Fiery eclecticism opens doors for Hamburg’s Helena Hauff
“Because it’s boring.”
We asked Helena Hauff why people might eschew straight 4/4 house and techno in favour of the ‘anything goes’ approach heard in her own, fiercely eclectic style that takes in everything from Belgian New Beat to banging electro and steely EBM. To Hauff, the choice is straightforward. “It’s just boring. Plus people want to listen to a DJ set or a production where they think, ‘I couldn’t do that’. Or they don’t know the track, or they’ve never heard that before. So having someone up there is almost teaching something.” She backtracks. “Teaching is such a terrible word.”
But teach, or at least champion unheralded oddities is what she does as a longtime associate of mad-hat Hamburg club the Golden Pudel, where she hosts her Birds And Other Instruments night. Notorious and righteously beloved for its dank surroundings and heady atmosphere as well as the radical/punk ethos of the club and those behind it, it’s an establishment Hauff looks upon fondly as she chain-smokes her way through our interview from her Hamburg home, describing it as “a grimy, dirty place, but a happy place as well”. It’s this raw, gritty foundation that has given Hauff the muscle to regularly satiate intimate crowds with various obscurities. “It definitely influences my sets because you have all the freedom in the world and no one gives a shit. You can try out different things and if the whole floor empties, no one really cares. You don’t feel any pressure DJing there and that’s very important.”
Her obsession with all things dark and esoteric began early in life, after her mother deemed buying music a waste of money, leaving Hauff filtering through CDs at her local library to get her fix. A general distaste for the mainstream further spurred her outsider approach, stating “I was just disappointed by the stuff on the radio, which is why I started to dig deeper”. Taking her first steps into DJing after attending a warehouse party in Hamburg enamoured her with the profession, leading her to abandon her studies, and in no time she was pestering her soon-to-be Golden Pudel family. “I just went there a lot and said ‘I am a DJ as well! Let me DJ!’” The institution has touched every part of her musical persona, spurring her to dig deeper, secure in the familiarity of the club. “If I didn’t have all that freedom I might be a different DJ now.”
Hauff’s 2013 releases on Werkdiscs, Blackest Ever Black and PAN cemented her style as a producer, as well as working as Black Sites with Golden Pudel associate f#x. The excellent Werkdiscs release in question, Actio Reactio, is an 808-driven jam of clattering rhythms while B-side Break Force sounds like someone trying and failing to keep an acid bassline in a cage, and forthcoming six-track EP Return To Disorder via Panzerkreuz explores a murkier side to her output.
Her 80s-led stylistic range is characterised by a proto-Hypnobeat sound, prompting James Dean Brown of the 80s ‘neo-tribal’ outfit to enlist her in his work. “After I released Actio Reactio, he e-mailed me and said ‘I really like your track, it reminds of a track I recorded 30 years ago.’” The track in question is Hypnobeat’s The Arumbaya Fetish, and they share a strikingly similar exoskeleton of fluttering claps and piercing synths.
Performing their first “proper” show at Berghain, the pair ooze snakecharmingly hypnotic sounds on an 808 orchestra comprising ‘1x TR-707, 3x TR-808 and 2x TB- 303’. It’s an affinity to the machine that is centric to her recent endeavours in production. “I couldn’t live without it. You don’t necessarily have to have an 808 to make music, but for me it was the most important thing I ever bought. Before that I made music, but I didn’t really know how to.”
In making the move from selector, she appreciates and also negates the necessity of production in establishing a career in dance music, as she’s been known to comment on how rarely DJs get the attention they deserve purely through DJing. “I think it’s a big problem that people invite producers instead of DJs. Not every DJ is a good producer, not every producer is a good DJ. If you’re a great producer and you get the offer to play a festival for a lot of money, you’re going to say yes and you’re going to play your files on Ableton or something without really being into the art of DJing.” Those who have seen Hauff assemble her behemoth of acid, EBM and electro will know this art is still alive and well within the blackened walls of the Golden Pudel.