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Credit: Alberto Van Stokkum

Indira Paganotto: state of the art

Spanish DJ, producer and ARTCORE label founder Indira Paganotto’s irresistible hybrid of techno and psytrance has made her a huge star on festival stages and in superclubs, but her rise to the top has been beset with challenges. Niamh O’Connor speaks with her about sticking to her principles, her love of psytrance, the importance of the underground, and the balancing influence of family

Few artists have fused the worlds of bright psytrance and booming techno as smoothly as Indira Paganotto. The Spanish producer, DJ and founder of the label, event series and merchandise line ARTCORE has honed in on a sound that has made her stand out in a sea of clean-cut, easily categorised dance music. It’s something that, in the past, didn’t make Indira’s journey as an artist all plain sailing, but she has never swayed from following her instinct and building an aesthetic of her own, culminating in an intense hybrid of the two genres; psy-techno. “When you have a truth, you need to follow it,” she says, 25 minutes into our Zoom call. “You can’t lie to yourself, you know?”

Indira has wholeheartedly stuck to her truth since she began producing and DJing over a decade ago in her native Gran Canaria. She’s moved through many sonic palettes since, starting with sultry minimal house before finding her nook in psy-techno, stamped with an Indira-esque twist. Such twists include flamenco guitar samples merged with pummelling kick-drums, as heard on the potent track ‘Jambo’, released on her EP ‘Guns & Horses’ via ARTCORE in 2022. It’s an example of Indira’s penchant for merging polar-opposite worlds, yet making them collide seamlessly. “All the traditional music, like Indian, Turkish, Arabic — all these kinds of sounds uplift me inside,” she says. “So I always wanted to fuse these two.”

Familiar with fusing disparate textures, Indira recently remixed ‘Space Tube 25’ by psytrance legend Captain Hook, where she leaned into the more minimal aspects of the genre, topped off with a dark techno tint. At the time of writing, Indira has lined up a remix for Depeche Mode, and she’s just completed a studio session with Joseph Capriati ahead of their upcoming single ‘Mantra’, which will be released on ARTCORE in the coming months.

The pair spent some time in STMPD recording studios in Amsterdam, where Indira has dialled in from via Zoom today. “We were singing, writing, picking the guitar, and I also recorded my vocals,” she enthuses. “It was like being in an old band, getting together and mixing, being creative with instruments. It was crazy, I loved it.”

Another notable collaboration in Indira’s discography is her single with Nina Kraviz, ‘white horse’, which came out on трип in 2023. “It was perfect, because [Nina] is more into creepy and dark psytrance,” says Indira. “Whereas I’m more into happy, open, and progressive psytrance; two worlds of psytrance. A perfect track.”

Photo of Indira Paganotto wearing a black dress and red necklace
Credit: Alberto Van Stokkum

“I always think, even if you are a big artist, you can’t forget where you come from; the underground. It’s the small clubs, the small promoters, this is the magic of what we are making.”

Sporting a grey cardigan and chunky pearl necklace, her short black hair flicked out at the ends like Betty Rubble from The Flintstones, Indira is animated when she speaks. She often uses her hands — inked with several dainty tattoos — to emphasise certain points, and regularly laughs as she recalls memories from her inimitable story so far. It’s a story that is not linear, starting in Gran Canaria, followed by several years in Madrid between a short spell in India, a year in Ankara, and then full circle back to the Canary Islands, where she is currently based.

The evolution of her sound has followed a similarly roaming route, snaking between genres, dipping into slow and speedy tempos and cross-pollinating light to lively atmospheres. But throughout every release and DJ set, Indira evokes a magnetic quality in her music, as reflected in her output on labels like Second State, KNTXT, and her own ARTCORE, alongside diverse DJ bookings from Amnesia, Awakenings, DC-10 and fabric, to Space Miami, Tomorrowland and Ushuaïa.

This summer, Indira will return to Ibiza to helm a nine-date residency at Amnesia with Joseph Capriati as part of his party series, Metamorfosi. For an island known for its Balearic house and tech-house, Indira will showcase her quintessential blend of psy-techno, conjuring an intense, psychedelic vibe in the venue’s main room. Superclubs in Ibiza are a far cry from the peaceful surroundings of Gran Canaria, where Indira grew up. “I’m like an ambassador for the island, because I love the Canary Islands in general and my island too, of course,” she says with a wide smile. “It’s wild and really powerful. Growing up there was unique.”

Raised by an Italian mother and Spanish father, the latter of whom was a DJ in Goa in the '80s between working as a doctor with Doctors Without Borders, the Paganotto household garnered an ample music collection. Indira’s mother preferred more “sensible” genres like classical and opera, while her father had an extensive library of disco, jazz, acid house and Goa trance, primed for mixing on his turntables at home.

Indira describes them as an “artistic couple” and the perfect “recipe” for who she is today. As a child, she was a “macho girl” doing “guy things” like surfing and skating and had an ardent interest in music. Initially, she wasn’t too interested in her father’s collection of Goa trance. She viewed it as a genre geared towards her “hippie dad”, so she devoted herself to Detroit techno and Chicago house instead, building her own stack of vinyl, teaching herself how to mix, and dabbling in music production at the same time.

Photo of Indira Paganotto gazing to the side whilst wearing a black gown
Credit: Alberto Van Stokkum

At 16, Indira played her first DJ set at the Las Palmas-based Moon Club, where she subsequently secured a residency. Later, at another club called HEAVEN on the southern tip of the island, Indira warmed up for German DJ and producer Ian Pooley, who asked her to send him some demos. Spurred by Ian’s encouragement, she sent him a few of her tracks, which rippled with wavey, deep house stylings. Then, at the age of 18, she decided to move from Gran Canaria to Madrid to dedicate herself to DJing and production, much to the concern of her parents. “My parents supported me in everything,” she recalls. “But they were like, ‘If you want to follow music, you can, but you need to make it a career’.”

With less than 200 euros in her pocket, she relocated to the Spanish capital, where she stayed with a friend. Her parents expected her to last a month before returning home, unable to financially survive in the city. Instead, Indira landed a job in a restaurant and a DJ residency at the seminal club Stardust. She speaks warmly of the club booker Sara Loeh, who provided a pivotal stepping stone in Indira’s DJ career. “She was a badass director of the club,” says Indira. “She supported me in everything, so I will always be thankful for her, because she gave me the opportunity.”

Then, in 2012, Ian Pooley released Indira’s first EP on vinyl, ‘Underground Love’, co-produced with Sergio WoS. The EP mirrors her taste back then in balmy, laidback minimal house — planets apart from her current hybrid of psytrance and techno.

Indira spent two years as a resident DJ at Stardust, honing her mixing skills on vinyl, warming up for international headliners, and playing closing sets too. During this period, she met her former husband, who happened to be a fan of psytrance. They married and moved to the countryside near Madrid, surrounded by nature and many animals — one Doberman, four dachshunds, a wild bird and a mini horse. Indira built a studio, which she affectionately called her “cave”, so she could further explore music production. She bought and sold different bits of kit along the way, fuelling more house releases on imprints like Pooled Music and Raw Trax, and the beginnings of techno on labels including Supdub and Black Leather Records.

Having attended a few psytrance festivals in her early twenties, however, including her beloved Boom in Portugal, Indira experienced an “awakening”; a return to the sounds of her childhood. “It was like a reminder of everything my father taught me,” she says. “I really understood the message, like, ‘Wow, I need to study this music again, I need to research’.” Secluded in the mountains of Madrid, Indira delved into the genre, discovering its abundance of sub-genres, and attempted to mix elements of psy into minimal house and techno from the mid-’00s. “These genres were missing the grooves of psy,” she says. “So I really focused on making music that combined them both to send out to labels.”

The result was a slew of wildly contrasting productions. There’s the chilling techno track ‘Blue’, released on refused in 2018; the 120bpm slow-burner ‘Santa Fe’ on Copycow in 2019; the driving, acid-flecked EP ‘Death Valley’ on Octopus Warehouse Series in 2020: just a handful of releases documenting the evolution of Indira’s sound, but not always landing with the agents she worked alongside.

Photo of Indira Paganotto wearing a black snakeskin catsuit and posing with her hands on her face
Credit: Alberto Van Stokkum

“All those years I was trying to convince the world that what I was making was crucial. So finally, one day, I said, ‘Okay, now it’s time to cross the line [between psy and techno] and go to the next step’.”

Between 2014 and 2022, Indira passed through three booking agencies. She had a slew of releases out on independent record labels, regular DJ gigs across Spain, and sporadic gigs sprinkled throughout Europe. But she was unhappy with how her agents regarded her music; they couldn’t seem to understand that she was trying to make “not usual” music. “They were like, ‘But who do you think you are?’” she says. “I was like, ‘I’m not anyone, but the thing I’m making is a lot’. So I was really protective of what I was creating, really, with all my heart. All those years I was trying to convince the world that what I was making was crucial. So finally, one day, I said, ‘Okay, now it’s time to cross the line [between psy and techno] and go to the next step’.”

The next step was to approach an established imprint, so Indira sent her music to Pan-Pot’s acclaimed label Second State. The pair were taken aback by her psy-techno creations, loaded with spidery melodies, trippy vocals and marching drums, ranging from 130-150bpm. They arranged a Zoom call and signed her breakout EP ‘Red Ninja’, which came out in 2021.

A week after sending those tracks to Pan-Pot, Indira sent them to Charlotte de Witte, who was equally taken with Indira’s music and wanted to hear more. “I was like, ‘Oh, wow, [the crossover] seems kind of easy then’,” she says, laughing. “Because for a lot of years, I was trying to make my sound better and fighting with... everything, you know? So it was like, ‘Wow, someone really appreciates my music at the level that I want’. And from there, everything started.”

In the same year, Charlotte released Indira’s four-track EP ‘Himalaya’ on KNTXT. Indira had produced these pacey psy-techno tracks a couple of years prior, shortly after a promoter invited her to DJ in India. She remembers leaping at the chance to visit the country close to her father’s heart, and paying for her own flights. “The beginnings [as a DJ] are hard,” she says. “But I really wanted to go and play there.”

After playing small parties in Goa and Mumbai, she extended her trip to explore the country, stopping off along the Ganges river and visiting the Himalayan mountains. On her father’s recommendation, she went to the same temple he had walked through many years ago. While she was there, a wave of emotion washed over her. She called her father, who explained she was experiencing an opening, like an opening of the chakras. “I’m a sensitive girl, but I’m not really into religions,” she says. “But from there, something changed in me. I felt more at peace with everything.”

After the release of ‘Himalaya’, Indira joined Charlotte at KNTXT showcases worldwide. At one, she met her current booking agent and manager, Alex Avanzato, during a window of shows between Covid lockdowns. It was another perfect fusion, this time between two minds, one of art and the other of business, respectively. “He knows how to bring my career up,” she says. “I’m super grateful to him, he’s an intelligent guy, and my team, too. We’re all a psy-crazy team. I love it.”

Photo of Indira Paganotto surrounded by a crowd of fans
Credit: Alberto Van Stokkum

As her musical career began to grow, Indira left Madrid and moved to Ankara on her own. It’s a story “for a movie or a book,” she says, “but I love Turkey. It’s kind of similar to Spanish culture; super pure, strong and ancestral.” She lived in the Turkish capital for a year before moving back to Gran Canaria, where she “re-made” her life.

The decision to move back to the place where she grew up, surrounded by her family and the island’s paradisal landscape, set Indira up for another turning point in her trajectory. In 2022, she released her second EP on KNTXT called ‘Lions Of God’, which stitched a kaleidoscope of slamming techno and levitating psytrance across four tracks. It was also the year she launched her multi-pronged label, event series, and merchandise line ARTCORE.

ARTCORE is like an extension of Indira’s imagination. The designs on the merch alone are enough of an insight into Indira’s free-wheeling concepts and artistic influences. There’s a sticker of a ninja with winged eyeliner. A hoodie displaying the head of a Doberman, its mouth open to expose pointy white teeth. A skateboard deck with the words ARTCORE written in gothic font. A t-shirt with a vibrant illustration of a Japanese geisha on the back, among other striking designs splayed across bomber jackets, bandanas and caps. While the visual themes may not be consistent, it doesn’t matter — it’s merch from an artist who loves to not make sense, yet makes it all work.

Indira’s vivid creative vision will be further amplified at the ARTCORE worldwide tour, stopping off in the USA, Spain, Italy, Turkey, the UK, the Netherlands and Serbia. It started in Miami in March of this year and will end in Serbia in November, running as an “audio-visual experience” encompassing an avatar of Indira, 2D and 3D cartoons, ninjas, Manga and much more. “It will be a saga with symbols that will never end, because there will be new things happening all the time,” she says. “Like a movie while I’m playing.”

Indira has invited legendary names to headline, like Ben Klock, Chris Liebing and Ellen Allien, supported by upcoming talents like Winter Wrong, SUMIA and CHRS. On the label leg of ARTCORE, she continues to spotlight rising stars, having released music from VALENTINØ, La Kajofol and Interactive Noise. The only rule at ARTCORE is that there has to be some psy flavour dotted throughout the releases, however subtle or obvious. “But always with some kind of sensibility and musical sounds, not only a kick,” adds Indira. “For me, it has to have a story, that’s for sure.”

When Indira is producing music, she starts with producing the break of the track rather than sketching out a bassline or a 4/4 kick-drum because, for her, that’s where the “story” lies. “I think the break is the moment that the people look at you, they look at the DJ, and they listen,” she says. “The moment that you stop the beat, it’s the moment when they close their eyes and think, ‘What is this?’”

Photo of Indira Paganotto wearing a black catsuit whilst posing on her side
Credit: Alberto Van Stokkum

“My mom collects me from the airport, and she cooks for me. She makes me homemade food. This is what keeps me mentally healthy: the warmth of my family, 100 per cent.”

The story in the break embodies the whole “meaning” of a track. “In the break, anything can happen, you can do whatever you want,” she says. “It’s like a Tarantino movie — there are cowboys, katanas, ninjas; I mean, why not? This is the funny thing, it’s like directing a movie, you can do whatever you want — your imagination is free, and this is the thing I like, this style, but taking it one step further [through music].”

In order to make time for production between a demanding tour schedule, Indira works with an eight-person team at ARTCORE, including a label manager to help with the daily tasks of running an imprint. “Sometimes we are like a family, like The Sopranos,” she says good-naturedly. “If we have an argument, we resolve it, like a real family. I think this is the key to our success too. Because we are real people, working, we don’t only follow the business, we want to really create something together, like a close family.”

When operating the A&R side of ARTCORE, one of the challenges Indira continues to face is sifting through the overwhelming amount of worthy demos she receives from the “new generation” of producers. It’s why she has curated three V/A releases this year, including the recently released ‘Face To Face Miami Week 2024’. “But I’m adding new names to the label all the time, and my team are like, ‘Enough, you can add more later!’” she laughs. “I think I need to be more selective. But really, if I listen to one track and it inspires me, I can’t say no. Why should I say no? But when you have a label, you need to choose. It’s for this reason I have a team; when I get lost in my mind, they take control.”

While Indira heads up the creative and sonic direction of the brand, she credits the GEKKO Agency, whom she collaborates with to produce the merch, and the artist Sergio Ortiz, who paints the artwork on every ARTCORE release. “Nowadays, people really don’t care about this,” she says, speaking about the visual aesthetic of record labels in general. “It’s all digital covers. For me, I was like, ‘No, we need to take care of every detail, because this is ARTCORE. This is my life.’”

Beyond her chosen ARTCORE family, Indira’s actual family at home in Gran Canaria are hugely important in her life. Her parents are still processing the extent of Indira’s success, but also, the amount of energy she expels at every show. Last summer, Indira’s mother and aunt attended Kappa FuturFestival in Turin. It was the first time they saw her in action, DJing in the sweltering afternoon heat in front of thousands of people. “I had two gigs before that and another one the next day, and my mum was like, ‘How can you even afford this energy?’” she says, laughing. “They were still talking about this party for two months after. My aunt was still tired. She was like, ‘I’m still tired from all the energy, I still feel it. How do you make this your life?’” 

Spending time with her parents and younger sister in Gran Canaria is key to keeping Indira physically and mentally healthy in the whirlwind of back-to-back travel, snatches of sleep, and navigating the machine of the music industry. “Last month, I realised I needed to have a rest, because I’m not a superwoman and there was a lot happening,” she admits. “I’m a simple girl with really pure meanings of life, and my goal is not to be famous. My goal is to make the message of my music. But now that I’m in the industry, it’s like you said, it’s a machine.”

Black and white photo of Indira Paganotto wearing a black dress
Credit: Alberto Van Stokkum

“In the beginning, I was kind of shocked,” she says, speaking of the typically fast-paced and substance-fuelled settings of clubs and festivals. “I was like, ‘How can I handle this?’” But Indira has adjusted to the demands and environments of her profession and makes sure she spends as much time at home as possible between travelling. “My mom collects me from the airport, and she cooks for me,” she says. “She makes me homemade food. This is what keeps me mentally healthy: the warmth of my family, 100 per cent.”

Indira loves animals, including the latest addition to her family, a mostly hairless Chinese crested dog. Whether domestic or wild, animals remain a source of comfort to Indira, and creativity too. She remembers how all her pets in Madrid tolerated one another, like her mini-horse, Tequila, who slept and ate alongside her Doberman and dachshunds. “It’s so crazy, because humans have vendettas, jealousies, demons, and angels,” she says. “But the animals do not. They are really pure, living off their instinct. They live in the wild, of course, but they don’t fight each other for food; they just meet each other in the middle, living in harmony.”

While Indira has cultivated her own sense of harmony, constantly merging obscure elements of psytrance and techno in a cohesive fashion, she has also faced demons of her own — mainly those who didn’t believe in her artistry. But by following her crystal-clear vision, she is now at the top of her game, professionally and personally. Her Instagram documents it all: heaving crowds in spaces across Europe, the Americas, and Asia, selfies with said crowds, a brand ambassador deal with Land Rover Defender, skateboarding down the sunny streets of Gran Canaria and surfing the island’s azure-blue waves. But Indira’s rapidly ascending profile hasn’t dented her down-to-earth attitude and seemingly endless passion for the craft. It’s why she loves playing more intimate events between the stadium-sized festivals and superclubs. “I always think, even if you are a big artist, you can’t forget where you come from; the underground,” she says. “It’s the small clubs, the small promoters, this is the magic of what we are making.” 

While it’s “always amazing” to play in front of 40,000 people at a festival, which seems to be quite frequent for Indira these days, she feels more nervous playing in modest spaces, keenly aware that punters have paid to see her alone, not hundreds of other DJs sprawled across festival terrain. But it also gives her a chance to construct a story in her sets, as there’s a lot more to Indira’s selections than 150bpm psy-techno.  

“Last year, I played a three-hour set in Space Miami,” she says. “I started at 126bpm, playing minimal, house, and dub techno from 2010 and 2008, the kind of tracks that nowadays, even on a big stage, you don’t hear because it seems like there is a rule where every set needs to have a general speed, and sometimes, you need to follow that wave of speed and energy. But I think we are losing a little bit of the soul in the music, because music is not only for Instagram and TikTok videos, where everyone is holding up their hands or closing their eyes and dancing, although that’s magic too,” she continues. “I think we need to fight, in a way, as big artists to still play in small clubs, because this is the real moment, it’s with the community. Eye to eye with all your warriors.” 

Black and white photo of Indira Paganotto performing for a huge crowd
Credit: Alberto Van Stokkum

“If you really fight for your dreams, you really do go to heaven. It’s a perfect example of how to live every day and follow all of your dreams...”

Indira calls her fans “warriors” to lessen the divide between artist and fan. “To be a warrior, it’s not about following a leader,” she says. “It’s about following something, a movement with a meaning... but always related to art.” It’s clear that every project Indira has undertaken stems from a strong artistic vision, whether it’s the detailed designs on the ARTCORE merch or the richly textured productions that comprise her back catalogue. Everything about Indira’s work feels considered and made with care, triggering engagement and emotion on every dancefloor she commands.

We can expect more compelling tracks on Indira’s debut album on ARTCORE, due for delivery next year. It will honour Indira’s musical trajectory so far in under 15 tracks traversing leisurely house beats, guitar melodies, electronica, French-style house, techno, psytrance and — drawing inspiration from Miss Kittin — Indira’s own vocals. A remix album will follow suit, featuring all of Indira’s favourite artists. “Be prepared!” she says, laughing.

Considering Indira’s remarkable journey so far, spanning over a decade and counting, it feels like she is prepared for everything and anything that could come her way. It brings to mind something she said earlier in our conversation. “I have this slogan, ‘heaven is for warriors’, and it’s not bullshit,” she says, echoing the title of her two-tracker on ARTCORE.

“If you really fight for your dreams, you really do go to heaven. It’s a perfect example of how to live every day and follow all of your dreams. And, of course, if you have patience and take all the risks you need to take, you will achieve. If not, I would destroy the world!” she says before erupting into laughter. It’s a very Indira Paganotto motto to live by; earnest, optimistic and resolute — much like the artist herself.

Want more? Read DJ Mag’s NA cover interview with Sara Landry, hard techno’s high-frequency priestess, here

Niamh O’Connor is a regular DJ Mag contributor and freelance music writer

Photographer: Alberto Van Stokkum
Make-up: Alba Cordoba
Photo assistant: Pio Garcia
Retouch: Alpha Studio
Edit: Ruben Verhagen
3D editing: Yannick Assouline, Shanikwa Dvorkin, Avi Shpayer
Stylist: Sara Loeh, Naomi Lova, It-Spain, 15” Agencia, Eduardo Navarrete, Isabel Gomila, Native Glame