Interview with Jen Ellerson of Modern Movement!

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Modern Movement is a project that was jumpstarted by Jen Ellerson, back in 2010. She wanted to capture a movement that she’d seen rising in Berlin, which was limited to eclectic and nocturnal sub-cultures within this specific region of Germany. Mainly ranging from cold wave to other obscure sounds. Those that are involved with the project, describe themselves as “a collective of ambitious, international misfits with irreproachable taste“. So, when this concept first set out to do something, it was by putting up club-nights that would fuse together the potential she saw in Berlin. Garnering a lot of momentum from her previous (and still current) project Brave Exhibitions, which is about the same thing, but not really. It’s based out of London, but it’s focused within a similar scene. She’s been running it together with James Lowry for some time now. Anyway, since club-nights only and installations at that, didn’t really pinpoint what was happening around her, she sketched out an idea for a book in 2011. This later on formed into a bigger project, which would come out in 2013 and also include a compilation of tracks to accompany the book itself. Like a soundtrack for everything that’s been gathered around. There’s a lot to say about Jen Ellerson, and she’s got a lot of experience within multimedia as such, but hopefully this interview will clear up a lot of question-marks. I asked her about the book, the idea behind it, Brave Exhibitions, Modern Movement, what it was like coming to Berlin, how Berlin differs from London and much more. I’m hoping that you’ll find this informative and enjoyable, and I hope that some of you actually recognize yourselves as part of this story.

What made you decide that Germany, or Berlin in this instance, had the need of a platform for this collective of international, concept-based, fitted with mostly “eclectic, nocturnal sub-cultures”, back in 2010?

– Good Question!

This was a sort of evolution, I suppose. Originally from NY, I was living in London for years with a complete fatigue of what I knew of music/club nights there – which forced the origins of Brave Exhibitions (in collaboration with James Lowry, now running for over 5 years in London and Berlin). Brave Exhibitions has carved solid identity for cold/minimal/ no(w) wave performers and DJ’s, with an added plus of the experimental and unknown. It was here that I realized that if you can’t find what you want anywhere else: you have to create it yourself. And this was a starting point.

When I moved to Berlin I continued BE, and was humbled to find other conspirators with overlapping tastes. Brave had a standout niche, yet at the same time I was delighted to find that there was such a blossoming, supportive community that embraced this concept, and yet went even deeper. Heart-warming diversity at its best. Having quite varied interests and outlets of my own, I wanted to protect and maintain BE in its glorious cavern, but felt inspired to work together with other promoters and artists to give it some neighbors. I felt a need for expansion that would encourage and not omit.

Modern Movement emerged, as an umbrella of co-productions and shared ideas that could explore and foster a variety genres and audiences.

Berlin itself is a compendium of carnies. A harbor of native Berliners as well as an assortment of International people, all of which contributing to a sub-current of curiosities.  There is  a genuine interest and insanity around music here that came long before me, and a dedication that I’ve seen nowhere else. In short, I spotted a movement; one that had already started and has quickly ripened in only the last few years.  I find it important to cultivate and document it; give something back to my favorite city.

Could you tell me about the people involved and how it was in the start for this movement?

– In the beginning it started when I was asked to book Thursdays at the King Kong Klub, and I heartily accepted, looking forward to a new project. As booking week-to-week can be very demanding for one person, it was an opportunity to open up to variety and also collaborate with other promoters. There were existing parties at KKK (King Kong Klub) that I felt were musically compatible, and so we joined forces to run the nights together – for instance, Death # Disco (with Philipp Strobel and Ian P. Christ) and Built for Speed (with Juan of a Kind and Mad Kate). There was also a window to start new nights, such as Endorcism (also with P. Strobel and Frank Lachmann), VOID (Dylan Kaspar) and Devil’s Dancers (with Carla and Tim of Daybed). We were able to do one-off events or patterns of nights with different ideas. There were also a number of label nights and record launches, for Italy’s Discipline records for instance, and the big launch for Velvet Condom’s Stadgeil release.

Since then MM works with a variety of clubs and venues throughout Berlin and at times extends to Vienna, where there have been many friends and collaborators. I’m doing a second-launch for the book there next month, and very much looking forward to it. It’s always a good feeling where you can create crossover within your own city and then be fortunate enough to expand. There is talk at times of bringing MM to London as well, which has been quite a consideration.

“There is a genuine interest and insanity around music here that came long before me, and a dedication that I’ve seen nowhere else.”

It’s interesting that you’re talking about the book that would become a reality now in 2013, about Modern Movement. Which was brainstormed back in London in 2011. But what exactly was the concept from the beginning and how did it evolve?

– I suppose it all started on the night of the Velvet Condom release party for their then-new album, “Stadtgeil”. This was a MM production in alignment with London’s Experimental Circle Club, who are a fantastic group responsible for many fantastic London events and associated with Offset festival, among other things. Thomas Kavanagh was part of the troupe on this night of the British invasion, and was taking photographs at the show. He had already been doing portraits of some of the key characters in the London scene, which of course overlapped with my history of Brave Exhibitions there. (you can see some of these portraits and more of his lovely work at http://www.tomkavanagh.com/). He had already published a gorgeous book of portraits with ECC London.

Tom approached me and said he wanted to do something similar in Berlin, knowing there were so many personalities masquerading at a time where there is so much happening. He asked to worked together and of course I jumped at the opportunity as I could already rattle off a long list of subjects who would be relevant and readily interested in the concept. All of these people were in one way or another involved with MM, so it evolved into an elaborate family portrait.

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A few months later we set things up. During my visits to London we would brainstorm, and after multiple ideas we agreed that instead of finding a single environment, that we ask each artist to choose the place where they’d be photograph. The place would have to be a place they loved about Berlin, or one where they conceived ideas, made their work, or felt at home in. We thought it very important to relate the environment to the subject, and in essence have it all tie into a creative extension of the city itself. By July 2011 I had a list of over 60 people, and organizing them was tough; now we had to scatter all over the city to their chosen locations, find availability, ans so on. Tom arrived and over the course of 7 very busy (and exhausting!) hot summer days we shot as many as possible, resulting in the final chosen 47 plates of the book.

In the time between then and now, Tom and I had quite a few distractions and road-blocks. We both lead very busy lives with full-time careers, so the final production of the book had been in and out of conversation. It takes time to find the right formats, printer, paper, cover/hardcover, budget, and so on – and we were getting our heads around the self-publishing world. It’s not easy, and it costs a fortune to do yourself. As I felt the two-year anniversary of the photo shoot creeping up, I jumped and started to rigorously talk to printers, and start the design process. I had some time in between freelance contracts, and I spent day and night working on a self-imposed deadline; I didn’t want all of this work to go to waste. And it was just too damn special to let go. Tom was in NY for work, so we were communicating internationally; eventually the design was complete. I was very lucky to have a friend in the printing biz here in Berlin, Vincent Illner of PinguinDruck – he was very patient as we changed our minds on format, etc quite a bit. And then, finally, we sent to print.

While all this was happening, I was also (as always) talking to my dear friend Philipp Strobel, who is an integral part and supporter of MM. As you know he has a wonderful, successful label called aufnahme+wiedergabe, and we had conversations previously about doing an MM compilation together. One day I had a bright idea: why not do the compilation, with the book? So many of the musicians in the book have releases on a+w already, and it completely makes sense to have this as an accompaniment. Phil agreed, and I always consider myself to be blessed with his support. It means a lot. So we worked together to collect, compile the tracks, get it mastered and produced and then placed carefully on the inside cover. It all dovetailed into one finely documented art piece. He has been such a gem in getting out the final product, as it is now distributing more through a+w than anywhere else.

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Now that we can touch, feel, and listen to it all – the most satisfying thing is that we now have a piece of Berlin in one place. I was distraught that it took nearly 2 years to put together, but the time/distance is actually a good thing. These artists are all still active and we are all still working together; but what we have is a small sliver of Berlin from a particular time and place. It is a lovely thing to bring to the outside world: a peek inside our fluctuating little island. And to have worked with Tom and his talent, with Phil and his support, has been both humbling and preciously rewarding.

“One day I had a bright idea: why not do the compilation, with the book? So many of the musicians in the book have releases on a+w already, and it completely makes sense to have this as an accompaniment.”

Earlier, you were talking about taking Modern Movement back to London. What would you say separates London from Berlin in regards to the movement as such and would there be any space for a future book in regards to those involved in that particular scene?

– Well, Tom had already done a book that is relative to what I knew as the London scene – so it doesn’t seem necessary. I do sometimes wish however, that I did a better job of recording the ‘time’ and ‘place’ of Brave Exhibitions throughout our London events. I suppose the closest we came was the release of the Brave Exhibitions Compilation CD; one day we’ll have to compile the images and video from the various – ‘occasions’.

You can find the comp here, by the way: http://aufnahmeundwiedergabe.bigcartel.com/product/v-a-brave-exhibitions-compilation-vol-1-cd

In terms of comparing London and Berlin, it’s a tough call. Of course there is overlap, but culturally both cities are very different, even in the underground. And because I’ve been connecting things throughout a longer span of time, I’ve witnessed scenes, people, bands, outlooks change back and forth, regardless of the cities involved. What has been really cool tho are the links between us; Londoners come over often to play Berlin nights, and we build the brücke right back where possible. There is a strong connection. And at the same time, the social and economic factors come in too. London, being a more metropolitan beast, has higher demands and costs for a production, while having a more fashion-oriented clientele. Berlin is more laid back, DIY, and dark at times. And both cities have a different history and relationship with underground and/or electronic-based music, which has a profound effect on how any ‘new’ movement would be perceived. It continues to evolve and take shape.

For one, I whom have never even set foot in a Berlin nightclub, less a club in London – what was it like to organize the first Modern Movement happening in Berlin?

– I had already been putting on Brave Exhibitions nights in Berlin, so it wasn’t an *entirely* new experience but I can say that for anyone in a new place or city, it can be terrifying. Will anyone care, anyone attend, can I pay for the overheads, and so on. But if you believe in what you do and don’t have any major expectations, and try to forget about the worst case scenarios – you’re good. It doesn’t matter what happens, just do it. I made a crazy commitment many years ago, to devote my life to music and art (in many forms) and this is just an extension of that. It’s probably safe to say the same about the collaborators and artists too; we are all in it together. There have been, and will be, a lot of ups and downs. Things move very quickly in Berlin, and there are *so* many “parties” here, sometimes of a similar nature. An over-saturation or even over-stimulation at times. But the thing that keeps it going Are the relationships, the experimentation, and the music. The commitment.

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It sounds pretentious and cliche, but as a kid I was a bit lonely and was greatly inspired by Beat literature and the Warhol Factory. Not unheard of, I know, but not common for someone where I came from at the time. Where I grew up, Hip Hop was king and my Post Punk / European 80s wave obsessions were confined to myself and very few other music nerds in school. It is an absolute dream to take part and facilitate the cultivation of an international community in what I consider to be the coolest city in the world. And here we have all the misfits, it’s where they belong, where they can shine – not unlike the Warholians of the 60s. It’s a different time and place, but everyone finds home eventually.

“London, being a more metropolitan beast, has higher demands and costs for a production, while having a more fashion-oriented clientele. Berlin is more laid back, DIY, and dark at times.”

It’s a strong move to make a commitment to something you cherish and love, but at the same time cut your ties with pretty much everything else? Was it the same feeling that made you move from the US to London? Did Brave Exhibitions come alive from that same sentiment, or how did you go by with that?

– In spite of change, moves and geographical “boundaries”, I rarely cut ties with anything. It’s not easy but I still maintain my personal and professional ties to NYC and London; visiting both places as often as possible. I feel fortunate there are still friends, artists, and a cross-section of an audience in both cities too. Brave Exhibitions has had the honor of co-producing two wonderful shows with NYC’s legendary Wierd party, where there of course was always international exchange with the label’s inhabitants – Martial Canterel, Automelodi, and so on. This year we’re having talks about doing a potential MM book launch too, with its new incarnate, Nothing Changes. Bands like Noi Kabat and Soft Riot from London just came over to play with us in Berlin last month, and so on. I hope to continue this, in some way or form; it’s become regular, but precious.

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There were various reasons that made me move between the US, UK and now DE – I was attracted to each move at the right time. It has usually been a well-educated-gut feeling. Transition is necessary when you are an amateur gardener of the unusual. Cultural differences, even at their worst, always inspired me, and kept me on my toes. Art needs life, art needs danger.

I’ve noticed that you work with promotion and setting up clubs, but never gotten to the point where I know what you’re actually doing. What have you been doing on your day-to-day work and what are you currently doing?

– Do you mean my “Day Job”?

In short, I’m a Creative Director. Which can mean many things, and I like it that way. However I’ve got a long-standing Art Direction/Graphic Design career that now goes back nearly 18 years. I’ve worked in several industries and for multiple digital / advertising agencies in NY/LON/BER. So, contrary to my undying passion for the underground and unusual, I’ve brought home the bacon working for some big-name (and small-name) clients and brands. I started in print in the 90’s for the music industry and now I’m specializing in Digital, on everything from Fashion, Financial to FMCG.  I’ve freelanced for the last four years, but I’ve always had a very demanding career in terms of pressure and time. It can be exhausting in combination with all of the other projects I attempt, but hey, I’ll sleep when I’m dead. At the moment I’m working for the very cool Impossible Project – an international analog film & camera company. It’s fantastic to be working for a client that combines my different passions, as I get to focus on photography, creative communities and aid them in building their Digital team + brand.

“This year we are talks with doing a potential MM book launch too, with its new incarnate, Nothing Changes. Bands like Noi Kabat and Soft Riot from London just came over to play with us in Berlin last month, and so on.”

Since you say that this is very time-consuming, how do you even have time to devote some of your life to your underground passions? They seem to slide in together quite well, even though you’re under immense pressure?

– It’s a gamble. Like most situations, there is *never* enough time but when you are devoted enough, you find it. I am taking a short break at the moment from doing regular shows – I no longer have the capacity to book every Thursday, so I do things more exclusively and periodically. Quality over quantity. It also helps to collaborate with people as often as possible, so that the responsibilities are distributed. You do always have the feeling however, that you can never do *enough*.

I’ve gotten the impression that you really do a lot of more things (then me, for example), where does that feeling come from?

– I guess I came to the typical realization that: life is short. And there is a lot to do. One of my favorite Plath quotes is “Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously close to wanting nothing at all.” I’m in or I’m out, and I prefer not to do anything half-heartedly. And after awhile, dedication becomes more of a warm, humble duty.

Well, for one thing, you’ve had a nice Modern Movement-book release in Berlin, for starters. What was it like and how was the book and CD received when it came out?

– The response has been really positive, I’m really grateful. The Berlin release party was brilliant, with many characters from the book, such as Sixth June, Kaddish, and Death Disco taking part; there was even a hint of nostalgia when so many people *in* the book arrived. It was a group effort, and I was also pleased Tom Kavanagh was able to be present for this. James E. Murphy did an interactive installation where you could actually flick and zoom between the pages of the book, with your body; a virtual Modern Movement. Next week is the Vienna launch, and as I mentioned there is possibly another launch in NY in December, with more of the books inhabitants taking part. So many lovely distributors have been helping to get the book out there – Dark Entries and Other Music in the US, Paul Smith in London; Motto and Exit Berlin – and then some. It’s very important that the book extends far beyond our Berlin ‘walls’. It’s not just a mirror for the people that know each other in the pages themselves; it’s a document of a time and a place, and I think it’s far more special if it’s loyally in the hands of curious outsiders who can be inspired by the work and personalities exhibited. I also hope it’s a genuine reflection for us, in the future, when we all look back at this particularly special time.

“I’m in or I’m out, and I prefer not to do anything half-heartedly.”

Thank you for this wonderful interview! To put everything into perspective, say what you’d like here!

– Well, thank you too. It’s been an honor. I guess if anyone is interested in Modern Movement events & projects, there will always be news on www.modern-movement.com. The book is a limited edition of only 400, and they have been moving fast. But to obtain copies or preview the compilation, please visit http://aufnahmeundwiedergabe.bigcartel.com/product/modern-movement-book-cd, or of course any of the other vendors I have mentioned. Enjoy! And thanks!

You can stream and listen to the Modern Movement-compilation down below. Since it seems to be moving hastily, if you want to buy it, you should to aufnahme + wiedergabe. There, you can buy the book and the CD in the same package. Do also head on over to the Modern Movement webpage and Facebook, where you can check out pictures from the book. You should also check out the wonderful Berlin-based label aufnahme+wiedergabe, and the London-based (mostly) club-concept Brave Exhibitions.

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