Monday, June 21, 2010

EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Arjun Vagale (Jalebee Cartel) - Twisted & Sweet

It's not too often you hear about our homegrown artists getting major playtime from the likes of the big league DJs around the world. It's not too often you hear about Indian electronic acts touring around Europe on a consistent basis and having their production work signed to some of the best labels (around the world) this genre has to offer. In these times, it's certainly not often where you hear about electronic albums selling big in the country. Jalebee Cartel have achieved all this and more.

I first heard Jalebee at the Big Chill Festival, Goa, 2007 - they were playing the late afternoon slot and had what seemed like a pretty cult following. Big room prog with wonky vocals, wires and gadgets all over the place and four grungy looking dudes who kinda reminded me of an Indian version of Joy Division meets The Doors. Got to see them at the Sunburn Festival in 2008 and they absolutely rocked, very dark thick synth heavy bass lines with droning vocals, reminiscent of that 'old school' progno sound from a decade back. Soon enough, Jalebee released an extremely in demand album, they were one of the first Indian acts to have a music video on VH1, they blagged themselves a spot on the legendary Frisky Radio, and more to the point, gigged it big around the country, as well as making appearances in Germany and the Netherlands. 

It was up until recently that I really began to take notice of their music. Come late 2009, picked a random Submerge Sunday night to catch the Cartel's main man Arjun Vagale play a DJ set. Expecting it to be a fairly prog heavy affair, much to my surprise it was refreshing to be given a taste of lush deeeeeep tech house early in the night. More often than not, many of our Indian DJs seem to embrace the opportunity to bust a nut and open their sets at 130+ BPM, from my personal point of view I can't tell you how wrong this is. Which is why Arjun's set that night really made a difference in my perception of who Jalebee Cartel really are. Was easily one of the most well programmed performances I had heard in a long while, in a time where I was pretty jaded about the kind of music and DJs this country was churning out. A soulful funk driven opening hour, moving into dirtier hands in the air tech, powering into full-on in yer face Nintendo techno. To this day, I will say, Best.Set.of.2009.

Which is where I come to my main point about Jalebee Cartel - you just cannot pigeonhole them into any sub genre of electronica. These guys are a lot more than that, their sound is a lot more than that. Whether they're playing individual DJ sets, playing together live as a unit, whether you're listening to their tune Richie Hawtin is belting out or the one that's in Hernan Cattaneo's favourite list - they have a deep understanding of what works in various genres of electronica and they exploit it to it's bare bone adding their own unique Jalebee twist to it.  It's no surprise they're the go to guys when it comes to playing alongside the big international DJs that tour in India.

Evolving is essential in an industry where products are literally disposable within weeks... Jalebee Cartel are all about evolving and this shows in their vast discography. Do yourself a favour and get on their music... there's a bit of something for everyone. Techhouse like it used to be, techno beasts that make you feel like your heart is being ripped out and brooding prog which makes you think about your life... definitely not of the Kraft variety. If you're reading this in Europe - make sure to note down the dates of their upcoming Euro tour... you won't want to miss India's finest electronic act.

Jalebee Cartel YHIHF Gold Standard Picks (available on Beatport - HERE):
  1. FunkinA (Neurotraxx Deluxe)Quirky funk driven techhouse with infectious saxophone stabs that gives it an organic feel. The Aki Bergen remix is a Jalebee bestseller - peaking at #4 on the Beatport Deephouse Charts. 
  2. Mouse & Cheese (Neurotraxx Deluxe) - More yummy Jalebee techhouse with a funky vocal sample running through, reminded me of Joris Voorn work for some reason and no it has nothing to do with the use of 'mouse' in the title.
  3. Dub Drop (Beef Records) - All about the bass line on this baby. You can't help but shake and bounce to this.
  4. Chasing Sushi (Frequenza) Monster. This is scary techno. I see Richie Hawtin dropping it at 5AM at a grimy club in Berlin.
  5. Animaltek - Ghanjah (Jalebee Cartel remix) - Deep house goodness with the most ridiculous drummage. 

In an exclusive interview with YHIHF Jalebee Cartel's Arjun Vagale gives us the low down on the band, their latest releases and their upcoming summer tour in Europe, MakTub - his label with his DJ/producer friend in Uruguay, his opinion on DJ polls, the blossoming Indian EDM scene and getting feedback from the likes of legends such as Josh Wink and Richie Hawtin.

Who are Jalebee Cartel?  How long have you guys been around?  How did you guys form, what's the story there?
Ah… the age-old question! Jalebee was formed around 2004, basically because we were tired of doing the same old stuff and wanted to take things to the next level! Since we started producing our own tracks, we decided to experiment and see if we could play our music live… and thus Jalebee was born! All four of us are from different places: Ashvin - Bombay, Ash - Calcutta, G-Force - Pune, Arjun – Bangalore. Who are we? A bunch of freaks wanting to play music and party! :)

Can you tell us what role each of the band members play specifically?

Ash - vocals + percussions

G-Force - bass guitar

Ashvin - FX + synths + electronics

Arjun - synths + electronics + live sampling + the occasional scratching

In Pic: Arjun, G-Force, Ash, Ashvin

For those who aren't familiar with Jalebee Cartel - can you describe the band's sound?  How has it changed, evolved, matured over the years?
We don't really like to pigeonhole ourselves, but in a very broad sense I would call it tech-house. We believe in evolving with every gig and therefore our sound has also evolved over time.

Don't usually like asking this question, but since I love Jalebees, how did you guys come up with the name?
Been asked this one a million times now and the truth is we needed a name! Like I said, the whole live business was an experiment and we never thought it would get to where it is today, so back then when some club promoter asked me, ‘Do you have a name?’ I just thought let’s call it something really random and Jalebee happened. The Cartel came a month later… and it’s worked out for us! 

You guys are one of the few artists from India who have been getting some serious playtime from big league DJs around the world, who are some of the legends that play your tunes?
We have had feedback from so many people that it’s amazing, but I guess getting a message from the likes of Laurent Garnier or Josh Wink or Richie Hawtin has to be special. Regular supporters include Hernan Cattaneo and Anil Chawla.

What kind of feedback do you get from someone like Nick Warren or Josh Wink?  You guys must be interacting with DJs of this stature on a regular basis, what's their perception of India and the scene here?
Well, Mr Wink heard some of our stuff on Soundcloud and sent me a message saying he'd like a copy of it to play out and that he was really impressed to hear stuff like this coming out of India (the track was Dub Drop on BEEF Records). I do network a lot with DJs from all over the world and it’s really satisfying to get feedback from guys who we’ve been looking up to for years. Most people are still not too sure of the scene here, since predominately trance DJs have been coming to India… the techno/ house crew are pretty confused! Though India is now getting some serious attention - I just read that Yousef is dying to come and play here.

Tell us about your album One Point Nothing. 
The album came out early last year and we were really pleased with the response. Dance music owns about 0.75% of music sales in India and for us to have sold 85% of the stock was amazing to hear. The reason we did an album was so that people here could have something they could find in stores and pick up. Buying music online is still not that popular in India, so it was important to have something at the local music stores.  

The future Jalebee projects we can look forward to?
We have signed tracks to some seriously hot labels this year, so expect some bangers. We recently hit the Beatport charts, and as everyone knows, that’s like the Billboard charts for dance music. 

What labels have Jalebee Cartel produced for?
I can’t even remember all of them, but the few biggies are Ostwind | Frequenza | BEEF | ALiVE | Vapour | eVapour8 | Neurotraxx Deluxe | Save Room | Mashtronic | Baroque – and, of course, my own label, MakTub Music.

Who from the band DJs? I know you're a great DJ, who else DJs on a regular basis?  How do your DJ sets differ in sound from your live sets?
Thank you! Ash and Ashvin also DJ and have been doing so for the last 14 odd years. The three of us do plenty of solo gigs. The DJ sets are naturally filled with music from all over, stuff we dig and stuff that inspires us and our live sets are 100% Jalebee productions!

What kind of equipment do you guys use in the studio and during your live sets? What are some of your favourite gadgets to use and why?
In the studio, we produce on Cubase 5… it’s dope! Plus I have a bunch of hardware synths; I just got a Moog Little Phatty so that’s being used like crazy. 
Each of us have our own live rig, Ash has a bunch of different percussions, including a Hand Sonic and the new Korg Wave Drum; Ashvin uses a Mac + Ableton, a nano keyboard and a Koass Pad 3; G-force has a Gibson Bass and a Line 6 bass pod, and I have two Macs + VCM 600 + Korg Keyboard + NI Machine and a few more bits here and there! We are gear-junkies and are always on the lookout for new additions!

Tell us about Maktub - how old is the label?  What kind of sounds does it strive to push? Besides Jalebee, who are the producers we should be looking out for?  Where can we purchase MakTub's music?
MakTub is a label I started with my good friend Nico (Logiztik Sounds) from Uruguay. We started early last year and so far have about 14 releases out and many more in the pipeline. The label was created so that we could help promote young and fresh producers and stuff produced by friends. Almost all the producers on the label have been working with us in some way or the other for years, so it’s a bit like a small family.

Again, we don't really define our sound – it’s a mix of tech-prog-house! I'm also really happy that I've gotten a lot of budding producers from India on it and have given them the platform to showcase their productions. We signed Praveen Achary's awesome track ‘Crossover’ and got Fiord and MOS to remix it and everyone from Sasha to Digweed played this out. I signed an EP by Pawas as well, who is a close friend, and if you follow Hawtin on Twitter you'll see he's dropped Pawas – ‘Romeo’(Ray Kajioka Remix) a few times.

You guys have a two-week tour in Europe coming up, give us the low down on all the dates and cities you’re playing at?
The tour is actually five weeks! We are super excited that we're doing a proper tour. Here are the dates:

Jun 24 (Thu) - C/O Pop Festival // Cologne, Germany 

Jun 25 (Fri) - Fusion Festival // Germany

Jul 02 (Fri) - Puppenfabrik // Sossen, Germany

Jul 03 (Sat) - SodraTeatern // Stockholm, Sweden
Jul 10 (Sat) - M.I.K.Z // Berlin, Germany
Jul 17 (Sat) - Paradiso // Amsterdam, Netherlands
Jul 23 (Fri) - Tresor // Berlin, Germany
Jul 24 (Sat) - Love Parade Festival // Duisburg, Germany
Jul 31 (Sat) - Juicy Beats Festival // Dortmund, Germany

Jalebee Cartel have done their fair share of touring around India and outside India, what are some of your favourite cities to play at and why?  Can you tell us how the Indian crowd is unique?
We absolutely love Blue Frog in Bombay - every gig there has been really special, because the club has an awesome vibe, the crew are spot-on, they know their shit, and the crowd is always up for it, so that’s our No. 1 venue in India! I personally like playing in Bangalore as well, because it’s home! Pune is another place where the kids really dig our stuff.

Watch Jalebee Cartel's sound check at Blue Frog, June 19th, 2010: Click here 

It seems like dance music is taking a major hit in the West with big name clubs shutting down and various labels folding, at the same time I think it's kind of blowing up in the East... Describe EDM culture in India - the popular sounds, the crowds, festivals like Sunburn, how things work in clubs here?
Yup, the East is exploding big time, you just need to see the influx of international DJs coming down. That said, these aren’t necessarily the best DJs - promoters are still getting the ‘cheese’ down because they know it will sell! To really make a mark, we need to get the real underground guys here, the one who really set the trends, not the has-beens who play the Beatport Top 10!

What's Deep Fried Jalebee all about on Frisky Radio?
It’s a show I started on frisky and it's almost three years old now! Wow! I push a lot of Asian-based DJs on it and we average a listenership of 3000 people, which is super! The idea was to represent India on frisky and Faisal, the owner, has been super supportive.

In your opinion, name three Indian DJs who you think are really pushing the boundaries of DJing and EDM culture right now?  Why should we be making it a point to be catching them?
Dheeraj Sareen is a DJ to keep an eye on! Very talented and the guy plays some dope tunes. Two others are Arnold from Mumbai and Praveen Achary. There is a lot of talent in this country and I try and do as much as I can to help them.

The question has to be asked, Jalebee Cartel didn't participate in the My Favourite DJ (India) poll - can you tell us why?  What are your views on polls in general? You don't feel like you're missing out on a perfect marketing opportunity?
Firstly, Jalebee is a live act and a collective of DJs, so that would be just wrong to enter a competition! Second, I've been doing this for 14 odd years, so I know where I stand and I don't really need an ego boost to be named No. 1 or whatever. The fact that I played over 130 gigs last year and people came to hear me at every single one of them is reward enough! I do feel that the young DJs should use opportunities like this to get ahead.

If you could pick out one Jalebee tune you would recommend to a listener who has not heard you guys, what would it be?
It has to be one of the first few ones, ‘Beautiful Rising,’ it still has an amazing vibe.

Download Jalebee Cartel's classic track 'Beautiful Rising': Click here (right click, save as) 

Who are some of the producers and DJs you think have truly stood the test of time?
Hawtin as a DJ! He's back with a vengeance. Producers… I love everything Underworld do, so they are still my favourite - the new album should be amazing, can’t wait! Other than that, I generally look for new guys on the block.

I see you guys rocking Adidas Originals gear all the time - what's the obsession and connection?
We firstly love the brand! Classic + Old Skool stuff. When they launched in India, they invited us to be associated with them, which we were well chuffed about. Now we get some clothes and shoes from them on and off!

What are your favourite restaurants around India and why?
TK's and Ai in Delhi – especially TK's coz it’s been around forever and the teppanyaki is probably the best in the country, me and the wife do this really often! Blue Frog in Bombay, because the food is just amazing... they play with a lot of flavors and have some unique combinations. Wasabi for Japanese hunger pangs.

Pick three of Jalebee Cartel's favourite movies and tell us why?
It's All Gone Pete Tong – classic dance music shizi!
I love classic war movies, so I guess all of them; The Guns of Navarone, Patton, Sahara, Where Eagles Dare etc.

Jalebee Cartel are stuck on a deserted island with a life supply of batteries and a boom box, list out 6 life changing must-have albums you’d like to have with you and why?
Ah… Can’t really think of 6, but off the top of my head: 
Joris Voorn – Balance 014: Such an amazing album, the man took over 100 tracks and transformed this double CD into a piece of art!
Shpongle - Are You Shpongled?: Yes, this one changed my life for sure, Posford is truly a genius, the way he just mangles soundscapes.
BT – ESCM: Flaming June! Nuff said.
Underworld: Everything, Everything

A big thank you to Arjun Vagale and Jalebee Cartel for taking the time to do this interview... hope you guys have a rocking time in Europe! Do us proud! :D - SG

Download Jalebee Cartel's classic track 'Beautiful Rising': Click here (right click, save as)

Preview and purchase Jalebee Cartel releases on Beatport: Click here
Follow Jalebee Cartel on Twitter: Click here
Become a fan of Jalebee Cartel on Facebook: Click here
Check out fresh Jalebee Cartel releases on Sound Cloud: Click here
Check out MakTub Music's website: Click here

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