Name: Nesa Azadikhah
Occupation: Multi-instrumentalist, producer, composer, sound artist
Current release: For Burnheart Remixed, violinist and composer Johanna Burnheart has asked some of her favourite electronic artists to rework select pieces off her self-titled 2020 full-length. Nesa Azadikhah is one of them. The EP, which also includes contributions by Acid Pauli, Beth Lydi, and Pilo Adami and is out November 19th 2021.
[Read our Johanna Burnheart interview]
[Read our Acid Pauli interview]
Recommendations: Books - Walk through Walls by Mariana Abrahamovic and Man With a Blue Scarf: on sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud.
Painters & Artist - Rokni Haerizadeh and my twin sister Niyaz Azadikhah.
If you enjoyed this interview with Nesa Azadikhah and would like to stay up to date on her work, visit her on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, bandcamp, and twitter.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started playing tombak which is an Iranian instrument when I was 6 years old, and I started producing when I was 16 - 21 years ago.
People I was influenced by included two of my friends. They are not musicians, but painters - but they had very good taste in music, Ramin & Rokni Haeri Zade.
Also since I was young traditional music influenced me a lot. I was in love with noise and atmospheric sounds and I used to make sounds with my hands from different objects just to see what they sounded like.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
Most of my experiences came from self study, from the Internet and from friends around me who worked with the same applications and tried to use their experiences to find their own way. The things I am into were mostly things I discovered for myself, since we don’t have much inside our country in terms of electronic music. So we had to study on our own and create our own experiences.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I can say that my emotions and feelings really affect my creativity.
For example, mostly when I am very sad I can empty all of my emotions and feelings into my art and really get lost deep inside the writing process.
Usually it’s hard for me to accept projects from the outside since I do work very emotionally and my emotions really inform a lot of what I do.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Mostly my lifestyle and culture, social life and all of that really challenged me I think. As a result, I bring all of those experiences into my art.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Since I was very young, I was in love with making sounds from surfaces with my hands. The first instrument that I learned to play was a traditional Iranian instrument called a tombak. Beside that, I also played different kobe instruments, Daf and Dayre. I also played guitar and then after all these I started working on some electronic analog devices which motivated me to start making electronic music. At the moment I only work with software.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Technology and new instruments are very challenging for me and they have always affected my way of creating sounds. They always inspire me because the sounds you make today are completely different from the sounds that will be coming next week.
For example, Ableton live and how it updates every year is always very inspiring and helpful for me as it has pushed me to explore new sounds and methods.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I love teamwork and collaboration as they always help you to get new ideas from different people, which helps you to get into new phases and new atmospheres and moods. Even when the collaboration is not ‘official’; I’m always working with others for example I produce new sounds and send them to other artists and friends and they work on them.
The way file sharing has become the norm is very helpful for our process of developing our artistry and experiencing and exploring new ideas.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I wake up every day at 6am. Sometimes sport or yoga is one of my routines and my food regime is also one of my most important daily habits.
Every day I give myself 2 or 3 hours to listen through new releases and new music and find new tracks. I check emails and work emails every day for some hours for sure, which are related to Deep House Tehran, a platform which I own, and usually I work until around 9pm, which includes producing music and stuff that relates to my platform.
I also always find some time for watching new movies at night or socializing with friends and family.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I’m always an idealist, and want perfectionism. This feeling to be a successful person has driven me for sure. Deep House Tehran really helped me to become familiar with artists around the world and in Iran and make lots of music performances in the city - all of this really helps me to progress and strive to make work of the highest quality.
I think Deep House Tehran was my biggest breakthrough. I started this platform in 2014. The idea was firstly that I wanted to promote Iranian artists around the world, but over time it became very international and started promoting artists around the world. Teamwork really helps as well.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
A personal space would be the ideal state of mind for being creative. Space and silence and focus are the ideal conditions, for me anyway.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I experienced both for sure. I produced one of my best and favourite EPs after a very heartbreaking break up. Making the EP really helped me to heal.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
There are lots of cultural disputes in many countries and especially in my country. Gender is a very important thing in my country which is a very patriarchal country and this is very true in art and music and everything.
In Iran we don’t have such a thing as copyright and we download all the tracks from the Internet for free since we don’t have any credit card for buying them. So copyright doesn’t really mean a thing over here.
Recently, some things have happened here which are related to record labels inside Iran which are not very international, and most of the time people themselves try to support artists by buying their art inside our country.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I think my hearing is my most powerful sense and the one I am most sensitive to. I worked on it over time and made it even more powerful.
What I love about music is that it uses the hearing sense and tries to connect people together, which leads to your other senses being heightened. Especially in Iran that connection to the rest of the world is not very strong, but I think that with music we can connect with other countries. As an Iranian, especially an Iranian woman, this is something I think about a lot, as do a lot of other people I know: sometimes I just feel so disconnected, so I use my musical instincts and sense of hearing to get connected again.
It makes me feel powerful, when in some ways a lot of power has been taken away from us.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
As I mentioned before, before founding Deep House Tehran I felt so much more disconnected from the world, but I managed to get together all these DJs and musicians from all around the world to feel connected again.
With Deep House Tehran we are using social media as a platform to let other people listen to our works and get familiar with the musical tastes of Iranian music artists and spreading Iran’s modern culture.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
When you make something from nothing and, when you create something as a piece of art or as a musical track your art will remain in this world even after you’re gone as a continuous soul which is very fulfilling. For me this is what motivates me to continue my work as an Iranian artist who has always been working under a lot of pressure in a country that doesn’t support female musicians.
I feel like my work will continue my job as an artist and I believe the next generation of female artists will continue from that point.