GET TO KNOW: HAAi
I sat down to talk to Phonox’s Saturday night resident, and curator of the Coconut Beats party series, HAAi (Teneil Throssell). Over the grainy Skype cameras, Teniel’s warm face is in an almost permanent grin as we chat about her background, influences and future plans. She is housesitting for a friend in a hideaway in Hastings, using the place as a secluded retreat to get some work done.
I’m making a record at the moment. A friend of mine has a place in the middle of a nature reserve, and when she’s away, I come and look after her cat. It’s epic here. There’s a big water reservoir and a waterfall and it’s just me in the middle of this… there’s no one else around and I just make a racket. Going a bit crazy today I think. I’ve been here for a week and a bit now, I’m here for another few weeks. I’m actually thinking I might move here, I get a lot more done.
I did take myself out the other night in Hastings Town… there wasn’t much! I just rode this bike in, I had a bit of good news, so I went to the one place that I know relatively well… had my glass of wine. There was an open mic blues night, and all these silver ponytail types.
The Australian has had an unconventional and unplanned path to her current position.
Before I was doing this I was playing in bands. I moved over here 6 years ago, I used to play in a Psych, anatolian, shoegazey type band called the Dark Bells. We were together for 5 years, 3 of us, I was playing guitar and I was a singer. That ended 3 years ago, and I was pretty heartbroken about it. I was working in this bar called Ridley Road Market Bar. Every now and then they would give me a night and I would play my little Turkish records. I can’t remember how it came about, maybe one week someone didn’t show up.. they were just like we’ll give you a go. And so I just started playing tunes there and it turned into a bit of a residency. I called it that, I ended up weasling my way into playing every Saturday night. From there, there were always kind of people who would come in, everyone’s a bit drunk, and they’d be like ‘I’ll get you to play this party, or something and I’d give them my contact, and I’d never hear from them. And then one night this guy Joe came in, he managed a guy called Jaques Green at the time. Did the same, and then on the Monday he got in though and got me my first real support thing, playing with Jaques Green in Brixton. And then every time Jaques Green was back in town I would warm up for him… then one of the times happened to be at Phonox, two weeks in a row, and I just happened to do a really good job. I got given a couple of shows in XOYO, I think they were just sussing me out, and I did notice that some of the head bookers from Colombo Group would come down to Ridley Road when I was playing and I knew something had gone on, and then a couple of months later they offered me the Phonox residency, and that was kind of it!
So you didn’t really plan to become a DJ?
No! No.. I was still kind of licking my wounds after the band… I was always a musician first, and I guess when you love music that much, as we all do, DJing was sort of helping me get over the live aspect I guess. I was still producing music by myself, but it started to evolve the more I was playing out. Instead of writing guitar stuff, I would start by producing synths and making beats. It’s always about making first for me.
Would you want to incorporate guitar into any of your future tracks that you produce?
I have thought about that… Yeah, I still have my amp, a pedal case and all of my guitars. I have definitely thought about it. And I’ve talked with friends about doing little projects and things.. I think the reason that I haven’t, honestly, is that its so easy just to produce within a room. You know if I’m not in an actual studio, I can find other ways to make music. But it’s definitely crossed my mind. And a lot more lately, since I’ve been loosely working on an LP, I’m doing a couple of things where I want to link what I’m doing now with the band stuff. I think it’s an important thing, it’s too much of a big part of my life to dismiss.
HAAi took over from Jasper James, Phonox’s first resident, as a relatively unknown entity, and she quickly garnered an incredibly loyal crowd. Her incredibly varied musical influences span techno, house, Trance, pop and rock, and she has a particular love for Middle Eastern music.
What has the residency done for your career, your talent, your confidence.. how have you found it?
Everything.. (laughs), It’s helped everything a lot. Career wise, I have got so much exposure just from playing at the club.. the thing I've been particularly lucky about has been growing with the club as it’s growing as well. It was just over a year old when I started there. It was pretty established, but still internationally finding its feet, and I feel like I’ve been really lucky to have been part of that process. Because of that they were getting a lot of people talking about them, and a lot of people talking about the residency, so that helped with exposure for me, of which I’m so grateful. Confidence? Kind of the same, I think it’s having their trust… and gaining the trust of the crowd who were really devout Jasper fans as well. I was quite nervous about it… I think because I knew that he came from a big DJ background, where I was just like a guitar slinging kid that didn’t have that background. I thought, someone’s going to burst my bubble, and think that I’m a fraud or something. But as time went on, I owned it a bit more, and now it’s just second nature.
How long do you think you’ll stay there? A while?
That’s kind of the plan! We’ve already spoken about plans for Coconut Beats for the middle of next year. I just feel like it’s all kind of still on the up, within the club and outside of the club. I just love it there so much, and I feel like I have a real relationship with the Saturday night crowd. I really like the idea of keeping the residency going for as long as it makes sense to. As long as people are still excited-yeah! I’m glad that we got through the first year without any hard times. I felt like we breezed through it a lot more than we thought we would.. it’s been great.
I’ve been to quite a few of your sets at Phonox, and what I love is that you often play tracks which are really unexpected, and aren't particularly modern, and they are always received so well. You played that track 9am (Till I come) by ATP the other night, four or five weeks ago…
Haha yeah, yeah I did! That was my birthday I think. You know what, sometimes you just gotta try. You know those ones that you just remember… I remember this one from before I was even into dance music.. and every now and then a track will pop up, even sometimes on an add or something, and you just think- wow, that tune. And that was one of them, and I was just like ‘let’s just see what happens’ and everyone loved it.
How much of a plan do you have for your sets, do you just play what you feel?
I have a lot less of a plan these days. I used to plan hour brackets or whatever. Sometimes I’ll plan a few sections, like if there’s a big build or something, but nowadays I feel a lot more comfortable just exploring, I have pretty organised playlists, and I know when I can dip into different ones. If I’m doing something that’s streamed, or being recorded that’s shorter then I’ll think about it a little bit more. I think when I use my intuition it’s better, when I try to understand the vibe a bit more. In fact, interestingly, recently I wanted to plan little half hour blocks, and when I did it really fell flat. Sometimes you do stuff at home in your headphones, and then you take it into the club and it doesn’t really happen the way you thought it would. Better to use your smarts!
Which producers and DJs do you feel have a big influence on you?
My number one which I’ve always been very open about is Andrew Weatherall. He’s such a don. I’ve seen him play so many times, but I saw him once at Village Underground and it blew my mind. I kept having to ditch my friends because I just needed to be really immersed and close my eyes for hours, It was the most sober I’ve been in a rave situation. That was just before I started the residency I think. You know how he plays around like 100/110 BPM, super slow, that was a huge influence on me, when I first started the residency. In terms of influencers, he is definitely number one. In terms of production… A lot of my friends are my musical heroes. They're people who I've worked with so I really look up to them.
So you grew up it the 80s and 90s, and I’ve seen that dance music culture was quite rooted in political, anti-establishment movements. Do you think that still exists or has it been diluted or lost?
Hhhmmmm… I don’t know… I think certainly not as much. I guess because it’s not new.
I noticed it more in guitar music, because it has that punk element- it can do anyway. I don't really notice it that much… I think it’s a bit more about hedonism and enjoying yourself. A lot of that has to do with the fact that it’s not this new rebellious thing to do.
As a woman in the industry do you feel like there’s more barriers to you as a female DJ and producer. Do you feel comfortable in that space?
I feel totally comfortable in it. But for me I think it’s because of great fortune, timing positioning and stuff. The only times that I’ve really felt that is a couple of times I found out that I was put on a bill just because they needed a woman, even though I knew that I was good enough to be on the lineup, regardless of my gender. It was a really bitter pill to swallow. I knew I was good enough to be doing it, and I felt like it was a bit thrown in my face. But this is still something that very much exists. I saw a lineup for something in the states the other day and it was 15 DJs, all dudes… But it’s definitely something that people are more conscious of now, and I’ve been lucky to be a part of that growth.
Tell me a bit about Coconut Beats? How did it begin, what do you see its future as?
It started as an outlet for me to play my more world records, which didn't really suit Ridley Road, so they gave me a separate night. I started at a little cocktail bar, it was just this party, hardly anyone ever came to it, but I loved it because I got to play all these records. It kind of laid dormant for 2 or 3 years, and then we were looking at an interesting way of getting guest (DJs) into Phonox, without it just being Special Guests, and we were talking… and I started talking about these Coconut Beats parties. It made so much sense to have something separate to just the parties that were there on Saturday nights. And it meant that we could sort of define that sound a little bit more, and then it became a label.
At this point, we were interrupted by some scratching on the sitting room door, and I was introduced to lovely Colin the Cat. ‘He’s quite fat at the moment’, she laughs, as she lifts him onto her lap.
Anyway so we started throwing the parties, I think the first one was Moscoman, and then we did 4 weeks of Coconut Beats Parties, and we did Coconut Beats International, so we divided it by region, and then I started putting up music and then we made a label… and I release on there, and I’ve been talking about doing collabs with other labels and other people, and maybe doing like an edits compilation or something. Then next year, we are going to do 8 weeks a row of Coconut Beats, so instead of doing region by region it’s country by country. We’ve already confirmed the lineup and it’s going to be sick, some of my favourite DJs are playing. And then there’s other things… Instead of it just being the parties as they are, its really working at the moment, but if things grow organically it would be nice to do something bigger perhaps. I’d love to one day have a Coconut Beats stage a festival or something. That’s pipe dream stuff, but you gotta have pipe dreams.
HAAi’s tracks 'Dadada', 'E' and 'Be Good', are out now on Coconut Beats. They feature her own vocals. You can catch her every Saturday night at Phonox, 10pm-4am.
Interview: Dora T