Taking his Latin culture and syphoning it across his addictive dance music is Gian Varela, who exclusively chatted to us in an interview recently. He is one of the current fastest-rising talents in the EDM industry who continues to impress with every single release. His debut EP is titled “L.O.C.” and we got the chance to chat with him about this EP, the tracks that are included, his collaborations, and what it was like to work on the EP. On top of the deep dive into the debut EP, he also answered questions about his Latin culture and heritage, what his childhood was like, his parents, and how he got started in the music industry.
Gian Varela, the globally renowned DJ/producer and songwriter, was born in Panama and honed his craft in the USA. With a rebellious spirit, Gian Varela’s innovative approach to merging sounds and genres defines his unique artistry. His formative years in Panama, the birthplace of reggaetón’s roots, and his move to the USA have influenced his sound. From his viral collaborations with Latin superstars like Sech, Feid, and El Chombo, to releases on the world’s leading dance music labels such as Spinnin’ Records, Armada Music, Mixmash Records, and Revealed Recordings, as well as festival tracks and remixes with the support of luminaries such as Armin Van Buuren, Gianluca Vacchi, and Fedde Le Grand, few artists manage to prove themselves as much as Gian Varela does. With early performances across the Americas, Gian Varela has developed an impressive festival presence, captivating massive crowds in South America, electrifying clubs in Ibiza, and igniting afterparties in Ecuador with his “guerilla” style show. A master producer, Gian Varela can fluidly navigate between genres and this year, he plans to showcase what Latin dance music truly means. From a repertoire of sultry Spanish house tracks to more Latin urban pop tunes, his upcoming collaborations and high-energy fusions in the dance music world are sure to bring his signature global sound to the forefront.
His debut EP, titled “L.O.C.” contains a total of six tracks and sees him collaborate with Nenito Vargas, Laidback Luke, Melfi, Chuwe, Tom Enzy, and Leslie Shaw. Released on Mixmash Records earlier this month, the EP has gained up to 1 million Spotify streams in a matter of a couple of weeks. The viral capabilities of the incredibly addicting tracks are beyond measure and if you haven’t listened to “L.O.C.” just yet, you are missing out on incredible Latin dance music from Gian Varela.
Stream “L.O.C.” by Gian Varela on Spotify here:
Hi Gian, how are you doing today? We bet you’ve been busy with your new EP release.
I’m doing well! Thank you so much. Yes, we’re all working hard! These are exciting times.
Can you tell us more about your “L.O.C.” EP?
Of Course, L.O.C. means “La Otra Cultura”, which in English means: “The Other Culture”. In Latin America we always say “para la cultura”, meaning “for the culture” when good things happen to us Latinos. But Latin culture is so diverse. I wanted to shine a light on the other culture of Latinos who grew up with house music. We have a long history when it comes to dance music in our countries, it’s just not mainstream in Latin America so you need to go deep to find it. “L.O.C.” showcases what Latin music and dance music feel like together and showcases my take on the sound of house music within Central America.
How did you go about fusing traditional Latin culture with dance music, for this EP?
As you hear in the EP, I go from Afro/Carribean House to more Peak Hour/Driving Tech House. This is my sound spectrum of how I perform. So I wanted my records to show my energy plus different fusions. “Oiga Morena” uses Nenito Varga’s “No se porque no le gusto” as the vocal. It was amazing to work with a Panamanian legend of his caliber in what is my country’s folk music. Then songs like “Papi” and “Lo Que Siento” are more based on trumpets and the brass element. “Ponme Loco” and “Party Sexo Alcohol” are focused on more urban vocals in Spanish with driving basslines.
What’s your process when it comes to making music?
I start by making sure I have a “vision” and a clear road to take with the record. I think it’s important to have those two before diving too deep into the record so I can optimize my time. I ask myself, “What sound do I want to achieve?”, “What level of energy?”, “Is this more to listen or more for the clubs? Or both?” Once I have a clear route, I start filling out and producing the record to its end goal. I like to divide my studio time [between] experimental and professional. In experimental, I’ll just play around with no goal in mind just trying new techniques, plug-ins, and new sounds. Sometimes new ideas can come out and I put them in the list of actual song ideas. But when it’s professional, I always have the end goal of making a releasable record that I enjoy. I think it’s like football, you practice outside the games. But when you’re in-game time, that’s when the practice kicks in and you have to take it seriously.
Were there memorable moments or something you did differently, this time around, for this collection of tracks?
All tracks are truly memorable in the making of. But “Oiga Morena” was the most memorable due to recording in the studio with Nenito Vargas. He’s an artist I’ve heard about since I was little and to work with him on such an emblematic record was an honor. I also learned a bit of “accordion” from him which made the session unique. It’s also a different record having the “lead” being the vocal.
“Papi” and “Lo Que Siento” also have a specific technique I used that I love for club bangers where you repeat the vocal into faster versions of loops. I accidentally came up with the easiest way of doing that through a sampler after not finding a tutorial. Sometimes, you hit yourself in the head so much on how to do certain sounds, and believe it’s so hard until you find a way or learn a way which is so simple.
The EP contains six tracks where you collaborate with a variety of different artists who are Nenito Vargas, Laidback Luke, Melfi, Chuwe, Tom Enzy, and Leslie Shaw. What were each of them like to work with?
Nenito is a legend. He was so nice to work with and everything flowed so fast and easy. Luke, well he’s THE legend and I was so honored to work with him. At first, I was a bit shy, but Luke would ask me things which I’d respond as honest as possible and he loved the feedback and we ended up with a great record. It’s clear how great a mentor and teacher he is. Melfi has been a long-time friend of mine in Panama and recording his voice was just goofing around the studio. It was his first house song too and he couldn’t believe how fast the session was. There’s not a set of mine that doesn’t contain a Chuwe record. He’s a great talent and every time we went back and forth the record would keep getting stronger. Tom is a master craftsman, his sound designs are pristine and I enjoyed working with Tom because I also learned [from him]. His mixing and mastering are very powerful. Last but not least, Leslie is an amazing person. We had a blast recording her lyrics in my studio. Even though they’re very processed it was nice to have her on the record.
How important was this EP for you and did you find parts of this challenging at any point?
It’s my debut EP! The first baby. It’s super important to me. I think it also in itself, is the culmination of the first career challenge which was finding a label and family that share your vision and are as excited as you about your music. The challenge is I come from Panama, it’s a very very small country with an even smaller audience for house music. Reggaetón dominates everything there. This EP started out in the pandemic stuck in Panama, continued as I finally moved to Miami, and finalised being signed with Mixmash!
How has your culture and your heritage inspired and transformed the sound of this EP?
I was born in Panama City, but my family roots lie in a small town called Pese. Where my career actually started. I began performing on Panama’s mainland, not in the city. To this day I also believe the mainland has way better partying than the city itself. The people are more internationally oriented and open-minded. These areas also had specific percussions and instruments which I implemented in the EP. Also, being Latino I used Urban Spanish writing to make authentic phrases and lines that would connect well with the productions.
What do you hope listeners will take away from your six-track EP?
I want listeners to have a sense of what my live shows would be so they can come see me and enjoy our parties! Also to have fresh new fusions of Latin and House without the records having to be the same.
By showcasing your Latin roots to the world through dance with your “L.O.C.” EP, you’re giving other countries the chance to hear Latin music away from the stereotypes. When most of the world thinks about Latin music, we think about reggaetón, so what do you hope your foreign listeners will learn, understand, feel, and experience from this EP?
Latin Music is much more than reggaetón. Although we have to be grateful to reggaetón for helping the world shine a light on Latin culture. Without reggaetón’s boom, perhaps there would be no Latin House boom. I want foreign listeners to open their minds to more Latin Culture. From Spanish rock to rap to house music. There are various other cultures of Latin out there!
Let’s talk about your background, you were born in Panama and honed your craft in the USA. What was it like growing up? And how did you get into dance music?
Growing up in Panama was fun. But I always felt like a big fish in a small pond. I needed the ocean. I was a bit of a renegade & black sheep. But I became a cool kid when I could get into clubs as an underage DJ and brought to house parties my family liquors. My family produced national spirits and its own events and that was also the reason I was connected to music all the time. I moved to study in the USA at 16 years old and that’s when I really absorbed the global dance music culture spending most weekends in NYC raves.
We found it interesting that your mother was a radio host. What was that like?
She introduced me to house music! She never really liked reggaetón. Not one bit, but I really loved classic rock and house music. So she gave me that musical taste. I also got to appear on the radio from a young age and hang around the DJ booths and radio cabins. She taught me how to Beatmatch and count BPM!
We suppose you were surrounded by music. Who were some of your favourite artists growing up? Do you have any specific music memories from your childhood?
I was a big fan of John Digweed, Paul Oakenfold, and Luciano. Digweed’s “Heaven Scent” was a BANGER. I also became a big fan of Tiesto’s “In Search of Sunrise” compilations. Panama was one of them! So many memories man… I recall watching the “Groove” movie that had Digweed in it and being so attracted to the “Rave scene”. I also recall a trip with my mother to Orlando where I’d spend hours in Virgin Records buying as many House Albums and compilations to listen to. I’d spend hours just reviewing different genres and sometimes I didn’t even know what the hell I was buying.
On the other side of things, your father was a politician, going on to become the president of Panama until 2019. What has that been like and how has it affected you in being the son of the former president of Panama?
Ahh, you guys went diving deep hahaha. The only times I speak about that is when I get asked but it’s because it’s absolutely not what people would assume. 70% of the country is not a fan of my old man’s politics. I myself was extremely vocal and a rebel during the presidency. Plus, it’s not very presidential for the country’s first son to be a party-raging DJ, performing around and whatnot. But I gained my country’s love and respect for never letting the presidency change me. Because in the end, it really doesn’t mean anything. It shouldn’t change someone as a person.
My old man was one of Panama’s best event creators and marketing geniuses for liquor. Before going into politics. Imagine Pasquale Rotella getting to be the President of the USA, that’s in a way what happened with my old man.
So it never changed me as a person. But it did teach me a lot. I met the dark side of the entertainment industry even before I released my first record. I’d get approached by random yet influential people from the industry asking me for political favors and shady stuff. One guy offered collaborations if I got him a store in the airport, the other said he’d get me records with big reggaetón artists if I gave him a Panamanian passport. All of these things being completely immoral and illegal. If there’s one thing I got tested on it was my morals, but I’m proud to say neither my honor nor my morals changed for anyone. Not global ministers, not government people, not artists, not industries, not labels, nobody.
How did you get your start in the music industry? And what was it like at the beginning?
My first release was a Moombahton record which went viral in Panama. That was my formal career start. In the beginning, things can be a bit complicated. Although I graduated in Business of Entertainment, there’s still a huge lack of transparency in the music industry, especially in Central America and it was harder to differentiate between who really can execute and who talks a lot.
What was the biggest advice that someone gave you? And why did it make such an impact on you?
El Chombo, Rodney Clark, one of the founders of the reggaetón genre. He told me to get my roots and my culture and bring it into house music. This would make me stand out from the rest and be authentic as well. Until this day, his advice and mentorship have given me my strongest weapons in music.
We have to mention the huge 6 million Spotify streams for your collaboration with ECKO and Feid on the single “Besame”, and 3.4 million YouTube music video views. What’s it like seeing that 2019 song gain such massive numbers?
Feid has become such a big artist since our record together and I’m so happy with that. He’s always been a visionaire and you can see this with records like “Hombres y Mujeres” with Gordo. Would I do a pop/dance fusion like that again? Maybe… we have to see where the world is at…
Looking back on that track, what sort of impact has that had on you over the years?
The record did give me an advantage as a producer at that time. Being able to clearly understand how to write Urban Spanish. It’s not easy making it authentic. A lot of writing out there is super cheesy and just not real. This is something I use as an advantage when I work with other artists even in English. Making “Real” & “authentic” records.
You’ve performed all over the world, from Miami to Madrid, to festivals all over the world, including Ultra Abu Dhabi. Have there been any highlights in particular? And why are they your highlights?
Ultra Abu Dhabi was one of the best weekends of my life. I got to become friends with KSHMR, Maddix, Dr Phunk, Cesqeaux, & NIGHTMRE as we partied and bonded that Ultra weekend. I also performed my first Ultra Mainstage so I was beyond excited. That same month, I also got on stage for the first time in Ultra Miami, with Laidback Luke and that was such an experience as well.
How has your music changed over the years as you’ve grown into the artist you are today?
I used to produce harder records although I always enjoyed House Music. I believe this was because I was in Panama. And focused on the Central American market. When the pandemic hit and I was already preparing to move to Miami, I started diving deeper into house sounds mainly tech house. Then producing the “L.O.C.” EP solidified my sound and moving to Miami and signing with Mixmash confirmed it. The era of Latin House had begun.
Putting your Latin culture into your latest release, “L.O.C.” EP, you’ve really brought a sense of home. What do you hear and feel when you listen to this six-track EP?
I hear my evolution, years of learning, a fusion of global Latin cultures, and the true start of my career. I’ve been at this for a long time, but this EP feels like the real start of it all!
And, finally, do you have a message for your fans?
Join me. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, Join my movement! I want you guys to interact with me as much as possible, I’m all for the fans and for family. We have a community: “Salvajes”. It means raw in nature, untouched by society. We celebrate authenticity and diversity which is what makes House Music so interesting. You’re all welcome to join us as we party around the world.
Thank you Gian Varela for taking the time out to answer our questions about your incredible new EP, titled “L.O.C.” and we currently have the six tracks playing on repeat, right now.
If you haven’t already done so, check out Gian Varela’s awesome EP, “L.O.C.”, which is available to download and stream, right now, across platforms, via Mixmash Records.