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Alison Wonderland Likes to Have a Drink and Play Cello in Her Bedroom

She throws warehouse parties, gets inspired by Lil Wayne and gets sugar highs on gummy bears in the Australian bush with Djemba Djemba. We're sold.

by Zel McCarthy
Nov 12 2014, 10:01pm

Every few years, those outside of Australia take notice of the beats and beatmakers coming up from down under. For those paying attention, the recent wave of artists like Flume, Anna Lunoe and Uberjak'd finding success overseas reveals less of a trend and more of a reality that the island continent is indeed a hotbed of good music. Sydney-based Alison Wonderland, whose Calm Down EP released this week, is a testament to the bounty of this talent pool. 

"Flume blew up here but before that, Australian's weren't really that enthusiastic about going to watch an Australian play," Wonderland explains. "They thought their country wasn't special. All of the sudden everyone started going to his shows and then other Australian artists started feeling more confident about putting out their music. You could feel so much positive energy and encouragement from the public; it kinda drove people to actually put their music out."

Wonderland began her musical career as a classical cellist. In fact, she says that had it not been for a transformative experience listening to The Knife, she'd be in Europe somewhere studying classical music. 

"One day I was like 'fuck this, I don't love it anymore,'" she says of studying the cello. "I love The Knife album, Silent Shout. I'm going to start making music and I'm gonna work in a call center and save money to buy a laptop and then I'm gonna sit in my room with the curtains down and not eat for a day and write music. And that's kinda what happened."

For a while, Wonderland produced under the alias Whyte Fang, though her face and name were unattached to the project. "I was kinda scared people would doubt that I could actually do this," she admits. "I wanted to it speak for itself rather than people possibly judge this little blonde girl."

As Alison Wonderland, she came to international attention when her track, the ethereally trap-esque "I Want U," broke through on Hype Machine. Its success led to a deal with Astralwerks, and plans to tour internationally next year after a slate of gigs at Australian festivals like Stereosonic and Falls Festival. While gigs like these are big opportunities, Wonderland prides herself on having built up a fanbase through slow and steady touring on her own terms.

"I decided to throw warehouse parties instead of playing at clubs," she explains. "I put one post up on my Facebook and I sent it to my agent. He was like 'ok, if we sell 200 tickets in each city, we'll celebrate. We sold 10,000 tickets in three days!"

Calm Down is a collection of five tunes released over the past year, each of which showcases Wonderland's starlight soprano and propensity for heavy bass to delightful and addictive effect. From the kiss-off of "Cold" to the Djemba Djemba-featuring "Sugar High" (which Wonderland says she recorded with the producer in the Australian bush while on a gummy bear-fueled sugar high), each track is both club-ready and headphone-friendly—a rare feat for producers in 2014. 

Even though she throws down bangers in warehouses, Wonderland is still a cellist and self-described secret dork at home where her cello gets some love, including on the EP's final track, "Space."

"I recorded that in my bedroom drunk, playing my 200 year-old cello, so there's a fun fact," she confesses. "I just got really wasted and came home and recorded the vocals on my iPhone voice memo. I was listening to "Lollipop" by Lil Wayne and I was like, 'fuck, this beat's rad.'"

Weezy influences aside, the cello remains a deeply personal aspect of Wonderland's musical expression. 

"I'll play for 40,000 people and it feels way less intimate and way less nerveracking than playing cello for 40 people," she says. "I still feel vulnerable when I'm on stage now playing my tracks but playing cello is playing a very, very intimate thing."

Calm Down is out now on Astralwerks and available on iTunes.

Alison Wonderland DJs and also likes puns.
Zel McCarthy is THUMP's Editor-in-Chief and also an erstwhile cellist.