Whilst we were in Barcelona last month for Sónar Festival we were fortunate enough to catch up with German DJ and producer Helena Hauff ahead of her performance later that evening at SónarCar. In the interview below we discuss how Helena initially got into DJing and experimenting with music. She also reveals details about her forthcoming album ‘Discreet Desires‘, scheduled for release on Werkdiscs on 4th September 2015.
"People know I'm gonna play fast and rough stuff."
What are your first impressions of Sónar Festival?
It’s massive and this is only Sónar By Day…Sónar By Night is even bigger!
Do you get nervous ahead of big shows?
Not really nervous…not in a bad way anyway. But like 20 minutes or half an hour before I tend to go to the toilet every 5 minutes, and without needing to…I check the time every 2 minutes.
What do you do when you get on stage? Do you look at the crowd or just try to keep focused and look down at your records?
No, I look at the crowd, but it’s weird. When you’re on a really big stage, it just doesn’t matter how many people there are or what they look like. I don’t like big stages, it’s just like one person standing in front of one massive person. When it’s a smaller club I get a better feeling from the crowd for sure.
Did you have much time before heading to Barcelona to pick up an ample selection of records for your show?
I packed my records last night in Hamburg, I always do that. Sometimes it takes me many hours to do it and sometimes I spend the whole day doing it, but since I’m only playing for an hour, I mean it’s a very short set, it’s like 15 records at most.
Surely you’ve packed more that 15 records?
Yes, I’m playing tomorrow as well in Toronto. I think I’m gonna stick to straight techno tonight. I always make that mistake to try and go into too many directions. In an hour it’s basically impossible, it gets really confusing for me, you need at least one hour and half or two hours to do that kind of thing.
How do you describe your traditional DJ set?
I mean it depends on the time that I’m playing. If I play at night I like to start with heavy techno or heavy whatever, and then I try to keep the energy and maybe go from techno to industrial wavey stuff, to electro and then maybe go back to techno.
I like, or at least try, to come back to the same thing. So that’s my perfect set: 3 hours, and start with something and come back to it later.
Who are the DJs you grew up listening to?
One of my favourite DJ’s is Mick Wills, I think he is one of the best DJs, he is incredibly talented and plays exactly the kind of stuff that I like. I mean Jeff Mills is amazing as well, and last week-end I saw Koehler from R-Zone and he was amazing, we’re planning to play back to back at some point.
Would you release anything on R-Zone? All the artists are unknown.
Actually I didn’t know this, is it really?
"I like the idea of being anonymous, I would actually love to see the reaction to my music without anyone know that it's my music, that would be interesting."
Yeah, every release features unknown artists.
I didn’t know that. I usually forget about names, especially on compilations, I don’t know what I’m playing. Would I release on labels like that is basically like an anonymous artist to me? Yeah maybe, I’ve never really thought about it actually.
It’s very confusing because there are a lot of labels and a lot of names, so you never know what’s happening. I think it’s good to have a name on the record every now and again, so you know what’s going on.
I like the idea of being anonymous, I would actually love to see the reaction to my music without anyone know that it’s my music, I’d like to know if it would be different. That would be interesting, if people can hear that it is me.
Last night Autechre played at Sónar By Day and it was absolutely rammed. What’s your experiences of encountering these ‘names’ whilst playing the festival circuit?
Exactly, because it’s that name. I just remember it happened to me a couple of time last year that I played at a festival and at the same time there was a really big name playing on the second stage while I was playing and there was basically no one on my floor.
I remember that at one gig there was another big name playing right after me and people basically came back in after the other guy finished, like the last 15 minutes of my set or something and they went absolutely nuts, screaming and jumping.
I played some Robert Hood and some strange really fast electro and they were really going for it and it was so obvious that they were just there for the music.
What’s happening with you and music at the moment?
Well there is an album coming out in September on Werkdiscs.
Has it got a name yet?
It’s called “Discreet Desires”.
What kind of album is it?
I don’t know, I think it’s definitely something that you could listen to at home because it’s way more melodic than anything I have done before. I can definitely see the connections between the tracks but I don’t know if people can.
Have you been working on it a long time?
Well I finished working on it about a year ago, it has just taken a lot of time to release.
When is it coming out?
4th September, I thought it was coming out in June but it’s not (laugh).
Have you got some nice artwork lined up for that?
Actually for the album it’s a photo that I took two a few years ago, it’s basically a self-portrait.
That’s great that you are making your own artwork.
Yes, I don’t consider myself like an artist in that respect, but for the album I wanted to have something a bit more personal. I mean I love the artworks of the other two releases, a friend of mine from Hamburg did it called Alex Solman and he is like the most talented guy I’ve ever met. He does artwork for Golden Pudel and FACT’s mix series.
How old were you when you first start to experiment with making music?
I started producing music five years ago.
So did you ever think, five years ago, that this would ever happen, that you would be playing at Sónar?
I mean, when I started producing music, I was a bit like… I’m very self-critical and I wasn’t sure it was gonna work. Actually I started producing music like seven years ago before I started DJing.
At my University there was a computer and a Midi Keyboard and a really good recording studio, perfect for a band, but they didn’t have any synthesizers, so I tried using Cubase to produce music, but got really frustrated and didn’t like it.
Then I stopped and got into DJing and thought “I wanna do this, I have to find a way to make music” and I realised that producing with the computer is not my thing so I started collecting synthesizers and that’s when I realised that I really liked that. But still at the beginning I didn’t think I was going to release on Werkdiscs or anything like that.
When I started DJing I had that feeling that I was gonna be somewhere, even if I didn’t know it would have been that big, I mean this is really big for me. I don’t know why but I trusted my instincts.
"I don't wanna know too much about what I'm doing, I just want to do it and I want everybody to have fun."
What else did you want to be?
I wanted to be a physicist.
And what happened to that prospect?
I never finished studying at University because I was already into DJing and realised that I wasn’t as smart as I thought, I’m not that intelligent (laugh), I mean I wanted to go into science, but you really need to be a genius to do that: it’s basically just as difficult as becoming a rockstar.
I also studied a bit of Fine Arts. When we had a few theoretical courses that we had to do, like the History of Art but when it comes to looking at a picture and saying something I actually don’t get it. I feel the same about music, I don’t like to analyse things too much, I think it’s better to just leave it out.
This is my way of seeing and experiencing things, I don’t wanna know too much about what I’m doing, I just want to do it and I want everybody to have fun.
What’s the biggest misconception of a Helena Hauff DJ set?
I think people expect me always to play something unexpected, which is impossible because if you expect something unexpected, then what am I supposed to play?
I’m pretty much gonna play a straight set without any bright bits, people know I’m gonna play fast and rough stuff.
Have you thought about playing something different?
I am always looking at records that could fit into my set, which aren’t necessarily techno but just as energetic, I like that kind of thing definitely.
What about buying records, where do you go?
Since I am playing every weekend at the moment, I have the feeling that I need more records all the time, but it needs to be stuff that I can play, so I buy a lot on Discogs, so I constantly have new stuff otherwise I get bored. Otherwise I also like to buy records in record shops, especially when I travel to other cities and find things I have never heard about before. I enjoy buying records abroad a lot more than at home.
What was the last record you freaked out about?
I think it’s when I found a tape of Pankow ‘Das Vodkalied‘, and I thought that someone had to press that tape version onto vinyl. I went to Florence, where the band are based, and found a different version of the same track on vinyl and I bought it in the city they are from!
A couple of weeks later the guy that runs the Contort Yourself label got in touch with me and asked me if I wanted to do a remix of the tape version of ‘Das Vodkalied’ and I was really happy about that and then the tape version came out on vinyl with my remix!
Why has it taken so much time to release your new album?
Well I think several reasons: stuff with the label and then I had another EP coming out on another label so we didn’t want those two things to collide.
Then I produced a couple of other tracks and thought that those tracks could go really well together with an old version of my first ‘Actio Reactio‘ out on Werkdiscs and so I told the guys from Werk Discs I wanted to have that single out before the album.
I just can’t wait for it to come out, because I feel I can’t make any new music before it’s out…or maybe it’s just an excuse for being lazy (laugh).
Photography by Tom Durston
HELENA HAUFF – DISCREET DESIRES
WERKDISCS / NINJA TUNE
4th September 2015
PRE-ORDER: 2xLP / CD / Digital
￼1. Tripartite Pact
3. Sworn to Secrecy Part I
4. L’Homme Mort
5. Funereal Morality
6. Piece of Pleasure
8. Sworn to Secrecy Part II
9. Silver Sand & Boxes of Mould
10. Dreams in Colour