Helena Hauff: Qualm review – zeitgeist DJ bends techno to her will

(Ninja Tune)

In five years, Helena Hauff has gone from a resident DJ at the sticky, sweaty Hamburg club Golden Pudel to one of the current techno club and festival circuit’s most thunderous selectors – blending acid house, electro, and post-punk into industrial techno, EBM and wiggling downbeat house jams. Her tastes comes not from a lifetime of crate-digging, though – she only started to DJ in her early 20s after buying her first record in 2009, Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden. Without access to a computer or physical music releases at home, Hauff trawled her local library for CDs and listened to the radio, recording what she loved from both on cassette. This approach to musical discovery, largely devoid of context and driven by feeling, allowed her to sketch lines between Stockhausen and the Cure, Belgian cold wave and British synthpop – finding melodies buried inside static and kick-drums, her ear attuned to finding charm within chaos.

After British producer Actress released Hauff’s 2013 debut EP, Actio Reactio, on Werkdiscs, Hauff’s music has become louder, more raw and strident, and her second album, Qualm, is a victory lap. It is, on paper, an uncomplicated beast: a live hardware workout of claustrophobic, rhythmic acid techno. But her ability to draw out harmonic elements from the cacophony of it all is deft – that cassette tape feel is still evident. You get the impression Hauff takes what she does deadly seriously, but doesn’t take herself too seriously – track titles such as The Smell of Suds and Steel and Primordial Sludge hint at a caustic sense of humour and embrace of the grittier edges of the rave experience – and she is constantly writing love letters to the past. Her love for 90s electro, particularly the music of the legendary Detroit duo Drexciya is on show: their Euro synthpop and jazz-minded approach to live rhythmic electronics bubble through in album highlight Hyper-Intelligent Genetically Enriched Cyborg, where the TB-303 bassline is the backbone for an uplifting synth melody that feels like a shard of light cutting through the gloom.


Lauren Martin

The GuardianTramp

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