Name: Helm aka Luke Younger
Occupation: Producer, sound artist
Current release: Helm's Axis is out via Dais Records.
Recommendations: Robert Turman – Chapter Eleven CD boxset; His Name Is Alive – A Silver Thread – Home Recordings 1979 - 1990
If you enjoyed this interview with Helm and would like to stay up to date on his work, visit his official website. Or check out his profiles on Instagram, and Facebook for recent updates.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I began mucking about with music by playing in bands in my teenage years but I didn’t start producing music with serious intent until I was about 20 years old probably.
My first memory of having an interest in recorded sound is from when I was a child, quite a while before I’d developed a taste in music. I had a small tape recorder which I used to record all sorts of random stuff with – bits from the TV, dialogue with my friends and family members … funny to think now but my first exposure to anything that could be defined as “lo-fi” were my own childhood tape recordings. I was fascinated with how sound could be captured and played back using something that was so basic and easily accessible as a hand-held tape machine. And of course, how the jump between that and proper studio quality recordings was achieved became a curiosity later on.
I grew up in East London in the 90’s and pirate radio was going off around then which made an impression early on. I loved hearing these illegal transmissions on the FM dial that played some mental sounding music with the MCs in full flow. It was like nothing else really. Despite being a child with barely any understanding of the culture behind pirate radio, the broadcasting style was so different from the normal music radio I was used to hearing.
Pet Shop Boys were the first band that made me realise I liked music and led to me developing a curiosity around electronic music. I listened to lots of different styles as a teenager but I would say PSB, Sex Pistols and Whitehouse ended up being the three bands that significantly shaped my tastes as they are today.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I did a lot of my early development in public as I was doing gigs and releasing short-run cassette / CDR releases pretty much from the start. The downsides of that are some people had to experience some truly dreadful music I was responsible for in those early years. There were a lot of good experiences though and I feel like there’s something character building about making these mistakes in public as you develop.
I once played a noise all-dayer in the basement of city pub in London where one of the water pipes burst and filled the basement slowly with water. Somehow the gig carried on and ended with everyone shin-deep in water. That would probably never happen now, for better or worse, but I’m very glad I got to experience and be a part of things like that.
I’m a bit suspicious these days whenever I see a textbook definition of a perfect artist appear out of nowhere, fully-formed, stylised and promo ready. People seem a lot more guarded and strategic with regards to their own artistic development these days. Fair enough as it’s their choice, but I can’t help feel a little bit sad about it. The communal aspect of the DIY scene was important to me with regards to figuring things out and if young artists are having these formative moments micromanaged by teams and publicists then that can’t be good for the culture in the long run. There needs to be a little bit of chaos thrown in there I think.
Finding your own voice takes a lot of time, practise and patience. I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with trying to “copy” something at first for the sake of having a place to start from. In trying to copy something, you can sometimes end up with a completely different end result anyway. I’ve approached some of my work in the past decade by thinking of two completely disparate genres I like and wondering what the intersection of those would sound like. It can lead to happy accidents.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Depends how you define ‘identity’ really. I’ve become so numb to notions of identity in electronic / experimental music as I find it’s come to dominate the landscape in a way that feels too easily marketable. When I began this project, I wanted it to be completely detached from any sort of personal identity. It was why I chose a pseudonym for the project instead of using my real name. It became too difficult to keep that detachment up as time went on and especially when I started performing live. It’s an important piece of the puzzle for most people and to deny them of your identity can potentially lead to some extreme intrusions further down the line anyway (The Sun newspaper doxing Burial springs to mind).
I guess I’ve always had a creative impulse as a child and I was fortunate to have that nurtured and encouraged as I was growing up. Now, as a 37-year-old with a job and a bunch of other projects to juggle, I only feel the need to create when I’m inspired or have the time to. Your relationship to music changes as you get older and as it’s not my main source of income, I have the freedom to do it for pleasure when I am able to and feel like it.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Creative challenges have often been technical ones. Like getting a piece of equipment to do what you want it to or how to get the best sound when it comes to recording something. When it comes to equipment I’m more of an intuitive worker and never been great at reading manuals or remembering technical information. It’s probably why my chosen instrumentation is all over the place, I rarely ever stick with a piece of gear long enough to know it inside out.
This also presents another challenge in itself as someone who attempts to be cohesive in my body of work … how to maintain that when your equipment is in a transient state of flux a lot of the time. I just try and be as patient as I can and put the time in. The longer you do music in general or a specific project, you develop your own methods of working and build your own language.
The biggest challenge though is always where to go next. How do you go beyond what you did before? Starting projects is the worst.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I feel like I covered some of this in my previous question with regards to my choices for instrumentation. I started with guitar and a curiosity for making electronic music led to owning a drum machine as a teenager, but none of these really had anything to do with how I make music now. My intentions with Helm as a project are for it not to be wholly defined by instrumentation or the studio environment.
Technical details often feel like distractions when looking at the work as a whole. I’m not denying that certain instruments and the studio environment don’t leave their mark in some way, but this is purposefully cryptic music and shouldn’t give anyone a clear picture or an easy ride. If there is a sound associated with the project then that has probably come from the way I like to manipulate and process my material way beyond its original source. I’ll use anything and everything I can as long as I can wrap my own aesthetic sensibilities around it.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
No. I don’t really have anything else to say on that.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Whenever I collaborate with people it’s usually instigated by me to further the progress of a track in the context of an album project. Therefore, they’re always on my terms and not really “collaborative” in the true sense of the word. I’ve done a few one-on-one collaborations in the past but it’s not something I seek out due to time constraints as any time I have is often spent on my own work.
“Experimental” music is quite collaborative in its nature I guess and a lot of artists really lean into that aspect of it. It’s something I’ve never really actively pursued much myself but then I’ve never really had many opportunities to either. I think I’d find it stressful maybe, it depends a lot on who you collaborate with though.