Helena Hauff is a German DJ and record producer based in Hamburg, Germany. She is known for her “stripped-down techno and electro tracks” that are recorded using strictly analog equipment and draws influences from acid house, EBM and industrial music. Hauff, who has studied fine arts, physics and systematic music science,previously worked as a DJ at Hamburg’s Golden Pudel Club, where she hosted a night called Birds and Other Instruments. She released her debut record, “A Tape” EP, in 2013. Following a series of releases from various different labels, including James Dean Brown’s Hypnobeat project, she released her debut full-length album, Discreet Desires, through Werkdiscs records in 2015. The album was listed as number 19 on Rolling Stone’s list of “20 Best EDM and Electronic Albums of 2015.” In December 2017, she became the first ever female DJ to be named BBC Radio 1’s Essential Mix of the year. She runs her own label called “Return to Disorder”.
How are you?
I’m good thanks. A bit tired, I played in Warsaw last night at the amazing Jasna club. It was fantastic. I love that about my job, you’re in Paris one night and the next you’re in Warsaw and it’s just totally normal but so surreal at the same time. Sometimes I feel like I live in a film.
Is this what you imagined your life would feel like when you started playing/making music? If not, what did you envision?
My goal was to regularly DJ at this pub around the corner from where I used to live. I’ve never even played there once. It’s shut now. I guess I’ve not reached my goals.
Where are you? What have you done today so far? and did you enjoy it?
Right now I’m at the airport lounge stuffing my face with crap airport food.
What’s your favorite crap airport food? Any go-to treats between flights?
Probably some pasta or tuna and egg sandwich. As for little treats, coffee, nuts, apples and bananas.
Do you have any kind of routine when you’re home or on a tour that helps you regulate between gigs?
I live a very different life at home. I hang out in cafes playing backgammon, I have a huge love for cooking and I’m obsessed with bouldering and climbing so I spend most of my time in the gym. I’m planning for a trip to the mountains now, I really wanna climb outdoors but that’s not possible in Hamburg, there are no mountains whatsoever. Unfortunately, my sport leaves me injured all the time. I had to play several gigs last year not really being able to dance. It looks kinda funny when you dj on one leg. People probably don’t really notice but subconsciously know that something’s a bit off.
This sounds very hardcore, do you find that your physical practice is reflected in your music? For instance, I tend to test new tracks in the gym, to make sure they get an embodied response. How does your athletic life translate to your creative life or vice versa?
It definitely helps lifting that 20kg record bag into the overhead lockers! I think generally it just helps to get a balance. I tend to feel more energetic and I can focus better and that makes it easier to be creative I guess.
You’re known for your staunch refusal to be pulled along by a current of hype that is pervasive in techno these days; for instance, you’re not on social media, you don’t own a smartphone and you play only vinyl and work only on hardware. Is this a reactionary stance or is it rooted more in who you are as a person and what feels right for you?
I probably need to get a smartphone now, but I just can’t be bothered. It sounds stupid but it’s true. I’m just too lazy to go and get one and learn how to use it. It’s also become a bit of a game for me, how long can I keep on living without one, it’s a fun little challenge.
When it comes to social media, let me just copy and paste this from another interview, haha. This is how I feel about social media and why I’m not using it. Well, I’m on soundcloud.
I was on Myspace for 2 months in 2007. And I thought it was ridiculous. I didn’t like the way it made me feel. It consumed way too much of my time and it weirdly made me think too much about what other people thought of me. So I made the decision to never join another network again.
First of all, I need to say that I don’t judge anyone for using it, I really don’t. I think the idea of ‘you’re only famous because you are on social media’ is stupid. If you don’t have the talent to back it up social media isn’t gonna get you anywhere (in most cases). The pressure on young artists is immense though. I wish more people would realize that it’s optional. If you don’t like it don’t use it.
I regularly have conversations with other artists that envy my position as they believe the social media thing is massively affecting their mental health. But I’m aware that it can also have a positive effect on some people. If you’re housebound maybe the online interaction is actually helping you cope for example…
Could I be more famous? Sure. Do I care? No. I’m very happy where I am.
Any more fame and I would possibly have to compromise on my sound and play more commercial music anyway. I’m in a happy medium place right now where I can do whatever I want and still make enough money to live a comfortable life.
I feel like we should think a little bit more about who we are actually engaging with and selling our data to.
Those platforms are run by money-driven megalomaniacs that don’t give a shit about making the world a better place. They are undermining democracies all over the world, covering up human trafficking, helping spread misinformation etc.
But leaving the field to the bigots might not be the right thing to do. Maybe it’s better to engage and try to change things. So I’m not sure if my position is necessarily the best to hold.
This is beautiful and I actually really appreciate the prepared statement (you should make t-shirts). It covers all bases, thank you.
Yeah, I mean I think about this a lot and I get this question a lot. I try to reflect and ask myself ‘Why am I actually doing this?’ Is it mainly because I’m a weirdo? I guess the answer is ‘yes’!
In a similar vein, the music you produce and the DJ sets you play seem to be very singular, steadfastly ‘yourself’. As success in the music industry (even within ‘subcultures’, as techno has been historically categorized), seems more and more predicated on gaming the algorithm, how do you resist the pressure or pull into the hype machine? Is it a belief system surrounding creative integrity? Authenticity? Disdain for the mainstream, the slick or cheesy? What helps you guide your choices when it comes to participation in this kind of rat race?
Oh, I don’t resist the pressure. Sometimes I feel like I’ve compromised too much after a set. Not because of some algorithm but because I didn’t wanna ruin the party. Sometimes I play somewhere and have to realize that no one what’s to hear my sound so I try and play it a bit easy. I would never play anything that I don’t like but maybe I have to
leave out the really weird stuff if I don’t wanna freak people out. But it’s fine. I’m an artist but I believe it’s also my job to make people have a good time. I’m not so full of myself to believe that my taste in music is better than everybody else’s and that I have to teach people some kind of lesson about music. Fuck that shit. But to answer your question, I just like what I like. It’s my taste and that’s what I play. I don’t need to change as I don’t need to play some kind of fame game. I don’t give a flying fuck about fame.
Don’t get me wrong I enjoy the fame that I have and if someone wants to put my face on the cover of a magazine, well great! Love it! I enjoy the parties the photo shootings, meeting people, flying to different countries, and being able to make a living off of playing music that I love. It’s all fantastic. But I’m just really relaxed about the fame thing.
I don’t care for clicks and likes and I don’t care what people think about me. But of course I’ve got doubts as well. In lockdown for example I got scared that it was all over. I love what I do that’s why I don’t want it to stop.
I hear you, and I appreciate the reframing of lockdown as kind of a ‘momento mori’, this opportunity to reflect upon how it could all be over so suddenly, so that if we get to do this work again, that it is a gift and hopefully we can remember to enjoy it in the moment. Do you feel like you’ve been able to carry that feeling forward now that you’re back to a pretty intense tour schedule?
I try to remember this when I’m really not in the mood for playing. I don’t take it for granted, I never have done but I’m more conscious about it now. I generally try and live my life a bit more. I don’t wanna overthink things so much. And I leave the house more often to do fun activities, try new things, watch less TV.
You seem to be very good at living authentically, even adamantly against the grain. In an age where artists are under a lot of pressure to perform on TikTok and to get streaming numbers up, do you have any words of wisdom for staying true to yourself?
Do what makes you happy. Don’t determine your self-worth from outside recognition. When it comes to one’s career, I mean there’s nothing wrong with short-term goal setting but long-term goal setting I’m not a great fan of it.
We’re made to believe that we have to achieve stuff in order to feel valued. It might sound really cheesy but the journey should be the fun part not reaching the end goal.
Firstly you might never reach it, but if you do, what then? And how would you know beforehand that that end goal is the thing that would make you happy really? That’s why it’s important to find something you enjoy doing regardless of where it might lead.
You’ve said in the past that ‘every woman who DJs and is visible helps to make a change’, and that you hear from up-and-coming femme DJs that your presence has inspired them. As club spaces are more and more politicized, and the “Me Too” movement has hit the world of techno, have you any insight as to what could help our industry become more inclusive and/or safer for women and other marginalized people?
Everyone should live their lives with a more humanistic approach. The moment you think that you’re better than someone else you’ve already fucked up. I try to treat people with respect. I’m sure I make mistakes and I hope that people would call me out for it. It would help if we all tried to learn from each other I guess.
It feels like the opportunities that are available for independent producers and musicians are more complicated to come by post-covid; as you have anti-capitalist roots coming up at an establishment like The Golden Pudel, and have some evident punk ideology in your musical heritage, do you have any hope for the future of a counter-cultural dance music movement in the face of algorithmic driven metrics of success
No, haha! Well, a bit of hope. The next generation might be a bit bored with what we do right now and start their own thing in a very different way. Who knows.
Either musically or otherwise, who are your heroes and inspirations at the moment?
All the young and upcoming artists making great music, like Sherelle, L.F.T., Afrodeutsche, Batu, Bambounou, or my all time heroes like Dj Stingray, Eris Drew, Jeff Mills or Ben UFO. As well as everyone in the Skeptics community promoting critical thinking and scientific education.
You’re known as a fashion maven, having walked at Paris Fashion Week for Lemaire and shot numerous wonderful editorials with a strong stylistic component. What are you looking to express or embody when it comes to aesthetics? Does it feel aligned with your sonic choices?
Ha, nobody has ever called me that! It’s not really my world but I enjoy being able to get some insight into it. I love fashion, there is so much fun stuff to discover. I’m happy that I get the opportunity to work with so many interesting people from different backgrounds. There are so many similarities between music, fashion, art, or architecture. It’s very inspiring.
What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to?
A one-month tour in Australia. I love the country and I can’t wait to get out of this horrible winter weather!
I hope that you get to do some climbing down under! Thanks so much for this lovely exchange!
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