Arjun Vagale Discusses the Strength and Unity of India’s Techno Scene
Arjun Vagale Discusses the Strength and Unity of India’s Techno SceneJuly 20, 2021
Though he may not be widely known outside of his home country, in India, Arjun Vagale is a pioneer of the local techno scene. His early releases were championed by artists like Richie Hawtin, Dubfire, Carl Cox and John Digweed, helping put India on the global techno map. And he’s since released on imprints like Suara, Octopus, Odd Recordings, SCI+TEC, and Quartz Rec, which released Vagale’s new Time Cop EP earlier this month.
We talk to the DJ-producer, about the early Indian scene and how much things have changed, his latest release, the devastating impact of covid in his home country, and the charity compilation he made happen nearly overnight to help raise funds for those affected by the virus.
Thanks for joining us, Arjun! How are you holding up at the moment?
Hey guys, always a pleasure chatting with you. Well, I’m still hanging in there. Just like for everyone else, the pandemic has been rough, but on the bright side, I’ve had some much-needed time off.
Over the past 20-plus years, you’ve built yourself up to become one of India’s most cherished techno exports, and you’ve been instrumental in helping to cultivate its growing underground scene. So how have you seen it evolve over the years, and in what direction do you think it’s heading?
Thank you! Yes, wow, 25 years now. It’s been a long and exciting journey!
To begin with, we didn’t have much of a scene here in India, we had to build it ourselves from the ground up. It started off as mid-week parties at clubs, or playing some underground records towards the end of the night on weekends — slowly taking our sound to other parts of the country — to now, when techno is pretty much a staple sound at most clubs & festivals.
Pre-pandemic, the scene was really thriving. We had big-name techno DJs playing practically every week. We’ve also built some really solid home-grown festivals that were growing each year. Bigger brands like Awakenings and DGTL have had a presence here. So yeah, things were certainly on an upwards trajectory.
On the production front, Indian artists are absolutely at par with anyone in the world. A lot of the younger producers have really honed into the sound and are super dedicated to the culture, and sonically pushing the envelope. Once things get back to some form of normalcy, I’m confident we’ll pick up where we left off.
What are some of your favorite studio tools at the moment?
For the last few years, I’ve really been obsessed with modular synthesis, so I’ve slowly built my system. It’s not very big but it has been carefully built and I can pretty much do anything I want on it. All my tunes always start with a modular “jam” and those recordings often turn into tracks. I also love the classic 909 sound, and you can hear it in pretty much all my tracks (sometimes heavily processed).
Tell us a bit about your new Quartz Recs EP, Time Cop. What’s the story behind the title, what inspired its dark and driving sound, and how did you link up with DJ Sodeyama for remix duty?
As soon as we went into lockdown here in India, I headed into the studio! I was still making “harder” stuff at the time, but without any dance floors to play to, I decided to make whatever I felt like in the moment. These tracks were all studio jams — well into the pandemic — when I felt like it was Groundhog Day and I was in a time loop, and that’s kind of what inspired the title of the EP. It’s a bit of a shift for me towards the more trippy yet driving sound.
After I sent the tracks to Paul, we both decided a remix would really complete the release, and since I’ve been a huge fan of DJ Sodeyama’s music, I suggested his name. I also feel it’s a nice way to bring those of us in Asia closer together. Paul immediately loved the idea and invited him to do a remix, and he delivered a real beauty.
What plans do you and Ramiro Lopez have for your Odd Recordings label later this year? Also, are there any up-and-coming artists you two have signed that have you buzzing?
We decided to keep the label going through this crazy time and have continued to release music. We’ve actually had a lot of new names this year, and I think it’s been a motivating factor for a lot of artists. We don’t want to be one of those snobby techno labels who have closed doors. We want to put out good music, regardless of an artist’s popularity.
The Giovanni Carozza EP we put out recently is a monster — definitely a producer to look out for. We are also releasing an album — a first for us — and it will be Ramiro’s debut album later this year. We are pretty excited to dive into this format with the label.
Following the catastrophic second wave of COVID-19 in India, you helped put together a charity compilation to benefit the Hemkunt Foundation. Can you tell us a bit more about this LP, the artists involved, and the righteous cause it was created for?
As the second wave hit India, we could see the crises unfold in front of our eyes. It was very real and very close to home. Pretty much everyone I know had lost someone, and a feeling of helplessness took over.
I also started following the work of the Hemkunt Foundation closely, and their work on the ground — helping people who have nowhere to go — was really inspiring & moving.
I wanted to do something to help and empower them, and figured the best way for me, as an artist, is via my music, but it needed to be done quickly! I woke up the next morning with a plan to put out a fundraising compilation. I called a few friends to discuss the idea and everyone agreed. Later that afternoon I shared the plan with some of my artist friends and they all agreed to contribute a track.
It was such an organic process. The compilation was finalised in a day, and my good friend Madhav (Kohra) who runs a mastering house (AudioSol) mastered all 14 tracks in two days. I wrapped up the project in under a week and released it. I wanted to do it ASAP as help was needed urgently. In 24 hours, the compilation had already raised €1000, and in total we’ve now donated about €4000.
This might not seem like a lot, but these numbers far exceeded my expectations. The entire electronic music community came together to help spread the word. I’m really grateful to everyone who so generously donated from all corners of the world.
What are your hopes and plans for the rest of 2021?
To be honest I’m not making any real plans for 2021 as I’m not confident about the situation in India. Things are looking a little better, but it’s premature to open up fully. My job is to bring people together, but that’s exactly what we should not be doing in a big way. I’m hopeful there should be some light towards the end of the year… We can only hope!
I’ve been busy with production projects in the studio, so I’m glad to spend the rest of the year working on more music. I’ve got a couple more releases planned for later in the year, and some with my Asymetrik project as well. It’s been a pretty creative time for me, so I’m writing as much music as I possibly can.