Alison Wonderland is Wide Awake
PHOTOS / Danielle DeFoe
ASSISTING / Tarek
STYLING / Jessica Horwell
MAKEUP / Lilly Keys
HAIR / Johnny Stuntz
STORY / Erica Hawkins
Alison Wonderland chirped her elation over a very special moment: “When I played a show in Japan—I posted a video of this on my Instagram—it was torrential rain and I DJed for 75 minutes.” In the video she shared from the show, the petite and fair-haired DJ, producer, and singer is drenched to the bone, her oversized Dead Kennedys t-shirt sticking to her tiny frame, and her eyes are 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 seems to be an ever-present theme in the Croatian-Australian EDM entertainer’s life—and not just during precarious situations like putting your hands on electronics 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 Electric Daisy Carnival’s mainstage, and earlier this year, just one week after releasing her sophomore album, Awake, she broke yet another barrier by becoming the highest-billed female DJ in the history of Coachella Music Festival. Though those moments seem to be coming one after the other for Alison Wonderland, her will to be present and exchange energy with her audience allows her to embrace each and every one.
“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 at 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 get to really take it in, those memories really stick with me.”
For Awake, Alison confronted her demons, embraced her feelings in a way rarely seen in EDM, and wore her darkest emotions on her sleeve. “It’s about me waking up and realizing my self-worth and coming out of it more evolved.” But 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. 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, 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.’ That’s the worst thing I think I could have ever done because then I would’ve freaked myself out and tried to make something people wanted to hear instead of what I actually felt. I went in purposely not thinking like that.”
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 Grammy nominees for best dance or electronic album, it’s beyond obvious that EDM is a tightly bolted boys club. But, as Alison shared regarding the awe-inspiring moment when she was 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’m an artist. But 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 need 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 who 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. Putting myself out there and being myself [will cause] other people to do the same and not feel intimidated.”
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