Alison Wonderland’s War Stories: Taking Aussie Tough To The US

Alison Wonderland is homesick. The young DJ and producer retreated from Australia to her LA digs almost two months ago, with the aim of commencing work on her debut album. The adjustment, however, has been a rough one. So much so that Australia is all she wants to talk about when we first connect.

“I’m a little bit worried that I’m gonna pick up the accent here. I’m trying not to but it’s really difficult,” she half-laughs. “You find yourself having slight twangs and you’re like, ‘Hang on a second, that is not Australian of you!'”

She is rightly concerned. As we chat over Skype, it’s readily obvious her Rs are more pronounced since last we spoke, and Valley Girl ‘dafinitely’s are Yanking up her bright Sydney drawl. She’s found a simple “reality check” to stave off acclimation, though. Just don’t expect the Seppos to get it.

“I swear like a fucking sailor,” she beams. “Like, over here, no-one swears. I hang out with bad people here and none of them swear. I’m the only person that swears… And I’m proud. I’m super proud of the fact that [Australians] ‘cunt’ like it’s nothing.”

Dodgy accents and blue language aside, Alison Wonderland is closer to killing it than not in the US. As we speak she’s gearing up to announce her signing to legendary American electronic label Astralwerks. Her first US record will be a re-release of her debut EP, Calm Down, which is still getting a flogging on Australian radio. She’ll be in good company, too, finding a home alongside acts like The Chemical Brothers, Empire Of The Sun and Porter Robinson.

Watch: Alison Wonderland – USA Calm Down teaser

We venture into unusually candid territory when the straight-talking Wonderland, who doesn’t like seeing her real name in print though says her social media activity is “pretty personal stuff”, opens up regarding a nasty incident briefly mentioned in a tweet earlier this week.

Another new labelmate, Hot Chip, was the catalyst for a shocking moment early in her DJing career, and while she says she’s put the past behind her, she’s also adamant that some harsher than usual experiences have driven her towards success.

“I was playing after an Australian hip hop night and I was the kid doing the graveyard shift,” she begins. “I actually remember what I was playing, I was playing Hot Chip. And this guy who was really drunk came up to me and was demanding I play Aussie hip hop.

“I don’t play Aussie hip hop and so I didn’t have any, and I also wanted to play Hot Chip and everyone else wanted to hear Hot Chip.” She smiles. “He actually grabbed my CDs, threw them on the ground, cut the music, and put me to the ground and put his shoe on my head.”

“Holy crap,” we blurt. Her demeanour is so matter-of-fact we’re taken aback.

“Yeah,” she says drily. “I was shouting, and the crowd just didn’t do anything because everyone was just like, ‘What the fuck is happening?’ There weren’t that many people in the crowd but the people that were there didn’t really do anything. I think everyone was startled. I don’t really remember much more.”

An absence of security staff meant Fuckwit McSteppinhead got away with it all, damaging her gear and disappearing into the night. Wonderland, though, had the last laugh. “I mean, I still didn’t play Aussie hip hop.”

A tweet from yesterday is a little more succinct. “Now I’m in LA making a record… FUCK THAT GUY.”

“Is that why you mentioned ‘lemonade’?” we ask in reference to her one-word follow-up tweet. “Because you took all these lemons and made them into lemonade?”

“No,” she laughs. “It’s because I was drinking lemonade.”

It’s a welcome refreshment amid some solemn subject matter, and the levity is appreciated. It’s good to know she’s not taking herself too seriously, that she’s not too anchored in the past.

There are more stories, though, of punters who’d “lean over [for] a bit of a butt grab” while she was playing — “I remember thinking, ‘If I was in a corporate office this guy would get fired straightaway'” — and of male DJs who’d stand over her and laugh as she was developing her skills.

“It actually made me go home and practice,” she grins again. “I don’t think I would be as technically comfortable around the decks as I am if it weren’t for them… I’d come back the next week and I’d have a trick prepared. That actually taught me to think differently and not study other people, which was probably the best thing I ever did.”

She reiterates that her work environment is behind the decks, and such encounters would not be brushed off in an office situation. The combination of alcohol and a relaxed club environment, she thinks, leads people to feel they have a pass on harassment, even common courtesy. “It’s not acceptable. I’m a human. I’m five foot one, you know?”

Watch: Alison Wonderland – Cold

Thankfully, as her profile has grown, the abuse has subsided. Wonderland says she’s now accepted the trappings of her profession, but steers clear of using her gender or sexuality as a point of difference. “All that shit gave me a thicker skin. It’s actually one of the reasons why, right now, as you see, I’m also in a big T-shirt.

“I’m never dressed in a way where you can see my body, and I did that on purpose when I started out because I didn’t really want that attention. I wanted people to like my mixing. I wanted people to notice my music. And it actually seemed to work.”

Her hard yakka, and baggy T-shirts apparently, have paid off handsomely. She currently finds herself working on her debut record, due for release “early next year”, alongside esteemed LA producers King Henry and Djemba Djemba, with whom she previously collaborated on I Want You and Sugar High. Mr Carmack is assisting on another beat, and talks have begun with Norwegian producer Lido to revive a Wonderland original written years ago.

She’s keen to give others a leg up too. “[I’m working with] a guy called AWE, who is… I mean, this kid, he’s got nothing out yet but he’s blowing my mind, for real. Like, really good.

By no means a seasoned pro herself, Wonderland wants to stress the point that the “shitty experiences” she and others have gone through can always be turned into something positive.

“I think I’m one of these people that if someone says no to me, I work twice as hard and just go, ‘Fuck you.’ It kind of drives me a little bit, parts of it. I mean, obviously, love for what I do drives me the most.

“I hope that people that are out there and have had shitty experiences when they started out DJing, I really hope that hasn’t deterred them. That’s a big message.”

Alison Wonderland’s ‘Calm Down’ EP will be re-released Stateside soon. Expect a complete album and tour in early 2015.

Watch: Wonderland Warehouse Project – Perth

Interview by Marc Zanotti

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