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Helena Hauff
Has Nothing To Prove

As the ultimate embodiment of a no-bullshit attitude, Helena Hauff is like a refreshing storm after a dense summer day.

Simultaneously clearing and electrifying the air with a seemingly bottomless record bag, witnessing the Hamburg-based artist behind the decks – juggling vinyl, vibes, BPMs and cigarettes – is forever exciting and inspiring. Since her first Dekmantel appearance in ’15, Helena Hauff has become an essential element of the festival; playing an unforgettable set with DJ Stingray in ’16, closing the giant main stage in ’18, and drowning out the UFO darkness in ’22, to name just a few. This year, she’s back at the stage that once began the mutual love affair and became a turning point in her career: the Greenhouse.

Words by Jasmin Hoek
Portrait by Ashley Röttjers
Dekmantel archive images by Pierre Zylstra

Originally released in Dekmantel's TRANSITION magazine in August, 2023

Jasmin Hoek: Hi Helena. I’ve seen you play countless times and every set is different, but also very recognisably you. How do you prepare for a set in the earliest part of the process? Which elements of a gig do you take into consideration beforehand?

Helena Hauff:
It depends. Sometimes I don’t prepare at all or just take some random records with me, and sometimes I still have some records with me from the weekend before, and end up not having time to change them beforehand. Other times, like for a couple of the Dekmantel shows, I think about who’s playing before me and who’s playing after, and how I can make that transition. I take over from the artist before me, keep up their vibe, and slowly progress into something different that is more in the direction of the artist playing after me. I do that a lot actually, when I’m considering what to play. Obviously, it only really works when I have some kind of sonic connection to the other artists on the stage. If it’s too far away from what I do, I tend to ignore it, and do my own thing. I do believe the best sets often happen when you take the bag that you played with the weekend before, and try to create a new set out of what you’ve already played. When you think ‘maybe I should play the other side of that record today’, that’s when the fun and surprising things happen. I’ve noticed that even more with B2B sets, the best ones happen when it’s unprepared.

"That feeling when what you’re doing resonates with people, you see them go wild, it infects you, then you start to go wild, and then everybody goes wild."

JH: You’ve been DJing for over a decade. What’s the most exciting part of it, and what has been your continuous drive to keep doing it?

It’s the music, I just love the music. As well as the energy you can create, being with people in a room, experiencing something together, and the excitement. That feeling when what you’re doing resonates with people, you see them go wild, it infects you, then you start to go wild, and then everybody goes wild. [Laughs] That’s such a buzz, it’s the greatest feeling – I suppose it’s very addictive.

JH: This summer marks a decade since your debut EP ‘Actio Ratio’ was released on Ninja Tune’s Werkdiscs, right?

HH: Yes, oh my god. It’s been ten years. That’s insane!

JH: Last year your most recent EP, ‘Living with Ladybirds’, appeared. The description includes a quote of yours: ‘I used to live with ants, now I live with ladybirds. Slight upgrade in insect poshness. And the record is about cats too!’. A funny metaphor for someone who came up in Hamburg’s underground, and now headlines huge festivals. What’s changed for you, and what’s stayed exactly the same?

I feel more free when I play now. I don’t care that much anymore about what people think. I also don’t really care that much about being “cool” or “underground” or something. Whatever, I just want to have a good time. I’ve emptied floors over the years, it still happens, and I don’t really care about that either – it’s just part of it. So, I just try to enjoy it. I’ve been enjoying it a lot more recently than I have ever been. I don’t know why. It just gives me even more pleasure. I’m not planning on stopping any time soon but I don’t want to exhaust myself anymore by playing hundreds and hundreds of gigs every year, I think that’s just dumb. I want to take time off, go on holidays, and go into the woods. Be in nature, and have that balance. But DJing for me is just too much fun to quit.

JH: I guess over time, and with the amount of shows you’ve played, your confidence grows, and possible nerves keep making space for just being able to enjoy it.

HH: Exactly, I don’t really have to prove anything. I don’t have to prove myself. If something goes wrong, and it’s a bad show, who cares? I don’t think it makes or breaks my career anymore. If some people think I’m a bad DJ, so what. Next time it’s going to be good again.

"I had good gigs before, but that was one of those moments [playing Dekmantel for the first time in 2015 in The Greenhouse] where things changed. Since then I’ve felt that energy again and again, but it was the first time I had a reaction from a crowd that was so wild, and on such a big stage."

JH: Do you feel like this changed from when you first started playing?

HH: You do feel like you have to prove yourself, which in a way is good. I’m a perfectionist, and I beat myself up over messing up. I do want to do the best I can, and I think that is really important. Otherwise you can’t get better and grow as an artist. At the same time, having some sort of relaxed attitude about things is probably quite good. Things can go wrong, and that’s part of it. If you truly want to enjoy it, and not get anxious about things, it’s good to develop a bit of a thick skin. Over the years, the more you do it, the thicker your skin grows. So that’s quite nice, actually. Of course, I still have moments when shit goes wrong, and I’m so upset and freaked out about it. It’s a learning process, isn’t it? [Laughs]

JH: When you think of Dekmantel, what memories come to mind that you’d like to share?

HH: I’ve got lots of memories! For example, playing Dekmantel for the first time in 2015 in The Greenhouse. I had good gigs before, but that was one of those moments where things changed. Since then I’ve felt that energy again and again, but it was the first time I had a reaction from a crowd that was so wild, and on such a big stage. Especially at that time, it was a really big stage for me. That set was definitely a turning point in my career, and it kind of got me places afterwards.

Last year, after playing my set, it all felt a bit overwhelming. So, I had to leave for a bit. I walked into the bit of woods behind the stages, climbed up this tree, and I just sat there for a couple of hours. It was really nice, I was listening to all the voices and music, and from one stage I could hear all the tracks that were playing. I was just sitting there enjoying the festival from the tree, had my little break, and then went back. That was definitely the first time I enjoyed a festival from up a tree, though!

JH: What about Dekmantel sets that you’ve seen/heard over the years?

Well, definitely seeing the legendary DAF [Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft] live. That was a special moment. As well as Eris Drew and Octo Octa’s closing set on the main stage last year, that was insane.

Helena Hauff returns for Dekmantel Ten this year on Sunday August 4. Tickets are available here.