Baby Zionov is the musical project of Aaliyah Zionov, a musician and songwriter currently based in Tāmaki Makaurau, who makes bubblegum laser-sound boogie shoes, dance music. She talks to Oliver Hall about discovering herself through music.

Where did you grow up and how was growing up there for you?

I was born in Israel but moved to New Zealand very young because participation in the military is mandatory over there and my parents didn’t want to raise us to murder people. After that, I was a pretty sheltered nerdy kid in West Auckland. My way of exploring the world and making new friends was mostly through the magic of the mid-2000s Internet – so I had way more online friends than real-life friends.


What did your coming out experience look like?

I came out in Year 11 pretty much right after I realised I was gay (I’m not good at keeping secrets). I didn’t have any shame around it, but I didn’t think it was a big deal and didn’t want to have the same coming-out conversation over and over, so I decided to just tell my gossipiest friend and told her to spread it around. That worked, but it ended up defining my whole year anyway because there were no other openly gay kids around and everyone just wanted to pick my brain about it! It’s a weird feeling to be 15 and suddenly be appointed spokesperson for a community you only just learned existed, like a month ago.

When did you get into music and when did you know you wanted to be an artist?

It was never really part of the plan! I’ve always loved music, but I never played any instruments or anything, mostly because I was the kind of kid who just gave up if I wasn’t instantly good at something. At some point in my late teens, I started making simple tunes on some dinky old computer software, and just slowly got more and more ambitious. For some reason, even though five minutes of practicing an instrument makes me want to jump out a window, I find it fun to painstakingly put together a song, one note at a time, at a computer — it makes me feel like a scientist doing music experiments.

Who are your top musical influences and icons? And why?

The ‘PC Music’ Collective — particularly Sophie, A.G. Cook, easyFun, Danny L Harle, Hannah Diamond, GFOTY — opened up whole new worlds for me in the way they playfully skirted the lines between the worlds of pop, dance, and the avant-garde. I definitely wouldn’t be making music without their influence (and I know like two dozen artists who would say the same thing)!

What can our readers expect from a Baby Zion gig?

A friend once described my music as “bubblegum laser-sound boogie shoes music” and that’s what I’m going with.

Many of your songs are created by mashing up other dance songs with additional production from yourself. Can you take us through that process?

I think of dance music as sort of a modern version of folk music, because the songs and their meanings are collectively controlled by all the DJs that play them and all the people who dance to them. And then the most beloved songs get sampled, remixed, and re-interpreted across different generations of dancers so that there’s never really an ‘authoritative’ version of the song. It’s fun to be part of that cultural conversation, and audiences seem to get a real kick out of hearing a silly new twist on a classic too.

How welcoming a place have you found the NZ music industry to be particularly as a queer trans person?

I think it’s been okay! I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the support I’ve received from unexpected places that you wouldn’t think would be into super gay, bright colourful dance music, especially the indie/alternative rock scene and punk scenes. There’s also just a ridiculous wealth of queer and trans talent here. For a few years, I helped run the Loud and Proud festival that showcases queer and trans experimental music, and was constantly blown away by how many different artists we got and how creative everyone was.

How do you feel your queerness affects your art and the music you produce?

Funnily enough, I realised I was queer because of music! I used to use this site called Last.FM where it would track what you listened to and show you people with similar taste in music. Without exception, everyone else with my taste in music was pretty clearly gay, and that made me think “Gosh, does that mean I’m gay too?” And as it turns out: yes!

What’s next for Baby Zionov – where would you like your career to go in 2024?

I would like to release a new album and play more shows outside of Auckland. Also, I want to compose music for a video game someday!

Follow Baby Zionov on socials @babyzionov. She performs at Cross Street Music Festival on Saturday 9 March,