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Arjun Vagale is one of India’s most coveted DJs, part of an exclusive new breed of cutting-edge producers making a massive globe impact. As one of the country’s leading electronic music exports, he plays over 100 gigs a year back home and tours regularly through Europe and Asia. A man with a true passion for the underground, a sound he relentlessly plays, produces and promotes, it’s no surprise that Arjun currently reigns at the top of the first-ever DJ Mag India Poll 2012. Known for his “intense, driven and atmospheric” techno sound, Arjun has played alongside such heavyweights as Apparat, Sasha, Fat Boy Slim, Fergie, Nic Fanciulli and Cari Lekebusch, while his live act, Jalebee Cartel, has shared headlining spots with the likes of The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy and Modeselektor. Hennessy Artistry caught up with Arjun before his debut 303 residency gig in Bombay to talk about his new live-visual show Re:Focus and opening for Ritchie Hawtin in Bangalore.


The press notes for Re:Focus state  that the idea for Re: Focus “came from the lack of deep and twisted electronic music in our scene.” Why did you think there was this gap in the scene? The psy trance scene seems pretty dark and twisted in its own way.

When I say “our scene,” I mean in the club sound space. For me, psy trance isn’t the club sound, it’s more for outdoor raves. There definitely is a gap, and it’s growing every day because the whole ‘EDM’ phenomena has now become a pop sound, and a large number of DJ’s are playing that because it just goes down easier with people. A lot of artists are just embracing what is easier for the audience to digest.

Can you break down the ideation process when you sat down to plan the Re:Focus night? Did you have a brief for G:Force Arjun (who did the visuals)?

The idea was to do something different for the main stage. Festivals and clubs often prefer to play it safe by only booking artists who play popular music. I wanted to challenge this, and I think we succeed in doing so! So we just started from there. We also realised that there was a lack of original music in the dance space, so that was key. The other aim was naturally to present a world-class show, so we needed to bring in a visual identity, and that’s where G-Force comes in. We wanted to keep it raw and underground – that was the only reference.

You’ve very specifically also stated that with Re:Focus “the visual angle is only there to compliment the music, and not take away from it.”. How hard is it to practice restraint?

It was pretty simple, really. G-Force and I have similar ideas and thoughts about what the show should look like. So we decided to keep the visuals simple and minimal, and in black & white. The visuals exist to complement the music, so in our minds it was all about angles and greys, we built it from there. Again, we wanted it to be a very old school underground rave vibe, not some shiny multi-colour spectacle, just dark and dirty. We never really held back, because the idea was solid to begin with.

Most modern commercial “EDM” visual extravaganzas have a certain element of pre-conceived synchronicity to them. How much of Re:Focus is planned on the fly? What aspects of the Arjun Vagale sound don’t make it into a Re:Focus set and how many tracks do you go usually run through?

From the music angle – I wanted it to be 100% original, so a lot of tracks were specifically made for the show. Often I would think, “Okay, I need something crazy in this part,” or, “I want to drop it over here in the set,” so I just made s**tloads of music and worked it into a set, then broke it down to perform live. Yes, the set list is naturally decided before the show, but I have a lot of freedom to do what I need to do. If I feel something isn’t working, I’ll move on, or if something is working amazingly, I’ll keep it going. It’s very fluid. Performing with Jalebee Cartel live for so many years really helped me understand what works and what doesn’t.

In general, I wanted to keep the show deeper and darker, so any tracks that didn’t fit that vibe were not included. Again, I had tons of tracks so it was a bit hard to try and flow them all together, but eventually I made even more music so I could fill in the gaps. There are usually about 15 to 18 tracks, depending how much time I have.

The night also seems like a throwback to the days when club experiences were about a dark room, a strobe and the music…was that part of the plan?

Absolutely, that’s exactly the idea of the show! It’s about the music and the experience, and how it takes you into a void. It’s not really about who’s playing and how much they are jumping on stage. I mean, I even decided not to have any lights directed at my face so that the focus remained on the music.

Your Sleep Walking EP and the Re:Focus visuals both have this geometric abstraction theme going. Is there a particular source of inspiration in art that you trace this to?

When G-Force and I sat down to discuss the visual design, we both had the same idea of a very geometric motif. We like clean lines and angles, a visual concept that is abstract and indefinable, yet specific to the music. I’m a huge lover of modern art – in particular abstract art – so naturally, since this was my first solo project, I wanted it to reflect as much of me as possible.

Does it amuse you that after two Re:Focus shows it’s being hailed as “critically acclaimed”?

(Laughs) It’s three shows now, but yes, it is funny! Perhaps it’s because there is a lack of good honest music around, especially stuff that is original and in this abstract way. I think the doors are now open to bring weirdness to the main stage.

How much of a learning experience it was to spend time with Hawtin?

Well, he is a huge inspiration. Last year, he played my tracks about 30 times or so, and honestly, for someone working out of India, it’s unreal. We did hang out after the MyFav Awards in Bombay, and I was amazed to see what a down-to-earth guy he is. We shared a few laughs and spoke about music, and it ended with an epic gig in Bangalore. He blew the roof off, the first time I’ve see Hawtin do that (I’ve heard him four or five times before), and I’d like to think it was partly because of the way I opened for him.

Tell us about the 303 national residency. You have a 303 clone, how hard has it been to source the original?

It’s a concept Dev and I came up with, to basically take clubbing back to its original form – small rooms with big sound and crazy electronic music playing. Yes, I do have one that I’m using like crazy at the moment, Acid is definitely back! I’d love to get my hands on an original, so if anyone knows anyone, get in touch!

What has been your experience playing at the Hennessy artistry nights?

It’s an amazing initiative by Hennessy to bring ‘off’ artists together for one big party… there’s no cheese, just quality music. I’ve played a few of them now, and the atmosphere is always electric. It’s partly to do with the delicious Hennessy doing the rounds all night and partly my back-to-back sets with M.Mat.