HAAi's approach is one of continual transition.
Arriving on these shores as a fully paid up member of a psych rock outfit, she eventually unplugged her effects pedals and switched on her turntables.
Cursed with an addiction for new, completely far out tunes, she eventually started playing out in London, with her quickfire mixes and appetite for party flair securing a residency at infamous Dalston sweatpit Ridley Road Market Bar.
Gaining a cult following, HAAi was later head-hunted to follow on from Glasgow don Jasper James as Saturday night resident at South London's influential Phonox nightspot.
Holding down this demanding residency for 12 months, she's absolutely relished every second of it, using her spots to spin imaginative, post-genre sets that make international borders seem like mythical fantasy.
With the selector's own imprint Coconut Beats emphasising her magpie-like approach, HAAi is riding the cusp of a wave.
Clash caught up with this vital DJ to discuss crate-digging, production, and the art of the residency...
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It’s been one year since you took over from Jasper, were you nervous about taking on such a prominent residency?
There were definitely apprehension and nerves in the time between finishing up at Ridley and the Phonox start date, but it was more of a personal thing rather than being linked to taking over from Jasper though. We’re quite different musically, which probably gave me a bit more comfort in the end. As soon as I set foot in the booth though, all those feelings disappeared and it was kind of game on.
You held a residency at Ridley Road Market Bar before, how did that prepare you for Phonox? What are the main differences between the clubs, do you think?
Well firstly Ridley Road is a bar with a PA and no subs and a crowd that is mostly up for easy party tunes, that would be the most notable difference.
The thing that prepared me for Phonox the most was playing six hours every week and finding ways to make it interesting for the crowd and myself. It gave me confidence to take more risks in the night which I definitely carried into the next residency.
Can you think of one record that went down poorly at Phonox on its initial play, and went on to become a staple of your set?
That’s a toughy actually. I think the ones that have had mixed responses are the guilty pleasures. You know the ones you keep in the vault for what you think is the right time… I wouldn’t say there’s one record in particular though that stands out.
What does undertaking a residency give you that one off shows don’t? It must be fantastic to, say, break particular tracks/sounds across a number of weeks, giving audiences the chance to adjust to the change.
When you’re playing as a resident, there’s part of what your doing that is for you and your sound, but there’s also a part of it that is playing for the club and what they need, Finding a balance in that is something I’m still learning all the time. Where as one off shows is the time to fully be yourself. It’s definitely a lucky position to try out other people’s new tracks and see how they work on a dancefloor.
You have an incredibly eclectic sound, ranging from straight up floorfillers to more esoteric fare. Where does this come from? Is this innate, or something you pursue?
I think it’s just a matter of taste for me. I’m definitely a sucker for a banger when the time is right, but have always been fond of the more psychedelic side of music. Never to push the crowd unnecessarily , but just enough to keep the night a little fruity and interesting.
Each set is different, so how do you prepare for each night of the residency? Is it mood, the occasion… what guides you?
I’ll spend a couple days of the week preparing new playlists and hunting for new tunes, but it really comes down to where my head is and what people are up for on the night.
Sometimes this means playing a more fun easy set, it could mean playing harder for parts of the night or sometimes the crowd are up for some real melon twisters (I always am). You kind of come prepared for any sitch really.
You’ve been compared to selectors like Optimo and Weatherall in respect to the breadth of your sets, how does this feel? Did you look to DJs such as those an influence when constructing such wide-ranging selections?
I‘ve been a fan of Weatherall for a long time now and would definitely say I’ve had my mind blown by him on more than one occasion. I don’t feel super comfortable with the comparisons though as these guys are all at the top of their game and have been for a long time.
The Optimo thing came up before I knew who they were (erk). However, now I’m clearly a big fan. Actually when Keith (JD Twitch) came down as a guest for one of the Coconut Beats parties this year I was probably of the most nervous I’ve been to play with someone. Actually froze when he came into the booth.
Turns out he is the biggest legend and we had a great night and of course he played some mega records.
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How do you feel you have adjusted/changed in your personal tastes over the year? Is Phonox – and that audience! – leaving a mark on your record collection?
Absolutely. It’s only natural if you’re playing the same room for six hours every week for your sound and taste to evolve, especially since I was so green when I took on the residency. The club do a good job of keeping that in check so it doesn’t veer too much in one direction, as do the crowd.
What do you feel most proud of from the past 12 months of taking control of the decks in Phonox?
Oooh, so many things. I think a really big pinch yourself moment was playing my own tune in the club for the first time. Most definitely squeezed out a little tear when the hands went in the air.
Apart from that, I think I’m most proud of the fact that I feel we’ve created something kind of unique in there and something that people want to come back to. I hope I’m not naive in thinking that. But it’s the thing I cherish the most in that place.
You still maintain a busy schedule outwith the club, are there any clubs you’re relishing the opportunity to play, but haven’t yet done so?
Starts with a ‘P’ and ends in ‘anorama bar’. This was the place that helped me hear dance music in a way I hadn’t before at a time when I was obsessed with guitar music and psych bands.
Coconut Beats is also going from strength to strength, what plans do you have for the label over the next few months?
At this stage I’ll still be releasing my own music on the label, however I’ve had loose talks about colabs with other labels and also loose chats about collaborating with friend on an edits compilation. We’ll see where this all leads...
Finally… would you ever consider a return to guitar music?
Haha… Well lets just say I still have a fender reverb, a ton of pedals and a few guitars in my house that aren’t going anywhere. Never say never.
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Catch HAAi every Saturday at Phonox, South London - find her online HERE.
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