I first met Zaeden in 2016, right after the release of his single “Never Let You Go”—a breezy collaborative number with DJ duo Nina & Malika. At 21-years-old, he was the first Indian artist to sign with Dutch label Spinnin Records and one of the only Indian names touring the global EDM festival circuit. The mid-2010s saw the height of India’s obsession for dance music, creating the perfect platform for several fresh new artists to make their debuts. Zaeden was one of these new faces, winning over audiences with his breezy yet powerful remixes and collaborations with other Indian rising stars like Nucleya and Sickflip. Despite this burgeoning popularity and the increasing demand for his presence at major gigs, he kept his feet firmly on the ground, introducing himself to me as Sahil (Sharma, his real name) and asking me how my day was going.
We kept in touch as the years progressed, often meeting backstage before his sets at Supersonic, Sunburn or NH7 Weekender. Before long, he was sharing his excitement about opening for international acts like David Guetta and Justin Bieber during their India stops, then going on to headline at international mega-festivals like Tomorrowland. He began touring non-stop, doing sold out shows across India and Europe and it was a thrilling growth to witness firsthand. But as time passed and India’s interest in EDM waned, so did Zaeden’s. “I was doing 10-15 shows a month, getting good numbers too, but something just didn’t feel right,” the now-26- year-old confesses to me about his last couple of years as a DJ. It’s been a long time since ourfirst conversation, he’s older and wiser, but at his core he’s still the same Sahil with that brilliant smile and feet firmly on the ground. The only difference now is the path he’s about to take. “I genuinely felt like I wasn’t evolving as an artist. Being surrounded by noise and materialistic happiness, it felt like I’d lost my purpose.”
Genesis 1:1 saw Zaeden rebrand his artistry and build a new identity to give himself creative freedom as well as a strong foundation in India’s current pop renaissance. He began testing the waters a few years prior, putting out covers and honing his skills as a singer. “I’d started my vocal lessons and slowly after giving it time and practice, I was confident about the transition,” he explains. “The first cover I put out was ‘I Like Me Better by (American singer-songwriter) Lauv and it was heartening to see it being appreciated and loved by so many. Even Lauv himself reshared it.” His 2019 original single “Tere Bina” was the first dive into singing and acoustic pop, surprising fans with the turn in his artistry but also opening doors to new audiences outside India’s dwindling EDM craze. During the pandemic, he dropped several more Hindi singles while in lockdown; “Kya karoon?,” ‘’Dooriyan,” “Intezaar,” and “Socha Na Tha” were widely praised by audiences, cementing him as a budding pop phenomenon. These tracks would go on to be the building blocks of Genesis 1:1, an 11-track experimentation with pop, alternative R&B, and acoustic folk. It was of course a bold flip from what fans had fallen in love with five years ago, and Zaeden admits he was wary of their reaction, but at the same time he was confident they wouldn’t walk away. “A part of me always knew in my heart that my fans would support me in every journey that I take,” he says. “I guess that confidence really pushed me to finally make the transition.”
As our country’s pop sphere evolves and Indian artists take bolder steps to try different things, Zaeden’s decision to invest in the various branches of his own creativity could not have come at a better time. He shares that he’s interested in strange but exciting mixes of music—Punjabi R&B and Eighties-style 808 synth-pop up during the conversation—and it’s a pretty fantastic representation of where young India wants to take their music. I ask if his goals include evolving the Indian pop soundscape as a whole but he says his aspirations aren’t quite as grand as that. “It’s not my objective to change the landscape of Indian pop or anything anymore,” he admits. “I’m happy that I can contribute to this change with my music along with like-minded artists in India who’re leveling up and polishing their art with every song.”
As we continue our conversation to discuss the Zaeden of today, he agrees that the journey to Genesis 1:1 was just the first page of his new chapter. He’s just finished shooting for Rolling Stone India’s cover at India Bike Week and it’s the tail-end of one of the busiest weeks in his schedule, but he’s keen to sit down and open upabout his evolution. He’s excited for the future, determined to balance both Sahil and Zaeden, and eager to discover where his own mind will take him next.
I remember we first spoke in 2016, right after you dropped “Never Let You Go”— it was one of your first interviews, as well as mine, and it was a pleasure to introduce your artistry to more people. So much has happened since that conversation and now we’re here doing the cover interview for Rolling Stone India. How do you feel about your own growth in the music industry? Are there any achievements that make you particularly proud?
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