Artist Spotlight - Alison Wonderland Featured Image

Artist Spotlight: Alison Wonderland

Alison Wonderland (real name Alexandra Margo Sholler) is an Australian producer, composer, DJ and multi-instrumentalist known for her energetic, boundary-pushing live performances and complex style which defies the ‘electronic dance music’ label, with elements borrowing heavily from trap music and sublime pop hooks to boot.

Alison Wonderland during a DJ set

It was in 2014 that she first took the world by storm, with the release of two videos: ‘I Want U’ and ‘Cold’.

‘I Want U’ might be one of the most clever representations of barely-suppressed lust, by using a witchcore aesthetic, framing the whole story as a possession-horror and juxtaposing the irreverent tone with religious imagery – in other words, a perfect introduction. The track is, on top of that, a fiery EDM anthem: the deep bass, a punchy lead synth, vocal samples at different pitches to spice up the energy level, a chipmunk-style voice here and there… The fact that Alison Wonderland not only produces, but provides vocals for her tracks and appears in most of her videos is enough to set her apart from the pack of EDM artists out there. Over the years, she has definitely left her mark in the crowded world of electronic music.

Meanwhile, ‘Cold’ is – again – about lust, but this time juxtaposed with violence, a recurring theme in her work. The black & white video heavily features freeze-frames, rewinding and repetition to create the effect akin to feeling trapped in a freezer, while Sholler declares that she’s too cool to basically be wasting her life with clingy, violent dudes. The coldness and distance which she swears by are a counterpoint to the sweaty decadence, and she’s no stranger to using swear words in her lyrics either.

2015 saw the release of her first album , ‘Run’, which received accolades from critics and fans of electronic music alike. The first single, ‘U Don’t Know’, with its accompanying video, furthers her themes by depicting a man (Cristopher Mintz-Plasse of the Kick-Ass franchise) kidnapping a woman (Sholler herself), but all is not what it seems here. The man is revealed to be an obsessed (ex-) boyfriend, and the ending is a great portrayal of (unhealthy?) power dynamics in a relationship.

However, it was the title track, ‘Run’, and the resulting video that ended up impressing us the most. ‘Run’ is almost the ‘Animal Kingdom’ of EDM videos, with a chilling portrayal of a ‘boys’ world’, filled with petty crime but most interested in exploring the intersection between sexuality, violence and… ice-cream. While taking more than a few cues from ‘Cold’, ‘Run’ was just Wonderland at her best. A juicy gated synth that seamlessly joins the bass to provide full immersion, iconic vocals with a satisfying rap section, a playful lead synth, claps that keep you dancing and a killer drop.

Having videos which are unrelated to the message of the song can be a blessing – ‘Take It To Reality’ and ‘Games’ were much more celebratory and fun than the rest of her videos. If the whole ‘Run’ album is arguably about toxic relationships and one huge break-up, the video for ‘Games’ sees Sholler blazing her way through a series of sports-related challenges (the highlight being a chess match with an elderly gentleman who ends up flipping the table when he sees himself bested). With extremely impressive camerawork, the video is simply a delight to watch, and the song is one of Run’s most powerful anthems.

Wonderland returned to religious themes and creating a disconnected video representation of her motifs with ‘Messiah’, which features an amazing performance from veteran actor Dennis Cockrum as a self-destructive man who literally finds the fire in his gut.

With the release of her second album, ‘Happy Place’, and having received numerous accolades, Wonderland took her sound further and further. The video for the titular track is a series of interspersed cuts from Wonderland performances, which proves that Sholler is happiest when surrounded by her fans, and ‘f**k me up on a spiritual level’ has since become her catchphrase. We don’t even need to speak about that massive drop, do we?

The whole ‘Awake’ album is a masterpiece from start to finish, but if we were to feature every track we’d probably run out of digital space, so here’s the life-affirming title song with a chord progression that is so recognizable, it might drive you crazy trying to pinpoint the exact classic pop tune it so heavily resembles.

At this point we should also talk about Alison Wonderland’s DJ-ing activity. Her 2015 Mixmag DJ set at the Lab in LA is one of the best sets of the decade, with positive vibes and jump-to-the-ceiling bits – Sholler is an expert at hyping up a crowd as she mixes her own tunes and some really eclectic trap and EDM selections, making it a point to rely both on heavy drops and really emotional moments.

Perhaps our favorite Alison Wonderland live concert is the 2019 Red Rocks performance, which also seems to feature in the movie ‘Underplayed’, where Wonderland appears alongside women producers like Rezz, Tokimonsta and Tygapaw, shedding some light on her classical training and struggles with depression.

One for the ages, this concert is stunningly presented by Youtube as a 360° experience. The takeaways here are that Sholler is a master of transitions and mashups, knows how to bring a live orchestra into the mix, can deliver really motivating speeches, can also do a mean cover when required (‘Shape Of You’), enhance a previous banger with drum crescendos (‘Run’) and alternate huge drops with violin sections. AND there is also the mandatory ‘Teardrop’ moment in there for purists. Whew! Overall, this is an unmissable performance, one that can really change one’s perceptions about EDM and the role of a DJ : Wonderland steps in a lot to provide vocals, but she also just dances to her own tune, bringing the kind of attitude and fun to her sold-out tours that many other DJs sorely lack.

We’ll leave you with some of the best cuts from this performance, and end up by saying that Alison Wonderland is definitely an artist that fans of electronic music, trap or even indie pop should check out, her lush melodies, captivating production style and clever songwriting being more than enough to make one an avid follower. And one cannot overstate how fun her remixes are, or how many times she’s been remixed by other artists. What do you think are her best remixes? What about some remixes of her ‘Run’ and ‘Awake’ material?

And if you think we’d end this article without mentioning this absolutely lifechanging performance of ‘Peace’, you couldn’t be more wrong. Greatest. Of. All. Time!

“The reason I started producing was because of a Swedish duo called The Knife. I was absolutely obsessed with them, I still am to this day. The reason I started honing in on my lyrics was because of James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem – I’m a massive LCD fan. Actually, the first time I ever wrote a song was when I was a kid and that was because of the Smashing Pumpkins  and then when I was producing, after a year or so I got really into Hudson Mohawke. Through that I got more into southern hip hop like Outkast and stuff like that. I love those kind of beats but I love this ravey kind of synth that The Knife had and James Murphy’s lyrics, so I guess my stuff came from a lot of different areas. I definitely gravitate toward darker things as well; even if my stuff’s super-positive, there’s always a dark undertone to it. That worries my father a little bit!” – Alison Wonderland

FEATURED IMAGE: Pure Abstraction series by Yura Miron:

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