Helena Hauff Actio Reactio [EP]

[Werkdiscs; 2013]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: techno, electro, minimal wave
Others: Actress, Lory D, Mika Vainio, Das Ding

In the origin stories of modern dance music, punk does not usually get a look in. With a few notable exceptions (those concerning the post-punk/electronic fusions of the UK’s Factory/Hacienda scene, for instance), most such stories focus on the collision of black American music with the white European synthpop of Kraftwerk and the Human League while describing a suspicion and deliberate rejection of any rock & roll aesthetics.

Yet when Helena Hauff — apparently the electronic scene’s new darling, with this release on Actress’ Werkdiscs and with ties also to Blackest Ever Black and PAN — explains that she sometimes feels “closer to being punk than being a techno DJ,” it does make some kind of sense. Make no mistake, Hauff is a techno DJ, as any of the mixes available on her SoundCloud make clear. But with discovering music in her twenties via the local library, taping home cassettes from the radio, and making a snap decision to become a DJ after seeing one perform, hers is a great punk backstory. And the club she plays at, Hamburg’s Golden Pudel — by all accounts a small, sticky, strangely laid out space with a crowd that goes there simply to hang out as much as for the anything-goes music policy — sounds a lot like CBGBs in its prime.

The fact is that philosophically at least, certain strains of dance music have always had uncanny parallels — let’s not call them influences — in punk. As stated in the liner notes for 808 State’s seminal Newbuild album, “original acid house became a necessity for three simple reasons: inspiration, affordability and availability.” The drum machine provided the same anti-virtuosic, DIY accessibility that punk had discovered, as well as a similarly stripped-down, experimental, and confrontational aesthetic.

For better or for worse — and it’s sometimes hard to tell — these qualities are all over Hauff’s debut EP, Actio Reactio. The title track, a 10-minute percussive jam, sounds at first like someone’s over-excited first time on a drum machine, more fun to make perhaps than to listen to, with all manner of sounds (and a lot of cowbell) messily layered and frantically bashed out. Yet its strangeness becomes clear as it progresses: when a barrage of sixteenth-notes knocks things off-balance and a reverb’d clap slips back a half-beat, it reveals a wild ambiguity whereby no one rhythm dominates, wreaking havoc across the track. The result is a shifting tapestry of irregular, interweaving lines, stark but remarkably varied and surprising. When crash cymbals pepper the track’s final third, the naïve abandon is infectious.

The other tracks here are perhaps less exciting on their own merit, treading as they do on slightly more familiar territory, but no matter: Hauff brings to them the same energy and playfulness, and their inclusion shows well her stylistic diversity and overall conception. “Break Force” is a lurching, acidic electro piece, whose stalking bassline and outrageous peaks of distortion tap into a dark hedonism reminiscent of The Stooges, while “Micro Manifesto” is different again, a brief, beatless synth piece in the minimal wave style.

That Hauff sees these styles as belonging together is interesting in itself and gives a nice trajectory to the EP as a whole, from fast percussive techno to slower melodic sounds. It also gets me thinking on the title. Actio Reactio: is the action-reaction relationship between melody and rhythm? Between dance and punk? Or are all these styles, grouped together, Helena Hauff’s reaction to the current scene divisions? Whatever it is, Hauff is hitting on some exciting combinations here, and I’ll be interested to see the next move.

Links: Helena Hauff - Werkdiscs

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