Lights Out Premiere: Asymetrik - Before Dawn [Asymetrik] + Interview

A new beginning for a seasoned veteran
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Today, Lights Out brings you an exclusive premiere from India's leading techno icon Arjun Vagale, who presents an exciting new alias AsymetriK, an outlet for pure artistic expression and creativity, free from the worry of music charts and DJ support. The brooding and intense experimental techno is as fresh as it is surprising, and something we hope to hear more of in the future. As someone who's had a successful career as an artist and label owner for 25 years, we wanted to know, why now? What is the message behind the music, if any? We were able to catch up with him for more insight into the project and how it came to be. 

Hi Arjun, thanks for sitting with us today. Before we dive in too deep, I’d like to know, what have the past 6 months looked like for you both as a person and as an artist?

Hi guys, it’s a pleasure speaking with you.

I’ve recently been concentrating on a few key ideas & projects. Just before I created the release plan for AsymetriK, I was working on a live show, ‘Artifact Assassin,’ a collaboration with my friend & visual artist extraordinaire Avinash Kumar. The idea was to create an immersive AV show to present my new music. We’ve been working on the idea for over a year, designing custom visuals for each specific venue, so that every performance would be unique, both sonically & visually.

You’ve been successful under your original name for quite some time. Where did the desire to create AsymetriK come from? Had you always been into harder techno, or was it a more recent thing?

Right after Sonar 2018, I fell and broke my shoulder – I had to cancel my tour and we headed back home to Goa, which was deep in monsoon season: grey skies & constant rain for 6 months. There’s not much you can do when your hand is in a sling, and you have to stay home! So I checked into the studio to try and channel this energy in a positive way.

When I started writing this music, I kind of allowed myself to just be free – when I’m producing more 4/4 or dancefloor tracks, I usually picture where it will be played or who will consume it. But this was just about me in my studio: making music for the love of it, without any preconceived goals ... and it turned out to be something completely different. I actually wrote a full album’s worth in a few months, and when I played it back to my wife (I always get her to listen to all my work as she really gives me honest feedback), she was pleasantly surprised with the direction. There was a stark difference between this and everything else I had made previously.

I initially had a plan to release all of it as an album, but it wasn’t so much an ‘Arjun Vagale’ album – I felt this needed to be its own entity. I eventually scrapped the album idea and decided it made more sense to put these out as EP’s.

Walk us through the creative process of writing an AsymetriK record. Does it vary from how you produce under your name?

As I mentioned, this music was produced in the most organic way possible – just me in my studio jamming with my gear and recording everything. I’ve been using this process for a few years now, but this period was about me digging deeper into my modular system and seeing what I can do with it. Most of these tracks started as jams with new modules or new ways of patching them… basically nerding out... and that led to more creative ideas.

With AsymetriK, I’m staying away from the regular 4/4 kick and using generative modules to create broken beat patterns. Though there are many tracks that have no groove at all— I won’t call them ambient, but let’s say beat-less music.

Along with the release, you’ve also launched a new label of the same name. What made you decide that you needed a new label as well? Surely you could have released with someone else, no?

I read an interview with Matrixxman, and he said, “After a certain point, you realise you don’t need anyone to validate you any longer. And that your ideas can stand on their own. I found that paradigm shift to be quite liberating. I wish I’d have come to that conclusion earlier frankly.”

His words REALLY resonated with me and I kept coming back to them.

I sent a snapshot of the music to a couple of people to get some feedback for myself – just to know if any of this music made sense. The first really positive feedback came from Laurent Garnier, who absolutely loved the organic nature of the music. I also sent it to my good friend Moe (Drumcell) and he was blown away. He’s been a huge inspiration, so I’m super thankful to him for guiding me through a lot of the release process.

With this I gained the confidence I needed to put it out myself and have complete creative freedom.

What are some of your go-to bits of kit when writing music? Any new additions to the setup you’re loving?

My main bit of kit is my ever-evolving Modular System. It’s a synth/sampler/ drum machine in one, something I’ve built from scratch. I’m constantly working with it, and the possibilities are endless – that’s probably why I love it so much. The minute I get a bit bored, I dismantle it and re-configure the modules – and just like that, to my eyes it’s a new machine. And that instantly gives me new ideas.

My 909 is my go-to drum machine. I use it all the time – often the sounds are seriously processed.

The other essential piece is my Elektron Analog Heat – I use this to process pretty much everything.

We’ve seen your modular rig used at various gigs. When did you first get into modular synths?

My first encounter with them was at SchneidersLaden in Berlin – probably 2014. I picked up a Doepfer Dark Energy to try and hack this whole modular thing, as it seemed completely daunting and the semi-modular looked like a perfect stepping stone. The guys at the store were really helpful and within a year I was back there buying my first case and modules. From there on I was completely hooked. Just the idea of creating sound from pure electricity was a revelation, and I’ve learned so much about synthesis. Every time I travel abroad, I hunt for synth stores to feed my addiction. I’m really glad we don’t have one in India, or else I’d be broke. I’m a total geek at heart, I still spend hours on YouTube every day looking at synth videos.

When playing live, is everything completely live and on the fly, or do you actually play the tunes you make? How do you prep for a gig?

The AsymetriK Live set is a mix of both; I naturally wanted to play the tracks I’ve produced, but also wanted the space to improvise. So my setup is a bit complicated but it works really well. I use Ableton with maybe 3 or 4 stems of the original track chopped into loops. These stems are processed via the modular so I can mangle the original sound source. I also have sequencers that I run on top of the stems, for additional synth lines. Only the main kick is part of the stems – the other drums are done live – so I add hats, snares & other percussions on the fly.

I recently got an Elektron Model: Samples to take care of the drums, as I’m running out of space in my live case. My travel case is 2 x 104HP, and I need to fit everything in there – I don’t want to carry more than this.

So this way, I can loop certain bits, add new synth lines & drums to that loop and keep the track going, and often a semi-new tune is created.

What is the overall message you’re trying to send with Asymetrik, if any?

I guess this project is a way for me to say, Bring out the artist inside you – express what you actually feel!

I see so many of my peers making music for the charts, or making a track that XYZ will play... It’s no longer about the actual ART, and much more about going viral on social media and creating false buzz based on bullshit! I know this is the reality we live in right now, there’s no escaping it; everything is about how much ‘reach’ one has.

But let’s not forget why we all got into this to begin with – for The MUSIC!

Now that you’ve got both projects running in parallel, your workload has surely increased. When you’re faced with a massive pile of work but are feeling unfocused or frustrated, how do you recenter yourself to get things done?

In truth, I still struggle with it! I try my best to keep a balance – between running ODD Recordings, my DJ gigs, AsymetriK, and life in general. But I love to push myself creatively – and when I hit a roadblock, I switch off and go for a swim. I recently started meditating and its effects are remarkable.

I’ve also made the conscious decision to slow down a bit and only take on projects/gigs that really inspire & excite me – I’ve been doing this for almost 25 years now, and I don’t need to prove anything anymore. One needs to be happy & healthy, and spend more time with the people they love.

Finally, in all of your experience in the industry, what would you say is the single most important piece of advice you could give to a new artist just starting on their journey?

Be true to yourself, and work hard – there is no substitute for hard work.

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