Groundbreaking Australian producer and vodka aficionado Alison Wonderland has been praised by everyone from Annie Mac to Diplo, touting her as “one of the best DJs from Australia.” Her debut five-track EP ‘Calm Down’, released locally through EMI sat pretty at the top of the iTunes charts, racking up two million streams across her Soundcloud and mass hysteria among her burgeoning fanbase. Alison released the EP via US label powerhouse Astralwerks, home to the likes of The Chemical Brothers, Hot Chip and Eric Prydz.
The EP featured Hype Machine-topper ‘I Want U’ and frantic second single ‘Cold,’ collaborations with Norway’s Lido and Mad Decent’s Djemba Djemba, and vocals from the leading lady herself. Showcasing an original blend of pop, techno, trap, future beats and more, her dynamic approach to music-making set her up for glowing reviews from media and industry alike.Renowned for her next-level production and intricate sets, Alison Wonderland’s musical prowess extends far beyond her mixing decks. Growing up, she was a principal cellist in the Sydney Youth Orchestra and bass player in an indie rock outfit, skills, which have undoubtedly influenced the style and complexity of her productions. It wasn’t until she first heard The Knife’s seminal album Silent Shout that she really ‘discovered’ electronic music, promptly buying a laptop to learn to create her own.
Today, her stand-out live shows, innovative music production and striking videos have won her fans the world over – and she’s only just getting started. Selling out 3,000 capacity shows nation-wide as part of her innovative Wonderland Warehouse Project in under 24 hours, Alison’s loyal fan-base continue to grow alongside her profile which has seen her headline main stages at every major Australian festival worth its salt. On the road to global domination, with a full album slated for early 2015, Alison Wonderland continues to be a force to be reckoned with.
Are you mostly based in Los Angeles now?
I’m based between Australia and America. Kind of vague for me.
In terms of EDM and the types of artists that punters are into, do you see a correlation between the Sydney and LA scenes?
I’ve spent a lot of time touring overseas the past year so my connection with the Sydney nightlife isn’t what it used to be. Though every time I’ve come back to Sydney recently I’ve been very sad – it’s like a ghost town at night. When I started out, the best thing was that there were so many nights and parties to discover. Unfortunately kids who want to go out now in Sydney don’t have the luxury of seeing a DJ play at 4am. They can still access new music through things like Soundcloud, Spotify and Triple J, but it’s not the same as experiencing new music live. That’s something that hits you differently.
I feel like in America right now with electronic music, everything is just a lot bigger. The festivals are crazy – I played Electric Daisy Carnival in Vegas and I’d never experienced anything like that before. The rave culture in the US is huge, there’s so much excess. I think Sydney is just a bit more subtle about it.
So…not one ARIA nomination, but two! How does it feel?
It’s pretty surreal. When I first started working with my manager – who also happens to be my best friend – I never thought something like that could happen with music I was making in my bedroom. But he always believed in me. We promised each other that we’d get matching tattoos if I ever got nominated for an ARIA.
What is it?
It’s a fucking pineapple! That’s how much I thought it was never going to happen. Now I have a pineapple on my arm.
The other cool thing is that I’ve been nominated alongside lot of my friends who I’ve come up with in the scene – people like Peking Duk, Flight Facilities, Hermitude, Hayden James. It’s such a great time for Aussie dance music right now, especially because so many of those guys are also killing it overseas.
It’s just over a year ago since your debut album, Run, was released. Has your career been non-stop since then?
Yeah, it has been non-stop for me. It’s been really interesting because my life has really changed a lot in terms of the pace. Especially with touring, you’ve got to be really self-aware and make sure you don’t disintegrate, mentally and physically. I don’t feel any different. People that do come to my shows are very loyal, so I have to make sure I make time for that too – it’s overwhelming, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You played Groovin the Moo in 2013 and you’re back this year. How did you find the tour last time?
It was different, I was a filler DJ between Midnight Juggernauts and Flume. I hadn’t had any music out under “Alison Wonderland”. I was still finding… myself as an artist, if that makes any sense. I still have the same shoes though, I still wear them, so there’s that. I think it was my first touring festival. The other one I did was Parklife 2012, where I was an opening act. Me and Flume were both opening acts then but he had a lot more people than me (laughs). [Groovin] was my second time doing that kind of stuff, and I guess I was still looking around and seeing what this whole touring and artist life was. It was really eye opening, because I’d been at it for so long but mainly based in Sydney and doing my own interstate shows, but never on a touring festival. My following was more about the DJing.
I don’t really know what to expect now – I feel a little misplaced from everywhere because I’ve been travelling so much it’s hard for me to know how I’m viewed there. I try not to think about it and do my own thing, if that makes any sense.
When you return to Groovin you’ll have a wealth of material that is your own. Will that drastically change the mood and atmosphere of your set?
Not at all. I think it’s definitely less “genre free” party style. In saying that, take me to any after party and I’ll play a six-hour party set. If I’m playing my own headline show now it’s going to be my music for most of it and intelligently mixing other beats around it, as it flourishes. In saying that, it’s not a self-indulgent thing for me. I want to try to create a vibe and still choose songs that I’m head over heels for, and that’s really important to me. I think if I’m not loving what I’m playing up there then how is anyone else supposed to? So I think keeping it real and not being a dick is a good thing (laughs). You should be able to feel the vibe of a crowd and understand that we’re in this together, and it’s not just about you, it’s not just about them, it’s about us. It’s like a very quick marriage.
A lot of your music is very complex and has depth to it. Do you think the scene is headed more towards that direction right now? Towards more forward-thinking sounds and music?
I’ve always kind of made music like that so I don’t know. I think it’s just becoming more popular right now. But the stuff I made even 6 or 7 years ago is all like that.
If you try to plan the sounds that you’re going to make you won’t have longevity in this industry. That’s not what making music is about. It’s about gravitating to sounds and beats that genuinely speak to you.
The next track I’ve made is a pop song, but at the same time, I never planned to write it. The beautiful thing about being a musician is that you’re always growing and different sounds start speaking to you. Without thinking about it too much you’re always evolving, as long as you stay in touch with who you are.
I’m a big believer in not over-thinking what you’re trying to create. Just let it come organically. The things that speak to me come from a really real place.
You sing on most of your tracks – do you have a singing background?
Nope. What happened was, when I started, I wrote a lot of instrumentals and sent them out to singers but no one wanted to work with me, because I wasn’t well known at the time. I had been singing before on some of my old stuff though, which I produced under the name White Fang, so it wasn’t totally new to me.
A big influence of mine is LCD Soundsystem. James Murphy, the band’s singer, isn’t over produced or over thought, but his music speaks to me because it’s in his range. If you know how to write around your own voice then you can write around it. When I’m writing I’m so in my own head that thinking about someone else signing what I’m writing is weird. If I’m going to collab with someone, I’d want them to write their own part.
When you go to make a song, do you start on the computer or on an instrument? And do you think one way is better than the other?
I start on a computer, but there’s no advantage to either. I just think that if you have your way of creating then that’s how you should do it. Some people work on Ableton, some people work on Logic, some people work on a piano, it’s just whatever you feel most comfortable with. It also depends on the type of music you’re making, too.
Let’s talk a bit about the Aussie dance music scene. A lot of the artists there seem to be taking more creative risks with their work. Why do you think that is?
I don’t necessarily think there’s a difference, I just think we’ve promoted that style more than American culture has. If you see a main stage set in Australia there will be a lot more of those future beats or deep house or techno, rather than main room house, which is what you get in the States.
Australian crowds are so supportive of their own artists as well. That wasn’t always a thing though, I only noticed it around the time that Flume started to get big. What it did though was it gave other artists who were makings similar music the courage and confidence to put out and release those types of sounds.
We have a really thriving community of producers and artists in Australia now, and it’s great. I really think though that once we started to see a couple of people succeed, it gave a lot of artists the courage they needed.
Personally, when I started out I was a bit scared, but once I saw my friends succeeding it helped me a lot. With my album I think I took a pretty big risk. I had such a following as a DJ at the time that it would have been the obvious choice to just put out a bunch of club jams. I decided not to be afraid though and I pushed myself to be really honest with my writing.
You have a very unique sense of fashion. Tell us about your love of oversized T-shirts.
I’ve just always worn them. Ever since I started in the industry I was wearing them, and I think it was because I didn’t want anyone to look at me as a female DJ. That’s not what I wanted them to focus on. I do like wearing them though. Ever since high school I’ve been in overalls or oversized T-shirts. I’ve just always been like that. I collect T-shirts, too. I love rare, vintage ones. In fact, when I have time off I find it relaxing to go vintage T-shirt shopping.
Any plans for the rest of 2016?
Honestly, just never to become a dickhead and just keep it moving and keep writing and playing and stay sane. That’s my move.