Nene H explores grief on the striking debut album, ‘Ali’
Image by Elif Demiroglu
Electronic music exists as a testament of man turning toward the machine to process things that are deftly human. This is particularly true for moments of feeling that transcend what the human body is capable of expressing; those gargantuan emotions that feel paradoxical in scale to the capacity of our minds and bodies, such as our experience of grief. The unfathomable emotional burden of loss feels impossible to exorcise by way of our body’s limited modes of expression. Language fails, so we wail. Composure becomes redundant, so our bodies throw themselves into raw guttural responses. When the body and voice fail, we find other ways to express the vast impossibility of our emotions. This is the theory behind Berlin DJ and producer Nene H’s debut album, Ali. Dedicated to the memory of her father, the collection is as much a conduit for H to process her grief through the language of techno as it is a beguiling elegy.
Techno, with its cold repetition and looped staccato pounding is a form of electronica that appears most void of emotion. It’s a cavernous time-warp, designed to disassemble the body and entrance the mind with it’s relentless thud. Perhaps that is what makes techno the ideal vehicle for exploring the dissimulating experience of grief. It is also a language at which H is particularly skilled, having quickly earned a reputation as one of Germany’s most exciting new voices in the genre. To begin her journey into the fathoms of grief, H opens Ali with both the feeling of sinking and a twisting, rising tension. Letztes Pech creeps in slowly and grows into a tense, kinetic synth pattern around which echoing voices mourn and intonate. This leaps into the industrial plodding of Lament. Contrary to what its title may suggest, Lament is less sorrowful and more seething, angry and desperate at once. It uses techno’s characteristic aggression to communicate the weighty burden of loss, in mourning not only for the dead but for the living left behind.
Throughout Ali, Nene H weaves in aesthetics and motifs from her Turkish cultural heritage. From the whine of flutes on Lament to interpolations of Turkish melodic patterns, she interweaves her tradition into the music as a rumination on death as a culturally specific experience. This makes for arrestingly beautiful moments, particularly in her use of the human voice and samples of the Islamic call to prayer. The haunting chants on Rau juxtaposed with frenetic and revving rave synths make for a jarringly discomforting experience, and their continuation into the quieter, more ambient landscape of Reue is nothing short of gorgeous. H’s exploration of death as a cultural and familial experience through the communal trance of techno comes to full fruition on one of Ali’s strongest moments, Gebet. Here, the vocal textures that underscore much of Ali’s atmospheric first act become an almost tribal incantation around which the pounding regular time of an industrial techno beat stomps fiercely. The effect is a visceral catharsis which evidences electronic music’s power to allow us to express beyond our natural capabilities.
Like the turbulent ordeal of its subject matter, Ali is constantly at an angle. The music has no fixed axis, and H’s sounds skew and fall out of balance as if the earth is being pulled from beneath it at all times. Ali’s closing moments leave us with the muffled ambience of human voices in conversation, as if heard from underwater. It is a sonic cenotaph that courageously confronts the disquiet, facing the trauma of grieving by embracing its darkness and surrendering to the all encapsulating process of acceptance. For Nene H, it is an ambitious debut that marks her arrival as one of techno’s most formidable players, fearlessly leaving her heart on the dance floor.
Ali is released via Incienso, and is available to download here.