Album of the week: Helena Hauff – Qualm

Helena Hauff’ relays a distinct energy through her music. From the moment you put a needle on a Helene Hauff record you are the presence of it, and whether it’s running along at 140 BPM or simply idling at an ambient pace it never dissipates.

The Hamburg DJ and producer has garnered a reputation for her enigmatic and uncompromising DJ sets that have in recent years set the tone for a new trend in Techno that looks to the more industrial sounds of electronic music. In demand and always in a booth, Helena Hauff’s output as a recording artist remains quite reserved, but when she does indeed set her sights on the recorded format, it’s as if she channels all that energy of her DJ sets through the studio.

Using analogue- drum machines and synthesisers in the same way they would have been used some thirty years ago, Helena Hauff’s recorded works hardly pander to the DJ’s needs, and in the LP format it truly thrives. Her 2015 album, “Discreet Desires” still stands as a masterclass in post-industrial electronica, humanising the harsh electronic exterior of inflexible machines. 

If you hadn’t heard the name Helena Hauff before, by 2015 she was the darling of the Techno community and what listeners  found in her music was only the tip of the iceberg of what lay beyond in her DJ sets. Between then and now she’s re-issued “A Tape” (which is exactly what it claims to be) via Dark Entries, but besides an EP on Ninja Tune, her recording career has mostly reverted to the shadows of her thunderous DJ career. But in 2018 with much anticipation came her follow up to Discreet Desires, “Qualms”, with the physical copy finally reaching Norwegian shores.

“Qualms” hardens the exterior of Hauff’s music again, closer to what it sounded like on A Tape, with ferocious acid lines and jack-booted beats crunching and distorting under the weight of their mass. In “the Smell of suds and Steel” we might hear echoes of tracks like “Piece of Pleasure” from “Discreet Desires” as viscous pads coalesce around an unwavering rhythm section, featuring little more than an 808 and a 303. 

“Qualms” gives some of the machines more freedom as Helene Hauff favours a sound that’s far less polished than its predecessor. Everything’s on the verge of cracking under the immense pressure of the kick drum like on the title track, where distant melodic phrases strain against the volume of the thunderous electro beat. It’s an album that feels very much spurred on by a singular moment with Helena Hauff making absolutely no concessions for the final execution, the artist completely exposed as she is.  

Elements of Acid, Techno and Electro all gather in the confluence of Helena Hauff’s musical personality, but the way they are directed through her previous records and now “Qualm” can only exists as they do here through her distinct artistic voice. It simply adds to the allure of Helena Hauff and yet again establishes the artist as a unique entity in the electronic music landscape. 

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