Electronic Dance Music (EDM) is one of the most popular forms of music around the world. One of its rising stars is DJ Helena. With progressive, electro, and house beats, she has topped the dance charts in Australia, cracked the top-10 on Beatport and played stages around the globe.
I recently had the honor and privilege of chatting with DJ Helena via phone.
William Kelly Milionis: Hi Helena, how are you?
DJ Helena: I'm great! How are you?
Kelly: Fine, thank you! And, thank you for this interview opportunity. You will be performing at the MID in Chicago, IL, on Thursday, September 12th, 2013. Have you ever been to Chicago?
Helena: No, actually, never been at all. I only moved over to Los Angeles about two weeks ago, from Australia, so a lot of these places that I'm touring and going to now, it's actually the first time that I've ever been in these cities.
Kelly: Oh, great, so is this your first US tour?
Helena: I've been touring in America since January of this year, so I have really sort of done quite a few tours coming over from Australia back and forth. I was playing at Ultra Music Festival in Miami, FL this year and I've done a few shows now at Marquee in Las Vegas, played Pacha in New York, and I'm playing Marquee in New York this Saturday [September 14th, 2013] for the first time. I've been to Mexico, Orange County (California), so I have been doing quite a bit this past year.
Kelly: Have you been treated well since you arrived?
Helena: Yes, amazing actually! Every show that I have played here so far has actually been incredible and the crowds are extremely responsive. My music seems to go down well, and obviously I would not have moved here if I hadn't of felt that it was happening. Yes, it's been very exciting this year playing over here.
Kelly: Do you have a favorite city in the US?
Helena: I do love New York. It's probably one of my most favorite cities that I have ever been to. Just the vibe and the feel of the city; it's just amazing. Las Vegas though is so much fun. I don't think I could ever live there [laughing]. It's turning into kind of one of the new Ibiza's. It's definitely one of the major party capital's of the world right now. I mean when I was playing over there a few times you had Avicii, Calvin Harris, Nicky Romero, pretty much some of the major artists in the world right now all in Vegas which is incredible that it's pulling that many people into a city with so many clubs and so much going on. I think it's a very exciting time at the moment. You feel like you're in some kind of Disneyland for Adults [laughing].
Kelly: After your set at the MID, your tour takes you to Marquee in New York on Saturday then to the Exchange in Singapore?
Helena: Yes, I'll be going to Singapore a week after to play a big party at the Exchange club. It's the Grand Prix that weekend so I'm playing one of the official Grand Prix after-parties. There will be so many people in Singapore that weekend so it's going to be a huge show.
Kelly: Upon your return to the States, you will be performing at the Mansion in Miami, FL and then it looks as if you do not return until November in Detroit. Where do you go from there?
Helena: No, no, no, there will definitely be many more shows in October as well, I am just waiting for my calendar to be updated.
Kelly: You have officially released three singles on iTunes; 'Detox', 'Girl From The Sky', 'Girl From Outta Space'.
Helena: I have. I also have a remix out with Amba Shepherd and Jono Fernandez and Pauls Paris a big track called 'Let It Out' and I'm in the process of releasing quite a few other originals that I have right at the moment and a few collabs. I have lots of music all lined up to sort of come out at the moment but am hoping they are not going to come out all at the same time [laughs]. We're just trying to spread it all out at the moment. Probably my next release will be one of my tracks called 'Breathe'.
Kelly: One of my personal favorites is 'Girl From The Sky', the vocal line is really, really, killer. When it comes to your original songs, and your songwriting, how do you come up with the actual track itself?
Helena: With 'Girl From The Sky' obviously the vocal is performed by one of the big male vocal talents in Australia called Mr Wilson. I originally finished the backing track of the instrumental which was named, 'Girl From Outta Space'. And then, obviously I was looking for a vocalist for the track and hooked up with Mr Wilson. So when we sat down to write the vocal together, the track had already been released; used as a promo for Stereosonic Festival and a few other things from Onelove. I was mixing one of the Onelove albums at the time with Benny Benassi, so I wanted to include my own track in on the mix. Because it had already been known for the instrumental as 'Girl From Outta Space', I kind of really wanted to stick within that theme. When we were writing the vocals, we tried so hard to keep it 'Girl From Outta Space' but lyrically it just wasn't working so we ended up calling it 'Girl From The Sky' because that's where the main chorus came from again.
Kelly: You have, on your website, a picture teaser of a new track called 'Sunlight'. Are you a vocalist? Do you sing?
Helena: Look, I'm not a vocalist. I mean, I could sing. I can sing, kind of [laughing]. I wouldn't call myself a singer. I'm sure if I was put through a few machines I could sound really good. But, I don't want to be, I never wanted to be one of these artists that are trying to do everything. I need to focus on what I am good at and my strengths. I think, as well, especially people look to a lot of female acts and they expect to hear them singing on their own tracks. I mean, you wouldn't expect Steve Angello singing on their own track, so why would you expect me. I'm a DJ and I'm a Producer and that's my forte. I'd rather work with amazingly talented vocalists that have incredible vocals than me trying to sing on a track. I don't want to be classed in that bracket of a singer. I'm a DJ and I'm a producer and I want to very much put that forward and not to be put into some kind of pop singer category.
Kelly: You are, first and foremost, a very talented DJ. I'm sure you have probably also heard that you are a very talented female DJ. Do you find that there is still quite a bit of prejudice towards women in EDM or is it changing?
Helena: I think things are definitely changing. Throughout my whole career, I've always tried to put forward the fact I'm not trying to put it in people's faces; this whole female card. In music; it's irrelevant in my opinion. From when I first started playing, I've worked very hard to prove myself as an artist that is competent on every level. And sometimes people will say you are very good...for a girl [laughing]. Excuse me, how about you just say I'm very good all across the board. I'm not comparing myself to and I don't set my standards to comparing myself against other females. I set my standards and compare myself to the level of talent across the board. That's where I set my standards. I'm not trying to be the best female, I'm trying to be the best that I can possibly be. I think there is no need for people to be pointing out the fact that you are a female, I think that's very obvious already. I think people need to start paying attention to the fact that there are some incredibly talented female acts in the industry and stop trying to single them out.
Kelly: How long have you been a DJ?
Helena: Professionally, the last four years. But, I've been interested in music my whole life. At 12 years old, I was into dance music, and house music, and techno, and all sorts of different genres. Growing up in the UK, I worked in the music industry and started DJing as a hobby just because it was my passion. I guess it just then started overtaking everything else in my life. As I got better and got more confidence, it started building to the point that suddenly I could call myself a DJ and kind of became my whole life. So, for the last four or five years it has been my sole focus.
Kelly: Do you play any musical instruments?
Helena: You know, I grew up playing the piano and also the cello. Yeah, I used to carry this cello around that was just about the size of me [chuckles] [more chuckles]. I think learning how to play instruments growing up definitely helps you, especially with producing and other things, because even with the mixing I can hear what tracks are going to go with other tracks. I think that definitely helps with the production; very important knowing what sounds are going with what sounds.
Kelly: Are you sponsored by Pioneer?
Helena: Yes, I am one of the Pioneer Pro DJ's so I have been working closely, especially in Australia, with Pioneer Pro Equipment as one of the faces of what they are doing. I am quite lucky at my house there is lots of gear. I was able to have all of the latest Pioneer equipment to test out. It's been really good working with them. They are the biggest, industry standard DJ brand in the whole world, so it is really cool to be associated with them.
Kelly: Who are your influences?
Helena: I probably got quite a few. I've always sort of looked up to people like Steve Angello, Wolfgang Gartner, John Dahlback, and Eric Prydz; these guys that have created so many of the different sounds going back to house music up until now. In the last few years, Hardwell, Nicky Romero and Alesso, I think are all incredible talents. I kind of get inspired by a lot of what all these people are doing in different parts; whether it be their mixing skills, tune selections, or the productions they are making. I am inspired by people that are very motivated and talented.
Kelly: Would you ever consider working with Nadia Ali?
Helena: Nadia Ali actually is probably one of my favorite vocalists of all time!
Kelly: She is mine too!
Helena: I love her stuff! I think she has the most amazing voice! I've actually been working on two vocal tracks at the moment. I'm not going to say yet, but two of the voices on two of the tracks I am working on, one's called 'Wake Up' and the other one is called 'Sunlight', both of those are just incredible female talents. I would love to do a track with Nadia Ali! She is just incredible!
Kelly: Have fun at the MID-Chicago Thursday night! Thank you so very much for taking time out of your hectic schedule to chat. Wishing you safe travels and much continued success.
Helena: Thank you. Thanks a lot. Take care.
Don't miss DJ Helena live at the MID-Chicago, Thursday, September 12th, 2013.