Profile: Helena Hauff | Physical Music In An Open Space

In the cavern of the club, music pushes the body, shuddering with heaving bass and synths sharpened to rip a head off. This is physical music, real records, real machines, real bodies moving. Helena Hauff sits in the middle, mixing bottomless dark somnambulant tracks thick with scurrying bass lines and skittering synths. No one is succumbing to the temptations of #preening as the beat burrows down deep. The room breathes, a humid, sticky night playing out between the subwoofers and the weaving sleepless, twitchy, wired & ghost-like crowd.

At home, recording live in her bedroom studio, Hauff maintains this energy in a cloud of cigarette smoke. She snakes around reaching for records, trying on tracks, building rhythms on her MPC. There’s no crowd to distract her, no demands on moving a particular room in a particular way, no sequencers, just beats written on the spot and pulled together through immediate connection. “When I think, oh there's something,” she says, “I press record and build a track. It's pretty straightforward really. Just messing around with machines and then at a point, yeah, that's good enough for me, I have enough to start recording" In some ways this whole approach seems like a throwback to the roots of House and Industrial when people making electronic music actually had to use tape machines and perform the machines themselves as opposed to working in the box with Ableton or the like where living on the grid strains music to conform to pre-prescribed rhythms and the accidental swings of the music and body are cut out.

I just want to keep it simple and use machines and try to learn my machines by heart

“When I started making music,” she says, “I thought it was a good thing to kind of limit myself to not get overwhelmed with possibilities. I started to make music in Ableton as well and it just really didn't click at all. I don't know why. It's just not my instrument maybe. I thought, okay, I just want to keep it simple and use machines and try to learn my machines by heart.”  That sense of being live, of being lived, resonates in the tracks and EPs she’s released for Werkdiscs and Lux Rec, the killer collaboration with Andreas Gehm on Solar One and remix she dropped for the indomitable Factory Floor. A certain hour a certain space takes over. It’s a vibe and feeling directly drawn out from long nights DJing as a resident at Hamburg’s Golden Pudel boiling electronic music down to its zoned-out heart. 

“I just think, oh, that sounds cool... record it or, that sounds shit, let's not record it and then afterwards I think, okay, is that something that I want to put out? Do I think people have to hear this or do I just think, it's nice but it's not that interesting? While making music, you have freedom to do whatever you like.”

In 2013, Hauff began performing out with Hypnobeat—the improvisational electronic project begun by James Dean Brown in 1983—feeding a 707, multiple 808’s and 303’s into polyrhythmic waves of emotion and earth shuddering fits of bowel thumping low-end.

“We basically start from scratch and it is like producing a new track in front of an audience. So you kind of have those two things of like, being in front of an audience and thinking about what's going on right now plus making your own music. I'm always trying not to think too much because at the end of the day I want the music to be good. It's not just about getting people to dance.” 

“Working with machines, you have to stand up and move your whole body. When you're at a computer you just sit down and the whole thing is made with your fingertips. That's what I like about DJing as well that it's very physical, it's the same thing, you work with your whole body and I quite like that actually. I don't have anything against working with computers it's not an ideological thing it's just I feel comfortable working like I do so I think I should keep on doing it.”

The freedom from making music like this helps Hauff avoid the kind of pitfalls that consume more baroque electronic artists who sometimes get buried behind screens filled with thirty-two tracks and banks of plug-ins. Expectations of what the audience might want are kept out of the process and the thought of changing things to meet that expectation or not trying out other things is kept at bay. It’s an important part of the process, not rushing out tracks on to Soundcloud and into the storm of networked expectations.

 “Sometimes you're working and recording loads and then you realize only one is actually successful. I have times where I record everything I do and I feel like I have to put out everything I recorded. I have days where I just record and I think, wow, okay, actually I can release these just like that. I always have that thing, when I record stuff, I listen to the recording afterwards and if I keep listening, its a good sign. If I don't, it's a bad sign. If I can't stop listening to a recording for a few days it's like, okay, that was pretty good. If I just listen to it every now and then, it's like, 'mmmm', maybe not. So that's basically what I do, does it feel right? Do I wanna hear it or not? It's not really a strict rule. It's just a feeling. I wouldn't feel right just putting it out an hour after making it.”

Her aversion to sitting behind a computer may not be ideological and strict rules never impede on her sense of having fun and playing, but this whole way of living music is in everything she makes and does, stitching a consistent thread through it all. Just as the tracks themselves sound different because of the method she uses, she builds deep, real-life networks of people she knows which  are sometimes hidden from the worlds of Facebook and Soundcloud. “I'm interested in a network, but I feel like that kind of social networking doesn't work for me."

"I really like to be in contact with people by email or phone because I feel it's actually a deeper connection to people. Because you have to put a little bit more effort into writing an email instead of commenting on a Soundcloud track. I don't really think its necessary either.”

Next year she’s launching her own label, Return To Disorder, to release the music she loves from artists she meets on tour. “It's going to be pretty stripped down. I just want to release everything that I like and no matter what kind of genre it is, just things that I like.” The first release by UK band Children Of Lair, is a jangled swirl of dark psychedelia confirming Hauff’s desire to stray off the expected path for an electronic musician. Despite the cosmetic differences though, Children Of Lair shares with Hauff this channeling the roots of late night heady music that stretches from Warhol’s factory to the Berghain. Grounding this commitment is her desire to keep things personal using independent pressing plants and relying on the network of friends to help with mastering and spreading the word. “I think a big part of it is, you have to connect to people in real life, whatever that means. You kind of have to build your own network outside the given structure of how to network socially. It's longer lasting and it means more.

 The thing is that when I do things I just do them. I don't really think too much about them I just... do things and hope they turn out well or how I want them to be basically. I don't have a concept when I record stuff it just happened to be that’s the kind of set up I have here at home. It's the same with the label, there is no concept, I just want it to be what I like and I hope people are going to too and are going to get it. At the end of the day, if it's good music I don't care if it’s been made by someone with a computer or a synthesizer. I don't give a fucking shit about that. That's what I mean, I don't have that kind of ideology." 

"I just enjoy working with synthesizer the way I do. You can have that with a computer, and like I said, I think email is fucking great thing, it is very helpful. But stuff like Soundcloud or Facebook or whatever is just an addition. You need to do your work in the real life, whatever the real life is. And well, if you want to have a Facebook page that's fine you just have bare in mind you have to pay a price for Facebook as well and if you are willing to pay that price, it's your own decision. It's just additional. You don't need it to be successful.”