Review: Helena Hauff – Qualm
A bleak future sparkles gloriously on the German heroine’s second LP, Qualm
So much has been written about the dystopian futurism of electronic music that, these days, portraying any deep-slung industrial techno record as ‘the sound of the future’ is a hackneyed cliché. In the early days (and arguably rightly), genres like acid, electro and EBM were straight-faced and categorically freezing – oozing the dinginess of the Berlin Wall era and Reaganomics. More recently, artists like DJ Stingray, E. Myers – and this review’s own protagonist Helena Hauff – have taken the starker implements of these purveyances and turned them into spectacularly warm, if still deeply twisted workings. Hauff’s second LP Qualm is at the pinnacle of that notion not just for her back catalogue, but for flavour-spanning techno in general.
In her astonishing Essential Mix for BBC Radio last year (awarded THE Essential Mix of the year by the show’s panel), Hauff took the essence of the decidedly imposing, seamless charisma of her Golden Pudel residency and exposed further just how much genre traits could be manipulated – pulling and diverting sounds to create refreshing glances at age-old themes. Her meticulous record digging further seeps into Qualm too; everything is positioned for full effect, whether that be aimed squarely at club orientated vibes (‘Lifestyle Guru’, ‘Hyper-Intelligent Genetically Enriched Cyborg’) or subterranean no-man’s-land apartment buildings (‘Primordial Sludge’). But crucially, no matter how harsh the sounds get, everything glistens deliriously. Instead of wanting to watch the world burn, Qualm makes the most of the aftermath.
There is, of sorts, a narrative arc to the record. An arc that doesn’t wholesomely accentuate a dystopian setting, but does hint at a cycle – an evolutionary foot forward into the abyss. ‘Barrow Boot Boys’ and ‘Lifestyle Guru’ are both deeply hypnotic death dances, the former like wasps lured into a citrus soaked metal tin and the latter a searing strobe light angling its way around a Bladerunner- style bar fight in the year 2182. Next comes the heady descent into truly head-spinning realms, as ‘bdtr-revisited’ marries influences like Drexciya and Autechre in an effortlessly paranoid way before the beatless sci-fi wooze of ‘Entropy Created You & Me’ stamps its claim as the most melodic moment thus far.
The phenomenally titled ‘Fag Butts in the Fire Bucket’ continues the discombobulation by offering seismic but steady jabs to the rib cage with side lashings of screeching synths and deep-set kicks, before the aforementioned ‘Hyper-intelligent Genetically Enriched Cyborg’ rolls through as one of the squelchiest and most grin-inducing records Hauff has recorded to date. Throughout the record, Hauff guides one through neon EBM-indebted keys and an irresistible, intoxicating 4/4 groove. ‘Primordial Sludge’ is nail-bitingly tense, but its increasingly wet sojourn through mucky matter and Stranger Things-esque cinematic overtures oozes out like a genial – almost comical – beast from a tide of filth.
It’s towards the record’s end, with the scintillating double tap of the title track and ‘No Qualms’ that Qualm sounds most mournful, but even that sense of uncertainty is delivered with a spring in its step. The LP does depict the future as bleak, but never offers this up as a totally negative thing either. Maybe Qualm is the comfort blanket we all so desperately need.
Listen to the full album, below.