5 questions with... NENE H

Erica Synths launches artist feature series 5 questions with... Self-explanatory - we speak to breakthrough artists, pioneering musicians, creatives from different backgrounds and places and ask them 5 questions (that might or might not trigger a necessity for a few more and open up in-depth conversations).

Turkish-born, Berlin-based techno mainstay Nene H embodies infinite creativity as can be heard from her diverse output in all things music and sound. From hard-hitting techno DJ sets, experimental live productions that include collaborating with academic musicians to imaginative production work in her releases, and under her given name, Beste Aydin, notable acclaim achieved as a classically trained pianist. Eliza Aboltina sits down with Nene H in Berlin to chat about Siraen collective she launched earlier this year, the temperature in a post-pandemic music industry and the just released, Nene H' latest EP - Trifecta.

Julien Tell

- You are an academically trained pianist turned producer and DJ. What are the overlapping points versus what separates these two seemingly distant (but perhaps not) fields of music ?

- Nene H: I jumped (to electronic music -ed.) through getting into composition studies. Part of that was electronic music, contemporary, music concrete. We would record sounds, and then work on Logic, Max/MSP. I couldn't really go forward with my studies because at the same time I was doing my masters degree with piano. I was already interested in electronic music but I didn't know that club music existed. Basically, what happened was that I came to Berlin to visit friends and they brought me to a party. And that was the moment of Oh, okay. This is what you can do with this shit. And I got really excited about it. My crossover was buying a synthesizer and making really bassy, Anatolian trip-hop beats and singing on top of them. So that's how it started. And then moving to Berlin, getting into the club scene more and more, triggered the shift to producing and DJing as well.

- What was your first synthesizer?

- Nene H: Korg MicroKORG - with the vocoder, actually it was a super cute instrument, small and cheap. Then I had AKAI MPC to be able to press and play live, adjust a little bit on Ableton, and sing on top of it. Generally, when I did that music it was more connected with classical music because it was more modal. I used a lot of modalities, tonalities, and made rather melodic sounds. So it took more of what I had learned from classical music. But overall I think the knowledge has affected me rather in a bad way than good - it's the lack of intuition. People who are not classically trained have more intuition than trained musicians. They can just play, just do and just feel. I would be counting or stuck in a discipline and the learning process, forgetting to actually try to enjoy what I am doing and to enjoy the process. Hence I think the training of classical music has affected my musicality not for the best. I'm still learning how to do my own thing without having a certain pressure of success and discipline.

People who are not classically trained have more intuition than trained musicians. They can just play, just do and just feel. I would be counting or stuck in a discipline and the learning process, forgetting to actually try to enjoy what I am doing and to enjoy the process.

- But it has to have a positive impact on your other work - in particular, work that is not intended for a club environment, composing for and working with the choir as an example?

Nene H: Yeah, that is when the information of polyphonic music, chords, tonality, modality comes up. And that is what allows me to build the music. Probably easier than for someone who doesn't have that knowledge. So in that sense, of course, I still use it. There are some crossing points. But there's also some letting go of it.

- Istanbul, Berlin, Copenhagen. Your just released EP (Trifecta came out on 9th of December via Live from Earth - ed.) is about them. How would you describe the sound of these three very vibrant yet different cities? What do they mean to you and what place do they play in your creativity?

Nene H: These three cities and their communities gave me a sense of empowerment. For a person like me, it was tough to get in this whole thing (industry - ed.). It's about the way marginalized groups accept and understand you, about a shared consciousness. I feel empowerment from black women, trans women... Having these inspiring people around me is what these three cities gave me. To be able to be myself, and be okay with it.

Sound wise I would say Berlin is very techno but what I see in Berlin, in my communities, is a little bit different - more humor, more sarcasm.

Istanbul for me is about giving back - just like you do with your work back home (Nene H. is referring to Riga, where we met when she was booked to play Kontaktor Festival opening night early in 2019 - ed.), It's about giving back, being on the other side, and hopefully being the empowerment for those who might actually need that, in the context of a lack of possibilities, a lot of pressure, oppression from the society and all of that. We try to inspire, and through that get inspired, and that gives meaning to our work, I guess...

Copenhagen, especially Endurance (DIY rave in Copenhagen where Nene H is a resident since early 2020 - ed.), has given me so much - all the friends I met there were so supportive from the very first second. And of course, that city gave me Benjamin (Nene H's husband - ed.) The track is very trancy. I do have a little more connection with Copenhagen sound wise and that track is quite Copenhagen, that's for sure.

I would say these three tracks reflect on my emotional connection with these cities, while also giving a nod to the sounds of the particular place.

Nene H performing in Riga, 2019 / Photo: Peteris Viksna

- This year you launched the collective Siraen - to provide space for the marginalized, cultural exchange and genre-bending rave experience in Istanbul. What was the necessity / place this project was born out of and how do you see the climate in Istanbul right now, especially in the context of the political attack on LGBTQI+ rights and the very real attacks?

Nene H: It is pressure at the very next level. There is pressure against women. There is pressure against LGBTQI+ communities, there is pressure against club culture. So existing in all of the aforementioned is being in this impossible field. I went into this with my best intentions, to do something good for my community, to try to elevate Istanbul's scene. To put Istanbul on the map, because there are so many people that are being overlooked. It's problematic for them to receive international bookings - when you have a passport from a country like Turkey, the access to mobility is limited and it locks these people in making it harder for them to continue their careers. I hope to make it better by giving them a push, a little bit of visibility. That is my intention. I've been doing master classes and courses, as well as artist talks with the people that we invite to play. The goal is to open conversations about creating safer spaces, how to make parties and how to behave in parties.

The system is so rigged. Promoters are forced to book big names so that tickets are sold, but then the tickets are too expensive for many - the middle class can't make it. So then only people with money can attend and it creates a vibe completely opposite of what our culture and techno stands for. It's not that people who have money are bad, but this situation further segregates. And it is safe to say that the most of the queer people do not earn as much money as a straight dude, and this is true for everywhere in the world. So in response we are trying to keep a very low entrance fee and introducing door selection. It's not about earning money, it's about giving back. We want to inspire the kids to build their own communities, build their own thing, to give them power. It is taking a lot of energy because it is a tough job. My partner Y.Unan is doing the most active job because she is there (in Istanbul - ed.).

So far we have planned to do 4 events a year. Hopefully, we can keep it at that. We do not want to use bigger spaces because we do not want random people in attendance. Finding spaces is hard, there are maybe one or two spaces where you can do parties like this. We need women to feel safe and so on. It takes time, but if we get there, it will be amazing. 10 years ago there was a thriving scene, a street full of clubs - I keep hearing about this and it's hard to believe, I wasn't there at the time.

- It feels like politically it's getting worse...

Nene H: Yes. They're planning to put in place the first law against LGBTQIA+ people. It has been legal until now. Of course there has been some social pressure but they weren't able to put a person in prison for being gay. If this happened in Turkey... What do you do after this? That is so scary. Let's see what's gonna happen, this might be just a scare tactic as they can not be doing extreme politics because next year is the election year. Politics, Politics, Politics. Extreme oppression.

- Something we have talked about a lot between us, especially during the pandemic, when the industry was shut down and we had the time to reflect, was all the change that is needed. Now that we could say that we have been back to normal for a while, whatever that means, do you feel like the music industry post pandemic has seen positive change?

Nene H: And then they laugh... (laughing - ed.)

- I think there are many sides to it, but yeah...

Nene H: Like you say - there are many sides to it. Maybe some things have gotten better. I'm trying to imagine how a person who is maybe 22 years old feels - they have just been through the pandemic and goes into the club scene now, without having the knowledge of the culture that has been before. They just jumped into this. So how do they receive this new culture of hyper-everything? There is a lot happening - festivals, clubs, tiktoks... I'm imagining how they receive it and I don't know what kind of mood they're in. I wish that I did know so that I could serve it better, but I don't really understand what's going on in people's minds. I feel like that's my problem with the situation. There is this very dark music and then there are all the pop edits, cheesy references, the music that is the easiest to consume. There is an apparent need for that and much less for going deep. Staying at one stage for four hours is unimaginable. It's about jumping from one stage to the next without trying to feel. Not everywhere of course, but I have experienced this in some places and that is confusing me. Politically, a lot of good things are happening. Bookings are becoming a lot more woke in a sense.

Julien Tell

- So you feel it's getting more diverse?

Nene H: Lately I see a much more diverse crowd - when I'm playing this is what makes me happy. Line-ups are also getting more diverse. Maybe it doesn't necessarily feel organic but it is getting there. We can of course discuss whether these people are given good slots, or are they only opening... Sadly there are names that just sell tickets well, and there are names that are creatively super cool, but risky to book.

People also want to relate, and then these dudes who want to party don't relate to me as much as a white dude that plays techno and we can't blame them. Then social structures that don't allow women to go out as much as men are also part of the darkness of this shit. Going out and seeing 80% of the people in attendance being men shouldn't be the case. Especially not in Europe, but it shows so much from the social structures that exist outside the clubs. It's just reflecting on life outside, you know? And this is not gonna change, it might even get worse, because of all this crisis that is around us. So for promoters it will also be like - okay, doesn't matter if I book her or him. I will just book him because guess what, I don't want to lose money. And what should they do? Then you as a marginalized artist also feel bad about not being able to fill the space on your own. Sometimes I'm thinking - fuck, would I ever be able to headline? No...

- Don't say that, you will get there.

Nene H: I don't know. I can't imagine being able to sell 1000 tickets.

- I believe selling out tickets often comes with a compromise, there is a certain aspect of demand versus what you give the audience - giving what they expect, what's easy to digest and feels comforting, right? Staying true to your artistry, wanting to challenge people also limits your reach perhaps...

Nene H: That's very true. I am not about doing that. It will be very interesting to see. Where is it going?

- If you would have to choose one of your works to put in a time capsule for future generations to find, which one would it be?

Stay in tune with what Nene H is creating via her Instagram and SoundCloud!

You may also like

July 10, 2020 · INTERVIEWS


July 22, 2020 · INTERVIEWS

Martin Gore

Aug. 18, 2020 · INTERVIEWS

Headless Horseman