Today's Highlights

The Synth Makers of India #2: Synthfarm

By Vaibhav Batra
February 25, 2018
The Synth Makers of India #2: Synthfarm
In the first part of "The Synth-Makers of India" series, I talked to Aditya Nandwana of Animal Factory Amplification (Read here) who reckoned that the synth market, globally, has reached a saturation point. In this second part, I talk to Varun Desai of Synthfarm, a DIY synth community in India, and understand his take on the current synth revolution, challenges in India, and where, according to him, the trend is headed.

First conceptualised in 2015, Synthfarm is a bi-annual 3-day residency on everything to do with modular synths. Participants not only get to jam with fellow synth-heads, but even build their own synths from scratch.

Vaibhav: What do you make of the DIY synth culture in India? Do you think the scene is growing, or will grow; or, do you think it will always have a very niche audience?

Varun Desai: DIY synth making has existed in the country at a hobby-level for a while now. It's only just starting to take shape in the cultural context, where we have communities being built around it. The audience does not have to be niche, though, since technology is present in everyone's lives now, which wasn't the case in the '90s or even the early 2000s. 

The DIY scene will grow as the community grows and the knowledge is passed on via both first hand experience and things like kits and tutorials.

[caption id="attachment_4542" align="alignnone" width="640"] A Synthfarm workshop in action[/caption]

Vaibhav: And what do you think of the current synth revolution? Do you think it will grow as well, or do you think it has reached a saturation point?

Varun Desai: It has reached saturation amongst those familiar with synthesizers. In my opinion, at least in India, the synth revolution still has a lot of potential. it will grow as awareness grows. It's more important, right now, to introduce the new generation to synthesis.

Vaibhav: What about the ever-present debate of analog versus digital? Do you think analog is always better than digital?

Varun Desai: No, I think the symbiosis of both is the best. Analog signifies a purity of sound and a hands-on approach, while digital allows for complex logic-based designs and automation. If we are constantly stuck in this debate, we will be ignoring what is truly possible for the future of synthesizers.

Vaibhav: So, for someone looking to get into modular synthesis, what will be a good starting point? Any synths in particular that you would recommend for a beginner looking to get their head around modular synthesis?

Varun Desai: I would not recommend going straight into modular synths without trying them out first. They're usually expensive and there are too many options out there at the moment to make a blind decision. My suggestion would be to buy an affordable semi-modular to start with, if you really need to. 

Doepfer Dark Energy would be my recommendation. There are many others, but since Doepfer are the originators of Eurorack, I'd recommend their stuff first. If you can find a Korg MS-20, that is fantastic, too. And if you're insistent on starting with a modular setup, you don't need to look too hard. Modular Analog in Bombay are making complete systems. Their sound is at-par with the best international manufacturers.

Vaibhav: Do you think there is a sizeable audience for live synth jams? Can a new artist make a career out of live synth gigs?

Varun Desai: Making a career in the music industry has nothing to do with synths, unfortunately. That's why, for me, education takes the highest priority. If you educate enough people, you will have an audience. The chances of you making it in the industry are small, even if you play the guitar and sing.

The advantage of the synth scene, though, is that it's something new and exciting for a new generation of listeners who might be fed up listening to people strumming the guitar.

Vaibhav: On a pertinent note, then, if anyone wants to make money in the synth space, building your own synths is the only way?

Varun Desai: Well, if money is your motivation, sure, I'll tell you to go build synths. I'd tell you to do the same even if it's not your motivation. If you really want to make money, take a loan and skip the country. Isn't that the flavor of the day? Pretend to start a synth company, take a big loan, and escape to the Bahamas. 

The one huge mistake a lot of people are making due to synth hype is that there is a lot of money to be made. That's why, I love the idea of teaching people to build their own stuff. It 

allows them to escape this whole corporate-built synth scene. If you're a true synth head, you know that sharing knowledge and being part of the community is way more fulfilling than buying some mass-produced stuff from USA.

Vaibhav: But isn't building your own synths challenging?

Varun Desai: By yourself, yes. Not if it's done in a community where people help each other out. Thus, Synthfarm. At the latest Synthfarm edition, everyone who built their own synth was a first-time solderer. We had a 100% success rate with builds.

Vaibhav: What do you think is the biggest roadblock or challenge for DIY synths in India?

Varun Desai: The challenge, if any, is people's perceptions. 

Vaibhav: If you were to pick a drum machine, a polyphonic synth, and a modular synth from the available options in the market, what would they be and why?

Varun Desai: Drum machine - Volca Beats; Polyphonic Analog Synth - Deepmind 12; Modular Synth - Modular Analog 3U system. Why? Best bang for your buck.

Other than messing around with synths and organizing Synthfarm every year, Varun Desai also makes music, under the 5volts alias.

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