20.06.2019 | Words by: Angelina Nikolayeva
Jungle, techno, IDM, even footwork – if you try to puzzle over Aquarian’s music, you will come to the conclusion that his influences include pretty much a mix of everything. This unconventional attitude is something many of us might relate to the way Richard D. James plays his game: there shall be no rules to follow. This is probably the reason why the works of the Berlin-based, Canadian producer keep receiving support from unarguably one of the most inspiring electronic music artists. It’s Aphex Twin’s highly anticipated concert in the German capital when I discovered Aquarian after hearing distorted breaks and heavy bass of Event Horizon
rolling over Funkhaus, followed later in the set by an even harsher tune – Aquarian’s collaborative work with Deapmash as AQXDM – forceful and dark Ballad 002
The artist himself describes his music as “dramatic” and highly relates this quality to the one of reality TV which he satirizes in his Hamburglar Helper
video featuring snippets of Gordon Ramsay Hell's Kitchen. “I figured I would embrace it with my sense of humor and the juxtaposition between the footage. Also, the spectacle of reality TV – it’s so over-dramatic, and the music I make is dramatic as well,” he tells in his interview for Truants
. A sense of humor is just as much of his inherent characteristic as his love for food expressed through the name of his label Hanger Management
. Established in 2016, the label is the main outlet for Aquarian’s music, where each release comes together with one of his own recipes.
“Hanger management is a very present thing in my life. I just need to eat all the time because I get really angry when I don’t,” he explains while munching on a pickle during our FaceTime call. “Sometimes I have this existential crisis and as I get some food it becomes better. I think it’s also kind of a funny contradiction for a techno-oriented label to have a name like this. It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek and I enjoy the wordplay.”
However, the idea to start the label was born rather out of necessity than a mere desire to convey his identity: “I was having a lot of trouble getting my records signed. At some point, I thought, ‘I think these are still good, maybe I should try putting them out myself.’”
Music has been a constant in Aquarian’s life since a young age: he grew up learning piano and played drums in punk bands. Around that time, he also started playing around with Fruity Loops. “I wasn’t really into proper dance music at that time yet. I mostly enjoyed cinematic scores and bands like Nine Inch Nails, and Underworld next to listening to a lot of trip-hop.”
In order to put his mind to photography, he stopped making music for a while and spent the next 6 years working as a freelancer in New York. He picked up FL Studio again and learned Ableton during his studies at the university. That’s when he wrote his first EP Obsidian
, which was later released on American imprint UNO NYC, known for becoming the first home for experimentalists such as Arca and Mykki Blanco. “It was kind of an odd fit. The label is characterized by this weird sound that doesn’t really fit into any category and I always thought of myself as the most normal straight-forward producer on the label,” shares the artist.
If you are familiar with Aquarian’s music, you might disagree. His eclectic inspirations are mainly rooted in the UK dubstep and post-dubstep era – the period when his most formative club experiences took place. “One of the most exciting things about post-dubstep was that there was a myriad of influences happening at the same time. All kinds of genres were loosely being linked through the BPM: from breakbeat and footwork to techno. This sort of a patchwork movement has a huge influence on my music to this day. I’ve always been into jungle but also dubstep, grime and garage…” he tells. “I enjoy finding the links between genres and figuring out these similarities and how they work together. I see a lot of parallels between electro and grime, and that’s what makes it exciting for me to combine them. I’m all about hybrid music.” Playing records wasn’t something he took seriously at first; it started out as no more than fooling around with his friends at a local electronics reseller. “They opened a 24-hour Best Buy across my dorm. I used to go there in the middle of the night when no one was there to use the DJ equipment and hang out.”
Today the artist resides in Berlin and though still doing occasional photography, his main focus is now on music which he makes a living from. “I was barely booked in New York,” he shares, “my gig schedule got much better since moving.” Disregarding a highly saturated nightlife in the German capital, he feels a great deal of support within the Berlin music scene and his calendar keeps filling up with bookings in clubs as Berghain and Tresor.
“TFW you finally meet your internet GF IRL after meeting 3 years ago on World of Warcraft”, reads Aquarian’s caption under his Instagram photo with Deapmash. After releasing their collaborative EP on Bedouin Records and several mixes together with the French producer, it was only 2 weeks ago when they actually met in real life ahead of their AQXDM debut at Herrensauna in Tresor. The two met online, but not through gaming; their story is a rather common one nowadays. “I really enjoyed his releases on Boysnoize and started following him on SoundCloud,” shares Aquarian. "One day he just asked me if I wanted to make some music together as he loves collaborating. Aegis
was the first tune we ever made.” Despite living in different countries, they found their way to fruitfully work together by exchanging the files on Dropbox. “It’s kinda awkward to work this way sometimes,” he admits. “For our last NTS mix
, he made a half an hour recording which I decided to work backwards from by mixing the first 30 minutes to blend into his part.” Currently, the duo is getting ready for the release of their new EP which will be out at the end of 2019.
Most of Aquarian’s music today might strike as bass and percussion-heavy, however, his early passion for a more cinematic and compositional approach didn’t fade away. Having a just as strong penchant for visual art, the producer gladly agreed to contribute to the Drawing Operations
project of his close friend and artist Sougwen Chung whose recent works explore the intersection between machine learning and illustration. For this ongoing body of work, he created an ambient score to accompany the performance, which is expected to be further showcased on the unique 4DSOUND system housed in MONOM's spatial sound studio. The collaboration between the two doesn’t end here though, the interdisciplinary artist is also in charge of the visual direction for Aquarian’s forthcoming live A/V show and his new LP that is expected to see the light of day this fall.Aquarian plays our basement this Saturday alongside Somewhen and mad miran, while Roi Perez plays upstairs in Het Muzieklokaal. Tickets are still available here.