Alison Wonderland is Wide Awake
PHOTOS / Danielle DeFoe
ASSISTING / Tarek
STYLING / Jessica Horwell
MAKEUP / Lilly Keys
HAIR / Johnny Stuntz
STORY / Erica Hawkins
“When I played a show in Japan, I posted a video of this on my Instagram, it was torrential rain all over me and I DJed for 75 minutes,” Alison Wonderland chirped her elation over the moment dripping from her Australian accent. In the video and post she shared from the show, the petite and fair-haired DJ, producer, and singer is dwarfed in an oversized Dead Kennedys shirt and drenched to the bone in rain, the vintage tee sticking to her tiny frame. Her face is slightly tilted down and to the right, her eyes blissfully closed. “It was insane, it was really really crazy, it was by the Ocean, and I don’t know, it just started raining and I was like, I’m here and everyone is here, so fuck it, I’m just going to go in.” That phrase, “so fuck it, I’m just going to go in” seems to be an ever-present narrative in the Croation-Australian EDM entertainers life—and not just during precarious situations like putting your hands on electric equipment while standing in the rain.
Her debut album, Run, released in 2015 peaked at No. 6 on the ARIA Albums Chart, she was the first solo female artist to play electronic music festival mainstay, Electric Daisy Carnival’s, mainstage, and earlier this year, just one week after releasing her sophomore album, Awake, she broke yet another barrier—becoming the highest-billed female DJ in the history of Coachella Music Festival. Though those moments seem to coming one after the other for Alison Wonderland, her will to be present and exchange energy with her audience, allows her to embrace those moments as they come.
“I think the thing that gives me the energy to perform at the level that I do is being able to take that in while I’m playing. I feed off that. When I got on stage for Coachella, I was stressed and freaking out. Every detail was micromanaged by me and I was so worried, and I really put a lot of pressure on myself. I got up there, and to take in the crowd, and the experience is what I perform off of. So, [the stress] goes away as soon as I get on stage. I think being able to be in that moment, is the best thing. That’s why I don’t perform drunk or anything because I like being sober when I play. I get to really take it in, those memories really stick with me.”
For Awake, Alison dug into her demons, embraced her feelings in a way rarely seen in EDM, and wore even her darkest emotions in her sleeve and escaping to the darkest corners of her mind. When asked about the overall encompassing message of the album, she shares, “It’s about me waking up and realizing my self-worth and coming out of it more evolved.”
Translating that message into music was anything but easy. “You kind of go crazy making it, and for me, it’s hard to be on earth while I’m immersed in writing an album. I never really felt like I could look anybody in the eye. But, when it was done, I was able to be present again, you know? I just feel like I’m in my own head when I’m in the middle of a project. It’s really hard for me to come back out until it’s done.”
That arduous process paid off for Alison with Awake debuting at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Dance/Electronic Album chart. However, in the middle of the process, erasing her mid-work nerves over how it would be received. “You’re psychoanalyzing yourself whilst writing an album. You don’t know how many people are going to take that in. You’re so immersed and involved and it’s such a personal project that when you get to the realization that you’re actually going to release it to the world you start to get worried. Then, when you release it and people get it, and they know what you’re feeling and what you’re going through, and they feel a connection with your songs, you feel so relieved that you did it the right way. Even though it was my second album, I didn’t want to think of it like that, I was never like, ‘second album lots of pressure’ like that’s the worst thing I think I could of ever done because then I think I would’ve freaked myself out and tried to make something I think people wanted to hear instead of what I actually felt. I went in purposely not thinking like that.”
Her aforementioned vulnerability can be heard throughout the LP, and falls out of tracks like “Church.” In it, Alison ask someone to treat her the way they delicately treat and worship sacred places, singing, “I don’t know where I should begin / All this time that I’m putting in / Build me up just to bring me down /’Cause you don’t want me to take the crown” before repeating, “You better treat me like church.”
When asked which songs on the album best convey the message of waking up, Alison chuckles, “All of them. Every single one.” She continues, “I feel like without one song I wouldn’t have the other song and they all lead to an end message. They’re like puzzle pieces.”
With one quick glance of an EDM festival lineup, dance music chart, or nominees who win the Grammy for best dance or electronic album, it’s beyond obvious that EDM is a tightly bolted boys’ club. But, as Alison shared when chatting about the awe-inspiring moment soaked and happy in Japan, fuck it, she’s going to go in.
“I think it’s important to just be who I am, I never really felt female or male on stage. When I’m performing I just always feel like an artist. Saying that seeing more women in the industry is amazing, because it gives other women the confidence to put themselves out there. That for me is a very important thing, because hopefully in ten years we won’t have to have this conversation. I’ve never really compromised myself. Not letting my gender define me has actually helped artists in my gender or people that are trying to fight what’s going on in every industry. I think the less I make it an issue, the less it becomes an issue, long-term. I think putting myself out there and being myself [will cause] other people to do the same thing and not feel intimidated or worried.”
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