The machine aesthetic – An interview with Helena Hauff

HauffHelena Hauff’s face beams through a cloud of smoke she’s just evacuated from her lungs. She’s digitally stuttering through our Skype call about her new EP, Shatter Cone and although I struggle to hear what she’s saying, her physiognomy projects a satisfied disposition. The stuttering static eventually clears and I hear Ms. Hauff unimpeded for the first time. “I’m very happy with it. It’s pretty straightforward acid Techno. It’s a dance floor record. It’s something that I’ve never done before and I love playing it out, it’s great.” The few times she’s played it out thus far she was happy to have her fears unfounded when the audience danced. “When I play my own stuff out, I always expect people to stop dancing and stare at me with confused looks on their faces.” It comes a year after Helena Hauff’s debut, Actio Ratio, a record she admits is “very different” from this latest release on Lux. “I talked to guys from Lux Rec and I was influenced by the sound of the label. I made something for the label. I just wanted it to be some kind of Lux record, with my signature Helena Hauff sound.” Her sound is one that wallows in darker tones as busy rhythmical percussion sits over machine driven aesthetics that often bore traits of both electro and noise, with its objective clearly set on the dance floor. “I always considered my first release a dance floor record. I like dancing to it, but Shatter Cone is just more obvious in this respect.”

It’s no surprise that Helena cites the dance floor as her main objective when we delve into her history. As a teenager growing up in Hamburg money was tight and the only means of access to new music was through friends and the local library, the favourites of which she would record onto cassettes. “Maybe this was already a form of DJing, but I didn’t consider myself a DJ back then.” The bug did eventually bite and she started amassing as many records as possible before her debut as a DJ. “I basically lived off nothing and only ate white bread and cheap cheese to try and save up as much money as I could to buy as many records as possible.” When the time finally came, she took to the decks, but it wasn’t quite the start she’d hoped for. “Ah the first time was horrible. I thought I could mix, but my ears didn’t click because it was in a bar and sounded so different from home.” After only a short while, it did click however and in a mere months later she found herself DJing in the hot seat at the Golden Pudel, with her own residency. “When I started playing out it was deep house everywhere.” Helena found an affinity with electro. “Electro was something I didn’t really hear other DJs play at clubs”. The eclectic tastes, nurtured through her adolescent years, found their way into her sets too and at times it could go from “weird house to acid techno”

It’s that eclecticism which seeped into her productions when she took to the studio for the first time. “Everything I listen to, influences me. You can’t really get around that.“ Hauff found an affinity with the machines that currently surround her in her Hamburg studio. “I’m in Hamburg in my studio and living room and everything room.” The machine aesthetic definitely comes through on her work and she’s rejected the computer almost completely, besides for the odd recording. “There’s only so much you can do with a machine. It’s limited but you get to know your machines better and better.” She limits herself in order to force her creativity into different directions, to find solutions to the sounds she is constantly in search of. This immerses Hauff completely in the creative process. “It’s quite a performance because you have to move your whole body.”

I wonder if it’s from this physical approach to creativity where Helena’s desire to appease the dance floor originates. One thing that becomes abundantly clear as our interview progresses is that Helena doesn’t want to label her music as categorically as something like dance music or electro. ”At the end of the day you can basically play whatever you like and people are gonna dance. If you play some weird jazz track at peak time and people are in the right mood they are going to keep on dancing. There are no limits.” Exceeding the limits of narrow-minded classifications is what is at the heart of Helena Hauff’s music. “I might put labels on things after the fact, when we need some words to communicate what we are about to listen to, but it’s not that important at the end of the day, it’s just the way we use language.” She certainly can’t abide individuals that make rash decisions based on something as trite as genre and especially not gender. “I once over-heard these couple of young guys at the pudel, and they obviously didn’t know what the pudel was, who said; ‘o god there’s a girl djing, lets go.’ Those people exist and I think they are just utter cunts, they’re basically gonna have a shit opinion about everything.”

Helena Hauff certainly doesn’t warrant that type of response if you’ve ever caught her behind the decks. Her music has made a lasting impression on a substantial amount of labels and musicians after a mere three releases, while as a DJ her audience is always assured an entertaining and esoteric experience. There is also much more to come from the German. Shatter Cone will be followed by another release on the first label that gave her a platform. “There’s more different things to come, like another Werkdiscs release and that’s going to be more obscure again.” Helena is also in the process of starting her own label, and it proves to be as eclectic as her tastes. “The idea is to basically release everything that I like, everything from rock and roll to synth pop.” The label is called Return to Disorder, referring to the unorganised way the label is put together. “I don’t know if it is going to work.” The first release will be a Krautrock/ Psych record by Children Of Leir and the second a techno record by newcomer Morah. “He is brilliant. I’m really looking forward to playing that out.”

I get the same smile beaming across Helena’s face as at the start of our conversation started when she discusses her next few projects. It’s a good point to end the interview and let the Ms. Hauff get back to her machines.