Review & Interview: Arjun Vagale’s Re: Focus At BlueFROG
In all honesty, it’s always sounded slightly presumptuous to me how the parameters for acclaim in electronica, the world over, are so vague.
It’s common practice to cramp jockeys into one encompassing be all/end all list regardless of the genre of music they spin – for instance, music (now) as disparate as acid techno, micro house and two step garage is lumped into a one-size-fits-all bracket and judged mostly off personal preference. You’ll excuse me, then, for being more than slightly skeptical of Re: Focus (the solo effort of Jalebee Cartel crusader Arjun Vagale), branded ahead of a brimming show at Mumbai giant blueFROG as nothing short of a definitive dance experience.
Don’t get me wrong. Re: Focus headlined an NH7 Weekender, purportedly stunning critics and onlookers in equal measure, so this marketing was based on more than an unfounded speculation.
Kicking off February in a big way, Vagale, widely touted as the country’s most consistent contribution to quality international EDM, managed to allay doubts and leave an impression through the hype. Even to the caustic and the picky (i.e.: me), it’s not difficult to see wherein the popularity lies, and to admit that his famous ‘India’s top DJ’ tag may just live to see 2014 in adequate style.
A variety of weekend misfits inhabited blueFROG by ten, clumps of celebrity children and aged Caucasians trundled in with us and on to the floor. ‘Poona boys’ Oozeundat, over a year in the brewing, finally broke their sound to the Mumbai masses with an opening set that did more to co-found a complementary vibe than anything else. Roan and Sidhant swung in slightly more dialed down than usual but settled on a pace that failed to disappoint. The duo homed into the console and inherited a tempo they wore more comfortably when they took over again toward the end of the night. Drifting occasionally to a fuller and warmer sound than Vagale ever did, 2013 will hopefully see them hone their native groove and find a release.
What the erstwhile Detroit music scene has flexed, with volumes of confused genres that choose to hover into its safe, bestselling orbit is nothing short of extraordinary. Vagale arrived to a floor that spilled at the seams, to jostling reminiscent of hometown McDonald’s queues. The industrial Re: Focus engine whirred patiently to a start, perhaps a tad too patiently until I was afraid the serration and monotony that is the demise of many a good tech house/techno sets would crust firmly onto my bones over this one. Then the steel and the drag and the ruptured kicks clicked into pattern, now and again and over again. Drinks securely caged in signature plastic blueFROG bottles, people stopped thinking and began to give in. G-Force’s visuals seemed a tribute to the blocky computer generated art of the 80s, drab and pixel-bound edges that consumed every form of popular media the decade that techno was born. Minimal and effective, they notched neatly into the night.
In the end, Re: Focus wasn’t about syncopation and lilt – it was about permeating every inch of the dance floor and dragging you along knee deep into the bog.
The show will not be the artistic implosion you may have been led to believe – expect one and it’s bound to fall short – but like a master of cerebral ceremonies Vagale braves the turbulent mainstream to make sure you have a great time. Overall, Re: Focus brings within reach what might easily have been flat and overambitious material in the hands of a less experienced musician.
Read our quick interview with Vagale below, then find your thickest shoes and bring your friends to this one.
BM: Would you rather call Re: Focus a throwback to what’s influenced you over the years or an experiment, your introspection on more Berlin based sounds?
AV: Re: Focus is a concept that explores bringing deep and raw sounds in the techno space to wider audiences. The music is all 100% original; they’re all tracks that I’ve recorded over the last 8 to 10 months keeping this show in mind. Its not really an experiment, it intends to show people that you don’t need hands-in-the-air pop to actually headline festivals. That’s why we created a custom visual experience to go with the music.
Naturally all the music I produce is in some form influenced by my travels, be it Berlin or Bangalore. To me, it’s about keeping it fresh and interesting, so I’m always updating the set with new tracks I’m making or working on. The beauty of playing live is that you can throw as much as you like into the set, so at times there are a ton of unreleased tracks that I test.
BM: What genre would you personally classify the show as? What is it that’s attracted you to this genre in the first place?
AV: In a broad sense it’s all techno. Again, I try not to restrict myself in the studio, so all my tracks have somewhat their own sound, but there is a clear underlining Arjun Vagale vibe to all the stuff I produce, so I don’t really like to get too into genres.
I’ve been DJ’ing for years now, so techno is something I’ve been into from the very beginning.
BM: Where do you see techno heading in India in the near future? Who are the artists you’re looking forward to hearing more of?
AV: Tech house and techno are both going off at the moment. There are a ton of DJs playing this sound, and we have some very promising producers working hard on building their own sound. We have both Richie Hawtin and Dubfire coming to India now, so you know it’s time.
BM: What processors do you work with, usually? The more retroactive darlings like the TB-303? Is there any equipment you hope to use that you haven’t had the opportunity to?
AV: I’m a huge gear freak, so I’m pretty on it when it comes to the studio. I use a mix of analogue and digital, and have a simple rule; if it sounds good, use it. A lot of people debate constantly about analogue vs. digital, but honestly, no one really cares in the end, it’s the track that matters.
I have a Moog little phatty that I’ve been using like crazy for the last 2 years. And yup, I recently got a TB-303 clone – the original is close to impossible to find. Every time I’m on tour abroad, I always see what new toys are out there.
writtem by Tej Haldule