Arjun Vagale’s gig at Tokyo’s revered Womb club marks another step towards India’s growing influence in electronic music
The roll call of great artists to have graced the console at Tokyo’s legendary Womb club reads like dance music’s version of the Book of Life: techno legends Jeff Mills, Sven Vath and Richie Hawtin, acid house pioneer DJ Pierre, Belgian groove gurus 2ManyDJs, Mad Decent head honcho Diplo and Brit superstars Paul Oakenfold, John Digweed and Sasha. And now, there’s a brown guy in the ring. Last month, Arjun Vagale became the first Indian DJ to play a set at the seminal Japanese venue.
“Any DJ worth their music knows about Womb,” says Arjun Vagale. “It’s often referred to the Fabric or Berghain of the East, and it’s been on my list of clubs to play for many years now.” It’s hardly surprising that Vagale namechecks the London and Berlin clubs as reference points. Both establishments are seeped in history, boast killer acoustics and regularly bill the world’s top acts besides promoting local talent.
Womb is no different. For starters, the sound system is modelled after New York’s influential club Twilo (1995-2011), where DJs often walked out of the booth and on to the dance floor to hear their favorite records. It’s spread over four floors with a cavernous main room, and also features state-of-the-art lighting and visuals. Their visual jockeys are recognised not just in Japan but also internationally, featuring at Singapore’s annual ZoukOut dance music festival last year. The club was also immortalized in Mexican director Alejandro GonzÃ¡lez IÃ±Ã¡rritu’s 2006 film, Babel, where Chieko (the deaf-mute girl) ends up partying with her friends.
Womb has consistently been placed in several top 10 lists, from revered British electronic music magazines DJ Mag and Mix Mag to being in various industry professionals’ personal favourites. Vagale experienced all these details first-hand. “The sound system, the room, the people ”“ they were all incredible,” he says. “I got to the venue early to hear the other guys on the lineup. Before my set at 3am, Tommy, one of the Session residents [the promoters who booked Vagale after they’d met on his US tour last year] played an amazing Detroit-inspired set. I knew I could take it any direction I wanted, but I also wanted them to get a taste of who I am.” Afterwards, Nao, another of the Session promoters described Vagale’s set as “amazing and druggy”.
The Japanese club has cemented the country’s reputation within the global electronic music scene ”“ pushed simultaneously by the success of its DJ stalwarts Ken Ishi, Ko Kimurah, Satoshi Tomiie ”“ and also Vagale’s love affair with the land. “My home is hugely influenced by Japan and Japanese culture,” he says. “My mom-in-law grew up in Kobe, so we cook a lot of Japanese food at home, often shopping at the Japanese grocery store in Delhi. I personally love sake and sashimi, so it was a top priority for me to visit the country.”
His trip also included a pilgrimage to the synth mecca FiveG in Shibuya where analogue devotees can find all kinds of vintage synthesisers. “It had everything you could think of! The first ever MS-20 [one of Korg’s most coveted synthesisers] is in the shop, as are a bunch of original [Roland] TB 303s [bass synthesiser responsible for the acid house sound],” he says. “A beautiful [Roland] SH101 caught my attention, and I played around with it for a few hours, wanting to buy it. But then I knew customs would take my pants off here in India. BUT…I’m still thinking about getting it somehow.”
Watch a clip from Babel set in Womb here: