Synth and Conflicts: underground sounds from Baku

By Mara Noto and Viola Santini

A never-ending territorial dispute lasting (over) thirty years, two countries competing for a small landlock and a solution – temporary or permanent, no one can say it – agreed upon on 10 november 2020. Those are the basics to understand the complex and controversial story  behind Nagorno Karabakh.

At the outbreak of the umpteenth resumption of the conflict, we collected the interviews of two women: one Armenian, the other Azerbaijani, both culturally involved with Nagorno-Karabakh, or the Republic of Artsakh, driven by the necessity to better understand a story, from perspectives not so much told by the mainstream media and generally far from the attention of Western public opinion.

To add one more piece to the mosaic we thought of looking at the conflict beyond the conflict, asking artists, such as musicians, to tell us about their cultural background to further understand how their passions were born and how much they have been influenced by the drama of a conflict.

Producing this article required a huge effort both from the two djs and from us: those efforts were made  in the midst of the war, with family members and acquaintances at the front. Despite that they still found the strength to share their thoughts with us while other decided to decline the request for an interview. 

Nazrin Mammadova (Inherroom)  is an interdisciplinary artist of Azerbaijani origin. His practice encompasses the exploration of visual arts, with sound design and performance art.


How and under which circumstances did you get involved in music?

Frankly speaking, I have always been looking for music, since my early childhood. In the absence of internet and TV channels that broadcasted music, I had to look for alternative ways to get access to it. We used to live in a small-town, Ganja, northwest of Azerbaijan, with no shadow of music stores or venues offering an international catalog or anything other than popular and commercial music, which didn’t serve my interest at all. I met an old man who smuggled VHS and asked him if he could do the same for me, but with tapes. I would have bought anything at any cost. Then on a family trip to Russia, I discovered a music magazine, and back in Ganja I asked at the newsstands if they could bring me a copy of it every month. So I ended up spending my lunch money on tapes and magazines. Live instead I performed for the first time around 2015. A friend of mine invited me to perform in a small underground club in the city center. I was among the first female DJs, even if I didn’t consider myself one at all. I was stubborn, and my goal was to share something unheard and unexpected, rather than the usual entertainment material the crowd favored.

What about the electronic scene in Baku? How did it develop?

When I graduated from high school and could finally go out at night, I started going to clubs in Baku. I remember back then the scene was heavily focused on hip-hop and RnB. Only later, with the end of 2010, there was a slow and steady development towards electronic music. At the time there were some interesting places that are now unfortunately closed. But the electronic scene has definitely exploded in the last 5 years, thanks to our neighbors in Tbilisi, Georgia. Although here it still remains very limited. For what I do, I consider myself an outsider in this sense, I am often criticized by promoters for being too eclectic for the local audience.

Could you tell us about your sounds and the influences (both music and culture-wise) you had?

I have a degree in Fine Arts in Moscow, and this was one of the fundamental experiences that allowed me to come into contact with artists and musicians united by Russian abstractionism more than by a particular genre. In fact, it is difficult for me to classify my sounds; they are fluid and I seek deepness in this fluidity. I am definitely multidisciplinary in that sense, and also in terms of what I play. I am an experimentalist at heart and what I do differs from what could typically be identified as music. But just to give you an idea, the sounds I work with are dub, broken beat, jungle, garage, ambient, drum and bass, neo-grime, post-dubstep, synth, modular, mutant techno, trip-hop, new age, cinematic music, and many others.

How has the art/music production overall been affected in times of war like the one you are living in?

Even before the war and the pandemic I was gradually moving away from the club scene. I am keenly aware of the physical and mental risks of the typical DJ lifestyle. So it has been for some time now that I have been more oriented towards a post-club style, in which I have moved beyond the space and environment of the club and clutter, that derives from it. The club space, in my opinion, is not a broad enough canvas to convey all my ideas. As the notion of the club has changed, so has our understanding of electronic music which requires a more intellectual perception. I recently discovered Simon Reynolds’ concept of “Conceptronics”, which describes “music to be contemplated with the ears, to think about and to think with. This is exactly what my current focus is on.

How are you personally and so also artistically coping with the conflict?

I’m preparing a series of podcasts for, a local platform that showcase our art and culture from different perspectives, with the aim of reviving and developing it. They are radio podcasts with an educational purpose, above all I deal with the concept of Sound and how it is perceived. I’m making these podcasts in my native language, Azerbaijani. Due to the language barrier, many of my compatriots do not have access to knowledge, there are few texts and publications in Azeri, and not all of them speak Russian or English. I try to raise awareness because the way you listen is the way you develop your culture. With the situation we are facing my practice has shifted towards a moral and ethical compass that guides me towards the creation of a culture, in which I give and share not only ideas but also ways and means to allow a wider understanding and implementation of ideas in real time. I am only doing my small part in this mission towards a process of awakening and anticipating change. The world and society are changing. I believe that regardless of the difficulties of 2020, we have entered a miraculous era of rebirth.

What do you think of the outcome of the conflict?

I am very grateful that this has happened and for the way people today are changing in front of my eyes. They are becoming kinder, empathy is growing. Today I am even more aware of my responsibility towards my homeland and the entire planet. I am overwhelmed by a sense of honor. And I am ready to carry my weapon of creative power with dignity as a light to victory. Let the wave of justice begin with the victory in the land of fire. We are more valuable than we think. I am sure that love for neighbor and for others will reign, and magnanimity and mercy will fill the hearts of all, while compassion and empathy will revive the restoration of harmony. I direct my prayers towards healing. My prayers are intended once and for all to restore, strengthen and revive a peaceful coexistence. The lands that were once a green garden of Central Asia, now a simply desert and rocky place. There is a lot of work to be done to restore it mentally as well as ecologically.


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intestato al direttore Massimiliano Sfregola
(causale: recharge 31mag)

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