There have been artists that have been around since the inception of good music. This techno maestro is someone who I have personally been following since 2005 and boy oh boy, the graph of growth this man has achieved is incomparable. From being the golden boy of India, he has hit the international scene with such precision; a rifle shooter would be put to shame! Apart from his out of the world sets that he dishes out, this man has slowly and steadily paved a way by not only encouraging and nurturing new talent, but by also being a mentor that even an audience member can look up to.His sounds are definitive. His sets leave no stone unturned. Adjectives fail to describe the experience that is this artist himself. He has quickly transitioned from being someone that was at the forefront in India to being at the forefront internationally.
I remember returning home from watching Eric Prydz live at SW4, and on the way home, with all the other party revelers, I heard and saw flyers for this individual playing along side Dubfire. To hear people talk about an artist that I knew was from India, that I have personally witnessed and experienced and say they were looking forward to seeing him perform live, filled me with an insane sense of pride.
No introduction would have been sufficient for this brilliant producer. A man of few words that’s always smiling, he is the perhaps the most astute in the business. All that know him, with good reason, revere him. When he creates music, every ear is open to his sound, because he’s one of the few that have found the balance between being true to your artistic self and also knowing what to dish out without being a sell out.
Considered ‘The Most Business Savvy, While Being Super Humble’, he has no airs and graces. What you see is what you get. In a time when packaging is everything, this man is the perfect 10.
I am honoured to have interviewed the prodigal son, that returned to India for a brief spell because lets face it, who can go 6 months without listening to him!
Meet Arjun Vagale.
Firstly, welcome home! When you started to get into music, who were your influences and how have they played a part in shaping you as the artist you are today?
Thank you! It’s good to be home.
I think my earliest influences within the electronic space were acts like the Prodigy, Chemical Brothers and Underworld. When I started listing to them, I was blown away by the sounds they were creating – and I always wanted to try to figure how they made those sounds. For me, it’s always been about making my own music. Being a DJ was a mstepping-stone to do just that.
In your career as an artist, what creative or strategic move do you feel has set you apart from your peers in terms of success? What has been a defining moment for your career?
As clichéd as it sounds, in the end it’s about being unique in some form or the other. I try and evolve my sound and productions everyday. I’m also someone who takes the “business” angle very seriously. You always need a strategy. Some artists are content with the status quo once they reach a certain goal, but I try and push things forward as much as I can. You don’t always succeed in everything, but hey, at least you gave it your best.
Not sure if I can name ALL my defining moments – there have been so many. Definitely, having Richie Hawtin and Carl Cox play my early productions so much. Signing to Dubfire’s SCI+ TEC, or Christian’s Tronic. Playing festivals like Sonar, BPM, ADE. Doing just ONE thing is nowhere close to enough.
What are your main challenges as a producer as opposed to DJing? How do you gain inspiration for music?
Writing or producing music is like an extension of me, I can’t survive without it. I’m always working on tracks – be it in hotel rooms, on the road or in the studio. It’s a form of expression that I’m addicted to. Inspiration, on the other hand, comes from everything around me – the city I’m in, or the people I’m around – even the weather. More often than not, I’m inspired by the gigs I play. I try and take a snapshot of a night and put that emotion or feeling into the record I’m working on.
Do you feel that creative decisions are shaped by cultural differences or have you ever thought cultural differences influence the perception of sound?
The world has become a small place… Everything is so connected that it’s tough to see myself in a cultural context. I tend to think we are all world citizens. Naturally we should all be inspired by our surroundings, but not limited to them. I see a lot of people obsessing about where they come from and they try and force that into their art – my opinion is that if it doesn’t fit, then don’t force it, just because you want to make a point. Creativity is endless and borderless, it should remain that way.
What is your selection process like when you’re making your choices for the your DJ sets? Do you believe in spontaneity while creating your sets, or planning meticulously?
I don’t really ‘prepare’ for a set as such. I get a LOT of new music every week so listening to all of it is like my homework. I try and categorize music by sound and then just leave it to the vibe of the venue I’m playing at. I do know what my first few tracks are going to be, once I get to the party and feel the vibe. Sometimes if I’m playing a really big festival and I have a short set time, I’ll put 3 – 4 must-play tracks aside, but that’s the extent of preparing. Spontaneity is essential.
From the start of your career till present, you have been the constant prodigal child of the electronic music scene in India. In your eyes, do you feel that we’ve progressed in terms of music and festival experiences? If there was anything you could actively change about the music scene here, what would it be?
Thank you Absolutely, India has really evolved and continues to do so musically. Every single gig I play back home, I feel the energy and enthusiasm grow. Even people who aren’t necessarily into the genre see others having a good time and want to get in on the fun. It’s a healthy growth and I’m proud that I’ve had some part to play in it.
The only change I’d like to see is the way promoters do events. Right now it’s just about booking talent and putting them up on stage … They don’t realize what they really need to do is to give the audience an experience. There’s a lot of money being thrown into the scene, but money can’t make you creative.
You’re a champion of developing talent, be it with your agency, UnMute or with the ILM Academy in Delhi that you set up. What are your future goals with the aspect of both these ventures?
When I stepped into this electronic world, there was nothing, so from very early I’ve wanted to give back by creating platforms that would help nurture talent. UnMute has grown heaps since we started and now we are developing a few of our own properties, like Reset. We are also pushing further into SE Asia as that’s a huge space I’d like to explore. We have some of the brightest acts in the country, and with a strong team backing them – the possibilities are endless.
ILM is probably the best academy to learn electronic music production in the country. Our studios are world-class and we are constantly upgrading our gear to give students only the best. The curriculum is so rock solid that students when have passed out are already performing and releasing music.
Our faculty is the backbone of the school, and I’m super proud of what they’ve achieved. Early next year we will look into expanding – maybe hitting a few more cities. It’s all about teamwork.
Being a connoisseur of great production work, what is your current set up like in the studio?
I’m in that vagabond phase, so I can’t really have a proper studio at the moment. The last 3-4 years has been all about moving around so much. In all honesty: my laptop and headphones are how 80% of my music gets produced. BUT I’m a huge gear freak, so I’m always looking out for new toys and collecting then. At the moment most of my gear is spread across Delhi, Gurgaon (my mom’s house), ILM and NYC. I’m hoping to create a proper studio space for myself by the end of the year and finally bring all my gear home.
How was the experience of playing at BPM for you? What has been your favourite festival so far to play at and why?
This year was my second BPM and it was a BLAST! Also because I had a couple of friends join me, so it made the whole week more fun. My gig was incredible! The cool thing about festivals like BPM or Sonar is that you get to meet and hang out with the entire global music community and in the end, we are all friends – so it’s like a big reunion of crazy people having a blast and playing music in the sand. Tough for me to pick a favourite because all of them are so much fun and each has a unique vibe. But BPM and Sonar are up there for sure.
What can we expect from Arjun Vagale this year? How do you constantly keep your music fresh and DJ sets unpredictable and exciting?
Last year was all about moving to New York and exploring the American market. This year, I’ll be focusing a bit more on Asia. Production-wise I’ve got an EP out next on Bitten, and after that a big one on Octopus. Plus I have a ton on collaborations in the pipeline. I actually hate talking about future plans until they happen – haha! So best to keep an eye on my social media coz that’s where all the news gets updated.
Lastly, having an eye for recruiting talent in India, who do you envision as the next great Indian export for the international techno scene?
There is so much amazing talent in this country, but I know Kohra and BLOT are going to be the next big export. Also, guys like Praveen, AU and Oozeundat are on their way up, so it’s just a matter of getting that break. Consistency is key and they are all on the ball.
You can catch Arjun Vagale this weekend at:
The Farm, Hyderabad on 12th June 2015
Antisocial, New Delhi on 13th June 2015