You may not have heard of HAAI before. She’s had no major releases, and not a lot of headline gigs, but she has found herself in the esteemed position of Phonox resident, previously occupied by Jasper James. Off the back of her utterly pumping sets at the London club, Kontra are giving her a Leeds debut. It also happens to be Kontra’s first event at Wire, so we had a chat to Nat and Zac about stuff.
What was your first encounter with Haai? And why have you booked her for your first event?
Zac: I first heard of HAAi when she took over from Jasper James as the Phonox resident over a year ago now. We’ve been watching her rise ever since and think its inevitable she will break through in the coming years. We really dig HAAi’s style, she plays loads of interesting house tracks and clap heavy oddities and think she’s one of the best for building atmosphere. She’s a really talented dj and a great match for our sound so was an easy decision to book her.
Nat: At the moment, we want to focus on artists who are about to break through. The kind of event’s HAAI’s been playing over the past year alongside acts such as Giles Peterson, Midland and The Black Madonna are a sign of things to come for her. Also, the fact she’s been smashing her own residency at Phonox and we think she’d be perfect for Wire.
Haai is one of many female DJs who are absolutely killing it at the moment. In Leeds, we have recently seen the rise of Girls That Gig and Equaliser, who are pushing women and non-binary identifiers to succeed in the music scene. Have you sensed a change in attitudes recently towards these groups in electronic music? Are things improving with regards to equality? What is your take on this?
Nat: I’m so happy to be involved with a music scene in Leeds which is pushing women and non-binary identifiers to participate more in the organisation of and involvement with the clubbing and events scene as opposed to just being a party-goer. I’ve definitely seen a change in attitudes and involvement in Leeds since the first year I moved there, seeing more and more women playing out as time’s gone by. I remember when I was first learning to DJ that I had to actively seek out ways of practicing on decks, I even paid for some lessons because the scene seemed very inaccessible to me at this point and pretty isolating as a female. Whereas now there are more workshops such as Equaliser and Girls That Gig, aimed at encouraging women and non-binary identifiers to participate and provide them a platform to do so. However, on a less local scale I think it’s the responsibility of other promoters to be more inclusive and to not be solely booking male acts because they think they’re a safe bet for an event or that their names carry more weight. Everyone involved in the music scene needs to be actively participating in making it more equal by booking and promoting women in order for it to change on a scale bigger than one city.
You did your first few events at Hyde Park Book Club. How integral are grassroots events like these, and how important is it to have this kind of venue at your disposal, as opposed to a club?
Nat: We owe a lot to the book club as it was a way for us to learn a bit about promoting as well as improving together as a dj duo whilst having a lot of fun and being able to fundraise for a handful of local charities around Leeds.
Zac: Venues like the Hyde Park Book Club are really important for helping new nights gain some experience and a bit of a following without having to put out financially. HPBC also has such a nice atmosphere and its proximity to the centre of Hyde Park makes it easier for new nights to get people down. Like Nat said, I think ourselves and the thriving DIY culture of nights we have in Leeds owes a lot to HPBC and there’s a chance many established nights wouldn’t be going without it.
How did the Kontra crew come into being?
Nat: We met in first year through a mutual friend and discovered how much we had in common music-wise. We were going to a lot of nights together often on our own to nights our friends weren’t that interested in and started bedroom djing together. After learning that Hyde Park Book Club were offering a space that we could use to throw some charity nights we jumped at the opportunity to do so.
Looking at your past events on Facebook, it tracks a trajectory from solo-Kontra work, to collaborations in different parts of Leeds with other promoters. Could you talk us through these collaborations, and what you have gained from them? Do you think Leeds promotes collaboration over competition?
Nat: Promoting our own nights have been more solo charity ventures where we’ve counted on the student population to come down and have a good night regardless of us not booking any big names. In terms of collaborations, we’ve always supported our friend’s in Leeds such as Valby Rotary and Primal Sound on their own projects.
Zac: Yeh, I think its definitely more collaboration over competition in Leeds. A lot of the nights support each other with promo and making sure they don’t clash with dates and that kind of thing. I really like how often nights get residents from other nights to feature in line ups as well, like Flux always has a different local group in the black box and Pinnacle Sound’s line ups of purely local residents.
What’s the idea behind your name?
Nat: I came across the name when I went to a museum in Berlin of musical instruments through the ages. There was a massive double bass called a ‘Kontrabass’ and the name has really stuck in my head ever since. I brought it up when me and Zac were throwing some names around and we both really liked it, it’s also cool as we’re a duo and in musical terms it means double in German.
Listening to the mixes on your Soundcloud, there’s a lot of proper house music in there, with a focus on having fun. Would you say that’s a good summation of your sound? What are we likely to hear on a night?
Zac: Yeah I’d say that sums it up. We’re both into a really wide range of dance music from electro to soul but I’d say our main interest is house and its varying forms. You can expect to hear some solid house be it deep or italo mixed in with bits of disco, breaks or whatever else depending on where the nights going.
You’ve always been involved in giving money to charity via parties too. I’ve always thought this does wonders for the vibe on a night. Would you agree?
Nat: We would massively agree. When there’s no profit focus involved in a night, it definitely breaks down a barrier between the promoters, dj’s and the audience. The focus instead shifts to having a fun night for a worthwhile cause.
Zac: Yeh definitely, I think it creates a great no pretence atmosphere when people know the party is really just for the music and helping others. There are loads of charities and groups doing amazing things in Leeds so it’s great that so many dj crews put on nights to support them.
What does the future of Kontra look like?
Nat: We would like to continue to book artists who we think are starting to break through and might like a night to showcase their personal talents as opposed to warming up or closing.
Zac: We’re really keen on booking more lesser known artists who we think are really talented djs. Our main aim though is to book djs who we’re really into and fit the vibe of our night, if that means booking the occasional bigger name we’re up for doing that too. We’re keen to do more nights at Wire over the next year and a few more one offs for charity; there’s potential to expand to Manchester or London later down the line, but that’s a while away yet!