Helena Hauff - Qualm - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Helena Hauff - Qualm

by Sean Hewson Rating:9 Release Date:2018-08-03
Helena Hauff - Qualm
Helena Hauff - Qualm

Qualm is Helena Hauff’s second full album (after 2015’s Discreet Desires). She is a German DJ and record producer, based in Hamburg and a purveyor of filthy, stripped down Techno/Electro. It’s good gear.

A heavily fucked drum machine ushers in Barrow Boot Boys. Aside from the possibly 80s vintage of the drum machine (handclaps) and the sedate pace, it is quite close to the brutal Techno of Regis. The simplicity, repetition and total destruction of the source sound are big positives in this six-minute onslaught. Lifestyle Guru also seems to be in the Industrial Techno area, maybe with a bit more Factory Floor this time with the introduction of more sequencer work. I must admit that my knowledge of Techno is mainly in this area so that also explains my limited range of comparisons. Lifestyle Guru is fuller in its arrangement, to the extent that I would describe it as a bit of a banger. The sound is still distorted, but slightly less so. I’m not a drum machine aficionado, but btdr-revisited sounds like an 808 to me (someone clever will hopefully correct me below). I’m guessing that btdr is a reference to the reverb unit (again, please correct me, I’m interested in this stuff). The track itself is a little bit more acidic and squelchy.

Entropy Created You And Me starts with a cute, descending melody that is soon messed with. It sounds like an 80s PC burning and is quite close to something Grandaddy would tag on the end of a song. Fag Butts In The Fire Bucket is more aggressive and has shades of Hip-Hop and Dub to it, as well as the over-loaded sound of Industrial Techno. The beat becomes less predictable and the sounds more sinister as it veers into what would be an ideal soundtrack for Dystopian Science Fiction. The straightest Techno so far appears at the beginning of Hyper-Intelligent Genetically Enriched Cyborg. Again, it’s a banger with both 80s and 90s references. Rhythmically it’s quite involved but maintains a solid ‘four to the floor’ base.

The longest track on Qualm is the eight-minute The Smell Of Suds And Steel. The rhythm is skippier and there are a few more hooks here.  The chords suggest a disturbed Kraftwerk. The sound is again distorted but that adds to the excitement and live feel of this record. The repetitive and slowly-evolving nature of Techno, when done well, lends itself to long, drawn-out tracks like this. Primordial Sludge is more enigmatic – a pulse, some dark chords – it could almost be 90s Industrial. It remains beatless. The title track, Qualm, also does away with the beat but is brighter with waves of synth that stand in contrast to Primordial Sludge. No Qualms brings the beat back and is something of a sedate banger with a beguiling melody and a lot of reverb on the drum machine. In the background, some gorgeous synth sounds float by. There is also the hint of 80s Electro about the track, especially as the beat becomes busier towards the end. The more subdued mood continues on Panegyric, although a more stomping beat is slowly introduced. The synth sounds are more swirling and, again, there is the hint of the 80s. The final track on Qualm is It Was All Fields Around Here When I Was A Kid which starts with a very 80s sequenced pattern that is soon subverted. You expect it to erupt into a big Techno track but, instead, Hauff introduces some quite poppy synth chords and it becomes quite a beautiful piece on which to end this exhilarating album.

Having previously bought and loved Have You Been There, Have You Seen It, I had high hopes for Qualm and Hauff has delivered with a fully-rounded pummelling. Having listened to it in the same week as Nine Inch Nails’ Bad Witch I have had a real sonic treat: Two artists at the top of their game, with a total understanding of sound, an ear for a hook and a desire to push that hook right to the edge of reason. Helena Hauff combines beauty and violence on Qualm; as well as light and shade. It really covers a lot of ground.

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