Artist Session #06 - Zequenx (India) on Paving the Way for Inclusivity and Innovation in the Indian Electronic Scene

Zequenx has been a part of some path-breaking communities and collectives which prioritise making space for women and queer artists and a shared love for electronic music and ‘The Rave’.

Artist Session #06 - Zequenx (India) on Paving the Way for Inclusivity and Innovation in the Indian Electronic Scene

Back in 2018, I attended one of Zequenx’s very first gigs in a Delhi-based DIY multi-disciplinary studio space aptly named 'A Nite Errant’. She made us all dance to some Ambient Psychedelic Dubs, and it was glorious. Zequenx is the alias of Zainab Wani, also known as Zee to many. Not only has she been making some of the most remarkable electronic music coming out of the country at the moment, but she has slowly yet consistently been carving out her own space in music while also sharing what she knows for others to create their own spaces. Zequenx has been a part of some path-breaking communities and collectives which prioritise making space for women and queer artists and a shared love for electronic music and ‘The Rave’. We catch up on her recent musical escapades, the process of becoming one of the very few women in India to be an Ableton Certified Trainer, and the ghosts of every artist's past - the dreaded ‘Imposter Syndrome’.

Akriti: What got you into music? What are some of your earliest memories of you finding a type of music and feeling moved by it?

Zequenx: I had interacted with music at a young age. I played the violin in school, but I listened to many different types of music back then, mostly pop and rock. I grew up in Thailand and moved back to Kashmir, India, during my high school years. After Kashmir I moved to Delhi where I discovered psychedelic trance parties and connected to that music. Over time, I became a little obsessed with learning how to make this music, and that's when I started to connect with people who make the music and started to sit in on sessions. Eventually, I took a proper course and started learning how to produce and DJ side by side.

Akriti: Did you always know you were gonna be a musician? Was there a moment in your life where you knew this was what you wanted to do and explore further?

Zequenx: Not at all. It was something I did as a hobby when I was younger, just like with the violin, but it was never something I was super passionate about until much later. I always admired musicians and had a lot of musician friends. I felt connected to music for sure but I never thought that I could be that person. It's taken me a long time to accept that I am an electronic music producer. There’s always this sense of imposter syndrome, this separation, but I feel like I didn't necessarily find it on a dance floor. I feel like the dance floor was where a lot of life started to happen for me, so I became attached to that feeling. Even currently pursuing it professionally, I use it as a means to heal myself. It's also something I'm incredibly passionate about and enjoy doing. I've done loads of other random jobs before this, to pay the bills and survive, but nothing really connected. I would always jump from one job to the other and nothing was satisfying until I found music, so I've just been chasing that since then.

Akriti: I remember back in 2018, I saw you play at probably one of your first shows, where you were DJing and I distinctly remember dancing to beautiful Psychedelic Ambient Dubs, but I want to know how you transitioned from DJ to producer. 

Zequenx: Well, I started producing and then DJing. I didn't really know how to DJ until much later. 

Akriti: So you were DJing on Ableton then?

Zequenx: Yes, in the beginning I was DJing on Ableton and didn't even know how to use CDJs. I realised that's something I should know about and once I started to do it, I slowly moved on to learning and now I feel like I kind of get it.

Akriti: Tell us about your Ableton Certified Trainer Program. How did that start? What sparked that idea? 

Zequenx: I went to an Ableton user group meetup in Delhi and this was before I even thought of doing music. I’d just gone to check it out and was so surprised that there were these people showing how excellent the software could be. So, I felt pretty inspired and spoke to Sanaya (Sandunes) that day and I asked her how she does it and she told me I just had to do it. I thought that was really cool and started to explore it from there. 

Becoming an Ableton certified trainer was more about being able to properly execute the dispensing of what I know about the software in a way that’s more universal, that's based on theory and literature. It's a little academic in a way because I used to host workshops with different people. For instance, we've done Booth BBs DJ workshops together, I've done workshops with Coven Code, and I've given presentations in other schools and showed folks how to do something cool with the software. Getting certified by Ableton helped me sort it out more systematically, and also, it would make me take myself more seriously because I honestly started to share what I know from a very early stage of my learning experience. When I first started to do workshops I did them because I thought, whatever I did know, I can share that with people who don't have access.

Akriti: Tell me more about the whole certification process. Were there any challenges for you?

Zequenx: Well, the pandemic happened. I had applied pre-pandemic and Ableton was supposed to come a few months after the international lockdown happened, but then it got pushed back by two more years. They eventually decided to do it online, which I was a bit upset about initially because we would have gotten to physically meet the team from Berlin and connect with them in the physical realm. I did learn so much from the certification process, though, and observing everybody else's presentations helped me understand how to streamline my work better. They also gave a lot of good feedback, were quite supportive, and shared a lot of resources. So, it was quite a cool process. I highly recommend it to anybody who wants to share and teach music.

Akriti: So, you're an Ableton certified trainer, and you have this career as a Producer/DJ. What made you want to share and make space for others? Where does that desire stem from?

Zequenx: I have worked in the music scene, so I've also had access to certain institutions or people who have helped me along in the journey of understanding this as my path in life. I just wanted to be able to share that. When I first started to look into learning how to make music and DJ there were not so many FLINTA (Female, Lesbian, Intersex, Non-Binary, Trans and Agender) artists who were doing it because it’s hard to access these resources. I feel like If I can share with women and queer folks especially, they can go on and create and take up space, which helps create a more inclusive and diverse environment, rather than a very one-dimensional, male-oriented or dominated structure.

Akriti: Where do you think the scene is at right now, and where do you see it headed? 

Zequenx: I think nowadays, whatever I'm listening to from all the upcoming producers and young people who have learned this art and are now sharing it with the world is so beautiful. I love listening to music, supporting it, and playing it. It makes me happy to see that. Of course, it's got a long way to go when it comes to being a fully developed scene. I feel like it's still growing, and it's primarily people who are passionate about this who should come together to make things happen. It's not mainstream and not as big yet, considering how many people are in India. I will say that we can work on better sound systems at parties and festivals.

Akriti: I hear you. I was listening to your track 'Deaf Mills', which just came out on the 'From the river, to the sea' compilation on Antariksh Records, and I wanted to know your approach to making music like that. 

Zequenx: That track has transformed. I started to write it almost over a year ago and I had given up on it on many points… I had so many different versions. It was more comical before, and then it sort of went into this Trancey, almost reminiscent of psychedelia vibe. It’s also hopeful in its own way because with this whole compilation, it's quite a heartbreaking issue, so I felt a bit torn about how to approach it. Still, it kind of happened naturally at the end of it, where I had to step away from it for a moment to be comfortable with putting it out in the world. I hadn't released music in a while so I really am happy with it now.

Akriti: You travelled to Derry, Ireland for a performance at the Celtronic Festival, as part of a cultural exchange led by Boxout FM. What was the whole experience like?

Zequenx: That was so much fun! I went to Derry as part of this exchange with a bunch of other artists from India. Derry is part of Ireland which wanted to be independent from the UK and it actually reminds me of Kashmir a lot! I went there and spoke with the people, they're such passionate and kind people and I met a lot of really cool musicians too. The festival itself was quite cool because there were different things happening in different iconic places in Derry. I saw some of my favorite artists like Skee Mask and shook his hand! That was quite a privilege. I played at Corsica Studios in London for a Keep Hush showcase, which was quite legendary and I also played a show in Brighton which was super vibey and the energy was super queer. 

All this was brought together by Boxout, who did this really cool exchange. They brought artists from Derry to India and I remember opening for some of them in Mumbai. It was quite an experience. I went to Scotland on my own to explore, and met up with the Avoidant Records crew, a sub label of the legendary Soma Records. I had previously released a track on a compilation with them, and went to a great queer event called Shoot Your Shot in Glasgow.

Akriti: Can you name a few artists that have really inspired you? 

Zequenx: I think Helena Hauff just changed my life. She was on her India tour and I asked her to sign my body! When she signed me, I truly felt blessed in a strange way. I've met Lena Willkens, Carl Finlow, Identified Patient, Stingray, Lady Shaka, and all these amazing artists from all over the world who are so inspiring. Even all over India, there are so many people I feel I connect with, and their music inspires me. I always love listening to stuff from new producers, so I always encourage artists to send their music to me.

Akriti: So, tell us about your upcoming debut at DGTL festival in Amsterdam. Are you excited, nervous, or both?

Zequenx: Super excited! I feel super lucky to be going and playing there. I feel like I have to represent and bring it, you know? I'm looking forward to everybody else playing too. Being able to go to DGTL, experience that, and travel around Holland and a few other places along the way feels like such a blessing. I look forward to meeting up with some producers, radio stations, and labels and just connecting with people and hopefully collaborating in whatever way.

Akriti: That's amazing. So, what's next for you in terms of music? Anything in the pipeline? 

Zequenx: I'll be releasing an album this year that’s going to incorporate a bunch of sounds from the Kashmir valley, something along the lines of what I played at Magnetic Fields, which was a live ambient performance. The ‘Rubab' is so beautiful that it brings a tear to my eye, even the Kashmiri pop tunes make me very emotional so I think I'm gonna process that through music. That's really exciting. Also, I want to go back there and record sounds myself, mess with that, get some friends to feature on some songs, and see how it goes. I was thinking of getting my granny to sing because she was quite popular as a wedding singer when she was younger. She also used to play the ‘Tumbaknari’, which is this traditional drum that is cast in a clay funnel-like case. Also, I'm working on an EP for Qilla Records right now and I feel like over the past year, my production has evolved. I've been doing new stuff, learning new stuff. So I'm super excited for what's coming. 

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