Release Date: Aug 3, 2018
Record label: Ninja Tune
Pop psychology alleges that the music which "intelligent" people most listen to is classical, metal, and dance music. Given that these reports invariably suggest rap and country to be the "least intelligent" branches of music, we can infer there's some degree of racist and classist codifiers at play, but I think there's interesting parallels to be found between The High Brow Triumvirate. Arguably more than other styles, their power and beauty is predicated on their layering and texture, the melodious or conflicting interplay of their actors; whether that's a full orchestra, a chorus of guitars and drums, or swathes of Juno synthesisers.
Helena Hauff is a German analog and modular nerd and DJ who specialises in oddball, krautrock-influenced wave and techno; otherwise known as 'Hauffist techno'. It's a style that has no qualms with the more austere aesthetics of the less deadpan-techno scene. She may wear all black, but according to her, it's so 'that you can't see the tomato sauce stains.' There's a certain relaxed approach to her art, in which she has no qualms with the overall expectations of the music scene.
Helena Hauff's second album is closer to the stark, gritty sound of her early singles than the more melodic, suspenseful electro-techno of her full-length debut, 2015's Discreet Desires. The tracks generally consist of just a few layers -- heavily distorted beats, pulsating acid synth lines -- but they're upfront, direct, and highly energetic, never sounding undercooked or tossed-off. Opener "Barrow Boot Boys" recalls the thundering, extra-crunchy electro of I-F, with the focus entirely on rhythm, commanding the listener's attention.
Qualm is a nocturnal, adventurous album that sees Hauff take a progressive leap forward from her 2015 debut Discreet Desires. Rich with minimalist techno, it's not an album of all out bangers, but it's a layered, complex work. Hauff's second album sees her return to her original modus operandi. Her preference for analogue sounds has prevents this album from becoming overly mechanical, and one can detect a conscious decision to allow space for these tracks to breathe.
High fidelity has never been Helena Hauff's bag. Once, in what she's described as her most disastrous DJ experience, an angry clubgoer berated her from the crowd, shouting, "Can't you hear how fucking shit all your bass drums sound?" But as any fan of Wolf Eyes or Black Flag or the Jesus and Mary Chain could tell you, for many listeners, "fucking shit" is the whole point. And the German DJ and electronic musician has crafted her entire career around precisely that: techno at its nastiest, gnarliest, and most ragged--as bracing as a mouthful of bees or a toaster on the edge of the tub.
Helena Hauff is a woman of dualities. The title of her latest release on Ninja Tune, 'Qualm', is just that - a duality. The German for qualm (kvalm) translates as fumes, or smoke, while the English edition refers to a feeling of uneasiness or doubt. This feeling is unearthed from the moment you plunge into 'Qualm'.