HAAi On Her DJ Roots, Club Ambitions, And Her Ark/8 Link-Up

CLASH chats to the Australian DJ...

An Australian in London, a guitar exile in the DJ world, a queer voice in a landscape dominated by cishet men – it’s fair to say that HAAi has become adept at navigating her role as an outsider. Along the way, though, she’s built her own tribe: from her seminal Phonox residency to her outstanding debut album, the producer and DJ has gathered a community of like-minds.

A few weeks back, HAAi was invited to remix ARK/8’s original electronic anthem. Co-created by Maison Mercury Jones’ Creative Director Director Ilā Kamalagharan alongside producer, DJ, and songwriter Cherif Hashizume, the original was a stellar piece of digital melody, earning nods from CLASH, and 6Music’s own Mary Anne Hobbs as her Hit Reset track of the week.

The project was designed to be ongoing, gathering different skills along the way. The remix set was recently completed by Cherif Hashizume himself, but HAAi took charge before this.

Spotlighting her remix, CLASH is also able to share a full Q&A with HAAi.

What was your introduction to music, is there a specific moment that pinpoints when you first became drawn to a specific sound, an artist or a project?

I’ve always been pretty musical since I was a little kid. I played the flute and then guitar and was pretty into folk in my early teens.  Looking back I can see a clear lineage between the music I started out with, thru to psych and shoe gaze, then krautrock and how I ended up in techno.

Tracing back to your years playing in psych-shoegaze bands, can you remember your first experience onstage as a performer? How does that compare to now, when you’re behind the decks?

I do! My first band was a spaghetti western band called Diamondback Rattler which was influenced heavily by Townes Van Zandt. Our first gig was at a venue in Bondi back home in Oz. It was a bit of a shambles, but I knew that was something I really wanted to do and I really loved playing with the boys I started the band with. 

I’d say it’s relatively incomparable (DJing/playing in a band). In fact the ease of turning up to a gig as a dj with just your USB and headphones is a luxury compared to the work of a band. Love them both dearly though.

You’ve just worked on a remix of ‘ARK/8’ by Cherif Hashizume, ZE’EV and ILĀ. Tell us about your interpretation of the track, which elements stand out to you? In what ways have you explored the original, and how have incorporated your vision?

It was a pleasure to work on this track. I met Cherif years ago through Jon Hopkins so was a great surprise to learn he was one of the collaborators on the project. I loved meeting Ila and we’ve since worked on some big projects together. I really wanted to bring out some of Ila’s vocal parts and created a really textured, hypnotic rolling track for the floor. There were so many amazing parts to work with.

Can you share the creative process behind the remix? Did you do anything differently this time around, or did you reflect on any lessons taken from your previous work?

I actually created the remix to open a set in Tulum in January. In fact the journey to the venue was spent checking the mix. The pace/tempo was very reflective of where I was playing and was a nice change from some of the heavier club focussed music I’d been making.

At this point of your journey, what kind of qualities are defining your sound? Where are you drawing influence from and how is this coming to life across your work?

Currently more of my influences are from artists like Montell Fish and Ethel Cain. I’ve been writing a lot more vocal lead music  recently and less music for the club. It’s been a really nice change of pace in amongst such heavy touring.

Through luxury streetwear, ARK/8 Project fuses elements of virtual gaming, sci-fi movies, anime and beyond. How do you navigate between real life and the digital world? How do you explore that relationship?

I think they speak to each other quite a lot. Our daily lives are quite flooded with the digital world. I do try switch off a couple times a week. Even if just to go for a walk in the marshes near where I live. It’s important to have a digital cleanse a couple times a week. However when it comes to work, there’s always a connection between films, the virtual world and music that’s important to recognise.

Whether it be through six-hour club sets or piecing together a radio show, you showcase versatility as DJ. How do you find the contrast between longer and shorter mixes, playing to different crowds and spaces? Does your approach shift throughout?

It changes in the sense that I would prepare much more for a radio show/recorded mix as it’s short and sharp and with intention. For a set be it all night long or a festival set. I have my folders organised but don’t like to over egg the prep and you really need to be on your toes for what a crowd wants imo. I really enjoy that part of my job. Comes with it’s challenges sometimes but it keeps everything really exciting for me and the crowd.

Reflecting on ARK/8’s future-facing approach, where do you envision your sound heading towards? Are there any new genres or scenes that you’d like to explore further?

I’m always exploring new ways of making music and keep my ear to the ground for new artists and sounds etc. I’ve been working on some collaborations with some new future facing artists which has been a really exciting process. It’s definitely shaping the sound of my output quite a bit.

Across your career, is there a moment that you’ve shared on the dance floor that stands out to you, and motivates you to push forwards?

Too many to count! The wonderful thing about this job is there often really magic points in the night that you really have to try remember. Historically I would say one of the stand outs would still be my eight-hour closing set of my Phonox residency. It was such a special night and one I’ll never forget. Felt like the whole room was locked in together from start to finish.

If you could make one change to impact the future of queer artists and those from marginalised backgrounds within dance music, what would it be?

It would be to encourage people who aren’t from marginalised backgrounds to make more effort with their inclusivity clauses. The only people I see shouting the loudest are the ones who are effected by this. It feels like were screaming into an echo chamber sometimes.

I still see so many line-ups going out with all male headliners and very un-inclusive support line ups. It doesn’t take much for a headliner to push back on the inequality. I’ve done it many times. It doesn’t effect your bottom line and in fact it makes the music and line-ups so much more exciting.

Interview conducted by Ana Lamond. Stay in touch with HAAi on social media.

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