Born in Ukraine, raised in Chicago and currently residing in Berlin, Alinka is someone whose sound is every bit as colourful and diverse as her own background. The co-owner of the much-respected Twirl label, she cut her teeth as a resident at Chicago’s Smart Bar, and has since gone on to play virtually every great club of note around the world.
Her gig schedule from 2022 is testament to the fact, with stop-offs at DC10, Lux Fragil and Panorama Bar (where she regularly appears), testament both to her appeal and her undoubted DJing prowess. Known for promoting a high energy sound, Alinka’s sets play homage to the roots of electronic music while also maintaining a very contemporary touch. Indeed, if you’re interested to hear more, do check Alinka’s awesome Nightclubber mix, which she was very kind to record for us recently and which you can check here. We checked in with her recently to find out more…
Hi Alinka, thanks so much for chatting to us today and hope you’re doing good. Let’s kick things off by chatting about your summer, which seemed packed-to-the-brim with awesome gigs. What was the highlight? What really stood out?
The whole summer’s been pretty fun, minus the chaotic travels. I really enjoyed playing Bloc9 at Glastonbury for the first time, Whole festival, Baum festival, as well as the other festivals I got to play. Particularly my sets at Garbicz and Fusion were personal highlights for me. Palp festival was also amazing, and the craziest and most beautiful location. I got to come back to play Circoloco and Lux Fragil which are some of my favorites, and of course Robert Johnson and Panorama Bar. I also had some great gigs in the US this summer and it was nice to get to come back and get to see family and friends.
As someone who’s been DJing professionally for a few years now, how do you deal with life on the road? Do you have coping mechanisms that you use for dealing with the stress of non-stop travel?
I think it’s just about finding the right balance. I think it’s an ongoing process, as our needs change with age and at different points in our career. I try to be mostly healthy these days and rest whenever I can. I take time off from alcohol periodically which really helped me a lot, and I make sure I get enough quiet time alone, which I really need after busy weekends. I’m a bit of an introvert, so I go mad if I don’t get enough alone time. Luckily my friends understand and don’t get upset when I can’t make plans and need to rest, but it’s difficult to find the right balance, I’m still always learning.
We also wanted to chat to you about your work with He.She.They, a party and brand you’ve become closely aligned with over the past few years. Can you talk to us about your history with them and your current involvement? What does it mean to be part of such a special crew?
I met Steven and Sophia from He.Shey.They through my friend Maya, who they work with for management, and they’re all wonderful people so we immediately hit it off. I am always happy to support friends and I’m very proud of them and everything they’ve accomplished with He.She.They. I’m not involved beyond getting to play a few of their events, and I happily did an EP for their label featuring Robert Owens and a remix from Joyce Muniz.
Panorama Bar in Berlin – and indeed, most Berlin clubs – still mostly stay true to the music’s roots and community spirit. Would you ever decline an invite to a party if you thought it wasn’t in line with your sound and values?
I would definitely decline invites to events that aren’t in line with me. Luckily, I’ve been fortunate to play for some amazing clubs and promoters in my career. I think it’s important to know your worth and your direction as an artist and not lose sight of that.
How are things in Berlin for you now? Do you think it’s a city you’ll ever tire of? Do you get to switch off from music at all?
I love Berlin, I have since the day I first came here. Of course, it has its ups and downs like every city but whenever I travel I always feel homesick and happy to come back. Berlin has always felt like home. It’s been such an inspiring place for me, and made me grow so much as an artist. I do switch off from music and try to spend time in nature and going to see art shows and eating nice food with friends and etc. I need that balance to stay sane. Luckily there is so much to do in Berlin outside of music, you never get bored.
How does it differ to life in Chicago? Do you think you’d ever move back?
I love Chicago, it’s one of the most beautiful cities on the planet. I’m very lucky to have spent 28 years of my life there, but I moved to Berlin because I was ready for a change and I don’t plan on moving back. I’m very happy to visit, and will hopefully be coming back a bit more often now. I don’t think you can really compare the two cities but I moved to Berlin because it felt like home and was inspiring in the same way Chicago felt to me, that’s how I knew I found my place.
So many of the Smart Bar residents and regulars have made an impression globally of late. Why do you think this is? Especially considering there is such an abundance of talent there…
Chicago is full of amazing artists and Smart Bar has always been at the forefront of highlighting local DJ’s and letting them shine. It’s a very special club. I learned the most as a DJ during my time playing at Smart Bar for Justin Long. In Chicago you always really had to earn your respect. No one was going to give you any shortcuts or a career without you earning it. I think that kind of work ethic produced a lot of talent and it’s nice to see them doing well globally, they really deserve all the success.
On that note, can you talk us through your history with Panorama Bar. When were you first invited to play? And do you prepare for gigs there differently than you might elsewhere? Is there an extra pressure associated with playing there? Or do you actually feel more freedom?
I first came to Panorama Bar to see my friend and Twirl partner Shaun J. Wright play when I first arrived in Berlin in 2015. I immediately fell in love with the club, there was just a very powerful and magical energy on that dancefloor. They invited me to play a few months later in the winter of 2016. I used to prepare and search for tracks for weeks and get really nervous my first time playing there, but soon I realised it’s actually the most fun crowd to play for, and it took the pressure off. So I got more and more comfortable and as a result more free, and I grew a lot as a DJ these last years. I really like playing there because of the longer sets as well, I am much better when I can tell a story musically and have the time and freedom to do that. I’m very grateful for their support these years, playing there has definitely been transformative for me and I’ve grown a lot as a DJ because of that.
Let’s also chat a bit about Twirl, your label that’s really been picking up pace over the past few years. At what stage did you realise that you were really onto a good thing with it? And how important do you think having an outlet such as Twirl is to release music that you really believe in, and also to push yourself as an artist?
We started Twirl as a means to put out our own music and have full creative control of our releases. We were making so much music at the time, it was very important for us to have our own home for that music, and it was really helpful in getting our sound out into the world. We also strive to feature artists and friends we love on the label and music we really believe in. I’m very grateful to have this opportunity and to work with Shaun J. Wright on this project.
Has running a record label become more difficult over the past few years? What have been the big challenges for Twirl in particular? Are you still running the label alongside Shaun J Wright? Who does what on a day-to-day basis?
We took a bit of a step back from the label in the last couple of years, as we were both very busy with our solo projects, and also the pandemic was obviously a factor. But we plan to relaunch the label very soon with an amazing release from our friend Gordo, and remixes by DJ Holographic and Shaun J. Wright.
I think running a small label is always a bit of a passion project, especially if you’re putting out music that is interesting and doesn’t follow trends. It can be challenging, and it’s definitely an investment, time wise and financially. But it’s always worth it in the end. Shaun and I make all the label decisions together. We usually split up the tasks for every release, but we’re both involved every step of the way.
As someone born in Kiev, we thought this might be a nice opportunity for you to talk positively about some of your favourite Ukrainian DJs and producers. Who do you think we should really be watching out for?
Coming back to Kyiv after all these years was monumentally important to me, and the fact that this music is what brought me back and gave me the opportunity to reconnect to my birth place is something I will never forget and will always be grateful for. I met some of the best people I’ve ever met and had some of my best sets and magical moments at club ∄. I miss Kyiv every day and I can’t wait to come back when Ukraine wins this senseless war. You should be watching out for and supporting all artists from Ukraine, but for me the people I’ve played with I really like are Pavel Plastikk, Omon Breaker, Gael, and Recid. You should check the label Standard Deviation there are a lot of great artists on there.
Let’s also touch quickly on the mix that you’ve provided for us: we love the way you shift between styles, but always manage to keep the energy high! How do you source records? What are your favourite labels and shops? And can you talk us through a couple of your favourite records on the mix?
Thank you! That’s what I’ve tried to achieve throughout the years because I’ve always liked different styles of music and I don’t like to be put in a box.
These days I usually do a lot of searching in the digital shops bandcamp. beatport, and traxsource and etc. When I have more time, I will go through entire artist and label catalogues, especially to find older stuff I forgot about or I’m missing from my vinyl collection which is still back in the US. I also get a lot of music through promos, and when I discover a label or artist that way I’ll go through their whole catalogue since so often there are many hidden gems.
I like all the tracks on the mix obviously, but I’m particularly obsessed with Paramida’s new EP on Love On The Rocks right now. The intro track to the mix is “Sailor Moon House”. Also “Meddle” by Royston Summers is a track I’m dancing to around my house regularly ☺
Finally, with autumn almost here, can you tell us a bit about your plans for the next while, and what’s really exciting you music-wise and outside of music?
I’m most excited to get back to making music. I have so many exciting projects to finish up now that things are a bit less chaotic. Also looking forward to visiting my family again, and of course relaunching the labels Twirl and Fantasy Life in the near future. I’ve only ever lived in places with 4 seasons, so I actually really love the changing of the seasons. I’m really looking forward to running around to every Christmas market in Berlin and drinking mulled wine. I’m most productive in the colder months, it’s a lot easier to make music then so I’m really looking forward.