John Acquaviva: 'I totally felt the future would be electronic'

We talk with the DJ, producer and software pioneer ahead of his Beijing set

John Acquaviva is one of the most influential characters in the world of electronic music. Collecting vinyl since before his teens, the Italian-Canadian became a top disc jockey and travelled the globe for over two decades, and founded the similarly influential techno labels Plus 8 and Definitive Recordings, together with the great Richie Hawtin. One of electronic music's true inventors, he was also part of the founding team behind one of the most popular internet hubs for fans and DJs – Beatport, the download, streaming and news site that revolutionised the entire culture of dance music.

In electronic circles, Acquaviva is, in a word, a legend, and he's still going strong. We spoke to him ahead of his Beijing set at InfraRouge this Saturday 30, hosted by Toxic Entertainment.

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Hello John! China is excited to have you over! Tell us how you got in touch with electronic music, way back in the beginning.
I am very happy to come back and play in China, it’s a relatively rare treat for me! Dance music is in my heart and soul – I started buying records and playing at school dances from an early age. At 19, I became the number one DJ in my hometown of London, Ontario and never stopped!

How about your long friendship with Richie Hawtin? The two of you seem to have one thing in common – a vision. Did you have the same feeling when you met Richie and founded the Plus 8 label in 1989?
Yes, from day one, and to this day, we shared a love for music and a passion to be part of the music business and international scene around it. I had been a top DJ for seven years already and started to use the J'acquaviva+8 moniker around '88 due to all the Chicago house – I was pitching up my records, often to +8 [eight steps higher, and as a result faster], as club music was mostly slower. When I met Richie and heard him play, we immediately connected. After a few times together and going into the studio, it became clear we would release music and call our label Plus 8.

With the year 1993 and founding of your other mutual label, Definitive Recordings, came a new, still very influential genre – tech house. Looking back, what has tech house become in electronic music?
Definitive was a counterpoint to techno, to show it’s not about only one sound. Tech house is really in between, and a pretty popular genre for sure.

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You’re a visionary yourself, and saw the digitalisation of electronic music coming before many others. When did it become clear to you that digital was the future?
As I said, it was in my blood. I remember buying Computer World by Kraftwerk in '81. Singing about home computers, 'it's more fun to compute', numbers and pocket calculators – I totally felt the future would be electronic.

And now, in 2018, many DJs and producers insist on going 'back to the roots', focusing on vinyl and analog equipment. Some would say there's even a certain honour in mastering the essentials of old school. What is your attitude on this topic?
People need to know their history and that is a good thing. I come from that time, so am not fixated on revisiting my youth, but am always ready to tell or show people what it was about.

You’re one of the masterminds behind Final Scratch [software that allows manipulation and playback of digital audio sources using traditional vinyl and turntables] and Beatport. What's next?
Upon selling Beatport, we started Plus 8 Equity Partners [an electronic music investment firm], where we have a portfolio of companies that we feel very much are going to be a big part of the future.

How do you prepare for your sets? What keeps you fresh and focused? How much has the digital era facilitated you in file organising, sorting, playing and, mainly, enjoying what you do?
I have thousands of songs with me so I am prepared to play anything. I believe in continuing from what another DJ plays. So sometimes if DJs play too hard or commercial, it’s hard to play special and quality music.

I still love traveling the world, meeting clubbers and promoters after all these years – I love music more than ever. I have gone back to being a DJ and less of a producer. I miss the days of going to stores to buy vinyl where each buyer would know me and save records, but now I talk and hang out regularly with a handful of friends to play each other’s tunes, be it at parties or just private afters so I can ask all the tunes I like, old and new.

Interview by Uros Veselinovic

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