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A bleak future sparkles gloriously on the German heroine's second LP
helena hauff qualm

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.


Review: Kraftwerk 3-D at Bridgewater Hall

When it comes to ground-breaking bands, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one more influential and trailblazing than Krautrock pioneers Kraftwerk. Founded in 1969, the band rose from musical obscurity to become innovators of the electronic music scene in 1974 with the release of Autobahn; the avant-garde electro masterpiece that influenced everyone from Bowie to New Order. Decades ahead of their time, their distinctive sound arguably puts them alongside The Beatles for how influential and inspiring their music is.

After nearly fifty years of performing however, you’d expect them to be running out of ideas. Well, fear not as that is certainly not the case as they bring their latest tour to the Bridgewater Hall showcased in full 3-D. Scanning your eye across the sweltering hall, you could see a veritable who’s who of the Manchester icons with Johnny Marr and Maxine Peake to name but a few in attendance.

Credit: @manic_marcus

With a gargantuan back catalogue to pick from, the group played a marathon career spanning set to flawless precision. Opening to a roar not often seen at the Bridgewater, the group delved straight into multi lingual classic Numbers transistioning seamlessly into the angelic synths of Computer World.

Up on stage, Hutter and co. stood motionless behind neon flecked lecterns; their hands hovering over a smorgasbord of synths and drum machines  effortlessly producing the onslaught of sound. The odd toe tap is the only indication that they are actually human with their faces unflinching to the undulating wave of numbers emanating from the giant 3-D screen.

So this happened last night…. @kraftwerkofficial landed at the Hall ・・・ #kraftwerk #spaceship #techno

A post shared by The Bridgewater Hall (@bridgewaterhall) on

Credit: @BridgewaterHall

From the outset, I must say that the idea of a 3-D aspect got me a little worried; often this kind of thing is a gimmick that detracts from the overall performance, a tacky adage to explain the hefty ticket price. Oh boy was I wrong! The performance was enhanced tenfold by the visuals on display; during Space Lab, a shimmering UFO comes into view flying through the air over Salford Quays before coming to a stop over the Bridgewater Hall.

As the set wore on, the intensity rose and rose with the cold, hard bass of Radioactivity practically forcing you back in your seat. In addition, the driving bass and almost medieval like chant of Ralf Hutter sent vibrations up your spine. The precise nature of their music was on full show here with the acoustics in the venue in perfect partnership.

Reeling through classics Tour de France and the thumping Trans Europe Express, the band take a well earned break. With the curtain down and the crowd on their feet, the unmistakable sound of Robots builds to a crescendo revealing the bands robot counterparts. Dressed in their iconic red shirts, the android artists do some popping and locking to one of the best songs of the night.

Credit: @two_pep

As the song came to a close, the band returned to the stage in neon jumpsuits to burn through a melody of their Techno Pop album. Starting with the catchy Boing Boom Tschack, the funk filled base and high pitch synths move into some kind of Detroit House style rendition of Techno Pop before bringing the show to a close with the anthemic Music Non Stop.

Here is where you see the band in full electro flow with each member taking it in turns to showcase their skills from behind the lecterns. Hutter’s mask seemingly slips for a moment as he waves his hand through the air to a Fritz Hillpert percussion solo. With each member leaving the stage one by one, Hutter brings the show to a close with an awe-inspiring keyboard and synth solo bringing the crowd to their feet; the bass filled synth punctuated by a simple ‘Auf wiedersehen’ before Hutter took his bow.

Overall, it’s hard to put into words how intense and awe inspiring the show was; to say that it was flawless, would be an understatement. Everything from the visuals to the sound quality were perfect entrancing the crowd from start to finish. The precise and fluid nature of Kraftwerk’s music made the two hour set feel like five minutes and it leaves me saddened as I will probably never get to experience such a show again.

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