Label of the Month: BPitch

Since Ellen Allien launched the techno imprint in 1999, BPitch has grown from representing the sound of Berlin to shaping global electronic music as we know it.

12 min
March 2024 B Pitch
Mar 4, 2024
·
By
Alice Austin

It’s the early ’90s, and since the fall of the wall Berlin has become fertile ground for subculture and club culture to flourish and bloom. Former power plants have transformed into blank canvases on which to graffiti anti-fascist slogans, and the cold hard floors of a former electrical substation in Mitte is now the epicentre of a genre of music that’s helping the city’s population reclaim its soul. This place is known as E-Werk, and every Saturday night locals flood the concrete floors, moving as one organism to the pummelling sound of techno. They dance to sets and performances by little-known artists like Carl Cox, Laurent Garnier and The Prodigy, often continuing through until Monday. These wild weekends act as a stark reminder of what Berlin once was, and a prophecy for what it will become.

But just as Berlin’s culture starts to rebuild, the newly reunified German government gets its capitalist act together. They realise they’re sitting on a treasure trove of real estate, and soon they begin cashing in on the unused spaces, selling them to private investors and developers, attempting to fill the sinkhole that is the Berlin economy.

One by one, the warehouses, bunkers and factories get boarded up. Burly men in black jackets patrol the streets outside, turning any suspicious-looking ravers away. Hearts break as the doors of E-Werk are locked shut, trapping the essence of Berlin club culture inside. To many, this place was more than a club. It was a place of worship.

A young woman by the name of Ellen Allien is among those heartbroken. Born and raised in West Berlin, she remembers the day the wall come down. She cycled around the newly freed city with her friends, experiencing an unparalleled sense of freedom while exploring streets a few blocks from her family home that she’d never walked on before. She describes it as the happiest day of her life.

Backdropped by this new-found freedom, Ellen soon fell in love with club culture. Not just because of the music, but because clubs were one of the only places the communities of East and West Berlin could reunite and re-acquaint themselves with one another. Soon, Ellen graduated from dancer to DJ, finding solace and joy in this pure form of self-expression, and a way to further unify the community. In 1992, she became a resident at the Bunker, Tresor and E-Werk, and helped shape Berlin’s unique take on techno and provide a space for the culture to grow.

Check out BPitch’s ‘Label of the Month’ chart on Beatport.
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So when the clubs she called home got shuttered up in the mid-90s, Ellen took matters into her own hands. “I decided to do my own events,” she says, chatting from a sleek apartment in Ibiza. “We threw the first BPitch events in warehouses, with video art, our own light displays and sound systems.” The events were packed wall-to-wall, full of people grabbing the culture with both hands and refusing to let go. These events became instant nightlife staples, with a regular and tight-knit crowd that came to know one another by name.

Soon, people in the crowd began handing Ellen demo tapes. “The tapes were from all the kids who went to E-Werk and Tresor, the same people I partied with over all those years,” Ellen says. “They were making the kind of music we were dancing to, but putting their own twist on it. And I knew it was very important to open a label because this is our sound and it needs its own space.”

Originally named BPitch Control (and now known as BPitch), Ellen launched the label as a homage to the community and a space to capture the culture of that moment. She had absolutely zero idea how to run it, so called on friends, acquaintances and a distributor in Frankfurt to help her figure it all out. It was, and still is, very much a team effort.

The label launched in 1999, around the same time the Berlin club scene started to get healthy again. New clubs were opening – like Ostgut, Maria Club, and a relocated Tresor – and BPitch’s community was right there to embrace them. Their first releases came in the form of compilations on CD and vinyl, and demonstrated in real-time how the sound of Berlin was progressing and evolving. Artists like Johannes Heil, Elektronauten and Heiko Laux featured on the early compilations, as well as the label-head herself. The music was designed for cavernous bunkers. Some might call it sledgehammer techno because it was pummelling and relentless, so powerful it carried you through ’til morning.

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BPitch’s first major release came from Ellen herself in the form of her 2001 debut album Stadtkind. The project, which translates to “city child,” wasn’t so much a love letter to Berlin nightlife as a preservation of it. The album took the sound emerging from the city and froze it in time, acting as the springboard from which techno could leap out the city borders and onto the world stage.

The album put Ellen on the radar of just about every promoter in Europe, and she became one of the first Berlin DJs to tour the world, becoming synonymous with the sound and the city. However, BPitch was created by the community and for the community, and that premise remains to this day. Since those early releases, BPitch and Berlin have grown and evolved together, to create a union so powerful it’s influenced every electronic music scene, DJ and promoter on the planet.

In the early 2000s, Ellen vowed not to let the hype around Berlin influence her, opting instead to simply follow her own instincts. People began moving to Berlin in droves, lured by the cheap rent and vibrant culture. New sounds and influences started permeating the city and BPitch was there to meet it. “Our music changed when we started travelling and getting more international,” Ellen says. “We signed Israeli artists, French artists, UK artists. So when Berlin changed and became more international, BPitch had already shifted.”

At the time, artists on BPitch’s rosta included Ben Klock, Paul Kalkbrenner, Modeselektor and Sascha Funke. These artists, along with Ellen, are responsible for shaping the sound of the label, and the label in turn shaped their careers. Modeselektor’s 2004 Turn Deaf! EP represented a shift towards IDM and a rejection of techno-purism. Then Tomas Andersson released his single Washing Up in 2005, and showcased the playful side to the label and its fundamental refusal to conform to trends. In 2006 Ellen and Apparat released their collaborative studio album Orchestra of Bubbles, which quickly turned just about every trope of electronic music on its head, drawing influence from classical music, pop, techno and re-drawing the boundaries of what an electronic music label can achieve. Thom Jurek, from the magazine AllMusic, gave the album 4.5 stars and wrote: “For anyone sincerely interested in the open territory of electronic music and its possible futures, this is not only a microscope to examine the new bacteria with, it’s the pulsing life form beneath it.”

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Tasya Menaker

As their sound developed throughout the 2000s, BPitch’s focus expanded, with a booking and artist agency, stage takeovers, worldwide event series and a global fashion brand.

Pluralism of genre is something BPitch have navigated beautifully. Their releases span the full spectrum of electronic music, from techno to electronica, from indie dance to IDM, often taking elements from classical composition and orchestra. It’s hard to fathom how a label born in the subterranean bunkers of Berlin can release pop and make it make sense, but it does. Take We Love’s 2010 self-titled debut album. The first release from new-wave pop duo Pierro Fragola and Giorga Angiuli is choc-full of mesmeric vocals and electro anthems. It’s an entirely different genre to BPitch’s assumed position, but still carries the essence of some seedy underworld; of voices and memories echoing off the walls of some endless bunker. It might be pop, but spiritually, it’s still BPitch.

That same year BPitch released Barefoot Wanderer by Jahcoozi, an album filled with a combination of dub, reggae, dancehall and glitch-hop with a cover of The Cure’s Close to Me. The following year, in 2011, Brazilian singer-songwriter Dillon released her debut album This Silence Kills. Best described as Art Pop, the album uses beats sparingly, combining brass and percussion with haunting vocals to create a Björke-esque masterpiece that still sits firmly in the realm of electronica. All of this music is linked by essence, not genre, and Ellen Allien is a master at recognising music that shares the spirit of BPitch.

And throughout it all, BPitch never strays from their core value of releasing music they believe in. “We book the artists we love, we sign the music we love,” Ellen says. “Even if we don’t sell out a record, we don’t regret it. It’s not about that.”

Ellen says one of the most rewarding aspects of running the label is seeing their homegrown artists succeed. “When someone starts getting big, it’s beautiful for us to see,” Ellen says. “I love to see people doing their own thing, and then coming back to sign a release with us. I love to see people believe in their own dreams.”

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In 2016, Ellen launched We Are Not Alone, an event that initially began at Griessmühle before relocating to its new location, RSO.Berlin, which is aimed at recreating those hedonistic early days of the label, while continuing to nourish BPitch’s loyal community. Ellen uses this event as an opportunity to platform artists she believes in, and continue to progress the sound and culture she lives and breathes. BPitch regularly release We Are Not Alone compilations featuring the artists that play at the parties, and Ellen collaborates with audio visual artists and filmmakers to create a holistic and multi-disciplinary musical experience.

In 2019, Ellen launched a sub-label called UFO.Inc, dedicated to the rough edges and raw sounds of techno. The first release featured Ellen’s title track “UFO” which became the techno banger of the summer, submerging dance floors from Perth to Paris.

The turn of the decade wasn’t an easy time for BPitch. COVID decimated the industry, but Ellen refused to let that stop her from progressing the culture she worked so hard to build. So she hosted her Balcony Streaming sessions from her home in Berlin, live-streaming the music she believed in and continuing to engage with artists and her community.

And so they emerged, back onto the world stage stronger than ever before with more era-defining releases. In 2022 DJ Europarking released Bitte Everyday! on UFO a 4-track EP that acts as a celebration of frenetic techno, and a statement that the sub-label hasn’t gone anywhere. DJ Europarking, a long-time friend of BPitch, says that Ellen once told him: “Genre…? Das ist mir sheissegal (I don’t give a shit). When it’s good, it’s good!”

And, as if to nail the point home, in 2023 Ellen Allien and Ash Code released their Dance and Kill EP, a pulsating and methodical pack of techno with a title-track that became a dance floor staple around the world.

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Stini Roehrs

In January this year, Gotshell released the Sintaxis EP, a 4-track project rooted in techno purism and exploration, taking tropes of the genre and turning them on their head to create a listening experience that’s both clean and complex. Shaleen, a BPitch regular and a fan of the imprint since the ‘90s, sums it up nicely, saying: “Being part of BPitch is not just about being on a label; it’s about being part of a movement that shapes the future of electronic music.”

Ellen has a new EP coming out in March called Rave Luv, a project that showcases her signature playful vocals, powerful percussion and other-worldly synths. And BPitch has no intention of slowing down, instead always looking to the future and pondering the next step in their journey.

“I would love to sign bands,” Ellen says. “I’d love to mix it up, so right now I’m searching for bands who are going in a techno direction with a hint of dark wave.”

Even after all these years, Ellen continues to feel thrilled by BPitch and everything that comes with it. She remembers a moment at a We Are Not Alone party in late 2023. “We invited very close BPitch artists, and we felt so together and united at this party, and we felt so happy that we are here, working together, enjoying this music,” Ellen says. “We are all so different to what society tells us, and we respect one another, and we love playing amazing music. That moment, with all of us together, it defined what clubbing should be.”

Check out these latest Beatport Charts from the BPitch artists DJ Europarking, Shaleen, Endlec, and Lucinee.


Alice Austin is a Berlin-based freelance writer from London. Find her on X.

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