The phone conversation with Teneil Throssell doesn’t get off to the best start. But nor could it be more fitting, considering I’m talking to an Aussie in a busy London taco bar.
“Ah, mate,” she says in an accent that has lost none of its Down Under twang, above the din of clattering cutlery and background chatter. “I can’t hear you. Can you repeat that?”
It’s one of those moments when you really wish your question had been something better than ‘how’s it going?’ Still, as openings go this one sets the tone- in a word; informal.
Originally from the dusty Western Australian mining town of Karratha, population roughly 19,000 at last count, it’s perhaps unsurprising Phonox’s genre-defying resident DJ, best known to most as HAAi- pronounced ‘Hi’- has cemented a reputation in the UK for playing beats that owe as much to northern Anatolia as they do house and techno. After all, she’s travelled halfway across the world to get here.
Her most recent track, Be Good, dropped last month on her Coconut Beats imprint, spawned from a party and blog of the same name, and comes saturated in a musicality informed by anything other than the West. That, and the universal desire to make people dance, which has always transcended cultures.
“I moved to the UK with a band, and was DJing party nights back home but it was nothing serious that I was trying to pursue - I was caught up in trying to make it as a rock ’n’ roller or psychedelic kid. DJing is one of those things that has just happened over time,” she explains.
“The band split three years ago, and I’d started the Coconut Beats night, but it was pretty loose- just in a cocktail bar in East London. Err, it just developed from there, I guess, when I started to play at Ridley Road and stuff. Then this guy who managed Jacques Greene came into the bar, heard me, and then got me to support him whenever he was in town.
“That took me to Phonox, and that’s when it all unravelled really. It was never a plan to be honest. But it has turned into something that I really fell in love with. I obviously still really love making music, but the DJing side of things, I never realised how much of an important part of my life that would become.”
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This wonderful accident has grown into something far more serious. And yet HAAi retains a ‘see what happens next’ frame of mind. So far it’s serving her well, too. When we speak she’s not long returned from sets in Ibiza and Portugal. Berlin’s Watergate, Marrakech’s Oasis Festival, and her inaugural Boiler Room in Tel Aviv are up next.
“We’d been playing as a band in Australia for a few years, and had always been interested in the psyche scene over here in the UK. So it was a pretty straightforward reason to make the move to London- giving it a shot over here. And it worked out really, we did some great tours and got some good exposure for the band. DJing wasn’t factored in at all when we first arrived.”
That was six years ago, and her emergence as a DJ since relocating has been in part thanks to the UK’s dance scene now being so broad overall, with plenty of room for those playing outside the more formulaic four four sounds.
“I feel like what I have been doing has been really embraced, keeping it as fruity as possible and interesting. As much as I really enjoy playing just a techno set, I feel like electronic music is open in a big way. Times when I’ve just played that sort of world-based sound people have got really into it. I think it’s something that has definitely become a lot bigger here in the UK, and with labels like Multi Culti and Disco Halal.”
This love for exotic beats hasn’t come from nowhere. Years spent as vocalist in Dark Bells, the aforementioned live outfit that can loosely be described as somewhere between psych and shoegaze, give HAAi a very different heritage to many DJs. And from there crate digging was only ever going to open up more sonic avenues.
“The band was really influenced by Anatolian psych music, I think that is where I got my first taste for the eclectic, you know, a lot of Turkish-type records. And then from there it’s a bit of a can of worms. I’ve always had a fondness for anything with a kind of tribal rhythm, percussive stuff, since I was a kid. Once you start exploring that sort of music it seems like a really natural thing to explore other parts of the world too.
“I think having had the experience of playing on a stage has made me pretty comfortable in front of a crowd, that’s the similarities of engaging people. But in a slightly different way,” she continues when I ask about differences between band life and the predominantly solo pursuit of playing records. “And when you’re DJing you can do it with your mates standing behind you, which is cool. You can’t really do that in a band.”
Although clearly happy rather than merely comfortable with her current role in club culture, making the leap into booths will have required some adjustment in terms of the approach to moving crowds. Keen to understand what else relocating from Australia has taught her, our conversation switches to lessons learnt while in the UK.
“I guess you guys earn a lot less over here, so just having a day job on top of music is something I had to get used to - surviving on a lot less money. But I think that’s the Aussie thing - come here with all your savings and then they quickly vanish. So learning to push through the tougher times, especially with the winter.
“One of the most common questions I’m asked is ‘why would you move from such a sunny place to here?’ But there’s so much more to life than sun and blue skies and beaches. I feel because of the conditions here it pushes you to find happiness in other ways. For me music is the thing that really has been filling that void.”
Indicative of a clear Anglophile disposition, that she has been given the chance to stay on these shores so long boils down to an Ancestry Visa, meaning the Home Office’s notoriously prickly immigration laws haven’t been much of a problem.
“It’s actually down to my partner’s Grandmother, who was born in Cornwall. I love Cornwall, the water is like- oh my god. I went to the really, really southern bit and I remember coming round a corner on the train and just looking at the water. It was so unexpected. There were parts of it that looked like Thailand. Well, perhaps I just hadn’t seen the ocean for too long, and got a little over excited.”
Her passion for this country doesn’t start and stop with the nation’s most southerly ends, either. Something that makes her incoming set here at Store Street on 7th October all the more exciting - for both The Warehouse Project, and HAAi herself. “I love Manchester, it’s one of my favourite cities in the world. I toured as DJ with Jagwar Ma, but I’ve never played there properly and obviously I’ve never played for the The Warehouse Project before. But I’ve wanted to for a while, and the line up for the event I’m at is just insane. I can’t wait for it.”