Ask the Experts: Helena Hauff
The enigmatic Hamburg-based DJ-producer answers your questions this month.
As announced, Hamburg-based Helena Hauff was our expert for the month of April—although the answers were a little bit delayed for unforeseen reasons. Nonetheless, after some back and forth, the answers have now come in following an influx of questions that spanned a range of different topics — from production and DJing to far more personal and abstract ones. But this, on reflection, is perhaps to be expected: Hauff, after all, is one of the most intriguing DJ-producers of her generation—an artist who actively refuses to conform yet still draws a big crowd wherever and whenever she plays or releases. And, to be frank, it’s not that her music is designed for or pushed to the masses: in fact, her first album arrived only on limited edition tape and the dark, industrial acid techno which she produces and performs is a niche in itself, a sub-genre of a sub-genre, if you will. She hardly abides by the more common rules for widespread musical success.
Nonetheless, in this particular field, Hauff is one of the finest—a wonderfully gifted DJ who is able to capture an implicit beauty in a genre full of raw darkness, and a fine producer in her own right. It seems only right that she steps into the chair to answer your questions this month.
Hauff will be performing alongside many of electronic music’s biggest names at this year’s Into The Valley event, taking place from June 20 to July 1 in Rummu, Estonia. More information and tickets can be found here. In addition to this, she will also be performing at Farr Festival alongside names including Craig Richards, Young Marco, and more. More information here.
What’s the worst reaction you’ve ever had from a crowd and what track was it that you played?
It was at a festival in Hamburg, I was just playing way too hard for that crowd, wrong time, wrong party, wrong drugs. There was this one guy screaming at me: “Can’t you hear how fucking shit all your bass drums sound?” The track playing was Elec Pt.1 “Acid Is The Reality.”
They made me stop playing after 20min.
What is one of your recent favorite non-electronic albums?
The Brian Jonestown Massacre Don’t Get Lost. I really like that album except for the cheesy saxophone track near the end. Saying that though, if you put out as much music as he does there’s bound to be the odd stinker in there.
If you weren’t a DJ/musician, what else would you be doing for a living?
I’d be either a theoretical physicist or I’d be in my 18th-semester of university still not sure exactly what I was doing.
Aside from music, what else inspires you?
People inspire me. I love meeting up with my friends and also meeting new people, that’s one of the best things about being a touring DJ: you meet so many interesting people from all over the place!
How often do you play records you just bought or that you haven’t played before? Also, do you have a specific technique when mixing in the next record (on the one or the one, or with the clap, for example) or does it change depending on what’s playing?
Very rarely, I wanna know my records really well, so I always listen to them at home before I play them out in clubs. Whether I mix them in on the one or two or whatever really depends on the track and where I wanna start it. With electro, I tend to concentrate on the snare/clap, but I mix records in on just hi-hats or a bassline sometimes.
“When I’m feeling a bit down I’d rather listen to something telling me it’s ok to feel like that because it’s just simply part of life rather than something denying that part of existence.”
What draws you to the “darker” side of music? And, like me, does it make you feel good?
Very “happy” music seems to sound a bit fake to me sometimes. It’s like someone’s spitting in your face, forcing their own happiness on you. When I’m feeling a bit down, I’d rather listen to something telling me it’s ok to feel like that because it’s just simply part of life rather than something denying that part of existence. Having said that though, I’m not a big fan of overemotional music either—romanticizing sadness, telling you that everything is horrible, it’s not.
I think your music and personality would work really well in a band. Is this something you have thought about and are there any plans for something like this?
I’d love to be in a rock band, unfortunately, I could never be arsed to learn how to play the guitar.
“….I didn’t come to the attention of people like that through my online presence.”
Is there a reason for your online aloofness? With the explosion of social media and the internet (where everyone can find and see anything at any time), do you think we need to keep more of art and our lives a mystery?
It’s not so much aloofness than indifference, it’s just something that doesn’t interest me at all. And I hate it when people say that it’s a necessary evil; if you like doing it that’s fine but if you don’t you don’t have to feel like you have to participate. Everybody should make up their own rules. But it’s easy to say this for me as I’m on social media by proxy getting support from people, like Ninja Tune for example, but I didn’t come to the attention of people like that through my online presence. The most important thing is to meet people in real life and it doesn’t help to sit at home maintaining your Facebook page instead of going out and doing stuff.
It’s all getting a bit too much as well, there’s only a certain amount of information one can digest.
What draws you to physical formats like tape and vinyl? And do you think it’s an important part of culture, in general, to uphold and protect?
For me, personally, I feel like listening to music digitally I just don’t pay as much attention, I tend to skip through it a lot, whereas with physical formats I tend to take the whole listening process a bit more seriously. I get the impression that in the modern world it seems like it’s getting more and more difficult to concentrate on something and people (me included) get distracted very easily.
What’s the most important/valuable piece of advice you’ve been given when it comes to DJing/production?
Luke Eargoggle told me to turn the volume of the monitors right down when mixing a track, that’s the best way to tell whether one element is too loud/not loud enough, and that really works for me.
DJing I found a little bit different, I can’t say that there was one piece of advice that really made a difference it was more of a gradual learning process. Well, producing is too, but there are (more) technical obstacles that other people can help you out with.
How do you approach music making? It is a daily routine for which you set up a certain amount of time, or is it more easygoing? Do you “jam” randomly until you know there is a track coming or is it focused on a certain idea from the beginning?
It definitely isn’t a daily routine. I don’t wanna force myself into making music, I know this works for some people but not for me; I want it to be fun and I don’t wanna feel like I have to do it, so I only do it if I’m really in the mood for it. Having said that though, I really have to get my arse into gear at the moment. It can be difficult with the constant touring to find time to do recording, but when I am in the right mood I tend to work really quickly. A lot of the times I jam and let things just happen, but sometimes I have a certain idea in mind and try to build a track around that, on Discreet Desires I worked like that for instance.
How much do you prepare your set before you play a gig — do you have certain combinations of records that you know work?
I always try to check out the people playing before and/or after me, I wanna know what kind of music they play, roughly. Because I play vinyl-only sets, I have to prepare those at home. I need to know in what direction I wanna go, there’s only so many records I can take with me and if I end up playing for three hours or more I’ll play pretty much every single one in my bag. I try to react to the vibe in the club and the mood of the people as much as possible, but sometimes you do just take the wrong records, haha. It gets really difficult when you play several shows a week and each one is very different. I’ll have my little electro section, my house/acid section and maybe some weirdo warm-up stuff, or something. Then I’ll try to bring it all together while djing in a way that makes sense musically and so that people can follow and it doesn’t ruin the vibe. I spend about six hours before every weekend to make sure I know the records in my bag very well, to be able to improvise.
There are some combinations of records that I play, sometimes it seems some tracks were just made for each other and I don’t even think of them as separate tracks anymore but as an entity. But that’s not necessarily something static, I see them as one for a while and then they’ll have to go through a horrible divorce and find new friends.
What’s your favorite record to play out now?
Right now it’s probably Broken English Club “Accidents And Romance (Jealous God)” or The Wee DJs “Stole (Varvet),” but there’s so much good stuff coming out at the moment, plus all the great Old-School rave shit. The list could be endless.
Alongside the likes of Dixon, Maceo Plex, DJ Stingray, and more, Helena Hauff will also be playing Neopop Festival, an annual event that takes place in the northern Portuguese coastal city of Viana do Castelo from August 3 to 5. More information and tickets can be found here.