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  • David Bentley

Helax (Sweden) - 'We are only light' (track from EP)

Helax is a side project of Swedish-born (Uppsala) but now Berlin-based Jon Alexander Ericson, who is better known these days as one half of the duo The Ghost of Helags.

He released a new ‘ambient’ electronic EP on May 14th. I have to say that ‘ambient’ is something I’ve not previously associated with Helax so that came as a surprise.

The title of the EP, ‘But It Wasn´t a Dream. It Was Real’ is a quote from a Patti Smith book and it was recorded in Berlin during the pandemic in autumn and winter 2020/21 as, I suspect, was quite a lot of Helags’ recent work, and is reflective of the claustrophobic feel of the city.

I reckon just about everywhere has been claustrophobic this last year or so but I have a feeling that Berlin, which always comes across as an austere, grey place to begin with (although admittedly I’ve never actually been there) has been even worse. We had a Tuvaband track not so long ago. The Norwegian is also Berlin-based and the song and accompanying video were equally bleak.

In common with quite a lot of Helags’ product some of the songs were written “on long night drives”, this time “on the Autobahn on the outskirts of Berlin.” They certainly convey an image of undertaking a journey. These guys spend so much time on the road they should be presenting Top Gear or Wheeler Dealers.

All the six tracks have an ambient electronic underlay to them, sometimes soothing, sometimes stirring. But then the title track could be a brass band playing in a northern mill town competition. Two of them, ‘We are only light’ (co-written with ‘Carrol’) and ‘Lfo Waltz’, stand out. The latter could be an out-take from the music to ‘A Clockwork Orange’ but I selected the former as the sample track partly because it’s twice the length of ‘Lfo Waltz’ and partly because straight from the off with the vocoded voice (and despite the Alan Walker vocal effect later) it gets the goose bumps going and they’re the best virus remedy I know of.

The other remark I would make is that with the Manchester International Festival fast approaching I think back to the last one in 2019 and the Mary Anne Hobbs-curated six-hour ‘Queens of the Electronic Underground’ set which brought together some of the leading exponents in the world of this genre and during which I discovered at first hand that ambient electronica can be both magnificent and pretentious.

This ain’t in the least bit pretentious.

‘But It Wasn´t A Dream. It Was Real’ is available to hear on all streaming services now (via Warsaw Recordings/AWAL).

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