Hamburg’s Helena Hauff, resident DJ at the city’s legendary Golden Pudel club, has made her first forays as a musician over the past couple of years, releasing on acclaimed labels such as Werk Discs & PAN, transferring the raw, hypnotic power of her DJ sets into primal analogue workouts that fall anywhere on a spectrum from acid house to electro and from techno to industrial.
After beginning DJing in Hamburg a few years ago, Hauff has built an international reputation for herself, known for playing an extensive variety of music that goes beyond the polished sound of most house and techno and which draws upon a whole history of electronic dance music, with her sets often tracing a path between the fringes of that history. As well as working as a solo musician, Hauff has released music as one half of Black Sites, a collaboration with fellow Golden Pudel resident F#x; and performs live as one half of Hypnobeat, a group that dates back to the early eighties and which was rebooted in recent years by founding member James Dean Brown who was so taken by Hauff’s Werk Discs release that he asked her to join the project. Hauff has both a solo release and a Black Sites release coming up on Panzerkreuz, an offshoot of longstanding Dutch label Bunker Records, and there are plans afoot for the release of new Hypnobeat live recordings.
Hauff has been touring Europe in over the past few months and we caught up with her over the phone following her gig at the Audacious Art Experiment in Sheffield in late March to talk about all the above and more.
I saw you play in Sheffield recently, and I’m interested to know how similar that set and your sets generally as a touring DJ are to those as a resident at Golden Pudel?
Well the place (The Audacious Art Experiment) was quite similar – small and smoky and a good atmosphere, and I really enjoyed DJing there actually. I don’t think it was much different to what I’d usually play at the Golden Pudel, it was great! It’s quite rare that you have a place like that in England.
Presumably your sets whilst touring are less varied than those in Hamburg? There are only so many records you can carry…
Yeah exactly; the sets are quite similar maybe but I don’t play the same sets over and over again. When I play at the Pudel I like to take two record bags with me, which is pretty cool to have hundreds of records to choose from; but I can’t really do that touring as I have to get them onto an airplane with me.
Would you say you play weirder things in your sets at the Golden Pudel? And do you tend to play more direct, dancefloor-ready things when touring?
It depends, at times I play quite weird stuff at the Pudel but often I play straight techno. It really depends on how I feel, and when I go to a place it depends on what time I’m DJing. When people invite me I tend to play at peak time and I like to play banging techno, but elsewhere I might play a bit weirder – although not necessarily more experimental. I don’t think there’s a massive difference between what I do at the Pudel and what I do at other places, it’s just I know exactly what the feeling at the Pudel is like. At other places it might be the same and basically you can do whatever you want to do, but sometimes you realise you can’t.
What would you say is the background your DJing comes from? To me, the stuff you play and produce seems more aligned with say, industrial and experimental music, than with most techno. Does what you play come mainly from nightclub experiences of techno and electro or from other musical interests, such as an interest in punk?
Both I think. It’s techno music obviously, but I just don’t like normal techno, I like to listen to all sorts of different music. A big inspiration always was Bunker Records, and I just released on Panzerkreuz (an offshoot of Bunker). I just fucking love that label!
How did that Panzerkreuz release come about?
Bunker was basically the first label I got in touch with, like three, four years ago, and I invited the label boss Guy Tavares to play at the Pudel and he deejayed a few times at my night there. I just love the label and so got in touch with them, and I played a track of my own at one of my nights and he just said ‘that’s great, do you want to release on Bunker?’, and I just said ‘yeah, I wanna’!
Before we discuss you own music, just one more question about DJing. You’ve been playing a lot around Europe in recent weeks; are there any other cities or venues that have stood out for you as capturing the same sort of vibe as at the Pudel?
As I said, the gig in Sheffield was great, and that was quite close to the Pudel and the sort of thing I want from clubs in general. I really liked my gig at Dance Tunnel in London (for new night Darkroom), that was really cool as well. And in Leipzig at Conne Island, that was pretty cool. There are a lot of really really nice places, but it’s quite rare that everything comes together – with the right soundsystem, the right venue, the right people, and the right time.
You’re also playing at Corsica Studios in London, is that somewhere you’ve been before? Also, you’re playing alongside Veronica Vasicka (owner of Minimal Wave records) who I know you’re a fan of, have you played with her before?
Yeah I played there once before, and I’ve seen her DJing twice, once at the Pudel and once at CTM festival in Berlin. And obviously I’m into that stuff, I love it and really like what she does; and so I’m really looking forward to it as I played there before and really enjoyed it – I think it’s a really good place.
Someone else who is on the bill at that night is Regis; and as I was listening to the upcoming Black Sites release on PAN I was really reminded of Regis. Is he someone you’re into and take inspiration from?
I really like what he does, although I didn’t know it sounded like Regis, so that’s cool. That’s not too bad really if it sounds like Regis…
The Black Sites release on Panzerkreuz is a split release with someone called Ghetto Gem, and I couldn’t find anything out about them at all other than that they’re from The Hague. Could you shed some light on that?
I don’t really know anything about them either to be honest! You should ask Guy Tavares from Bunker as he put us together on the record. I didn’t really know about it until it came out, but I love the Ghetto Gem track.
I also wanted to ask about the Hypnobeat project with James Dean Brown. I read that he got in contact with you about playing live with him after hearing the Werk Discs release. Would you say that playing with him has changed the way you approach making your own music?
The only thing that’s really changed is my attitude to playing live, I never thought that I’d play live before. It’s quite a good way of playing live – we play with three 808s and one 707; and it’s a very conceptual project I think. I never thought I’d play live because I enjoy DJing so much, but it’s so limited playing with that live set up that it’s easier to be focused as you can’t get lost in anything because you can’t do anything else other than play with a drum machine. What I hate about most live sets is that they aren’t very focused and you can’t really see where they’re going.
Do you think you would ever play your own solo music live?
No I think that actually I would never do that.
I’ve heard that there are going to Hynobeat recordings this too – is that close to happening? And what can we expect – will it be recordings of live shows or studio recordings?
It’s definitely going to be takes from live shows. All the original Hypnobeat material from the 80s was recorded live, and we want to keep it that way. It’s probably going to be a recording from Berghain, as what we recorded there was quite nice. It was a fun set – very loud!
In terms of your own studio set up have you made any new additions recently?
I’d love to add to my collection but I’ve got no more room in my room. I need to move to a bigger space, it’s ridiculous! It’s so difficult to find flats in Hamburg too, it’s terrible. I’d love to buy some new gear if I could- I’d like to have more of the classics, like a 909 or something like that, or some modular synths.
You’re not going to start making music on a computer anytime soon then I take it…
I don’t think so, we’re talking on the phone right now as there’s no internet here and the laptop broke down, it’s terrible! My laptop isn’t working and any other computer that I ever touched broke down like the next day, so I think there’s something wrong with me or something… laptops and me don’t go together. Probably a sign that I should stay clear of them.
Finally, the obligatory question about what you have planned for the year apart from the releases we’ve already discussed?
I’m going to be DJing a lot, but hopefully I’ll have time to produce some new bits as well – I’m working on something for Werk Discs again. There are a few other things to come, but I’m not sure if they’ll happen this year or next year. There’s another 12” planned on Solar One Music from Jena, but I don’t know if it’ll be out before the end of the year. I might set up my own label actually, and I think I’ll release all sorts of different music – some rock, krautrock, stuff like that. I don’t want to do a techno label, I’d rather do a punk label. There’s so many techno labels that are doing a great job that I don’t feel there’s any need to do the same.
Helena Hauff’s Return to Disorder is available now on Panzerkreuz Records, as is Black Sites vs. Ghetto Gem’s Panzerkreuz 1029.