Helena Hauff Takes Picturesque to a Whole New Level with 'Discreet Desires'

Helena Hauff Takes Picturesque to a Whole New Level with 'Discreet Desires'
It's been a mere two years since Helena Hauff's debut EP, Actio Reactio, came out on Actress's label Werkdisks, but she's already solidified herself as one of the most interesting producers around. She's brought her rough-and-ready methods to labels like PAN, Lux Rec, Handmade Birds and Bunker sub-label Panzerkreuz. Hauff now returns to Werkdisks for her first full-length, Discreet Desires, which drops September 4.

Part of the reason for Hauff's success is that she has a charmingly blithe approach to recording, offering up a certain rawness that's both refreshing and relatable — one is almost inspired to rush outside to buy a TB-303 and an MPC2000 and start plugging away at them, stopped only by the lingering thought that you probably can't pull it off as well as Hauff does.

Though unembellished, her style is much more of a conscious decision than a lack of experience. "I think when music sounds too polished, I don't really relate to it at all," Hauff tells Exclaim! "I mean there are certain exceptions, like electro music, which I don't mind being really clear and sharp. The whole idea of electro is about being futuristic and clear and scientific almost, so it fits in a way, but with something like techno, it's just kind of pointless."

Despite Hauff's insistence that Discreet Desires isn't a concept album, simply that she "just had a conceptual approach to it," the record is based on an old photograph she found and felt compelled to make music around. "The atmosphere of that photo seemed to project a certain sound to me, so I tried to replicate it in musical form, to somehow try to make the music sound how the photo looked," she explains.

Rather strangely, however, in spite of drawing musical inspiration for the album from this particular photo, Hauff switched it at the last minute and opted for a different picture as her album artwork, one that supposedly fits the mood even better and is technically a selfie, though taken years before the term existed. 

"I find it so funny that all these pop artists always have themselves on the cover of their albums." Hauff notes. "It's such a weird concept, when you think of it, that you have yourself on the cover. I thought it was fun to play with that idea because you can't really tell that it's me. It looks more like an alien than it looks like me. I kind of like the idea of having myself on the cover of my first album actually, but with a weird twist."

The end result of Hauff's photo to audio transformation is an album that's simultaneously hypnotic, ominous and playful, all with the feel of a unified piece of art. Discreet Desires ends up coming off as a retro soundtrack, deeply reminiscent of an '80s sci-fi movie, which isn't altogether surprising when considering its origins.

"It's been said to me a few times before actually, that it sounds like a soundtrack to a film," Hauff says. "Maybe it comes from the fact that I had a picture in mind. By starting with a picture, maybe you end up creating something that could work for film as well. With my other recordings, I never had a picture in mind and I don't really see the need for artwork in a lot of things to be honest. It's just an additional aspect, which can be nice but isn't particularly necessary. The way I worked on this album, however, it made a lot of sense and maybe that's why it sounds like a soundtrack."

In addition to Discreet Desires being Hauff's first foray into the long-play format, it also marks her directorial debut with the semi-disturbing video for "Sworn to Secrecy Part II." A self-confessed philistine, in terms of directing, Hauff doesn't see herself as a filmmaker or an editor in any way, just someone who grabs material and throws it together in a fairly "unprofessional" way. Even still, the video itself is memorable, possibly due to its mild, ocular torture scenes. 

"There is something about the eyes, isn't there? Any time something comes close to them it's so scary. Freud described the fear of losing your eyes or your eyesight as related to the fear of losing your cock. I don't know if it's true or not, but there's definitely something terrifying about the eyes and any harm coming to them."