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HAAi : How A Unique Chain Of Events Created One Of Australia's Best Dance Exports

24 February 2022 | 3:58 pm | Parry Tritsiniotis

HAAi reflects on her unique and meteoric rise to notoriety, reflecting and looking forward to Boiler Rooms and the emotion of returning home to Australia. 

HAAi is one of Australia’s best musical exports. Having one of the strongest track records in global underground dance, the DJ and producer is setting off on new sonic heights, announcing her debut album ‘Baby We’re Ascending’ is set for release on the 27th of May. Alongside the news, she released the album’s debut single, ‘Bodies Of Water’.

The record, personified by the seamless merge elements of techno, house, downtempo and pop leaning electro, manifest in a profoundly unique and beautiful way, driven by a clear vision. With the forthcoming record, and her schedule for 2022, she’s set to become one of the most esteemed DJs and producers on the global underground scene, given her ability to deliver her deep artistic force, transcend genre throughout every creative medium and performance she chooses. 

Community and collaboration has been a key theme throughout HAAi’s illustrious career to date, so it’s no surprise the album is centred around that theme. It features an all star list of contributors, from Jon Hopkins, Alexis Taylor, Moxie, Obi Franky as well as the spoken word poet and trans-visibility activist Kai-Isaiah Jamal

Speaking about the album, HAAi says, “Getting this album out of my head and computer is quite the cathartic experience. Baby, We’re Ascending is a hyperactive journey, that feels like a real reflection of who I am.  I’m so proud of every second of it.  Of all the experimentation as well as the collaborators. It was made with great love and care, I hope you enjoy.”

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If her week wasn’t busy enough, announcing this information to the world, she’s also in town for a massive string of shows, none bigger than her return to the live Boiler Room arena as a headliner for the massive Sugar Mountain lineup, alongside Lauren Hansom, Dameeeela, Moopie, C.FRIM and more. She’ll also be swinging down to Sydney on the 6th of March, for a massive Lost Sundays Mardi Gras special alongside Jennifer Loveless, Posture and more.

On the morning of the announcement of her record, Purple Sneakers caught up with HAAi, reflecting on her unique and meteoric rise to notoriety, reflecting and looking forward to Boiler Rooms and the emotion of returning home to Australia. 

You can grab tickets to her Sydney show HERE.

Parry: One of my favourite Boiler Room moments ever, you dropping Dooms Night. After a big set like that, so much preparation, energy and attention. Is there a mental comedown, is it hard to pick yourself up motivationally after something that takes so much work like that?

HAAi: When you’re really focussing on something like Boiler Room, which I’m also preparing now. I put so much thought into that type of set. It’s so rare I would ever, and I assume for a lot of other artists, that I’d ever prepare a set like that so meticulously with so much detail. Doing something you know is going to be streamed and watched quite abit. I spent so much time preparing stuff that was relevant, classic stuff, big moments, high energy and all of the above. It’s so difficult to condense all of that into an hour, when my preferred amount of time to play is all night. Its like getting an eighth of my comfort zone getting crammed into this high energy thing. When it’s all done there’s a lot of questioning if that even just happened. It takes a little bit to get back down to earth. 

Parry: A lot has happened in that time since your last Boiler Room, and coming into Sugar Mountain, has that extra experience adjusted your set preparation at all?

HAAi: Definitely. I think a massive thing as well this time around is that there is so much else going on around the set itself. I feel like people are watching more now. I put even more pressure on myself. I want it to live up to expectations. This time around I’ve spent a lot more time sourcing stems to do remixes for and make it feel more unique to my production as well as stay true to the way I normally DJ. I’ve been excited for this one for a while.

Parry: What’s the emotion like for you now? Is it a bit manic or is it anxiety inducing? Is it fun? Is it all of the above? 

HAAi: It’s a total all of the above actually. I’m playing Canberra the night before so I’m glad to have a warm up set there. Because the tour has been pushed back because of COVID restrictions, I had about 6 weeks of not playing until Potato Head last week. I usually be going into something like this after playing constantly. So there’s that weird feeling of, ‘Do I remember how to do my job?’. 

Parry: You left Australia for Europe as a part of a band and returned as a DJ. How necessary was breaking that Australian bubble in expanding your creativity and growth, not just as an artist moving to a different genre, but as personal growth.

HAAi: Infinitely. Guitar music was my life when I left. I can see this linear chain of events from where I am now to backtracking to being in Sydney playing in bands. There’s so many things that if that link in the chain wasn’t there, would I be doing this? If I hadn't left Sydney, all of this stuff wouldn’t have happened. I wouldn’t be playing records in bars. You can put some things down to place and time, which I’ve experienced a lot in my career. It’s for many reasons too, I can’t imagine that I would have fallen into dance music as much as I have if I stayed in Australia. That was purely because I happened to be in Berlin as well, as cliche as that sounds. It opened my eyes that dance music was more psychedelic than I gave it credit for. It’s a cliche because it exists. It's a common story for a lot of people. Having life changing dancefloor moments is real life. As much as I joke about it aswell being my cliche, I’m so grateful that that happened. 

Parry: On the other side of that, lockdowns and COVID was a really tough time for Australians abroad. How did that period affect your relationship with home? 

HAAi: I missed home a lot. It was the first time in so long that I hadn’t come back for a while, because normally I come back a couple of times a year. Anyone that lives abroad would have questioned, ‘Am I ever going to get to go home?’. I’m from WA originally, and without getting through loads of red tape I still wouldn’t be able to get home. It definitely made me yearn for being home. Landing in Australia the other day was quite emotional. We headed straight into the bush for a party with my girlfriend and she saw a Wallaby on the side of the road and experiencing all of that again felt like such a long time coming. It was quite overwhelming. 

Parry: You said that you had a bit of a creative renaissance in your music throughout that lockdown period. Do you think that DJing consistently can almost cramp your creative process because you get so much inspiration from a club space?

HAAi: What it did for me was dictating the types of music I was creating. Because I was in clubs 3 or 4 nights a week I was making music for that. Set openers, peak time tunes, etc. When that’s taken away from you I found it really difficult to make anything that was for the dancefloor. I’ve always been prolific in making club music. It wound down quite heavily when everything stopped because I was in shell shock. But I think the quieter times steered the shift into the new music I began to make. 

Parry: Bodies of Water is this unique fusion of dance music. It teases a big bass heavy run or a big like techno percussion run but it doesn't fully throttle, which is what I love about it. It’s calm and meditated and controlled. How challenging was it finding that balance?

HAAi: I’m quite a hyperactive person naturally. There are moments it goes quite turbo for sure though. The general idea behind the album was that it was a bit of a ADHD journey. There’s definitely hyperactivity in the music. It became this great way to express how people’s brains work sometimes. It also reflects the way I’ve DJed and produced abit of everything. Doing this felt a lot more honest. There are a lot of pulled back moments that were so great to work on, focussing on more listening tracks than dance tracks. 

Parry: Right now we have limited information on the record. But the title alone, ‘Baby, We’re Ascending’ feels like it channels and addresses this idea of euphoria. An intimate euphoria. Where does that euphoric obsession and influence come from? Is it those crazy club experiences?

HAAi: Definitely, but at the same time, a lot of the way I write music comes from playing in bands for so long. Even though I haven’t played a live show as HAAi yet, everything that I’ve written has come from my experience performing and writing as a band member. A lot of the songs feel like they’re constantly building, which is so similar to how I’d write songs as a part of a band. It’s definitely a consequence of both. 

Parry: You’ve achieved so much in the past few years. You call your introduction and falling into the realm of techno as ‘coincidental’. How do you reflect on your period as a producer and dance artist?

HAAi: There are so many feelings attached to how I’ve ended up where I have. The main one is gratitude that these links in the chain have joined up. I love my job so much, it gives me so much joy, it’s incredible to meet so many people and elevate so many other people as well. In terms of coming to dance music quite late, because I didn’t leave and breathe it as a kid, I can feel insecure about playing amongst people that have done. An important thing to recognise though is the incredible amount of people bringing diverse backgrounds to dance music, if you haven’t grown up with it. Everyone has their own feelings or battles their own brain on stuff, but the most overwhelming feeling is gratitude. 

Image via Imogene Barron