Name: Arjun Vagale
Occupation: DJ, producer, live act, label owner, radio show host
Current Release: Arjun Vagale's Time Cop EP is out now on Quarzt Rec.
Recommendations: VOLUME MASSIMO by Alessandro Cortini (listen here); Literally everything made by Jesse Draxler.
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When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Well - I’ve been a DJ now for over 25 years, and have been producing for roughly 20, so along the way there have been a LOT of influences.
I guess for me “writing music” was the main reason I got into playing music - from my heavy metal days as a teenager, to when I discovered electronic music in the mid 90s. But if I were to list the most influential music in my life, it would have to be Metallica, AC/DC, Chemical Brothers, Underworld and Depeche Mode - and that’s only scratching the surface.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I think with any artform, evolution is key. Of course during my early years I did want to sound like my favorite artists. But over the years, I’ve let my sound grow organically, and for my more 'dance' music productions, my sound is defined by the dance floor.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I think my surroundings influence me more than my identity, more so now than before.
Being Indian, I was told very early on that I need to have Indian influences in my music, so it stands out globally. But I never forced this, and often went the other direction. In truth, I never really grew up with "Indian" music. Whatever little I absorbed, I did much later in life.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I guess growing up in India, our influences were very limited - as we were a very closed country back then. I think this played a huge role creatively. During the early years, I had to look inwards for inspiration. As one started travelling, one discovered more and that brought fresh inspiration.
I also believe creativity comes in waves, so I try and ride it when I can, and don’t force it when it isn’t there.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
As I mentioned earlier, growing up in India, we had very limited resources. My first bit of kit was an old Roland MC303 groove box. It was a real beat up machine I bought second hand, and without a manual. I tried to learn by experimenting, often failing to make anything sound good. But it sparked a love for hardware - although I could only find cracked software during that time.
From there on I picked up a few synths - the Nord Rack was another piece. My love for hardware pushed me to try new techniques, using mixing boards, FX processors and I think this lead me down to the modular Eurorack world, that I’m presently in.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Absolutely - I think my first steps into the modular world were the most challenging. I was coming from software and some limited hardware synths, where there were presets galore, to suddenly trying to patch a very basic sound - it really made me think if this was for me …
But eventually I learnt and understood what synthesis is. I spent many months experimenting and I’m glad I dove into it - I learnt so much. The possibilities a modular system provides are endless.
Another instrument is my TR 909. I bought it in Japan many years ago, and its my go-to drum machine - I use it on everything, often over processing it. I don’t think I can do without it anymore.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I absolutely love collaborating - I make a LOT of music on my own, so it's nice to get someone else’s perspective on ideas and techniques. The thirst for learning never ends.
Of course jamming in a room is the best way, but now it's mostly sharing files back and forth.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Music really consumes my life. (laughs) Waking up, coffee and playing some vinyl - mornings are for jazz or old rock albums. I then spend some time with my wife and pet - then I'm off into the studio.
The first few hours are generally catching up on e-mails - dealing with my labels / artists & agency stuff. I often have some podcast playing in the background … and listening to them is a great source of inspiration.
In the late afternoon I get working on music. I actually have a daily modular workout - just jamming with my gear without any set goals. In the past this was really helpful for my live gigs as it made the process second nature. Those jam recordings often lead to track ideas.
Evenings are spent chilling or cooking - something I’ve become very fond of since the pandemic started. It really is a great creative outlet too. I try and not make music at night anymore, unless of course some ideas strike me or if there was something exciting I was working on during the day - then its a few more hours in the studio. I’m also really trying to get my sleep cycle back to “normal” ... if there is such a thing. (laughs) Of course this is all post pandemic - life was very different two years ago.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I think my career has been a slow, steady climb, not sure if I can single out any one breakthrough moment.
But I guess one of my early productions 'Terrakoz' became a sleeping giant without me knowing it. It was released as the B-side on my Trapez Recordings EP and for months there was no traction, till someone sent me a video of Carl Cox playing it. He then included it on his Radio1 mix and the track blew up. In fact Carl's now defunct Global radio show featured the track on almost every episode for a year. Support started coming in from pretty much every big DJ on the circuit and I started getting a ton of requests to release & remix ... Looking back, this was a big one for me.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Ah ... now this is a tough one, as it changes often. Over the years I've noticed that inspiration can come in many forms, a creative mind tends to be creative in everything they do. The processing of the creativity is the real challenge, and I try and harness that in many ways - making music, making digital art or cocking. They often overlap into each other.
The biggest distraction are the Internet and social media. I would think the ideal state would be completely cut off from the digital world - let your immediate world inspire you.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Without a doubt! The jams I was talking about earlier are often a form of mediation, especially when I'm anxious. Music has tremendous healing power. A lot of the ambient stuff I've done under my AsymetriK alias was originally done as a healing tool for myself.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I think respect is most important. Whatever you may do, you must acknowledge the history behind it - without which, you might not be who you are today. Being inspired by the past is in itself paying homage, blatant stealing isn’t.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
The biggest example of this is the immediate connection between the sense of hearing and the body reacting ... No matter how I am feeling, the groove always makes my body move.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
As one grows older, and hopefully wiser, you understand the true meaning of art. Creating art for art - as a means of expression ... not with ulterior motives. I believe your art flows into your life and resonates with everything you do. Calling yourself an artist takes years of dedication to an artform. And yes, art should be a purpose in its own right, everything else that comes along with it is a bonus.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Melody has very powerful emotional connotations - for me, music speaks about what I cannot put into words.