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It's 1am on a Saturday night and Phonox’s new permanent resident DJ, HAAi, is playing a slowly unfurling edit of ‘I’m Every Woman’ on one of the best systems in London. It’s a move that could have bombed, but when the chorus kicks in, the room is euphoric. The track’s an unexpected singalong in the middle of a driving house and techno set that is, in a word, primal. Singing along to the karaoke classic in such a serious electronic club feels rebellious.
‘The “primal” thing is really important to me,’ HAAi tells me a few days earlier, when I ask what to expect from her weekly sets at the Brixton club. ‘If you can’t help but move to something, that’s a key part of my job done.’ Her residency means she’ll be playing until closing time every Saturday – with the help of surprise guests – and she’s hyped from the long slog. She says: ‘I feel like my sets really shine when they’re longer because you’re on a bit of a trip with people and there’s so much room to move into different eras and sounds.’
While HAAi (pronounced ‘hi’) is the Dutch word for ‘shark’, the 30-year-old Australian real name Teneil Throssell) actually got her DJ name from the title of a song by Indonesian group The Panthers. She moved to London five years ago, as the singer of psychedelic rock band Dark Bells. At that point she wasn’t going to many clubs, but she was collecting records: mainly ’60s and ’70s as well as African and Turkish stuff which she felt had psychedelic sounds she connected to.
'If you can't help but move to something, that's a key part of my job done'
It was a trip to Berlin that piqued HAAi’s interest in electronic music. ‘This is going to sound so clichéd,’ she says. ‘But I went to Berghain and it blew my mind. I’d never heard music in that kind of way through that kind of sound system. It was definitely the tipping point.’ She now lists Andrew Weatherall, John Talabot and Koze as her musical heroes, and recently dashed to XOYO after her set to catch Helena Hauff.
It was at Dalston tiki joint Ridley Road Market Bar that Phonox’s booker discovered HAAi. She was resident there for two years playing a mix of psychedelic rock, house, techno and party tunes all night, every week. ‘Having a residency is one of the most fortunate positions you can be in,’ says HAAi, especially at what she describes as a ‘heartbreaking time’ for nightlife. ‘Having somewhere you’re totally comfortable with, a crowd that know you and a reliable place you’re playing every week. It’s something I thought I’d only ever dream of, especially a place like this.’
HAAi might not have seen the Phonox residency coming but, looking around the room in the Chaka Khan afterglow, it’s clear why it was meant to be: the crowd is already infatuated.