Fierce club sounds from Kazakhstan.
Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan, is lucky to have Nazira Kassenova. The DJ and promoter is regularly credited with building up her city's scene, and rightfully so. ZVUK, her series of DIY club nights, gave many young people their first experiences with inspired electronic music in intimate and free-spirited settings. She's also repped her hometown abroad, first with her radio show New East With Nazira and now in her DJ sets at Room 4 Resistance in Berlin, where she's a resident. Her journey has not been easy. Making things happen in a place so culturally and geographically removed from dance music's main hubs requires extraordinary resourcefulness and dedication. More than anything though, it demands artistic vision—all that effort is only worth it if you really have something special to offer.
Nazira clearly does. As a curator, she'd be bold in any city—recent guests at ZVUK include the likes of Don't DJ and Giant Swan, and in 2017 she helped book a one-off Almaty edition of Unsound, something that until then would have seemed impossible. As a DJ, she brings a sound that's angular, modern and utterly body-rocking, as we hear on RA.659.
What have you been up to recently?
In the end of November I played Mazeum festival in Japan, something I've dreamt of for as long as I can remember. I've also just finished a mini-tour in the UK and have been playing some dates across the EU, including my absolute favourite: Fusion Mes Couilles in Paris for NYE. I'm still putting out ZVUK, the club night I run in my hometown of Almaty. The latest event was with Giant Swan and it was definitely one for the books.
How and where was the mix recorded?
I recorded it at home in Almaty with 2 Technics 1200, 2 CDJ 400 and Allen&Heath X:ONE 62.
Can you tell us the idea behind the mix?
In my mixes I like to switch up accents and change rhythms, still keeping the groove so that the composition is coherent. Although the music I play is mostly drawn from neighbouring styles and places, I prefer my mixes to go through different phases without sticking to one motif throughout. I kind of see my mixes as a landscape that I'm traveling through—there are mountains, flatlands, rivers, mudlands and vast open areas—it's varied. That's what I was trying to do here, just mix what I love and make space for all these different tracks on one imaginary landscape.
You've played a key role in building up the electronic music community in Almaty. Aside from DJing and putting on parties, how do you do that exactly? Of course every city is different, but is there anything you'd recommend to people trying to do something similar in other places?
It's very important to help local talent to grow. In places like Kazakhstan, even accessing a couple of CDJs can be a challenge. Quite often people don’t know where to start. So with ZVUK, the teaching aspect of things has always been important. I run DJing workshops and also workshops where we ask the artists that come and play at our parties to share expertise in their fields. For example, Via App talked about modular synthesis and Don’t DJ about his crazy polyrhythmic stuff. It's always important to inspire people and show that electronic music is not impossible to do, even if it looks complicated sometimes. I think that if you see that someone is genuinely interested in music, but is just shy or doesn't think that they can do it, you should help them and show them how they can work with it. It is important to always give a platform to those fledging artists to grow their wings.
What's the most challenging part of being an artist and promoter in your city? What's the most rewarding part?
Since the beginning with ZVUK, I wanted to create something new. It was quite difficult to get the message across at first, and to set it aside from commercial clubs and other parties that were happening in the city. At first people just did not understand what ZVUK was trying to do. It's definitely better now but sometimes it's still challenging to make people appreciate both aspects of the parties: fun and dance, but also the cultural thing where it is important to listen and appreciate each artist and enjoy the music and care about it. Since there are no clubs ready for more adventurous programming in Almaty, it's also challenging to build things from the ground up for each party. You have to do a lot of things that are very far from creative. I now know quite a bit about location scouting, electricity, installing sound systems and police negotiations.
The most rewarding thing is feeling that you are bringing real change for the better. Kazakhstan is and will for a long be an archaic and patriarchal place, but with ZVUK we're trying to create a place of acceptance and equality and unity. Even though we can't change the whole country, we are changing things for the better on whatever scale that we can. Another thing is that it's all very sincere and honest, no hype and pretension. Everyone is 100% in, you get so much feedback and you can feel that people are grateful for what you do. In Almaty I'm always grounded and I never forget why I started the whole thing in the first place.
As far as being an artist goes, the most challenging thing is probably the isolation. I don’t really get to hang out with my DJ friends and share music, because there simply aren't that many DJs in Kazakhstan, and anyway there are no record stores and clubs for us to hang out in. The absence of record stores and music venues means that the only place of inspiration and discovery for me is the internet, and staring at laptop screen for 12 hours a day is not great for my eyes. Isolation too in the sense that you are so far away from Europe where everything is happening. So yeah, I miss both the social aspect and the self-discovery of living over there.
What are you up to next?
Playing more gigs in new places. Some exciting venues are in the works for 2019. Also, we finally have a club opening in Almaty literally this week. It was started by my friends and they poured their heart into it and have a solid vision. I have a good feeling about it and am excited to program some nights there.