Boiler Room x Sublimation | Making History with Underground Electronic Music

Meet the music collective spearheading a musical scene in Uzbekistan

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Boiler Room recently held its first event in Uzbekistan as a part of its Broadcast Lab series, a grant program that helps to fund ideas within the broadcasting space. The Broadcast Lab application is open to the public, allowing for anyone to submit a platform idea with the opportunity to host a Boiler Room-funded party if their application is selected. The winner of the last round of Broadcast Lab applications is Sublimation, a collective that’s championing electronic music in Uzbekistan by supporting local artists and inviting international DJs to the country. They also help teach the ropes of DJing and producing to those aspiring to work within the electronic music scene, and have their own label under the name Sublimation that publishes local artists. 

In March, Sublimation hosted sets from DJs like Josef Tumari, Kebato, Mari Breslavets, Xyarim and the collective's own co-founder, Sabinē, at the Institute of Physics of the Sun, an architecturally beautiful Soviet-era research center.

Flaunt spoke with Sublimation founders Sabinē and Madina about hosting the first event of its kind in Uzbekistan, the nature of their collective, and electronic music in Uzbekistan.

What are your first memories of dance music, and how do they translate over into your love for the current scene?

We are from the small industrial town in Uzbekistan called Chirchik, so that had a great influence on us. The early 2000s could be called a renaissance of Uzbekistan’s music. We still remember listening to the latest pop on tape and dancing. We are and will always be in love with songs created back then. Later on as classmates we would organise club events. One of us would choose the music and find a location, and the other one would gather people and promote the event. 

How did Sublimation come to be? What was the intention?

Our main intention was to build a community where we would feel comfortable in ourselves, and our mission is to encourage personal expression of feelings and experiences through music and art. Uzbekistan is abundant in talented people with unique perspectives and our ambition is to foster collaboration between our artists and other members of our community and shine a spotlight on the amazing work they are doing. We aim to build a space where people feel safe and understood.

What kind of qualities does Sublimation look for in artists when looking to expand your community?

Firstly, above all else, authenticity. We value artists who are true to themselves and their music, are passionate about their craft and who are not afraid to take risks and push boundaries.

Also creativity and originality. We look for artists who are trying to do something different and who bring something new and unique to the table.

Third is diversity. We are trying to bring together different perspectives and approaches to art, so we look for artists from different backgrounds representing a range of genres and styles.

Lastly, and this is very important, is a community mindset. We value artists who are committed to supporting and uplifting their fellow artists, who are collaborative and who are dedicated to building a strong and inclusive music community.

What has the history of Uzbekistan’s electronic music scene looked like, and what are you trying to include in its future? Does anything need to change about the culture within the scene?

During the Soviet era, Uzbekistan's music scene was heavily influenced by Russian pop music and Western styles such as disco and rock. In the 2000s, electronic music began to gain popularity in Uzbekistan, especially in Tashkent, which is when a club scene first started to emerge. We had local DJs and producers such as DJ Piligrim, for example. Our personal pop-music favourites were DADO, Setora and Bolalar.

More recently, Uzbekistan’s dance music scene has increasingly incorporated elements of Central Asian and Middle Eastern music, creating a unique fusion of traditional and modern styles. It sounds unique and authentic for an outsider, but in many ways, it leaves no space for experiments and diversity. People like listening to the same beats all over again, which is understandable, but that makes it difficult for other distinct voices to emerge. Very talented and special artists are being misunderstood and unappreciated. That is the niche we are trying to fill by trying to provide support and visibility but have talent that has to be nurtured.

Can you tell us about your recent event? Being the first of its kind in the country, what was the response from both artists and fans?

Yes, that’s right, the Boiler Room we organised in March was the first event like that in Uzbekistan. Putting on such an event here is very challenging, with things like logistics and getting permission. A lot of the people who needed to say yes didn’t know anything about electronic music or what we wanted to do. However in the end they saw what we were trying to create and the event was an incredible success, not just in our view but as shown in the overwhelming feedback we received.

Following the Boiler Room, we feel the community has become even more united and we think that electronic music in Uzbekistan has a new momentum. We are looking forward to putting on more events and pulling more people into the scene.

You mention that Sublimation helps potential DJs and producers learn how to create within the dance music scene. What does that look like?

First of all, we have our own Sublimation label that publishes local artists, giving them a platform. Also this summer we are organising an intensive camp for local talent, with a special focus on female DJs, called Sublimation Lab, bringing in international music producers to teach how to make electronic music. As part of this, we are trying to ‘train the trainer’, meaning that our producers can share what they learn in the Lab with more people in the wider music community. More broadly, in Uzbekistan there are almost no places for experimental local electronic music producers to perform. By organising events throughout the year, Sublimation is trying to change that.

You were able to hold an event at the Institute of Physics of the Sun and the State Museum of Applied Arts due to your winning Boiler Rooms Broadcast Lab Scheme. Can you tell us about the work that went into preparing for that and the emotions that came along with participating and winning? 

The work to put on the event started an entire year beforehand, with the application, but even that was a product of years of dreaming about putting on something like this. The team at Boiler Room liked something about what we wrote, maybe our sincerity, and chose us. That was just the beginning. Dealing with the venues, despite them being totally unconventional places for concerts, was actually pretty easy and the directors of both places were extremely helpful. Similarly, while it was hard to explain to the relevant government officials exactly what we wanted to do (nothing like this had been done here before), once they understood they were great. 

The really hard part, which was both frustrating but ultimately rewarding, was acting as a bridge between two mentalities: the international guys at Boiler Room, and people in Uzbekistan. Things are simply done differently here. There were a million specific examples, such as how to manage the guest list, but the point is that it was a constant and challenging negotiation. However in the end we found people, from the vendors and contractors to the government officials, to be incredibly supportive. The community was simply ready for an event like this.

Photographed by Feruz Rustamov, Kamila Rustambekova, and Rakhim Kalibaev.

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Sublimation, Boiler Room, Broadcast Lab, Franchesca Baratta, Uzbekistan, Institute of Physics of the Sun