Hometown: New York, NY
Currently living: New York, NY
Origin of name:
One summer in the late ‘90s, while I was playing at outlaw raves and clubs in and around NYC, I would always play the Richie Hawtin record “Minus Orange” on the third deck—three turntables was a really big deal back then. I would always drop the song at the biggest climax moments of my sets to really bring things to the next level. Some of the locals started referring to me as “the guy who always plays ‘Minus Orange,’” and that eventually got shortened to Agent Orange. That name resonated with me because I thought it sounded like some sort of mad scientist, intensely mixing up chemicals in a dungeon laboratory, somewhere in a castle, on a tall mountain, with dark cloudy skies and a creepy full moon above. I thought that since I mix music that way it fit me well, so I kept it.
Weapon of choice:
Sound waves! Maybe that’s too obvious, but it’s the truth!
Source of power:
Toward the end of the ‘80s, I started listening to the radio obsessively and putting together my own dub tapes and mixtapes. It actually started with Armenian Music—proper dance music right there. Armenians always know how to party, Abrees! That led to Latin freestyle and house music, which was a very new and exciting sound at the time. This included Kevin Saunderson’s Inner City, Todd Terry, Little Louie Vega, and all the stuff coming out of Chicago such as Lil Louis, Mr. Lee, Fast Eddie, Green Velvet and DJ Pierre. And then of course, New York at the time: Roger S., David Morales, 2 Without Hats, 2 In a Room, etc. I loved it all so much that I then started to explore where this amazing music had come from. I traced it all back to disco and fell in love with that, too. I REALLY LOVE DISCO! The instrumentation and rhythms are so raw and sexy!!
As the ‘90s came along, I got into the Eurodance sound as well, and I started DJing in smaller clubs around NYC. Around 1995, I started hitting the big clubs in Manhattan, and this was at a legendary time for NY nightlife. The Tunnel, Limelight, Palladium, Sound Factory Bar, the Shelter, Speeed, and Save the Robots were all amazing places where I discovered what true underground music was. My hunger for the scene and underground music eventually brought me out to the early raves, first getting swept up into genres like breakbeat, jungle and drum & bass.
Eventually, after years of raving and exploring many genres, I wound up coming full circle and finding Detroit and European techno, which I consider to be house’s close cousin. Then club Twilo opened, which was a total game-changer! What I heard there influenced me (and everyone who was lucky enough be there) forever. The lineups were varied and great. The regulars included Sven Vath, Richie Hawtin, Jeff Mills, the Advent, Anthony Rother, Funk D’void, Sasha & Digweed, PvD, a very young Daft Punk, and most importantly, the man, the myth, the legend: Carl Cox and his Ultimate B.A.S.E. party.
[Cox] was, and still is, the biggest musical influence on me as a DJ. He was really intense behind the decks, working the heck out of that room with a three-turntable assault of rhythmic techno, house and more styles. He knew exactly how to marry genres without breaking a sweat, although he used to sweat like crazy! I’d say he was the biggest direct influence on my mixing style and sound, and also my role model with how he carries himself in this crazy-ass music industry. Lucky for me, he supports my music, so I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him a few times, and he is 100 percent the real deal: no ego and always supporting new artists. He’s always about the music, top-class and humble, and you can tell that he appreciates his fans so much.
What advice would you offer someone thinking about entering the Discovery Project competition?
Bring it!! Pull out ALL of your best tricks, and be original. Miss a couple of your favorite TV shows, and be relentless until you get your music right.
Hello, my name is Ara, and I’m a Sagittarius. I love long walks on the beach, the smell of freshly cut flowers, quiet sunsets. I love watching the sunrise creeping onto the dancefloor at the crack of dawn, at some breathtaking scenic location with a booming ballistic sound system, with everyone on the dancefloor sharing a beautiful moment in rhythm! Some people think that’s weird, but that’s me, and I’m ok with that.
I knew from an early age that music would be a huge part of my life. I didn’t know at the time just how powerful it would become later on. It’s shaped my whole life—from listening to it, to creating it, to going to shows to experience it as a fan and as a performer; to working in Satellite, one of the most famous record stores; to running my own record label, Gotham Grooves, with my brother Deekron and cousin Ash. It even led me to Becka, my DJ wife!
To be this dedicated to music, I had to make lot of sacrifices along the way and think about things differently than the people around me. By sacrificing some of the “normal” things, I was able to make room to experience so many other amazing things, people and places all over the world. It has completely shaped who I am, and these experiences have been priceless to me. I owe a lot to this music and its scene, and that inspires me to give back though entertaining crowds with my music, collaborating with friends, making video tutorials to teach aspiring producers cool tricks, and thinking of ways to preserve its core, positive principles by spreading its “gospel.” I was lucky enough to see electronic music and its scene unfold since the ‘80s, and it’s been an incredible ride to see how it has grown from a more underground scene to a more commercially accepted format. I always love telling a good “back in the day” old-school story. I have many!
Was there one particular moment in the recording or mixing process for your Discovery Project entry that made you feel like you were creating something pretty damn special?
Sometimes during the creation of a new song, I come up with a new idea that I’m a little unsure of. I’ll go on Facebook once in a while to get a general consensus of what other producers think of the idea. For example, I’ll ask things like, “What if I used a wildly excessive amount of reverb on a conga hit” and see the responses I get. I refer to those as my personal FAQs. For this track, I decided on using three ride cymbals and a 909 tom as a bassline, and a big, mental, trance-style synth sound before the drops, which are all a bit unorthodox. Rides often take things to the next level, so why not times three, right?
I was just going with the flow while I was working on this one, and because it sounded so hype to me and the vibe worked so well, I decided I wouldn’t bother asking on Facebook this time. Essentially, I would give No FAQs. That was the moment I felt that this track was going to have something special about it, and I would just push the ideas out to the max. Plus, I realized the play on what saying “No FAQs” actually sounds like! I love using a play on words when naming a track, so it worked on many levels!
What’s the strangest part of your job? What makes you shake your head in wonderment about being a DJ and producer?
It seems that the better the technology gets, the lazier the users become. It should be the other way around. People have more options now than ever to play and create this music. Yet a lot of the music sounds the same and uses the same techniques instead of finding new ways to “destroy/use” the new applications.
What’s the biggest misconception about being a DJ? Or, what would people be surprised to find out about the profession?
That the “DJing” part is probably only about 25 percent of what you actually do.
Tell me about your most memorable night out as an artist or as a fan.
My best moment ever as a fan, and also an artist, was in July 2006. While I was living in Barcelona, we went to the Monegros Festival in the middle of the Spanish desert, with 60,000 people in attendance. We got there in the afternoon, and it was really hot—about 110 degrees F. As nightfall came, it brought a huge and violent thunderstorm with it. They had to shut the music off, and a small speaker tower even fell over. Luckily, they had evacuated that area previously, so no one was injured. To get out of the rain, people took shelter either in the press area or in the one smaller stage area that was covered. It was actually an amazing opportunity to meet a lot of the locals and get to know who was around us.
After about two hours of making new friends, the rain had passed and they turned the sound back on. The Prodigy came out, guns blazing on the mainstage around 2am, with “Smack My Bitch Up” at full volume. About 40,000 people ran out of hiding and rushed the main arena! I had never seen anything like that before. It was like the biggest school recess of ravers that you could imagine. The energy level of the whole festival was at 1,000 percent for the rest of the morning.
Around 6am, Carl Cox came on the main area as the sun was coming up. Our circle of friends was now very large, since we had met so many cool people during the rainstorm. In the middle of his sunrise set, Carl proceeded to play one of my songs! I was blown away, to say the least!!! I went on to explain to all my new Spanish friends that this was one of my tracks he was playing. They thought I was out of my head at first but then finally got it. At the end of his set, I decided that I had to thank him in person. I made my way backstage and did just that. He was really glad to see me again (we had meet a few times in New York before). It was pretty magical!
What is your ultimate career dream?
I remember a few years back, Carl Cox was able to defy time by playing three NYE parties in the same night!! He started in Australia, then made his way west, flying against the times zones in private jets to two other destinations, catching midnight at each of them! That is F-*in baller, if you ask me! Defying time? Yes, please!
Are you impulsive with your work (in the studio and/or DJing), or do you have a sketch in mind before you start?
I usually get inspired at random moments—a lot of times from all genres of music, but also from things all around me. I jot my ideas down into a note pad on my phone and usually try them out at some point later on.
What’s the most important piece of gear in your studio?
The fiberglass sound treatment hanging on my studio walls. That for sure is the most important thing for me in there. You really do need to hear an honest reproduction of what your speakers are playing, so if you have reflections and echoes flying all around the room, even the most amazing set of speakers won’t sound good in there. I also can’t live without my UAD Apollo Twin DUO audio interface with the amazing UAD plugins: Pultec EQs, SSL comps, Bax EQ, Legacy 1176s, and Moog filter.
How important is it for you to experiment and take on the risk of failure?
That’s #1 for me. I’ve made so many tracks at this point, that I would get very bored if I didn’t take any risks. Plus nowadays, you have endless levels of undo, so if you’re not taking risks, you’re doing it wrong!
If we pressed shuffle on your iPod while you went to the bathroom, what would you be embarrassed to come back to us listening to?
You definitely aren’t going to find any One Direction in there! I stand behind everything I listen to. You would probably be surprised to know that I love Romanian and Serbian Gypsy brass band music, but I think that music is badass, so I wouldn’t be embarrassed.
What sound or noise do you love?
The sounds from the Roland 909 & 808 drum machines, and my daughter Violet laughing 😀
What should everyone just shut the fuck up about?
The vinyl vs digital DJs debate. Ugh, I’m so over it. Either a DJ kills it or doesn’t, end of story.
What gets you excited when you think about the future of electronic music and club culture?
I’m very curious to hear what new genres will arise and add to this electronic music legacy.
When you look at electronic music and the surrounding culture, what worries you about the future? What do you wish would change or that you could change?
This trend of novelty DJs that is popular now: these nine-year-olds or celebrity “DJs” exploiting what we built with our years of dedication, just to make a quick buck and belittle the true art of DJing.
Do you have a secret passion?
Spotless floors and growing watermelons in my garden.
Do you have a favorite all-time mix CD or series?
United DJs of America: best series ever! Especially the Josh Wink and Doc Martin ones. The Fabric and Global Underground are great as well.
What’s the hardest professional lesson you’ve learned thus far? How did it make your life easier—or more difficult?
One thing I learned while living in Europe and talking to the DJ/producers out there was that this music thing shouldn’t feel like a race and create anxiety. If you choose a life of music, take your time and cultivate it, because the experiences you have along the way will be the best and most rewarding part.