[INTERVIEW] Gian Varela Discusses His New Single, "Veneno", Progression As An Artist, + More
When it comes to the Spanish and Latin EDM, no one is rising to the top faster than Gian Varela. Born in Panama and grown in the USA, Varela is an internationally acclaimed DJ, producer, and songwriter. Through his production wizardry, Varela is able to mesh genres together to curate a discography ranging from intimate Spanish house to Latin urban pop, often fusing cultural sounds, melodies, and ideas to create a one-of-a-kind result.
With no desire to stop producing tracks on some of the most respected dance labels in the industry such as Spinnin' Records, Armada, and Revealed, Varela has also gained support from Armin Van Buuren, Fedde Le Grand, and many others. Whether it's performing on main stage for festival crowds in South America or starting the party for clubs in Ibiza, Gian Varela leaves audiences electrified.
Read iEDM's exclusive interview with Gian Varela below.
iEDM: How have your Panamanian roots influenced your career as a DJ and producer?
Gian Varela: As a producer, being raised and learning from people like “El Chombo”, really shaped the way I see “Latino” in music production. Understanding the roots of where it came from and how it all began really gave me a different perspective on what the sound is around the world and how to fuse it.
As a DJ, I always was in love with dance music. However, I began performing as a crossover DJ, opening up in clubs, playing quince años [Spanish celebration into womanhood], and other events. Panama is small but the parties go hard, so the energy is high all the time even if the BPM is low. This in turn made my DJ sets have a very aggressive mixing style while really knowing how to read a crowd. I also know how to go from 110 BPM to 128 BPM to even 150 BPM smoothly.
iEDM: What DJs/producers did you look up to throughout your childhood and helped you during the beginning phases as a producer?
Gian Varela: It really started with trance. When I was 11, all I heard was trance. My European friends loved it and would show me the music on the school bus. Then, I went deeper and learned about Tiesto, Paul Oakenfold, and John Digweed. That’s how my journey as an artist began. I didn’t start to produce until I was 16, so my beginning phases were really shaped by Yellow Claw and the Barong family along with DJ Snake.
iEDM: You often fuse different cultural melodies and ideas from Latin America. What specific sounds or production elements do you draw from Mexico, Panama, and Argentina?
Gian Varela: From Panama, the Dembow drums are a different kind of "Thicc" (I spelled that right). They have a flavor that I always add to the toms and percussions, making them much more punchy. We call them “Plena”. From Mexico, they have specific melodies to their traditional music that sounds badass. Various of my records are inspired by that “Desperado” or “Bandolero” type of melody originating from Mexico. Then to finalize it, Argentinian songwriting has a specific grit to it, especially when you hear Argentinian trap. It’s powerful, bloody at times, and it really cuts through. When I work with Argentinian-inspired songwriting, you can bet on the record being hype as f***.
iEDM: Between when you first started producing and now, what about your style and production process has changed the most and why?
Gian Varela: It’s changed worlds. I think it’s part of a producer’s journey discovering one's self and learning what actually sounds like you. I started off producing progressive house and big room, but I didn’t connect as I do now with my music. I believe my mentality has changed as well. My mind opened up so much more which in turn definitely evolved me as a producer.
iEDM: What techniques do you use to blend Spanish house music with Latin pop so smoothly?
Gian Varela: The bassline has to be thicc and the percussions too, so the top-line’s vocal processing will also match with the instrumental. When you hear reggaeton, it’s usually thick and fat. This is done on purpose so in clubs the record goes hard. I bring this in when I produce my records.
iEDM: What has been your favorite festival or club to perform at and why?
Gian Varela: Tough question. I will say that my favorite recent performance has been ELLEVEN Miami. The club is insane and I’m in awe when I see the lights, LED chandeliers, the beautiful dancers, and the high-energy atmosphere.
iEDM: How do your club sets differ from your festival sets?
Gian Varela: Club sets are more personal and sexier. I focus more on my house repertoire, always bringing the energy with me. The energy isn't the same as in a festival because the music is different. Club sets are 80% house/tech house, 15% jungle terror, and 5% moombahton where as in a festival you could get like 50% hard. For the remaining 50%, I read the crowd; it’s a surprise.
iEDM: Your new single “Veneno” has quickly shot up the charts. What inspired the overall theme of the track and what is your favorite production element used in it?
Gian Varela: Guaracha! I wanted to do a Guaracha record that was more Spanish pop-oriented. My favorite element would be the guitar because that’s the first thing I came up with!
iEDM: How did you and Steve Andreas play to each other’s unique style and share ideas when collabing on “Veneno”?
Gian Varela: Steve being Dutch and from the islands brought a tropical twist to it which is his signature. This sound is why he’s worked so much with Spinnin' Records. Steve's distinct sound was added with my more Central American sounds and grit, resulting in "Veneno".
iEDM: You have accumulated a huge following on TikTok throughout 2022. How does the platform effectively help you engage with and grow your fanbase?
Gian Varela: People have enjoyed seeing me perform remixes I’ve made to trending records and live show footage. This has translated to many of them asking me to play for them live on TikTok and coming to see me as a performer!
iEDM: What’s the best part about communicating with the “Salvajes” (your fanbase) through your Discord channel?
Gian Varela: My fans and the Salvajes are everything to me. So, I owe it to them to give love back and build a great community that they are happy to be a part of. The best thing to see is how people come together to share a similar interest and end up collaborating, just hanging out, or hearing great music.
iEDM: What are some of your favorite hobbies outside of music and why?
Gian Varela: I’m a work-a-holic, so my major focus is working. But as a hobby, I own an entertainment conglomerate where I produce various festivals and events. I’ve produced festivals for a while too and I just love it. I also have my own boutique liquor distributor. As many people know, the side hustle never stops. I also love video games. I've got my own twitch channel; we speak English and Spanish! I love watching series and movies (good ones), cooking, and keeping in shape!
iEDM: Congratulations on signing to Mixmash Records! Describe your initial reaction to signing with them and your biggest struggle to reach this point in your career.
Gian Varela: I was overjoyed, in fact I still am. I’m so happy to be working with such a legendary label. I believe the biggest struggle would definitely be as an upcoming artist being pressured on whether to release with a label or independently. It can be overwhelming. I always tried to make sure I enjoyed the process and to me that is the most important part. Some releases have been a piece of cake and flowed so easily. Others have been more complicated and in the end, label or no label, what truly matters is you have a “team”. I would never like to be in a position where artists have labels but no team or family.
iEDM: In an interview with Mixmash you said you would love to work with DJ Snake. What about DJ Snake’s style and persona makes him someone you want to collab with?
Gian Varela: Snake is a boss. He never gave a f*** about the industry norms or “dance music should be this”. He has the “respect” from the streets and to me as a Latino working with many of Panama’s street artists this means a lot. He’s a big example of how a Spanish record could work in dance music or in any genre.
iEDM: What projects and plans for the rest of 2022 can you hint at for your fanbase to look forward to?
Gian Varela: I have some big remixes coming. Also, there are three huge singles coming out that I’m so excited about. One is with, I’ll give you a hint, the Mixmash head honcho. Plus, there is so much more on the way.
Photos Courtesy of Gian Varela
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