When Imanbek Zeikenov came across SAINt JHN’s woozy 2016 track “Roses” last year, he felt the singer-rapper’s vibe but thought that something was missing. “I listened to the song and heard that it could be something else,” he says, speaking through a translator from his home in Aksu, Kazakhstan.
Zeikenov, who produces music under his first name, dramatically spiked the tempo, added a propulsive bassline and pitched the vocals up beyond recognition — then watched in shock as his version went viral after he posted it on a Russian social media site. In August 2019, he signed to Russian label Effective Records, which helped him sort out the rights with SAINt JHN’s camp. Not long after, the remix became a global TikTok hit, fueling a 23-week run atop the Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart in 2020 and earning Zeikenov a Grammy nod for best remixed recording. Below, the 20-year-old reflects on his breakout year.
What was your life like before the remix?
I was enrolled at railroad school, and during school I took a job on a railway service. I was a working student. By the time “Roses” was out, I was a proper railway worker. “Roses” became popular [in fall 2019], and by December, I stopped working to make music full time. I’m earning enough money and can afford everything I need. That’s a huge change. I’m very happy.
What did you buy with your first big paycheck?
Since childhood, I had dreamt of buying my own car without help from my parents. So a car was the most significant thing I bought when I became self-sufficient. I’m very proud of it.
Is there a dance scene where you live?
There isn’t so much of a clubbing culture in this area, but I’m not so much of a clubgoer or a fan of nightlife anyways. My knowledge has mainly come from YouTube tutorials. I grew up listening to Martin Garrix, David Guetta, Marshmello, Dillon Francis, all of whom I learned about on the internet.
Is “Roses” a good introduction to your work?
Before “Roses,” I was experimenting with different styles and ideas. “Roses” is the first track of the style people are calling “Imanbek house”: It’s positive, light and minimal.
Your remix gave SAINt JHN’s career a huge boost. Do you two keep in touch?
It has been a while. We last spoke when the song went super high on the Shazam global chart. We have a business relationship more than a friendship.
Do you ever miss working for the railroad?
No, not at all. Doing outdoor work during the winter is not for me.