This year ravers have been readapting the dance floor purpose of techno to a listening experience in their bedrooms, headphones, and on road trips. Like all of us, Helena Hauff is also spinning techno and electro vinyls in her living room. It’s been a while since the world-touring DJ could spend so much time with her music collection, search for new tracks, and produce in her studio without pressure for a perfect outcome. Speaking with Helena, it seems like she’s feeling anything but pressure, either from packed warehouses, empty dance floors, or the almighty social media.
Mariana Berezovska: Your music selection has this unbreakable connection with the Dutch scene and their raw machine sound. How did this loving relationship start?
Helena Hauff: I started making music in 2008. I stopped because I only had a computer and I didn’t really enjoy working with it. I was like, hey, maybe this is not for me. This is when I started deejaying and found the whole kind of Bunker records thing and all those old I-f tracks. All the early I-f stuff was just one drum machine and one synthesizer, it was only 808 and 303. I bought a 303 because I wanted to sound like I-f and to make this Bunker kind of stuff. And it was an inspiration for me to start and produce music again and properly get into it.
I’ve organized a few parties with the owner of Bunker Records, Guy Tavares. He is a crazy guy, and he was always a huge inspiration for me because he is so idiosyncratic and so different, and he doesn’t care about what anyone thinks. He just does his own thing. I love the sound and approach. I love most of the Hauge sound, not only the acid techno but also electro. And I’ve never actually stopped loving that kind of sound.
MB: I was also wondering about your own label Return To Disorder. It seems like your very personal project and not a kind of a label where you have everything scheduled, and you know exactly when a new release is coming up.
HH: For a long time, I didn’t know if I wanted to start a label because there are so many labels out there, and I didn’t know if I could add anything new or different to the scene. It’s so oversaturated anyway. When I started the label, I had two projects that I wanted to release, Morah and Children of Leir. Both of them didn’t really know where to release at that time. At the beginning, the idea was actually to release not only electronic music but also psych-rock and guitar music. But I’m not really part of the scene, so I don’t get any demos sent over to me or anything like that. So Return To Disorder is mainly electronic music. I’m not a very professional label owner, I guess. I don’t do any promo, and I don’t have a schedule. Even if I wanted to have a schedule, I find it very difficult because there are pressing plans, a distributor, and everything in between. You just never get stuff done on time. I guess if you’re a really big label selling a lot of records, you have a priority, and you get your records pressed before the small labels. But with mine, we sell like one hundred fifty copies.
MB: Helena Hauff is often described as “a badass of the techno scene.” Your only account on social media is on SoundCloud. Can you tell me a little more about how that works for you without social media?
HH: I guess it works because I’m in a very good position right now, and I’m not struggling with getting gigs or doing mixes and having people want stuff from me. The thing is, I don’t know what my career would look like with social media. I know what it looks like without it. I don’t know if I would be bigger, or more famous, or happier if I had social media. I don’t know if it would make me sad.
MB: I think you would probably be less focused on music.
HH: That’s what social media is all about. It’s just not about music, and it’s all about the image. And that’s what people want to see, in a way. I have a lot of people that ask me why I’m not doing it. When I started, I never wanted anything to take away from the music. I didn’t want to distract myself from what I do as a musician. I didn’t want to do a personality thing out of it. At the very beginning, I didn’t have press pictures either because I didn’t want anybody to see what I looked like. Then I realized that people are taking photos anyway, and you just have terrible pictures of yourself online instead of nice ones. So in some way, I think that if you do social media, you have your career more under control, you can talk to people directly. On the other hand, you might get quite distracted by it, and maybe also quite anxious because it’s this constant feedback of people that want to tell you what they feel and what they think about you. I don’t get to see the online hate as much as other people do, which is possibly a good thing.
MB: Your music influences come from this unpolished, scratchy, uncomfortable sound. You often mentioned that you are aware that not everybody is going to like your music or your selection. Yet you play at big festivals and venues where the crowd is mixed and not always looking for experimental electronics. How do you decide if you want to bring in uneasy, obscure music to the floor?
HH: I have this approach that I never actually want to challenge an audience. I try to make them have the best time of their lives and dance as much as they could possibly dance. I never actually try to fuck them up for no particular reason. But the thing is, I just happen to be into music that a lot of people are not into. When I play a bigger show where I think people might be less open-minded, I’d never play any track that I don’t like. But there are tracks I wouldn’t play just because I know they wouldn’t enjoy it and wouldn’t understand the idea of it. They would just think I was a bad DJ. So I try to start with a bit easier things and then get into crazier things slowly and build up to this weirder world. So I try to draw them into my world slowly without going in with a hammer and be like, “yeah, this is what you’ve got to listen to now for the next three hours! Enjoy!” I don’t think that’s a good way of being a DJ. As a DJ, you are an artist, but you’re also an entertainer in a way (not sure if that’s a good word). People came to have a good time, and I wouldn’t want to ruin it for them. But I would never play anything that I don’t like. I always try to sneak in some stuff that I know is really not what they listen to and see how they react to it. The reaction is actually fantastic. Sometimes I’m surprised by the crowd, and I’m like, “wow, you are fucking cool.” At other times it doesn’t work. I have emptied floors before as well.
MB: You are one of today’s top DJs, and you do stand out from the rest of “the top” with your authenticity and sort of obsessive attitude towards digging the music and touring. Surely the big techno scene is a big money-making business, but if everyone approaches it from a practical point of view, techno music wouldn’t exist. There is a feeling of obsession and hard work around how your career has been developing.
HH: What a lot of people don’t understand about DJing is that you have to be obsessed with it. You really need to want to do this and just this. But not do this thinking, “Oh, I want to become famous, or I want to play in this club.” When I first started, I was on the turntables for at least three hours every day. Not because I had to get better, but because I didn’t want to do anything else anymore in my life. It was just everything I ever wanted, and I didn’t even know it. It’s just the best feeling in the world — mixing records together. Don’t ask me why, but I fucking love it, and I am obsessed with it.
If you don’t love this so much, you shouldn’t be doing it. You’re going to hate everything about it: you’re going to hate yourself, you’re going to hate the music, you’re going to hate the people. You have to be obsessed with it because otherwise, it doesn’t make sense. It’s the same with all forms of art: not everybody’s getting famous, not everybody can make money with it. Only if you really really love what you’re doing and you are obsessed with it can you survive in it. Then you’re not going to be disappointed if it didn’t happen to you because you didn’t do it for the reason of becoming famous in the first place.