Tracking Imprints: Helena
We strive for global connections with like-minded people who share the same passion for music as we do. Irrespective of geographical locations, the motivation to take an active role is frequently similar, so we thought to shed some light on Porto’s scene that received a fresh air with a new label called Helena. Label founder Gonçalo Alves Costa has a clear vision of house and techno as the selection of his respected podcast series demonstrates, including renowned artists like Fred P, Move D, Prosumer, Eli Verveine, XDB and Tristen amongst others. He was also involved in institutions that welcomed tastemakers as Gilles Peterson, Recloose, Pépé Bradock, Carl Craig, Theo Parrish, Moodymann and many more to Porto. Enjoy our chat with him about his new project: Helena Records!
Hi! Who are the driving forces behind Helena and what are their respective musical backgrounds?
Helena was founded by Gonçalo Alves Costa, who is digging and collecting records since 1999. He hosted several podcast series that started with the ‘braulio176’ series and continuing now with ‘Salão Ático’, which received a lot of international attention for showcasing well-selected DJ mixes. In 2014, Gonçalo started hosting ‘Salão Ático’ nights in his hometown Porto with XDB playing on the first night, Esther Duijn and Chris Mitchell.
He points as music references Juan Atkins, Daniel Bell, Moodymann, Theo Parish, DJ Harvey and cities that marked dance music like Chicago, Detroit, New York or London. His project, 808, is mainly based on house as a musical style while also branching to deeper realms of techno.
What is your vision for Helena as a label? Is it a platform for your own and friends’ sound or do you aim to involve musicians worldwide?
Helena was a long and difficult process. It took two years to be able to find the ideal conditions. My idea was always to bring some fresh air to the Portuguese electronic music scene. You don’t find many quality labels in Portugal and obvious my idea was to have an international label, involving producers worldwide.
How would you describe the label’s sound aesthetic? Should people be able to associate a certain sound with a label?
You have so may sub genres between house and techno. What I can definitely say is that Helena will not have a single sound type. House and techno merged together, but my idea was to have an open label, not connected with an unique type of house or techno.
How much is the label grounded to Porto underground music scene? Does the label’s sound differ from the trending sound in Porto’s clubs?
This is a soft question (smiling).
This type of alternative / non commercial electronic music don’t have much public audience here. It was worse in the past, I fell that the clubs are now approaching the scene in a different way, betting and risking in other types of music. I confess that the label was well received in the Oporto music scene, but the quality of this first record also helped.
Can you describe the selection of the debut EP?
Well, I had a few names in my mind for the debut EP. I discovered Hinode with the Hustlers EP out on the Monkey Bar Records. Right from the beginning, I felt they were special. The process was easy, they decided to embrace my project, so it was a very nice decision. The process of picking up the right tracks, for the perfect debut EP was hard. It took me one month, listening, and listening and testing, and then i came up with 3 very different tracks.
We read recently a provocative quote as ‘when u release ‘vinyl-only’ you aren’t actually only releasing vinyl. You’re just letting someone else release it digitally.’ What influenced your decision to have only physical releases and how did your international fan base respond to it?
This war between digital and analogic is hard. I think for the majority of labels it’s just a personal decision. In my case is obvious, because I’m a collector and vinyl digger. I love to feel the touch, having something physical in my hands; so is the concept of the label vinyl—only. In terms of music production, I prefer analogue sounds, real machines, but I will not exclude digital producers obviously!
What is your approach to sleeve design and artwork?
Im a graphic designer, so all this process was really easy because I always knew what I want. Helena has a strong focus on visual aesthetics. The covers are made of black and white pictures taken by myself in the streets of Porto. From garbage to patterns, from textures to noise, my aim was to portray the vibe/feelings of the music onto the covers.
Do you have a preferred mastering studio?
No. Hinode made a suggestion, for working with Frederic Stader, from MusicMatters Mastering. In the past he worked on Dubplates and Mastering, Berlin. I really liked the result of this first EP and I will work with him for the second release as well.
What’s next at Helena?
I will have a surprise next. It’s a very low profile producer, and he is just starting the engines in the production world. He sent me a few tracks and I was choked with the quality. So i decided to risk it! Ephemeral is his name. We will have also a remix from one my most important references, XDB. So officially: EPHEMERAL ‘MOLECULAR CLOUDS’ (HLN02)!