DJ and music producer Varun Desai says what clicked with his podcast, Tropickle
The best way to ride out the culture-shifting podcast wave is to tune in to the ones which give you an escapist edge. DJ and music producer Varun Desai, who’s probably listed on your SoundCloud playlists as Yidam, is making one of the most compelling podcasts in the country titled Tropickle, which goes live the last Tuesday of every month, and takes a dive into deep, organic electronica selections with a background of international folk. Varun, who started out his career in the US, has performed across the breadth of Southern America and was eager to bring the sounds native to the tropics, into a coalescing experience, featuring a synthesis of electronic and local folk rhythms.
“I‘d noticed that a lot of folk music from places like Peru and Argentina had similar rhythmic DNA to the music that was native to Bengal. I wanted to be able to weave those together to express this sense of unity and diversity at the same time. I wanted to communicate to the listeners that there existed a new form of electronic music that integrated traditional/ regional music with contemporary electronic production techniques,” Varun tells us.
The DJ started Tropickle in 2017, and has already presented the podcast as a live showcase in festivals and alternative stages across Goa, Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. The podcast has been conceptualised as an ethnographic leap across sub genres and time, with a focus on bridging the gap between the diversities of folk rhythms. Episode 17 of the show, for instance, features numbers by Brazilian singer-songwriter Milton Nascimento, electronica artiste La Varita de Mariangola, LA-based composer and vinyl mastering engineer Richard Houghten, and the Nigerian sister duo Lijadu Sisters, who are incidentally cousins of the iconic instrumentalist Fela Kuti, a pioneer of the Afrobeat genre. Fela Kuti, in fact, features heavily on Tropickle’s latest episode.
“The newest episode pays tribute to the rhythm of Fela Kuti’s band Africa‚ 70 and Tony Allen who was the originator of the Afrobeat sound. I’ve tried to mix music from the ’70s with music created in 2019 to bring together the sounds of different eras, and create a narrative that could show how Fela Kuti’s music has influenced different producers through the years,” Varun reveals. The DJ’s focus on downtempo electronica and synthdriven sounds has earned him a distinct renown, especially as his podcast is never space-invading. “People have been quite happy with it as it’s the kind of electronic music that’s not very intrusive. The good thing about downtempo is that people can share a moment together with the music as the soundtrack. But a lot of music I play towards the end of the shows involves very high energy drumming and high BPM organic dance music,” adds Varun.
Varun, who started performing as Yidam while he was still at University, has had a career spanning more than 15 years and has performed at some of the most prolific stages, including Burning Man (2008). Interestingly, he started out by making podcasts for his own sets. “My podcast served as a preview of what to expect from my set so when promoters started booking me at downtempo stages, they knew exactly where to place me in the lineup. Over the years my output has got more prolific so now I tend to play whatever the vibe of the show demands, but it was really helpful to be earlier to fit into a space I was confirmable with,” he tells us. As the podcast culture takes over the world, and steadily makes our commutes and work hours less lonesome, it is also simultaneously helping us to re-connect with our favourites.
“Before Tropickle, I wasn’t publishing much, so the only place to hear my music was at gigs. Podcast as a medium is very effective in expressing what you are about as an artiste, but I can’t say it’s something that will get you booked as a performer. There are many podcasters who are not performers,” adds Varun, who is currently working to revive his old record label Liquidfrequency which he started in 2009, and which was one of India’s first digital music labels. He brought it back as he is set to release a series of new compilations called PENINSULA this month, which will showcase contemporary downtempo and ambient music from India, a sound that was fairly non-existent when he came up with the label a decade back.
Tropickle streams on boxout. fm, Mixcloud and Facebook.