Photo of Chaos in the CBD in a telephone booth

In the booth with Chaos in the CBD

It’s fair to say Chaos in the CBD lived up to their name when they arrived in Oslo on the 10th of May 2022. By the time the brothers Helliker-Hales landed in the booth at Jaeger, a ceiling had caved in on another dance floor down the road and when they reached the middle of their set, there was a sense of reckless abandon on Jaeger’s dance floor. Images from the night show an audience reciprocating en masse for a night that is eared into our collective memory and brings back all kinds of feelings as we get chance to share a portion of the mix with you today.

Chaos in the CBD have become a touchstone for a new generation of fans and old heads alike. Their music and label, “In dust we trust” continues to honour the origins of House music with an affinity for the deeper end of the spectrum on the vinyl format while as DJs their enthusiasm for the energy and dynamic range of the dance floor is unparalleled. Their social media accounts, interviews and Boiler Room sets show a pair of DJs that get as much a thrill out of playing as their audience gets from dancing to it, with a pretext on the hedonistic value of this music. 

“We want to play the stuff we want to hear in a club,” says Ben Helliker-Hales, who introduces himself as Beans when we meet in Jaeger’s courtyard. ”We are very considerate of what we feel the crowd wants to hear as well,” chimes Louis as if taking a subliminal cue from the younger brother. The New Zealand brothers have been playing music together in one form or another since their teens and share what Beans refers to as a “telepathic” connection through music today. They’ve developed that instinct into a production force, a label and as one of the most exciting DJ duos around at the moment.

They have a sincere “passion for the stuff” as Beans tells it, going “deep into the sub-genres” where they draw from a diverse range of tastes and styles. “And keep the energy right,” interrupts Louis. Their set from Jaeger delves deep into an array of sounds, largely anchored to the roots of House music, casting a sprawling net from the deeper ends of the genre to the upper reaches of the dance floor, all for the sake of facilitating the dance. They would rather “play what we want to hear in the club at the point of time” according to Beans than try to force their own songs on a club full of eager punters. 

“If we played the music we produced… and the circumstances aren’t right, then it’s a bit boring,” Louis agrees. “At three in the morning we want high-energy, we don’t want Deep House,” insists Beans. It’s around that time when they kick into a stripped-down, functional House tool that’s little more than a drum machine and a vocal, giving no quarter to the dance floor even as their set winds down. 

We are figuratively and literally world away from where Chaos in the CBD started out when we sit down for our interview. It’s a fact that New Zealand is probably the closest landmass you’ll reach if you were to dig straight down from Norway and yet oddly the two countries share similarities in both landscape and music scene. Like Norway, “the scene was always very small in New Zealand” according to Beans and they had very little access to it growing up.

They “started getting into it, in 2006,” says Louis who instigated Beans to do the same. “We were in a band together and I went to Australia and heard a couple of records. It was around the time of Boys Noize records and The Klaxons were about to take off – I guess there was a lot of crossover appeal for bands.” “It was still ingrained in band culture, but with an electronic aspect,” relays Beans who shortly followed in his older brother’s footsteps: “We saw the Carl Cox and took ecstasy for the first time… and I was like fuck-it, I like dance music!” 

In what was to become a common theme for the time the band got rid of their instruments and picked up computers. Beans, who had been the drummer in the band, was bringing his “whole PC down to band practice and triggering samples on fruity loops and it came to a point where I realised, I don’t need to be in a band.” 

As Louis “was discovering new stuff” during a period of exploration, Beans “dropped out of high school and studied audio engineering.” They made a formidable duo through Louis’ guidance and Beans’ skills. They found a small but dedicated scene in Auckland, developing their skills as DJs while getting to grips with the production aspects of this music. “Back then you had to go and find it,” says Louis of his native scene. The “first couple of years we were the most excited ones, playing these tracks that no-one else knew.” They played mainly “bass” music according to Beans, informed by a sound of London at that time and associated with artists like Ramadanman and Peverelist. “A lot of people that ran Serrato (a NZ based company), they were into that kind of stuff and we would play parties with them” forming “a little community for it.” 

While Chaos in the CBD were cutting their teeth as DJs and producers in Auckland, the advancement of social media and the Internet started connecting them to an international scene including the record label that would facilitate their first release, Young Guns. “We met on Myspace.” recalls Beans “We used to speak to them over AIM and Skype and we became… almost like pen pals.” The French label which shared much of the roster to ClekClekBoom label, brought out “Never Ending” from Chaos in the CBD back in 2012. 

It’s no surprise that the record and its follow up on ClekClekBoom bears similarities to that UK bass sound from the time, but as you get into their third record, “816 to Nunhead” there is a distinct shift in their music. The cold ratcheting rhythms and stark metallic percussion liquifies into soulful melodies and syncopated rhythms as it submerges into the deep. The record coincides with a move to London around the same time for the brothers, but it was “never a conscious decision of what to make,” affirms Beans about the direction their music took. “At that time it was all about the trend,” according to Louis and they were still “trying to find our place” within it all. It was only natural for them to turn to the “deeper kind of stuff” as “that was the music that we liked,” declares Beans. Acts like St. Germain and a mix CD of Deep House that they inherited from a friend’s mum, were staples in their playlist since the start.

“I think” ponders Louis, “by 2015 when we did the Midnight in Peckham record, that came really naturally.” That record, facilitated by a chance encounter on a train with Rhythm Section boss Bradley Zero, helped cement Chaos in the CBD’s sound as artists. “People reacted really well to it,” remembers Louis “which just encouraged us to do more of the same.”

That sound also infiltrated their label when they eventually established it in 2017 with Jon Sable. The vinyl focussed label remains an exclusive vehicle for the founders’ output including Chaos in the CBD, with Beans taking immense satisfaction in the tactile form of their music. “We would always want the music we make to have a physical copy, it gets lost otherwise,” he explains. “It’s history, a timestamp. There’s a physical interaction with it, and it evokes a memory of where you bought it, who you were with; That’s important to us.” The colour coded records take pride in place in his collection, even if he rarely brings them out. 

While the music of the label doesn’t always resonate with what they play in their sets, that spirit does. “A lot of the music we buy now is older stuff,” says Beans and whether it’s a digital file or a record it retains a fervent connection to the past, especially in the booth. They continue to relate more to the past with Beans proclaiming that their sets are all rooted in “early House music” a form of music that “has never gotten better.”

And even with Louis’ “love” for the “convenience” and immediacy of the “digital side of things,” he can’t help but echo that sentiment. “It’s a preference thing,” he explains. “Especially since the pandemic, I’ve gone even deeper into the nineties.” It’s reached a point where he hardly considers new music or records for his sets. “I found that if I went back and found a label or an artist that I like, I just found hit after hit. There’s so much that I haven’t heard.” Djing to a younger generation, who will most likely share those experiences, he can relay music that sets him apart with a sound that is unique in a modern landscape.

It’s “the production quality, the swing, the rawness,” suggests Beans of its appeal. “If it still resonates with you now, it must mean it’s fucking amazing. It’s timeless music!”  

While their own records continue to bring new fans to their work as artists, as DJs they connect a modern dance floor with the roots of this music. They’ve re-affirmed the classics in the contemporary club setting while developing a unique voice. “As DJs, it’s our duty to showcase that music from the past for people that might not have heard it in that context… or at all,” interprets Louis. “If it excites us, you will be able to see it when we perform.” And that’s exactly what they did when Chaos in the CBD landed at Jaeger for a Frædag in May, 2022.