High-definition psychedelic techno.
"I want evocative images, hypnotic motifs—overwhelming surges of feelings, risky combinations and even uncomfortable moments, or else I'd rather go home." That's how Aurora Hala described her MO when we interviewed her for Breaking Through in 2014. That clarity of vision, combined with a fierce DIY ethic, has made her a leader of her local scene, ushering in a new era of New York techno events with the Mutual Dreaming parties and Sustain-Release, her weekend-long techno campout in upstate New York. It's also made her an extraordinary artist in her own right. In her productions, DJ sets and live performances, Halal pursues a sound that's dark, lush and rhythmically dynamic, presenting techno not as a form of party music but a means of, as she once put it, "high-definition psychedelic immersion."
Halal's performances today are something to behold—her DJ sets are among the best in techno today. RA.681 is a snapshot of her A-game.
What have you been up to recently?
I've had the pleasure of spending lots of time at home in New York since the beginning of the year, going out, listening to music on headphones and walking through the city, which has really been popping off lately. I've lived here for 12 years and love it so much. Last year I started a residency at Nowadays in Queens where I've been hosting artists like Batu, Rrose, Kassem Mosse etc, and doing all-night sets. In January I threw a Mutual Dreaming party, which is now just a few times a year. And these next months are the final preparation stages for the sixth year of Sustain-Release, which is the festival I throw with Daniel Martin-McCormick that takes places in a kid's summer camp and is 100% DIY, no sponsors, and 1000 attendees. That's become the pivotal focus of my life each year and all my ideas funnel into it, so it's very much on my mind at the moment. I have a new record coming soon with two great remixes by Wata Igarashi on my label Mutual Dreaming Recordings.
How and where was the mix recorded?
At my loft in Bushwick on 3 CDJs, Xone 92 and a reverb pedal.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
This one is a steamy brain dance that I made on a few rainy spring nights looking out my window. I was having fun playing with different rhythms and mixing in short looped fragments of tracks that never come in all the way. My goal is for the elements to talk to each other and create feelings in the combinations. This one is more of a headphones mood than what happens in the club.
You're an artist of many talents—you've run labels, produced music, thrown parties etc.—but in the past few years DJing seems to have become your main mode of expression. Does it feel that way to you? How has your style and technique changed in that time?
I like to follow my phases, and in the last years DJing has taken the lead, mostly because I'm usually on or preparing for a tour which means my focus inevitably goes there. That experience has come with lots of exposure to different scenes and scenarios, my favorite being DIY or underground projects. I like seeing the culture playing out in different places, Mamba Negra in Sao Paulo, Ankali in Prague, Smoke Machine in Taipei, Regenerate in Mumbai, and lots others stood out in the last years. Playing regularly at Berghain, De School and Nowadays has been a big part of my journey as an artist—having control of these big, intense rooms and soundsystems is a shot in the arm each time during preparation and execution. I feel extremely challenged and nervous every time, but mostly summoned to do my thing as strongly as I possibly can without compromise. When it's working, the alchemy of it feels like a total blackout that always pushes me to new places.
In the last years I've surprised myself by wanting to create pulsating dark vortexes and really crazy, sometimes scary or very tender moments. I don't know where it comes from but I try to let it speak through me and don't question it. I also really love writing live sets knowing there's this pressure cooker of real time tension, like what would happen if I put this here? Etc.
Your other big project of course is Sustain-Release. What's the biggest challenge of throwing that party? What's the biggest payoff?
Sustain is definitely one of the most satisfying projects I've ever done in my life. Every single detail is something to consider and figure out, so it's constantly learning, collaborating and attempting to push things to the next level. I have a tendency to be a perfectionist about things, but with Sustain that's impossible since there's so much chaos in using a large physical location and so many collaborations, and that's exactly why it works so well. I often feel like it's a child that we all feed and guide, but it has its own life, voice and destiny.
The biggest challenge is the inevitable stream of surprises and problems, amid an overall hostility and lack of infrastructure around dance parties in America. But that's also the best part, as generally the lesson has been to let every challenge guide it toward something better. Needing a new location at the last minute led us to the best one, missed flights lead to perfect set swaps, and when PLO Man played a surprise 8-hour closing set that we hadn't planned for. The staff was exhausted by that point so we just made all the leftover drinks free, and told PLO he was the only one still working.
I love that type of stuff. Also with booking I try to be super intuitive with it and go for things that I am a fan of, but haven't really become a "thing" yet, but I just know they will be really great. So I often see them for the first time along with the audience. We try to pick things that will surprise and delight, ourselves included.
What are you up to next?
Not sure :)