Nazira By Ivanka Karpacheva

In the time since Almaty-based DJ Nazira launched ZHUV, among Kazhakstan's first major club nights, a lot has changed. No longer the main flag wavers for central Asia's small but nascent underground club scene, the intervening years have also seen a global pandemic, and Nazira's star rise in the global club circuit, playing venues like Berghain and De School. it's an impressive catalogue of achievements given her humble beginnings in Taraz, a city in Southern Kazhakstan with no electronic music representation to speak of. Now, with the development of a DJ school, Nazira is looking to create the next generation of iconoclasts. Listen to her pulsating mix below and read our interview, in which she discusses the future of ZHUV.

TANK In the time since ZVUK received its first wave of press attention, we have experienced a global pandemic and a period of national unrest in Kazakhstan. Moreover, ZVUK is now a globally regarded name in the dance underground. Could you talk about how these changes have affected what you do?
NAZIRA I think at its core ZVUK has stayed the same - we still work in an environment where dance music is not a norm, so it's about constantly creating rather than fitting into the existing nightlife infrastructure. It's very freeing – we get to create our own rules – which is both exciting and challenging. There's been a big step forward in Almaty club culture - there are a lot of talented DJs and collectives moving culture forward. Getting more international acclaim allowed ZVUK to take the Kazakh underground global, showcase our scene, and share our culture. It also allowed us to be more incorporated into the global underground which is still quite EU-centric, like most of the things in the world. Collectives from outside have to work our way in. Working in Kazakhstan adds another dimension to what we do - it's a pure act of rebellion and liberation, so it gives us more meaning and purpose. Apart from moving our scene forward, it feels like we help move society forward too. 

TANK In place of fixed nightclubs, ZVUK has used non-standard locations like WWII bunkers or strip clubs for hosting nights. How does location impact the event, and are you looking for a more permanent space?
NAZIRA Doing events off-location allows us to create a unique atmosphere for each event. We basically build a club from the ground up just for one night, which also allows guests to set themselves free. A permanent space is not in the works right now, but maybe sometime in the future. 

TANK ZVUK has seen significant success over the past decade. Do you think attitudes are changing in Kazakhstan towards nightlife?
NAZIRA I think nightlife did become more accepted over the years. There's still no big-scale appreciation because Kazakhstan is still a conservative country. But we treat this fact with understanding and respect. I think dance music is a very local thing: you can't compare Berlin and Almaty for example. For the conditions we work in, I think we're doing quite well and making steps forward every time. 

TANK Growing up in Taraz, what was your early exposure to dance music?
NAZIRA There was no real exposure. I got to experience dance music only at the age of 18 in Almaty since in Taraz (as in most other cities here) there was/is no dance music culture. I was a really late bloomer when it came to dance music.

TANK Tell me about the DJ school you launched during the pandemic.
NAZIRA When the pandemic started I had a lot of free time on my hands since both touring and ZVUK events stopped. I decided to create a DJ school, which was something I'd been thinking about for a long time. I thought it would give a good push to the scene. Since then we have taught more than 100 students. A lot of our students are now an integral part of the scene, and the school is still functioning and building a community around itself. We have one DJ course in the school aimed at beginners and it covers all bases so they can start playing as soon as they leave school. We even have a graduation party where they play their first set to help them fight their fears of playing in front of people. And most of them do! I would say it turned out just as I imagined.