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Biting The Big Apple: Techno Producer Arjun Vagale on Moving to the U.S

One of the most celebrated Indian contemporary producers and DJ discusses how he moved to America to take on fresh challenges

Kenneth Lobo Sep 15, 2014
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Arjun Vagale in New York City. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Arjun Vagale in New York City. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Arjun Vagale and his wife Anees Saigal walked into a bagel store at Williamsburg, Brooklyn last July. The man behind the counter shouted out to Vagale by name and told them how much he and his brother loved his music. Vagale says that “to hear that at home is no biggie, but to experience it in New York blew me away!” In typically modest fashion, he attributes the experience to “the power of music: if it’s good, DJs will play it, and it will spread globally.” Now, in addition to the music, Brooklyn and the rest of America’s growing techno fan base can look forward to Vagale in the flesh, after his move to New York in August.

Vagale has acted quickly since his shift. For a start, he’s signed on to Liaison Artists, one of the biggest booking agencies in the US. He’s sharing roster space with British techno sorcerer James Holden, Berlin’s leading electro artist Ellen Allien and Brooklyn house heavyweights Metro Area. Vagale, however, expects a tough, uphill battle. “Moving to a new territory is never easy, so I’m not expecting anything massive anytime soon,” he says. “I’m going to have to move up the ranks, but I’m so ready for it.”

What also prepared Vagale for a shift abroad is a feeling of saturation in India. Headlining festivals, setting up a successful booking agency (UnMute), a flowering music school (I Love Music Academy), an evolving record label (Mak.Tub), winning DJ awards and playing multiple gigs at top venues across the country – there’s nothing that the hydra-headed DJ hasn’t done. “I reached this point where I needed some more stimulation,” he says. “I prefer to play four quality gigs a month than to fill my calendar with 10 random ones.” And New York, pickled in electronic music history, will revitalize him plenty. Iconic DJs and clubs – dance music innovator David Mancuso at the Loft, disco legend Larry Levan at the Paradise Garage, house pioneer Little Louie Vega at Vinyl, Junior Vasquez at the Sound Factory, dub master François Kevorkian at Cielo and more recently acid house exponent Mike Servito at the Bunker – have all survived and thrived here in New York.

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Last monsoon, Vagale played his first New York gig alongside one his heroes, Brooklyn house and techno DJ Victor Calderon, at Governors Beach Club. “It was exciting and nerve-wrecking,” he says. “But I slammed it and the response was incredible.” He also spent three months touring San Francisco, Detroit and Miami. “Part of the idea was to see what the scene was like and whether it worked for me,” Vagale says. “I made a lot of great friends on that trip and heard some incredible music.” Along with a lengthier phone book, he also ended up with a bag of tunes. “It was really inspiring for me as a producer too,” he says. “Even though I didn’t carry any gear with me, I managed to make a ton of music. You know that feeling when you get to a city and everything just feels right. I fell in love with Brooklyn ”“ it reminded me so much of Berlin, the only difference being that everyone spoke English.”

To be sure, the producer-DJ has considered moving before. “[I have] often thought about moving to Berlin or Barcelona but in reality, the Indian passport will only allow you to do so much,” he says.  “For the past seven years, I’ve spent every [European] summer [monsoon in India] out of the country, but it’s a challenge with the visas and bullshit laws that make it close to impossible to stay out for more than three months. And with the US, I managed to figure a way to do this ”“ 18 years of hard work paid off.”

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He’s also convinced that his move will pave the way for more productive, constructive interest in the Indian scene and local producer-DJs. “When you are based in India, the world views you as being cut off or inaccessible, in a way ”“ and I want to change that and give it a shot,” he says. “This isn’t a permanent move, it’s an experiment to see what can happen if I base myself somewhere else, and really throw myself in the deep end. Believe me, if I manage to reach my targets abroad, it will only push India higher. I’m proud that I’ve represented the Indian underground internationally. I am and will always proud to be Indian, and this will always be home.”

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