Photo: Jenn Five
It’s no secret that Teneil Throssell, aka HAAi, has an excellent collection of house plants. Their shiny, rubbery green leaves are all over her Instagram, and as we munch on salad and paninis in an East London café on one of those horribly muggy days in June, I’m after her best plant tips. “You know the ones with the big leaves, I’ll wipe them down and chat to them a bit, they like that.” Throssell moved to a new house a couple of months ago, and now her plants don’t seem so happy. “Maybe I’ve neglected them too much lately, maybe I need to have a proper sit down with them,” she laughs.
Before lunch, I sat and watched as HAAi grinned and giggled her way through her first ever cover shoot (those yellow trousers are the same she later lent to best friend Daniel Avery for their raucous b2b, closing out the final Beat Hotel at Glastonbury). It might sound cliché to say an artist has an infectious personality, but with HAAi, the testament genuinely stands — her energy is as sun-drenched as her wardrobe, and, no doubt, she’s chatty enough to have a “proper sit down” with a plant.
As we chat, she talks charmingly about the power of trusting your instinct, how to pronounce ‘garage’, and the importance of always retaining that little bit of silliness.
“There wasn’t a defining point where I thought I wanted to make music, I think some people just have that musical bone they need to explore.”
The last few years have seen HAAi on a supersonic trajectory from playing records at Dalston’s Ridley Road Market Bar, to taking the peak time helm on the Genosys stage in Glastonbury’s Block9 last month. It all began when she landed a support slot warming up for Jacques Greene at Phonox, later being selected to take over from Jasper James as the club’s sophomore Saturday resident. After two years honing her sound, making the Brixton booth her home and delving deeper into her love for weird and wonderful psychedelic techno, as well as releasing a string of singles and her debut EP Motorik Voodoo Bush Doof Musik, Throssell moved on from Phonox in October 2018. The year ended on a career-defining high as she was crowned with Essential Mix of The Year, beating the likes of Avalon Emerson, Ricardo Villalobos and Four Tet to the post.
Fast forward to mid-July 2019, and HAAi has already played 40 shows this year, racking up bookings at dance music’s most revered festivals — DGTL, AVA and Nuits Sonores to name a few. When we speak, Throssell is preparing for Dour Festival in Belgium where she’ll play after Solomun to a crowd of over 15,000, before heading to Barcelona for a set on Sónar’s main stage immediately after Skepta.
HAAi grew up in rural Western Australia, in a household soundtracked by chart shows on the radio, and her mum’s fondness for Billy Joel, Roxette and Transvision Vamp. “They weren’t really into music,” she says of her parents. “I didn’t even really know who The Beatles were until I started high school.” Though she never had lessons, Throssell taught herself the guitar and spent her childhood singing around the house. “There wasn’t a defining point where I thought I wanted to make music, I think some people just have that musical bone they need to explore.”
Once she got to high school, HAAi listened to Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins, before progressing to Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, The Birthday Party, and Cat Power, who inspired her to write her own “silly folk songs”. A taste for electronic music didn’t come until much later. “It progressed like rock, psych, post-punk, krautrock” she says, “I think krautrock brought me closest to techno, just because of its repetitive nature.”
After moving to London in psych-rock/shoegaze duo, Dark Bells, Throssell started playing at Ridley Road, spinning old afrobeat, disco, and Turkish psychedelic records. Dark Bells split up, and Throssell was devastated, leaning on her Ridley Road sets to keep herself busy and scratch that musical itch. A few months after the band split, everything changed, all thanks to a seminal experience in a club that’s renowned for seminal experiences — Berghain. Specifically, Ben Klock at Berghain, who opened her eyes to a more psychedelic side of techno. “I danced for so, so long,” she says, “I was captivated.”
HAAi’s stepping up as Phonox resident was a big move for the club. Here was a DJ with little profile, from whom punters didn’t know what to expect. With a Saturday music policy that aims to be, on the whole, bright, upbeat and accessible, HAAi ran into some issues about a year in, as her style of playing had developed to a point that Phonox felt was too hard, and too dark. “I made an active decision to go with my gut,” she says determinedly. “They might disagree, but I felt I was doing a good job. I wanted to keep people in the room. I think that was a real turning point for my career.”
There were disagreements along the way, but HAAi happily admits that Phonox changed her life, and her face lights up when she talks about the team there. Incidentally, some HAAi shows (including the upcoming Sónar show) now feature visuals produced by Insert, the burgeoning music and club culture platform co-founded by a former member of the Phonox team. It’s now been nine months since the end of HAAi’s residency; a gestation period that has given her the confidence to take control of her own sound, having faith in being “a little bit weirder”.
“It’s not about you… It’s about helping people to enjoy themselves.”
While she’s in the studio, or producing on the road, HAAi makes a conscious effort not to get too caught up in what other producers are doing. “I think it can be a bit unhealthy,” she says. Throssell considers her own style to be a bit rogue, her music building itself without direct influence. But she’s a big fan of the likes of Minor Science, Rrose and Karenn, as well as the textured, hardware-heavy techno of Japanese artists like DJ Nobu and Wata Igarashi. When she’s in the booth, she finds most affinity with close friends Daniel Avery and Mall Grab, and mentions her first b2b with The Black Madonna, at Sunfall in 2017, as a pivotal moment in her career. Imogen and Bristol up-and-comer Manami Baba are on her radar, as well as Glasgow-based IDA, who Throssell says has “the right attitude. She’s really appreciative of the thing, which we all are, or we all should be.”
HAAi is definitely appreciative of “the thing”. She looks humbled as she tells me how many people reach out to her asking for advice on starting DJing. “I’ll always reply when I can,” she says. For Throssell, the key was learning to gauge the reaction of the dance floor. “It’s not about you,” she explains. “It’s about helping people to enjoy themselves.” It might sound obvious, but HAAi also stresses the importance of having a deep, profound love for music, and not pursuing DJing on the basis you think it’s a cool job. “Otherwise what’s the point?” she says, matter-of-factly.
Throssell grew up in a mechanic shop owned by her stepfather, and its mechanical whirring and car samples seep into her increasingly rave-leaning production. Her new project, the five-track Systems Up, Windows Down continues in this vein, though HAAi tasked herself with producing on the road rather than feeling tied down to her studio. “I wanted to test myself,” she explains, “It feels like the next sonic generation for me.” The track titles (‘Don’t Flatter Yourself Love’ refers to an in-joke between Throssell, her girlfriend and Avery, and ‘CHONKIBOI’ is, you guessed it, an ode to the chunky dog) are synonymous with Throssell’s light-hearted attitude.
“I like to keep things a bit silly,” she says. “Lighten the mood for everyone a bit.” The giggle is back as we talk about the sonic that defines London for her (garage and jungle), and we have another silly moment discussing how to pronounce garage properly. “Right, okay, this is helpful information for me,” she laughs. “Garage? Garage? Garage?”
As our conversation begins to wrap up, it’s my chance to seek words of wisdom from the plant guru. “I’m always happy to share plant tips,” she smiles. If HAAi was a plant, what would she be? “Probably a creeper”, she says, cackling, “obviously not in a creepy way, but I’m always growing and branching out into different parts of the house. It could be a metaphor sonically too.”
HAAi’s Systems Up, Windows Down EP is due for release via her own label, Coconut Beats in early September.
FESTIVALS: Lost Village Festival, August 22nd-23rd
Twitter: @haaidj Facebook: @HAAiDJ
Listen to ‘It’s Something We Can All Learn From’ here: