Catching up with Lena Willikens

As a familiar face at festivals and leading online radio stations, Lena Willikens seems to be cut out for a spot where radio meets a festival setting, fittingly landing her on the Red Light Radio stage at this year’s Strange Sounds From Beyond festival.

Lena Willikens used to run her own radio show Sentimental Flashback on Radio Cómeme, where she dug up esoteric obscurities from the record collection she has gathered over time. From krautrock anthems, to dubby Afro beats and leftfield techno, she shifts flawlessly between different genres, often leaning to the darker side of the music spectrum. The same goes for her own productions which are hard to fit into a specific box within electronic music, though at times her own sound carries that raw mysterious air of 1980’s German post-punk or new wave; a gentle reminder of her roots in Düsseldorf, the home of kraut rock.

I met Lena backstage for a quick meal right before her set. We started reminiscing on her 5 hour back-to-back set with Vladimir Ivkovic at De School the last time she was in Amsterdam, where we both agreed that the two of them are a perfect DJ match. We also discussed her upcoming gig at Berghain’s renowned weekly Klubnacht during Christopher Street Day in a couple of weeks, before moving on to some questions about her festival experiences and projects outside the club- and festival sphere.

What comes to mind when you think of Strange Sounds from Beyond?

The name! It sounded familiar to me right away, like a 1960s sci-fi classic.

Do you have any special festival memories?

One of my most memorable moments happened while I was playing one of my first festival gigs at Nachtdigital where I did the opening set. The sun was just about to come down, and while spinning my second record, a little fly set down on the record and got hit by the turning needle. The poor fly got killed by the diamond! So for some seconds, I watched the needle slipping, and there was dramatic silence until I relieved the needle of the dead fly.

You are playing the Red Light Radio stage and you also used to have your own radio show. Is there a difference in your way of DJing and selecting when playing at a festival or on the radio?

The way I play for a dancing crowd benefits a lot from deliberately not thinking in strict categories of dance and non-dance music. I like to keep things challenging for others and myself. The radio shows I do, as well as my sets for silent movies or my performances with Phantom Kino Ballett, are super important for that; they help me to continuously adjust my system.

What kind of music would you never play out, but do secretly turn the radio up for?

Actually there isn’t any music I’m embarrassed to hear or play. I might not have a guilty pleasure, but maybe I just don’t know what others might consider embarrassing music to listen to.

What is the story behind the T-shirts with the figures I always see you wearing?

Sarah Szczesny designs all the phantom T-shirts, which are all unique and handmade. I have plenty of them, so I can always wear one of them. I love the idea of having a work uniform, and I also love not thinking about what to wear before each gig, because that would drive me nuts. Sarah Szczesny is a visual artist who I have been working with for a while now. The latest project we started is Phantom Kino Ballett. It is a performance project with moving pictures, sound, spoken word, and Sarah and I in costumes doing weird things.

Can you share some future projects that you are looking forward to?

Right now, Sarah Szczesny and I are preparing to go to Kyoto for a three-month residency at the local Goethe Institut. We will use that time to work on an artifact for our performances and also on new ideas for 2018. Besides that I just finished a remix for Survive that will be out this fall.

Thanks, Lena!