Surya Varatharajan is a Third Year PPE student at St. Aidan’s College. He was born in India (the south of India to be precise) but moved to the UK when he was nine years old, to be brought up in West London. He released his first EP ‘Adolesscence’ at the end of 2017, and since then his music has been played on several BBC radio stations – including a feature on the BBC Introducing Mixtape, hand-picked by BBC Radio 6’s Tom Robinson.
When did you start making music?
I’ve been making music since I was a child, but I never exposed it to anyone because I thought that me doing music might attract negative criticism, and because it was such a personal thing for me, I didn’t want that negative criticism to put me off doing the thing that I really like doing… so I kind of just kept all that stuff to myself. But I kind of believe in it, so maybe in the early stages if I had come out and said [I make music], people would have kind of said, “oh, it’s not that great”, but because I took the time to work on it within myself for so many years, now they’re like “oh… what?! When did you do the music stuff?” Because I’ve been doing it for a really long time!
How did you get into making music in the first place?
I really like listening to music, I used to sing. Whenever I heard something really cool, I liked to replicate it. That was when I was, 9 or 10… you know, everyone sings in the shower! But then I started to really delve into different styles of music such as Hip Hop and R&B. Hip Hop for the message and the way in which the lyrics were written, I had a fascination for the way in which they told stories. And R&B, and even pop, I really love the way they put forward accessible melodies. And what I did was I started making beats on my Nokia phone… you know the ringtone app, where you used to type in a number and it used to make a noise? Then it went to Garage Band on my phone and my iPad and then I got this music production software called Logic, which my friend gave to me right before I came to university, and when I came here I used to skip lectures and I was just making beats and writing songs.
How would you describe your music – is it completely unique, or does it reflect any musical influences you have?
I think I do try to be both things, I don’t want to sound like anyone else, but it’s not a conscious choice that I’m making. I’m making something which… I hate to say this, but it’s true to myself. That sounds so pretentious! But you know what I mean, it’s just stimulated by what I like, and of course if there are influences which influence the way in which I make music, it’s because I like the music that I listen to, and it’s great, but I do think that because I have different palates… I like jazz and I listen to a lot of world music from various cultures, and I think it’s just a variation of different music that I like, and it comes out as my own brand of music.
Your music was recently played on BBC Radio 6, BBC Radio Berkshire and BBC Asian Network… how did that come about? How did you feel when you found out about it?
It’s absolutely amazing because… I have no contacts in the industry, but what I did was I made these songs, and I was part of this incredible scheme called the Emerging Artists Programme, at the Roundhouse in London. They are an amazing charity, they get £5 million endowment from the National Council of Arts every year and then they give concession studio time for emerging artists who show potential between the ages of 16 and 25. So, I got [an opportunity] through that, recorded my songs, and then I put them onto BBC Introducing where you can just upload tracks. There’s, like, thousands of tracks that go into their portal, and luckily they picked mine. And it’s incredible because it’s such an amazing form of validation, because five of the six songs that I uploaded, they picked up. And genuinely… I am just so lucky and humbled to have had that opportunity. So yeah, I am eternally grateful. It was crazy, it was crazy. First of all, when we got the email, me and my housemates, we were going crazy.
Will we be seeing you at any venues or events around Durham anytime soon?
Erm… maybe, but I’m kind of concentrating on the dissertation and the summatives for the next couple of months! I just need to get the grades! But after exams are over, I intend on doing as many shows as I can.
What have you got planned for the future?
I’m definitely gonna stick with the music, for sure. I would definitely like to work on music, but then again I don’t wanna give up the stuff that stimulates me within my degree. With regards to the future projects, I’m working on two of them right now, trying to get them sorted… they should be released later in the year, hopefully after I graduate… with a decent grade! But I’ve been in talks with some record companies in London, which is very nice that they’re showing interest. But yeah, it’s just to keep on building myself. Considering myself as an ‘artist’ is quite new to me right now, because it’s gone from something that’s so personal, to something that’s getting there… I’m not saying it’s huge yet, but still, it’s gaining some recognition and people are talking to me as an artist which is quite weird, seeing as I didn’t see myself as an artist to the world until a couple of months ago. So yeah, I’m working on the two projects, I’m hoping to do lots of live shows after I graduate here and in London, I’m talking to management companies and some record companies too, so we’ll see how it goes.
Surya’s album ‘Adolesscence’ is available to listen to now on Spotify and Youtube.
Photograph: Rachel Lipsitz