HAAi is one of the most interesting up and coming artists across both house and techno due to her residency in London club Phonox among other things, she chatted with Cóilí Collins ahead of her Irish debut in Pyg this weekend.

A bustling café backdrops a chirpy “Hello!” from HAAi as she answers the phone and her enthusiasm doesn’t dip when she moves to the quieter exterior of the building. The unwavering display of upbeat character despite her seemingly hectic surroundings mirrors her eclectic DJ sets; varying in textures and backgrounds but sharing the same steadfast energy throughout. That undying energy can take a HAAi set from the depths of African drum-led house into the most hypnotic, droning techno. She has gained an army of followers in the shape of clubbers and club land’s most elite DJs, a group that is growing on a weekly basis.

Her longstanding Saturday night residency in London club Phonox has allowed her to develop her sound through a longform format which she then repackages into bit size sets for gigs like Boiler Room, Lost & Found, DGTL and many more stages the world over.

“When it comes to shorter sets I tend to plan them out loosely a little bit more or I’ll make my playlist a little bit more organised, whereas with the longer ones, I don’t really plan anything, I just go with the flow. It’s never long enough at festivals, but that’s just how it is and you still kind of get into it enough, I still keep the mixes as long as possible and psychedelic.”

Despite being one of the most creative young DJs on the go, it seems as though HAAi is taking it all with a pinch of salt. It’s as if she’s acknowledging her style is a little bit hard to grasp at first. “I still struggle to say what it is,” she says, faintly chuckling. “I think it’s about how broad it is and that comes from my attention span, it’s pretty limited. I play for so long normally so just to keep things interesting and to make sure that the set’s completely different every week, I end up playing so many different genres. It makes it a lot more interesting for people, but it’s very hard to describe.

“I had to really push with Phonox to play the weirder stuff that I like to play, the more psychedelic techno stuff. They wanted Saturday nights to be about upbeat house and disco stuff, but I’m there every week and I know the people want to hear more interesting music and people are captivated when they’re hearing stuff that they haven’t heard before. I really had to fight with them to get to do that, but now I’m in every week and it’s getting cooler and it really works in there.”

Despite being so artistically inclined, her interest is more deeply rooted in those dancing in front of her rather than the individual behind the booth.

“Ultimately, it’s not a totally self-indulgent thing, it’s more about getting people excited about stuff they haven’t before and hearing stuff that just doesn’t get played out that much.”

“When I was playing at Annie Mac’s festival in Malta I was talking to a friend of mine who’s quite a commercial DJ and he was worried that my music wasn’t going to go down that well, as I was playing on the main stage, because people would want to hear cheesy hits and stuff. I still didn’t do that because you can’t discount! It was probably one of my favourite sets.”

One thing that has helped get HAAi’s colourful personality across to those that
are unfamiliar with her otherworldly sets is the eye-catching orange jumpsuit-like attire that she can often be seen playing in. She tells me where her trademark look
came from.

“I was in Tel Aviv last year for my Boiler Room and I didn’t know what I wanted to wear. I had this orange shirt and I saw these orange trousers that looked like motorbike riding trousers. It kind of ties in with all of the Coconut Beats stuff and with all the artwork with the releases and stuff too which is good.”

While her sets may not immediately invoke the same vibrancy as her dress sense in the way someone like Denis Sulta’s would, her outward image ties into that of her label and party series, Coconut Beats. After just announcing a series of guests in DJ Nobu, DJ Boring, Red Axes, Auntie Flo and more for July and August label parties at her residency in Phonox, the label is going from strength to strength. One thing that’s particularly helpful in that regard is her brand new spot on Worldwide FM.

“I changed to Worldwide FM about two months ago, it’s a Coconut Beats show to do with the label and parties so the shows really represent what the whole idea of what the label is. Now that it’s on Worldwide I can kind of go a bit deeper, less dance-y than I can on Rinse. I really loved doing the Rinse shows but I felt like I was compromising things a little bit. I didn’t want to ostracise their normal listeners by doing loads of weird shit. People that listen to Worldwide are ready to go deep.”

Radio has proven to be a useful weapon of choice for other prominent figures into the more psychedelic side of things, including Daniel Avery, who commands a regular slot on NTS. Avery’s newest album ‘Song for Alpha’ touches on the more experimental side of his production, a sound he managed to flesh out quite a lot through his sets on radio and on tour, something HAAi has also managed to tap into on all three releases on Coconut Beats.

“I think the DJing has helped when I have released stuff. The kind of tunes I make aren’t there to dominate dancefloors. The tracks that I make only work when I play them [laughs], but I can’t imagine anyone else playing them. People can listen to them at home! I feel like when I’m writing, I’m thinking about them in a live setting because I’m trying to put together a live set.”

HAAi benefits too from her previous work as a vocalist for a psychedelic rock band
Dark Bells. The hypnotic nature of that music is reflected in her mixing techniques
and the rabbit holes her sets tend to go down, especially the longer ones. “I feel like that’s where a lot of the psych-y side of the things I play comes from and I still get really influenced by the shoegaze side of music. I’ve done some remixes for bands  that I used to play around with so they’ll all be coming out shortly. I feel like that ties that world in for me.

“Dan [Avery] has a really good crossover with that stuff. On his new record I feel like there are tracks there that sound like My Bloody Valentine.”

HAAi recently played at Nuit Sonores, on a line up curated by Avery, along with a
number of other line ups that highlight her growing position among electronic music’s elite (Printworks with DJ Harvey and Peggy Gou and Red Bull’s Music Odyssey with Larry Heard, Sulta and more). Despite her style being rather hard to grasp on paper, she is always assured of her craft and has delivered every time she’s called upon, no matter the stage or setting.

“I’ve been really, really lucky. All of the bookings have been quality and I’ve got some big ones at the end of the year that I’m really excited for and some big changes that are going to happen around September and October,” she explains, as if you could see her eyes widening on the other end of the phone. “This year I find myself constantly busy but I’m just trying to keep my feet on the ground as much as possible. It’s the after parties that get me!”

That said, had HAAi experienced downfalls of the party lifestyle that comes hand-in-hand with being a career DJ?. Her tone takes a slightly more serious turn; “I’ve got a good energy and I’m always up for a party, but when I’m at home during the week and not away, I’ll go to the gym everyday and then eat really well and give back to my body. Sometimes it comes down to schedule though. When I come to play in Dublin I finish at 3am and my flight is at 6am!” She breaks for a second at that exhaustive thought. “That happens sometimes and you won’t be able to sleep, but I feel like I have a good constitution and that I bounce back pretty well. I have friends that I’ve talked with about this that are much busier than me and they party quite hard, for several days, because they’re playing four days a week.”
HAAi isn’t a million miles away from said busy booking schedules, but she appears to have her head screwed on enough not to get caught in the vicious circle that has
engulfed some of the world’s most notable DJs over the years. With all of that ahead of her, it’s easy to look into the near future and see the plethora of bookings that are presumably in store for the eclectic, young Australian native and forget how far she has come in such a short space of time.
She has ridden the not-so-common wave of a psychedelic residency all the way to the brighter shores of Malta and beyond, something not many would have expected when it all kicked off. The orange uniform may paint a stark contrast to the moody tones of hypnotic and downtempo techno, but it’s the perfect outfit for a summer of success that’s already in motion.
HAAi plays Pygmalion on June 8.
Words: Cóilí Collins
Photo Credit: Alec Donnell Luna
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