Mysterious landmark debut from Hamburg machine seditionist and sonic seductress
Helena Hauff doesn’t so much play her array of analogue synths but coaxes, gouges and strokes them into venting sounds of a depth and resonance rarely found in today’s shiny electronic strata. Though still in her 20s, she grew up without a TV or the internet, and discovered music by taping sounds she liked off the radio or from records she got out of the local library. Whether Joy Division or Stockhausen, it didn’t make any difference if the sound itself grabbed her imagination.
Helena decided she wanted to be a DJ after experiencing a warehouse party, so she acquired the necessary equipment and set about carving a name for hard-hitting techno and electro sets; her obsession further developed at her Birds And Other Instruments residency at Hamburg’s Golden Pudel club. She made her recorded debut a couple of years ago with the three-track ‘Actio Reactio’ EP on Actress’ Werkdiscs imprint through Ninja Tune.
I remember thinking then how Helena’s music harboured a similar sense of discovery and reckless innocence as that which draped the earliest acid tracks sent from Chicago bedrooms in the mid-80s. Unbound by electronic trends and the kind of gadgets that make the creation of music too easy for too many, she simply turned on her analogue machines and saw where they were going to take her. This ethos has continued since, with an album appearing on Texan cassette label Handmade Birds and collaborations with F#X as Black Sites, plus gigs with James Dean Brown’s legendary live analogue squad Hypnobeat.
Now comes Helena’s first widely released long-player – and ‘Discreet Desires’ is the expected (and hoped for) master manifesto of her unfettered future visions and desire to stand out on her own terms. From the title and the cover shot of Helena kissing her reflection in a mirror, to the atmospheric mood pieces that link some tracks, a distinct shadow of cinematic noir haunts the album.
Tracks such as ‘Sworn To Secrecy Part 1’ recall Giorgio Moroder’s ‘Cat People’ soundtrack in their mix of austere electrolysis and forebodingly resonant depths. There aren’t many albums whose music could backdrop both the bedroom and stricken cities, but the likes of ‘L’Homme Mort’ manage to evoke the desolation of Detroit via sensuous featherlight electro pulsings – albeit clawed with scathing static and monstrous rearing riffs.
The sub-aquatic Motor City electro thrum continues to underpin tracks such as the twitteringly acidic ‘Tryst’ and the clattering ‘Funereal Morality’, recalling Underground Resistance’s missives of the last decade or Helena’s beloved Drexciya, who provided one of her flight paths into techno. By ‘Sworn To Secrecy Part 2’, she is throwing distorted vocals into the sheet metal rampages rearing out of her machines. After this glut of futuristic electro-carnage, she takes ‘Discreet Desires’ out on the post-apocalyptic calm of ‘Dreams In Colour’ (complete with haunted melodies) and ‘Silver Sand And Boxes Of Mould’, which brings down the curtain with skin-scraping static, string swells and dramatic motifs.
Like a good film, the impact remains afterwards; here with the knowledge that electronic music has also just witnessed a major new talent.