empt that kind of stuff, it’s the worst. It’s amazing that I even have an opportunity at all, here in Europe.”
In terms of musical taste, Alison sits somewhere between The Beatles, jazz, punk, pop, rock, dance, and electronica. Quite a mix.
“Once, my mum made me a paper mache costume of the octopus from Octopus’s Garden, so I think it’s a shame not to mix things up! [smiles] The people that are closed minded and don’t want to open themselves up to other genres are missing out. I started off doing genre-free stuff at the beginning; I was DJ-ing at indie nights, and back in the day, that meant electro, hip hop, everything. So that’s where I started as a DJ, but as an artist, I started producing because I fell in love with [Swedish electronic duo] The Knife. That’s the first electronic thing that really spoke to me. LCD Sound System is one of my favourite bands, too.
“If you’re just going to stay in one little musical zone, what’s the point?” Fair point. “There are many amazing musical things out there, and they constantly blow my mind. I am a highly emotional person, so I take my influences mainly based on my emotions and what I am observing around me; I am very driven by my feelings.”
When making music, Alison turns to Ableton Live. She uses a couple of soft synths, and has various bits of hardware, too: Access Virus, T12 Polar, and a Juno 106, to name a few. Some of her recent projects include remixes for Duke Dumont, and Justin Bieber. With the Duke Dumont remix she even wrote a string quartet using MIDI strings.
“If you listen to my extended remix on SoundCloud, it’s two minutes of strings without even a beat yet,” she smiles. “It depends how I’m feeling, but when I’m doing my own stuff, I’ll start with a beat, then get into this whirl; it’s so weird, I can’t explain it, but you get into this crazy zone, then play around with sounds. Then if I’m in a studio and with another person as well, it’s different than when I’m in my bedroom.”
And what about the songwriting?
“I feel that the best songs are the ones I’ve written in one day,” Alison explains. “If you can live for 90 years, and experience one day that was nothing like any other in your life... [pauses]... if you can catch that, then that’s crazy. And so, I feel things that intuitively and primarily fall out of you musically are the ones that will really happen quickly.”
Alison professes that you don’t need a fancy studio to make music: “just your ears, and your mind, and you can create anywhere,” which brings us onto her previous alias, Whyte Fang.
“When I was writing under Whyte Fang, I didn’t have any money, and a lot of the vocals – the finals – were recorded using voice memo on my iPhone, straight in,” she says. I laugh. She doesn’t. Really? “Oh yeah, Run, You Don’t Know, Ignore, Back It Up, about 70% of that album was done that way. That’s where I started. I didn’t have microphones or synths. I didn’t have drum sounds. I would do this [picks up spoon and whacks it on the table] and record it on my iPhone. I’d email it to myself, and drag it into Ableton. That’s my percussion, right there. I’m serious! I was eating tuna and baked beans back then.”
Not together, surely?
“Oh, at one point I’m sure I did!”
When making this latest deluxe edition, however, Alison was in cahoots with a number of great musical minds:
“It was something I was tentative to do at first, but then I was working with Djemba Djemba, Lido, and GANZ, and it really opened my mind that when you have a really strong creative partnership with someone, it can really push you, musically. I also tried extra hard to impress them, I noticed! [laughs]”
As a producer, Alison considers herself more of an artist than a scientist. So the artistry comes from those classical genes?
“Yeah, it does,” she says. “If you go on my Whyte Fang SoundCloud, you can listen to my brain from four years ago, and see what you think of it yourself. You’ll get it. It’s interesting that I really didn’t want to collaborate with anyone, but when I finally opened my mind to do it, it was amazing, and such a positive thing.”
I ask Alison about her live shows, and what her audiences should expect. Clearly excited, she takes a deep breath, and says:
“I am a raw performer, and the best thing I ever decided to do was never worry about what I look like when I’m on stage. So in any photo, I’m always like [raises arms in the air, closes eyes, grimaces, then laughs]. It’s the most comfortable I feel, being on stage. At a party, I’m always the one at the side, near the catering, the quiet kid in the corner; but on stage I’m all ‘rahhh!’, and I’ll wear a t-shirt that has a conversation starter on it.
“I’m quite a technical DJ, so when I play, I have Go-Pros above my hands a lot of the time. I don’t use a laptop or anything. Once there is a lit-up Apple screen next to you, that’s an automatic barrier between you and a crowd. The thing that gets me off a lot when performing is the communication I feel between myself and a crowd; I give everything. I would get bored if I wasn’t hands-on, and besides, it’s like cheap therapy to me [smiles]. It’s me and my three of four decks. I started out as a scratch DJ, so I still do a lot of that, and I change tempo and genre quite quickly, in a way that I hope is not too obvious. I play things from different genres and different eras, because good music is good music forever.”
So what’s next for Alison Wonderland?
“I want to make sure I never become a dick head,” she says, with a chuckle. “I just want to keep everything rolling, really. Just before I played Coachella, I found out my album was number one on the Billboard chart, which was crazy for me. I texted my friend in the crowd, as there were only five people there, 10 minutes before I went on, and I was like, ‘what the fuck am I going to do?’; and my parents had flown all the way from Australia! But I ended up having the biggest crowd at the Sahara [Stage] before 6pm of any other act. That was special... I cry pretty much every time I’m on stage, so of course I cried then, too!”