In:Focus / HAAi

Cast your mind back to just over two years ago and the Australian-born HAAi was holding down a residency in a small bar in East London, spinning Afrobeat, Turkish disco and Brazilian funk to weekend warriors every Saturday night. Then, a phone call from the London club Phonox changed everything as they invited her to become their newfound resident.

Fast-forward to the present day and HAAi has become one of the UK’s brightest up-and-comers. Her Coconut Beats club night imprint has welcomed everyone from Gilles Peterson and Auntie Flo to Daniel Avery, DJ Nobu and Body Hammer, becoming a cross-continental exploration into underground club culture. Her talents as a producer are helping to steer dance music into new directions, and her talents as a DJ recently caught the attentions of a certain Pete Tong, who welcomed her into the famed Essential Mix series.

Before she appears alongside Gerd Janson, Horse Meat Disco, Krystal Klear and Annie Mac this Friday at In:Motion we catch up with HAAi after a weekend that saw her travel across four countries to learn of what the future holds.

Hi, erm, HAAi, how was the weekend?

Mental. I did five shows in four countries with tonsillitis. I started on Wednesday in Norway, Stockholm Thursday, Friday I was in Ibiza for the closing of Pacha and ended it on Saturday in London. Loved it.

Some Nordic, a bit of Balearic, sounds ideal. Anyway, you’ve just said goodbye to your Phonox residency, the club that brought you to our attentions. How does that feel?

The last party was quite emotional. Phonox was like coming home every Saturday night which was nice, and I’m still very close with everyone who works there. If you felt a bit bedraggled after travelling all week it was really comforting to go somewhere so familiar and with such a brilliant crowd.

People ask what you’re going to do afterwards and all that, but I knew that I was going to be so busy for the next few months, I was just really excited about that.

How do you look back on those two years at Phonox?

So fondly. There are so many great memories in that place and I can’t believe what we actually achieved. When I first started I was as green as grass, but I learned so much. I played with so many great people and got to meet so many ravers who came along. When I announced I was leaving I got so many messages from people saying ‘I’ve been to see you like 20 times’, and that was something I never knew. I feel like I was a part of something, a really special time for that club. I know it’s sad, but I’ll have that forever.

In your DJ sets you explore music from across Africa, Brazil and a good dose of techno too. What do you think connects all these genres for you?

It’s just how my brain works really and I think you can hear that in the productions. For me, there’s no formula to it, it’s just what feels right at the time which is why I never really stick to one genre. I like the challenge…

To challenge yourself as a DJ to traverse these genres?

Absolutely. It’s something that works for me and keeps me interested and excited, and with the crowd it makes you feel like you’re on a journey together. The residency is where I really learned to do that.

You’ve gone from playing tiny bars in East London to 1000-plus capacity shows and appearing on festival stages. Is all this a bit surreal?

Yes, very. I had this moment on Saturday where I went onstage and Annie Mac was standing at the side of me, and I just turned to her and cracked up. You can’t help but think to yourself, how did my life get here? Being able to share that with people who want to see you thrive is something I’ll never get used to.

You can see that in the people you’ve gone B2B with, The Black Madonna being a prime example. You can tell that she’s so humbled and simply astounded by this thing that she’s created.

She cares so much for the community and for what we’re all doing. I think because of the way that things happened for her and the fact that she was working for two decades before she had her break she’s really taken it on as her duty to help expose great artists, which she does incredibly.

What are some of the tracks that for you, encompass the spirit of your residency?

This might be a bit obvious, but I used to play ‘Strings of Love (Danny Krivit remix)’ every single weekend. It’s an obvious classic but there’s a reason for it. There’s a video of me playing that where I was climbing up the walls.