A few years ago DJ Alison Swing decided to leave the sunny climes of her native LA and make the move over to Berlin. It was a bit of an off the cuff decision, but after just a couple of weeks things quickly began to slot into place. A booking at Berlin’s colourful Renate led to the night club offering her a residency and she now makes up part of the family there. Recently she started her own resident night at the club too called UFORIA, which aims to put the fun back into the dance floor and explore the wealth of interesting artists around the world.
This isn’t Alison’s first foray into running and curating nights though. Her Dig Deeper night back in Los Angeles – that she co-founded with friend and DJ Masha – is fast approaching its fifth anniversary and has seen the likes of Shanti Celeste, Anthony Naples, Eddie C and Fantastic Man join them over the years.
With home in mind for this vinyl-only mix, Alison soundtracks those long LA drives; windows down, music blasting, alongside an interview about her relationship with records and path into music.
DJs and producers often mention their musical education came through their family’s record collection. Was this the case for you? Can you pick out any pivotal records from your upbringing that informed your musical journey?
Not necessarily, my Dad is a guitar teacher so I grew up playing bass guitar, trombone and piano. This gave me a strong love for music that has evolved over the years. I simply didn’t know about house music until I was around 19. I was really into heavy metal growing up then it was indie rock into more left-field rock stuff. I used to pride myself on going to 3-5 concerts a week in LA – I was obsessed! Met a huge amount of my friends through the Coachella message boards. So the album that really bridged the gap for me was Sound of Silver by LCD Soundsystem.
People buy records for a multiple of reasons. What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?
When I got really heavy into house music I was digging through tracks online constantly. I used to send the best ones to my DJ friends which ended up driving them crazy so they told me just DJ yourself! I was really hesitant but decided if I was going to try it I would do it the right way by starting with vinyl. So I started ordering on Discogs and it quickly became everything for me. It actually got so bad at one point that I had to move back in with my parents for a few months to pay off my debt from records! I remember driving home from work passing by Amoeba and telling myself I could either shop and eat top ramen that night or get a real dinner.
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
So I moved to Berlin a few years ago kind of on a whim. So I have my original collection in a storage space in Los Angeles and my new collection at my home in Berlin. I wish I could say it’s organized at all but it’s not. I usually have my newest purchases set aside and have some kind of idea where things are. But sometimes when I feel a little stale in my selections I’ll just mess it all up so that some records I’ve forgotten about will bubble to the top.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
I’m really thankful to be traveling all over the world constantly now so I have the privilege to shop in lots of unique places! Some highlights are La Roma in Mexico City, Snickars in Stockholm, Gramaphone in Chicago, Crevette in Brussels, Pacific Beach Vinyl in San Diego and recently Zudrangma in Bangkok! But it’s also so important to support your local shops so have to shout-out OYE, Sound Metaphors and The Ghost in Berlin!
Digging isn’t just about the records you find, but the people who help you find them. Who are some of the colourful characters you’ve met on your travels in record stores round the world? Any unsung heroes you’d like to shout out?
I totally agree! I’ve made so many friends through record shops. Here are some names that come to mind! Friedrich at Das Market in Vienna. Hugh at Pacific Beach Vinyl in San Diego. Matthew and Oliver at Amoeba in Los Angeles (formerly). Sabine at OYE in Berlin. Castro and Nemo at Sound Metaphors in Berlin. Ron at Academy in New York City – to name a few!
Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be illusive over the years?
You know I used to think it was important to buy these expensive and rare records but all the chin stroking is so boring. I’m following a feeling and what I find is what I find. Not trying to flex for some guy in the corner who’s not even really dancing – you know? I think this changed a lot in recent years.
Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search or strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?
I really enjoy digging alone for the most part but every once in a while I’ll have a really great digging session with a like minded (and generous) friend that changes my mind!
Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting experience. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after?
Not really – I usually just dive right in! It’s a pretty therapeutic thing for me because I get so in the zone and get a completely clear mind. I just try to start from the back of the shelf and have an open mind!
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
A pretty big role! If it’s really bad artwork it’s a must listen for me. Although (not always) I find records with excellent artwork to be the most boring.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
I’ve been missing LA quite a lot lately so I wanted to make a mix that makes me think of cruising around LA in my car with the windows down and music blasting. I used to do this so much testing mixes on the way to work or blowing off steam. I also haven’t done a more disco mix in a while so this was fun to do!
Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
I was really happy to finally use my Bjorn Torkse ‘Sexy Disco’ record in a mix! I think you can really hear my love for disco edits here – it’s an addiction!
Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why?
I absolutely adore Powder – she’s so different and interesting! The way she blends and builds her grooves always blows my mind. I’ve also always been such a big fan of Axel Boman – he’s always got these crazy records with that euphoric energy I love.
Are there any young collectors emerging who we should keep a close eye on?
I’ve been really enjoying Fafi Abdel Nour’s mixes! Also Budino is a must.
Dig Deeper, the night you co-founded with fellow DJ Masha, is nearing its fifth anniversary. Congratulations! Anything exciting planned for 2020?
Thank you! I kind of can’t believe it’s only been five years but it also kind of feels like 10 haha. It’s been hard to keep the party active now that I live in Berlin and Masha started a music festival called DUSK with Heidi Lawden and Jeniluv. But we’re working on a few dates in 2020 since it still feels exciting. For the anniversary she and I will be taking over the decks for the whole night which is a first for us.
You make up part of the family at Salon zur wilden Renate, how did that relationship come about? What freedoms does your residency there give you as a DJ?
Paramida had played Dig Deeper in LA and after that she invited me to play Pretty/Ugly at Renate. So I ended up playing at Renate the first weekend that I moved to Berlin and from then on it all just fell into place quite naturally. I’m so incredibly thankful to be a resident there. Before I moved to Berlin I’d really only ever played chill opening slots in the US and it was a completely different ball game here. To be able to play such a fun club once a month really built my skill. They’re also like a family to me and have been super supportive from day one.
You recently started your own club night there too, UFORIA, what’s the concept and philosophy behind it?
I think a lot of events in Berlin are so serious and often quite masculine so I wanted to do something that celebrated a more light-hearted side of things. I named it UFORIA because those blissed-out moments on the dance floors were what drew me in and keep me going to parties. I also really wanted to book diverse line ups for the party – there are so many different perspectives available to us these days it would be a shame to waste the opportunity to highlight that!
Anything on the horizon you’re excited about?
This Saturday is the second edition of UFORIA! I’ve got dates lined up for that until the end of 2020 so that’s really exciting. We’re also celebrating five years of Dig Deeper the following weekend in Los Angeles. I’m also setting dates for an extensive U.S. tour starting at the end of February!