Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Helena Hauff has appeared out of the blue, racking up features in The Wire, Juno Plus, Noisey and Resident Advisor (the latter tapped her for an entry into their illustrious podcast series recently) before she’s even put out her debut 12”. With a forthcoming release for PAN and a mooted collaboration with Kyle Hall in the works, it’s likely that we’ll be hearing more from her in the coming months, too.
Hauff hasn’t really appeared out of the blue, though. The past couple of years have been full of solid, steady reputation building. Hauff is a resident DJ at Birds And Other Instruments, an electro-centric party at Hamburg’s Golden Pudel nightclub, and it was off the back of this that she was picked to support Actress at his ‘R.I.P’ launch party, garnering her some early attention in the UK. Since then she's started making music using a primitive, computer-phobic setup – an MPC and a TB-303, mostly – and recording single-take analogue jams, culminating in a cassette for Krokodilo Tapes, a low-key sublabel of Blackest Ever Black. Her music is the sort of analogue house/messy techno/minimal synth-styled dance music that wouldn’t have been easily digestible a few years ago but, in a post-PAN/L.I.E.S. world, can find a much more receptive audience. The fact that her debut EP, ‘Actio Reactio’, is released on a label as celebrated as Actress' Werkdiscs is the last of many reasons that people are paying a lot of attention to her right now.
Despite all of this, ‘Actio Reactio’ isn’t exactly a game-changing EP, but it’s a solid one nonetheless. The title track is the big draw here, and it’s a corker. Eschewing long, grid-structured intros, Actio Reactio drops a cinderblock of percussion from its very first bar, a barrage of overdriven 808 cowbells, handclap swing, rides and toms, anchored by a faint 303 bassline that doesn’t relent for its 10-minute duration. It takes the sort of bouncing electro grooves of Hashim’s Al-Naafiysh (The Soul) and blends it with the tribal hypnotism of DJ Pierre's Acid Tracks, but where the latter uses subtle bassline fluctuations to entrance the dancer, Hauff uses rhythmic mutations, like the cymbal crashes that enter around the six minute mark, to make it seem as if it’s building towards a point of release. The release never comes, though, and it ends as abruptly as it starts.
The other tracks on the EP don't really match up. Break Force is a little more structurally straightforward, a warped acid joint with a drum track that’s rough as sandpaper. Its best moments are the ones when Hauff stops twisting the knobs and dials on her bass synthesizer and lets the drum track ride solo for a few moments before introducing more blasts of noise. It's well worth your time, but it lacks the intensity of the lead. Micro Manifesto rounds out the EP, an electro-punk track that comes across a little like a DAF instrumental. It’s not a great track by itself, but it offers a bit of welcome diversity.
Werkdiscs released Helena Hauff's 'Actio Reactio’ EP on 5th August 2013.