Record of the Week

Helena Hauff “Qualm”

3e5792b2-5853-4456-a712-5e1c43e06cf0Helena Hauff
(Ninja Tune)

The title alone is excellent: While “Qualm” in English means “having a bad feeling” or simply “scruples” – Helena Hauff also enjoys smoking a lot, which gives the German meaning of the fleeting, swirling smoke an additional resistant tone.

On her second album (after “Discreet Desires” from 2015), the Hamburg-based artist takes her techno version to a whole new level: rough and deep, seething and powerful, on the one hand dystopian, and on the other full of positive power. Hauff uncompromisingly experiments with her machines, the pop appeal of her debut has not completely disappeared, but has given way to a more rugged approach to electronic dance music. The tentatively beginning “Barrow Boot Boys” is the entrance into a special kind of DJ set turned an album: with the second track “Lifestyle Guru” the mood already changes fundamentally towards a hedonistic club night, “Hyper-Intelligent Genetically Enriched Cyborg” is plucking as unstoppably as a freight train, the beats are stomping and literally malming the way, while “Primordial Sludge” reduces the tempo and darkens the atmosphere.

Anyway, darkness: Helena Hauff’s Techno is not a happy sound, but the music of an obsessed DJ, who puts a night vision device into your (the listener, dancer, city surfer) hands so to speak: no easy terrain here, lots of smoke as well, but you get along, trust me – more or less. Helena Hauff is without a doubt one of those – or the! – the boldest, most experienced and best DJ at the moment and therefore she is on the road a lot all over the world. Don’t miss her, when she is playing at Odonien in Cologne in a couple of days.
Christina Mohr

The drums never sounded more distorted than on “Barrow Boot Boys”, which is the opener of Helena Hauff’s third album. The vehemence with which the Hamburg native draws us into the album is bordering on an invitation to overextend. It is pounding and clapping with a tenacity that you cannot resist, in the most beautiful sense you outright do not have a will of your own. And since Hauff does not allow for a dramatic pause, the urgency never decreases, you almost dissolve in the drastic rhythm that circles around you.

The unsettlingly misleading, surreal seeming brightness with which she then reflects the dark-pounding beats in “Lifestyle Guru” just adds to the hysterical features of this extraordinarily intense beginning of the album – you feel like being caught in the gravity of a black hole, from which there is no escape, only the fatalistic curiosity about what it might look like o the other side.
The stubbornly minimalistic, severely hypnotic “btdr-revisited” is offering an opportunity to take a breath with its airier arrangement, in which one can decode the dialogue between the rhythm composers and analog synthesizers that Hauff appreciates so much. But you can’t really relax, because “Entropy Created You And Me” with its air of nursery rhyme-ambient is spreading horror effects that Steven King would be proud of – and as so, often the naive melody lines are fittingly for the horror.
“Fag Butts In The Fire Bucket” will really make you shit your pants. It’s a track in which everything flickers dissonantly, as if the Einstürzende Neubauten would unite with the Underground Resistance. “Qualm” will not get any darker than this.

“Hyper-Intelligent Genetically Enriched Cyborg” then leads into the acid roundel. Compared to rest of the album, this song seems almost conventional, it predictably smacks and crackles above and below the atmospheric planes. Or to be more precise: so far it is the track of the album that comes closest to being a hit. An ascription that would also fit “The Smell Of Suds And Steel”, the opening track for Helena Hauff’s set at Sonar, and also the track in which much of her love for Detroit is immortalized, which is something that distinguishes Hauff’s productions in general. The nervous euphoria of the track and the dance on the abyss performed in it is intensified by the different tempos of the individual tracks. You’re never sure what tempo it is. Furthermore, there is a very special dirt patina on the track, wonderfully depicted on the cover image of the album, which puts Helena Hauff into a Blair-Witch-Project aesthetic.

With its classical sci-fi soundtrack setting “Primordial Sludge” is offering the ideal prelude for “Qualm” and “No Qualms”, the album’s central tracks. Suddenly there is a wonderfully dreamy melancholy shrouding the room. After all this gloominess, there is now a state of hope. The reduced electronic rhythm and the gently caressing melody are fitting together so neatly, as if they had not existed separately. After this “Panegyric” has a hard time. It’s not a terrible track, but somehow it lacks the substance to connect.

„It Was All Fields Around Here When I Was A Kid“, the last track of the album, on the other hand, could not be in any other place than here. With its dragging melancholic style and this particular pop-like touch it is the perfect closing statement of this outstanding album with which Hauff establishes herself among the inner circle of the best producers.
Thomas Venker

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