In conversation with HAAi

Keeping music alive during lockdown and making moves for women in the industry.

After maintaining residencies with Phonox and BBC Radio 1, Teneil Throssell – more commonly known under her moniker HAAi –has made a name for herself with her incredible skill in weaving eclectic world influences into cleverly textured techno.

With a musical journey that started in rock origins, Throssell turned to the motorik beats of techno for a change of creative pace. “I had been collecting records for a while and they were more in the realm of psych and Turkish funk, all sorts of records really. When the band that I had previously been playing in ended, I was already playing records at shows in places like Ridley Road Market Bar in Dalston, but I wasn’t really into house or techno or anything like that.”

It happened that one fateful trip to Berlin with a group of friends became the turning point. “We went to Berghain because a friend of mine was a real techno lover and it ended up being a real-life changing experience for me. Seems very cliché, but that was it. Just being in the main room in Berghain and listening. I think that hearing that kind of music in the room that it was made for really blew my mind. Hearing that it was so much more psychedelic than I gave it credit for. I didn’t know that I had it in me, and it all sort of unravelled. I stopped screwing my nose up at it and it became my life.”

Not only does her musical style speak volumes, but Throssell also makes a case of being vocal about her experience as a female artist in the music industry and working in techno as a DJ in particular.The fight for stronger representation for women and gender minorities in music has been a constant and on-going battle. In recent years, the desire for this has been amplified with more fringe events and communities being formed as a means of providing a space for these artists to thrive. Throssell has voiced a feeling of excitement towards being a woman in the music industry and in the DJing world, sensing a shift in support for women in these fields.

“It really is great seeing more women coming up, although with bookings and festivals it still feels like you’re beating your head against a brick wall. I feel like there’s a good energy coming from women in music at the minute, and we’ve really found our space and found our voice, and with time that’s something that’s only going to grow. I still feel like we’re in an in-between phase where it might feel like we’ve come on leaps and bounds, but we’re still so far from where we need to be.”

In recent years, the work that women and gender-minority artists have been doing for better representation in the music industry has been gaining traction. However, Throssell believes that there is much more to be done outside of those communities alone if we really want to see long lasting changes in the share of representation and opportunities.

“In terms of gender equality, I really think it’s in the hands of men speaking up. We as women or nonbinary people can all scream and shout and bang our drum trying to get things to change, but at the end of the day, I think the power is with the big male headliners who have held the conch for the majority of the time. They need to step aside and say that there is space for more women headliners, for more women to come up.”

Photography: Isaac Lamb

Looking to louder voices to lead the conversation

Having marginalised voices amplified by those in power is an important means of allyship, and quite often the best means of getting the wider public to actually hear the cries for much needed change. “To me,” explains Throssell, “that seems like where the biggest change is going to happen. I look at the forthcoming summer line-ups and see that there might be ten male headliners and one female, and you know for a fact that there are a lot of women fit for the job. I just think that it’s a matter of the people who are in that position and if you have that kind of platform to say that something needs to visibly change.”

That being said, there is a lot of exciting new music being forged in the wake of this call for change, especially in the wake of lockdowns due to COVID-19. “I get sent a lot of music,” Throssell continues. “My partner and I have a small record label that we started last year, and I feel like there is really exciting experimentation happening with music and breaks and techno. I guess now that people have a little bit more time at the minute, it seems like people have more time to experiment. In the next couple of years, we’re going to see some really interesting takes on sounds that we’ve been really familiar with as a reaction to COVID-19.”

Being such a vocal proponent of equality in the wider music industry, HAAi is something of a visible role model, becoming in many ways what is needed to encourage and inspire new artists who might otherwise not see themselves represented in the industry. “The more that my platform or popularity as an artist has grown, the more I’ve felt that it’s really important to speak up about things that I find really important,” explains Throssell. “When it comes to younger women coming up and wanting to break out, I’ve always really wanted to be visible as an artist. I’ve done a bit of mentoring over the last year since things have locked down just because I think that finding your voice within such a huge scene is sometimes a bit tough. I think it’s really important to try and be as much of a good role model as you can be.”

In turn, it feels like a continuation of the support she has received from her own role models, one figure in particular being The Blessed Madonna. “She took me under her wing when I was first breaking out. I also feel that she’s always been really vocal about issues that she really cares about. Even at a time when she was being quite heavily shut down a few years ago, she always stood by what she said. Even if you look at the parties she does and the line ups that she has, she’s really stuck with what she believes in and who she believes deserves a voice. As a result of that, she’s brought so many people up, myself included.”

Being vocal and visible

Having visible and vocal figures in the industry is extremely important and being able to stand behind your morals with conviction is something intrinsically linked to Throssell’s work as an artist.

“I guess everyone’s different, but for me what I do is a huge part of who I am as a person. The person that goes out on stage and into the booth is the same person at home. Morally and personality-wise, it’s the same person.”

Being vocal about these causes can be met with resistance, and undoubtedly there seems to be a fear to speak out or just to have conviction behind any kind of cause in the internet age. “The internet can be a bit of a hateful place in terms of having a really strong opinion about something, there’s always going to be someone telling you that you’re wrong or telling you that that’s not the right thing to say. But I think that it’s really important to find your voice and stand by what you believe in. It’s always important to be willing to listen as well, but I think it can definitely be quite stressful speaking up sometimes.”

However, it is these very conversations that stimulate the push for change. It is interesting to think of the ways in which lockdown has affected this. Across the industry, from events to music creators, people may not want to experience music and entertainment in the same ways that we have done in the past in a hypothetical post-lockdown world. With marginalised communities thriving in the online spaces they have created during lockdown, they will be looking to find their place offline too. However, it’s easier said than done, and requires extensive planning by different communities to get these kinds of things to change. Throssell shares a similar sentiment in her efforts to change the industry in the spaces she works in. “As far as my ability is at the minute with things like booking line ups and wanting to work in spaces that weren’t completely male-dominated, as soon as I had a chance to have a say in that, I took it. This year has been a big change in that. After having such a big break, I think just expecting things to have changed within that time would be very naïve, because there are so many people involved in it. But I think that now is the time that we have to really push for change and it’s something to have a voice in for sure.”

Photography: Isaac Lamb

Keeping connected through music during lockdown

Since the live music performance world had come standstill with lockdown, the importance of being able to connect to wider communities through music had definitely become more difficult, resulting in live-streaming becoming a popular remedy to fill the void of attending live shows. “I did a couple of streams. You can feel kind of connected but it was quite a weird feeling with the first one that I did, because you could see that there were a lot of people watching but it was just me and my partner in my flat. You feel kind of silly but that was the biggest feeling of togetherness that I’ve had, as well as listening to music that people had been making.”

However, artists have found ways to work around this, despite its surreal nature. “I felt like those communities became much more concentrated and the longer that this lockdown went on, the more energy was put into making these kinds of spaces for people to commune. You have more Zoom parties where people are listening to the same things in their bedrooms or with their flatmates, and I felt like people became really innovative in ways to make people feel like they were still connecting with dance music.”

As a result of lockdown restrictions, there’s no doubt that the spaces in which marginalised communities had been able to meet together for support have now migrated into thriving communities online, and Throssell has noticed this first-hand. “I feel like these kinds of communities have really flourished in my experience. I felt like people were really able to find their space. There was a lot of programming that was queer specific for example, or I know that there were streaming sites that were promoting women and non-binary artists, or marginalised DJs, and I felt that was really cool. It gave space for more people to create these kinds of things too.”

As for the future of HAAi? There seems to be a great sense of momentum behind her and an urge to hit the ground running. “I’ve spent all of lockdown working on my LP which is close to being finished, and before that I’m planning to release an EP.”

Throssell also mentions wanting to restart the record label, Radical New Theory, that she founded just before lockdown took effect.

“It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It was about giving a platform for emerging artists, and a springboard for bigger labels to get their ears on new talent.”

After being inundated with new music from aspiring young artists during her 12-month BBC Radio 1 residency, she wanted to do something beyond just giving the music airtime. “Lo and behold, the week we had our first release was when the world ate itself, so we put it on ice for a minute. I’ve even been doing some mentoring. That’s another thing that this time has allowed, doing things like that. As much as I’ve always wanted to do it, life was moving way too fast before. It’s been nice to be able to put time into things that really matter to me.”

It’s very clear to see that Throssell’s work as an artist is intrinsically linked to the values that she upholds. From creating a record label to mentoring new creators, she’s making active steps to create a more inclusive environment in music, and helping to open doors for people who might not be able to find their way in. “I have some plans for events and things I want to do. They may seem like pipedream plans, but there are a lot of people that I’ve spoken to who want to do more of this as well.” Although the plans are seemingly in their infancy, it is the genuine enthusiasm and drive behind HAAi and her work that is encouraging, and entices more to join her on her journey to shaking up a much stagnated industry, both in her music and in her industry work. It’s the taking the first steps towards making positive and lasting change.

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Words: Zainab Hassan