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Feature: Nick Varon [Interview]

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Nick Varon has been a beloved DJ and artist in progressive music culture for the better part of two decades. Hailing from Greece but now based in Spain, the Barcelona resident has become a frequent contributor to Hernan Cattaneo’s Sudbeat Music, while travelling the world and delighting crowds with his exquisite programming skills and cutting edge music selections. In a year that has already yielded success from his latest Sudbeat offering ‘Dub Land’, Nick now embarks on this first project for DJ Zombi’s Beat Boutique. We had a chance to catch up with Nick for a chat on the cusp of the release. Enjoy!

Hi Nick, thanks for joining us today, tell us where in the world you are and what your plans for the week are?

Hi and thanks for having me I am currently on holidays in Formentera, Spain and I will be spending my week between here and Ibiza.

Tell us about your record/music collection, where do some of your early influences lie and can you name five tracks that were most important in your musical development?

My first major influence was jazz -as well as my first vinyls. Although very quick i got to listen to rock music which i could say it has been my major early influence and not only. Driven by those genres i started taking piano lessons – which I abandoned regrettably too early – and then i started playing the guitar. So till the age of 15 i was mostly into rock bands and the grunge movement with some love for ‘’Heavy Metal’’ as well. Favourite bands would be Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Green Day, Offspring, Iron Maiden & Metallica to name a few. At the same time i would explore my father’s vinyl collection and bands such as The Stranglers, The Police, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, all the stuff that he would listen to at home. Mostly my record/ music collection it was about rock mu- sic. Then i got bitten by the electronic music bug which dominated my record collection from that point and on. Every time I can i enrich my vinyl collection. Extremely hard to choose only 5 but here you go..

Ray Charles – What’d I Say
Prince – Purple Rain
Depeche Mode – Halo
Radiohead – 15 Step
Underworld – Dark & Long

Talk to us about growing up and living in Greece, how has it affected your musical taste and the music you make?

I grew up in Athens on the south suburbs by the sea in an area called Paleo Faliro. One of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Athens, an ideal location very close to the center, the main port and to the rest of the stunning Athenian Riviera. Traditional music in my country is really famous & all the other styles have to live in the shade of its dominion. There’s a part of the traditional music that I really like although i dislike its modern interpretation. Before I get into djing and electronic music production I was composing mostly slow rock songs with my guitar -some of them quite famous in my school years haha. So i was highly affected when it comes to this composer side of me, but this side was on 15 year hibernation until recently when during the quarantine period I composed 2 new songs collaborating with my friend Thanos Laitsas. Since I decided to follow the path of electronic music and all these years, either as dj or a producer I could say that it hasn’t affected my taste & the music i make in any way.

At what point in your life did you relocate to Spain and what prompted the move?

Before relocating in Spain I was living in New York City for 4 years. At that time R & B was dominating, and EDM has started to rise slowly, definitely not the best days for the ‘’underground’’ house music movement at the time. So I thought staying there would be a hard & long task in all aspects. Financially, professionally and emotionally. At the same time I was getting really tired of the weather there. I remember the day I decided to leave. It was end of March, a week after the WMC and I had a gig that got cancelled due to a snowstorm. So I said that’s it. And that was it. Before getting back to Greece I wanted to try living abroad a little bit longer. Spain & Barcelona met all the criteria of what I was looking for at the time, such as great weather, easy to travel around the globe, very close to Greece & close to Ibiza, an epicenter of the industry. By my first visit there it felt like home. Also the fact that I had some close friends living in the city was really helpful into the transition. So 11 years later I am still there.

What are your favourite venues to play in Spain and why?

That would be NOM in Barcelona where I am having my residency the last 2 years. I don’t get to play in other cities in Spain. The scene until 3-4 years ago was ruled by techno & tech house, although the rise of the so called melodic techno & the innervisions sound all over has helped our sound to get bigger in Spain as well. More doors were about to open here but then Covid came.

How have you been dealing with COVID-19? Spain was hit particularly hard early on. Are you seeing some brighter days there now?

I am routine driven personality and the COVID-19 situation has taken me out of rhythm. At the beginning I thought it would be over soon but then I understood that I was mistaken. So I took it for granted that 2020 is lost in terms of gigs & traveling. I am trying to adapt to the situation and I have to say sometimes its quite frustrating. Then I am thinking how blessed I have been in my life so far and how many lives got destroyed by Covid-19 and I let the frustration go. Trying to find ways to get motivated and do things that I wouldn’t do before Covid. It hasn’t been an easy task since before Covid I was doing all the things I really loved. But the list of beautiful things to do in life are endless and sometimes we just can’t see them, so I am forcing my self to forget my so loved routine for the moment and find at least some of them.

Brighter days within the Covid period? Yes definitely, there are way less people dying which is the most important. Spain was hit hard early on and the quarantine period was long. We could only go out to the supermarket and that was it. Brighter days regarding our industry? I wouldn’t say since they just announced that they will be shutting down bars & restaurants for the next 15 days. Our sector is the last in line therefore is easy to understand that we we will have to wait for a while longer.

What is something you do now (regularly) that you did not before COVID-19?

I did quite a lot yoga during the confinement period, got a bit rusty the last month but I am willing to return to it and add it to my routine for good. Started playing the guitar again slowly…& also doing a way more plant based diet and I am extremely happy with it. Ethically & physically. Not something that I am doing regularly, but had quite long holidays after more than 15 years so worth to mention it.

Once nightlife eventually resumes globally what kind of effect do you think this period in our history will have on the clubbing experience?

I assume that we wont return into “normality” at once but slowly within various steps. Difficult to predict the effects. Probably many businesses wont make it if this lasts a while longer. It will depend on how the governments will help them out on the next day. Right now in most countries our industry its been handled horribly. Like we don’t exist and that’s frustrating. We have been completely ignored. I think that small venues will be the ones to bounce back at the beginning. Most importantly i want to believe that all of us involved in the scene we will be able to value the real weight that art -in all its forms -has in our life and health. We took it for granted and now that we are not able to enjoy it, live it and share it we are so longing for those moments. So if this happens clubbing experience will come back better than ever. Regardless all the beautiful things we are seeing with digital alternatives nothing com- pares to the feeling of being swept away while enjoying live arts in the company of others. Its an unbeatable sensation of energy generation.

You have a new EP out now on DJ Zombi’s Beat Boutique. Tell us a bit about the release and walk us through the production process on the title track.

This EP includes 3 original tracks ‘’Wardenclyffe’’, ‘’Cuncumen’’ & ‘’Blunted’’. What I have tried to do in this EP was to get a bit out of my comfort production zone. I used more tribal elements & less hypnotic ones that i normally do, reducing the melodic parts and the hypnotic mood but trying at the same time to keep the atmosphere of the style I produce. I wanted with this EP to demonstrate a different aspect of my production side, a fresher essence and a brighter tone of what I usually produce. When i started working on ‘’Wardenclyffe’’ I felt like I need it to do all these things I mentioned above. I started building a groove with a lot of percussion and a simple 3 note ‘’electric’’ lead with plenty of modulation on the background all along the way. While adding the melodic part I tried to keep the balance between the elements, I didn’t want the melody to get the whole attention. That was more or less the process of the title track, that got baptized after the experimental wireless transmission station designed and built by Nikola Tesla in New York 120 years ago.

Where does your inspiration come from? And was there anything in particular which inspired you to write this particular set of tracks?

I am a film lover and a good film can really inspire me. Many times I finished watching a movie and got right away to the studio started working on a track. That’s definitely one source of inspiration. The other major one would be all the interaction I have with people while travelling & djing .This source is on a pause right now. Of course there are many other sources of inspiration but they are undefined. I started working on the title track right after a great summer tour I had & I guess the inspiration for the other 2 came while I was producing the title track of the EP. It happened with some of my previous releases as well to get driven by one track I had just finished.

The majority of your original music in recent years has come out via Hernan Cattaneo’s Sudbeat Music so what made Beat Boutique right for this project?

Beat Boutique has been a label that i follow and support a lot. Especially the last year or so the music released on the label gets better and better. Its always great when you can release your music to a label that you really like. Since I wanted to present something a little bit different I thought it would be wiser to do it in a label that I haven’t had release something yet.

You’ve had a long-standing relationship with Hernan Cattaneo, often opening for him at gigs as well as releasing on his label a total of eight times now. How did that begin?

That relationship goes 17 years back. It started when I opened for him at Venue club in Athens. He really liked the warm up i did and then he invited me to do the same in his shows in Greece. Same thing happened when I moved to New York where he invited me in various tours across the states. We’ve done more than 60 shows together and hopefully will do some more in the future. I am truly grateful for the things that this relationship has brought into my life both professionally and personally.

How much road testing or friend feedback is done before you’re ready to say a track is finished? And who is someone you share your new music with first for feedback?

A track is finished when I say so and that’s its. Hahaha. Well I have 5 friends that I really trust and they are direct and honest with me and my music. 3 colleagues, 1 longtime clubber and 1 that has nothing to do with our music but its a great sound engineer and has a great taste in music in general. If they wont say “ it needs more work” it means its definitely finished. But sometimes I gently ignore them. Road-testing is essential as well but mostly for technical check, mastering and mixing issues so 2-3 times played by me and the colleagues I mentioned before its more than enough. First people to share my music with would be Hernan Cattaneo, Graziano Raffa & John Cosani (who is in charge of mixing most of my tunes the last year or so)

What’s a piece of gear or software that always gets used when you’re writing a track?

Logic X, Moog Subsequent 37, Omnisphere, & Maschine for drums arrangement.

What have been some of your favourite tracks over the quarantine period?

It’s been a quite long period with a lot of great music coming out so the list should be really long.
But here’s 15 tunes that really got my attention.

Alex O’Rion – Mirari (Day Mix) [Replug]

8Kays – Sun Will Come Out ((Matthias Meyer Remix) [RENAISSANCE]

Simos Tagias – Crater [SUDBEAT]

Kenan Savrun – Lights Out (John Cosani Remix)

Yamil – Woodhouse [Scatcity Records]

Lexer – Death Up Close [3000GRAD Records]

Stereo Underground – The Unbearable Lightness of Being [Beat Boutique]

Nichols (UK) – Nine Lives [Aboriginal]

Sonantis & Malcolm Francois – Kazaka [Mirror Walk]

Rauschhaus – Composure [Mango Alley]

Vandelor – Amber Skies [Holy Grail Music]

Chris Ojeda – Rimal (Fractal Architect Remix)[Submarine Vibes]

Nicolas Rada – Genesis (Original Mix) [Or Two Strangers]

Jeff Eveline – Crashes in Love (Beije Remix) [3rd Avenue]

Indid – See You (Evren Furtuna Remix) [Kiksuya Records]

Where in the world would you most like to be DJing right now?

Honestly it would feel great to DJ anywhere in the world right now with no rules no masks no social distance – what a horrible term btw In normal circumstances I would be in Amsterdam these days for our annually Sudbeat & The Soundgarden showcase. We had an amazing venue & line up confirmed for this year and i would be beyond happy if I could be djing there right now among great friends that I dearly miss.

Is there a movie you would have loved to have produced the soundtrack for? And if so why?

Difficult to choose just one but if it has to be like this it would be Apocalypto. Although it would be extremely hard to beat its soundtrack. Its a movie that awakens all my feelings as it evolves. I love the mood of the movie, the photography its out- standing and the fact that its all in original indigenous language its just mind-blowing. Its a film that I could include a wide variety of music styles, tempos and atmospheres. Endless options to work on and a major challenge!

Apart from music, what makes you happiest?

That would be my girlfriend, my family, my friends, cooking & and a good pizza napolitana

What does the remainder of 2020 hold for you? Anything you can share with us?

Some more releases are coming, a collaboration with Antrim n Vapour Recordings & then i have another ep coming out on Or Two Strangers. On personal level I am about to move to a new apartment in Barcelona & planning to reconstruct my studio from scratch.

‘Wardenclyffe ‘ is out now via Beat Boutique: https://bit.ly/3jon8VJ

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