John Acquaviva – I was a DJ when it wasn’t cool and I’ve actually gone full circle, I’ve run the whole lifecycle, even myself personally I love DJing, I can’t believe I made a career out of it

During my whirlwind 48 hours in Ibiza this year, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the DJ Awards show at Pacha in Ibiza Town and interview some of the winners. The show was a blur of sound, light and colour featuring a host of international music stars and a live performance from Defected Records’ Anabel Englund. Among the highlights of the show was a special award for Electronic Music Pioneer. It was given to a man with a career spanning the history of dance music itself and is testament to a life following your dreams.

John Acquaviva is a man who knows what he wants and has become a master attaining it. He is a musical polestar, a global iconoclast to those who admire his drive and a dedicated top-tier headline entertainer to his fans. On a technological level, no DJ has made such significant contributions to the advancement of how DJ’s perform than John Acquaviva. He is a pioneer of electronic music’s technological evolution and helped sculpt the genre’s game-changing transition from analogue to digital and from vinyl to turntables and laptops. In sharing this vision with Richie Hawtin, they spearheaded a project that would act as the iTunes of dance, the duo arguably paved the path for a new and zestful era.

Hi John Acquaviva, Electronic Music Pioneer! So Big award, big accolade, how do you feel? 

Great, I feel like I won a survivor contest! ‘Pioneer’ feels like it’s given to an old man so, I feel like a survivor tonight!

How’s your year been, what have you been up to? 

My year’s been great. I had a kind of an easy year as a DJ, I’m not doing my 100+ gigs anymore I was really busy doing a lot of technology stuff, so I thought I’d book the closing week in Ibiza and luckily got invited to play Space Closing and then I get invited to this Pacha Awards and I’m getting this pioneer, but rather a recognition of a career and I’m like “holy shit, I’m doing the closing party and end of an era and uh maybe is this the end of MY era?” Like what the Hell, I was gonna say I’m not done yet, I’m still going, but all of a sudden I’m doing all these final parties and hopefully that wasn’t an end of career moment.

I interviewed Laurent Garnier earlier in the year and I was saying to him “Is there a point in your career where you are going to hang your headphones up?” And what he was saying was “Year on year I’m doing less gigs, but the gigs I’m doing now are the ones I really really want to do.” Is that a place in your career that you’re at at the moment, or have you got a few years to go? 

Yeah, I’ve always had a real affinity, Laurent’s one of my first friends and I’ve always really bonded and connected with real DJs. I was a DJ when it wasn’t cool and I’ve actually gone full circle, I’ve run the whole lifecycle, even myself personally I love DJing I can’t believe I made a career out of it and then it just kept going and going and I felt like I was in the first division for a long time and then I thought I’d do some more productions.

I’ve done a lot of productions but I went through my ‘production phase’ and I travelled more as a producer I kinda left some of the clubs I love to… and at the time I had a family and I wanted to make a living and I have a few hits that were good. And now I’ve  done all my business, I’ve had my family, I’m 50, I never wanted to be a struggling starving DJ; I’m not a slave to anything I do and now I feel I’ve come full circle and I love what I do. I’m just playing the clubs I love it’s not really about the money for me, so I feel I’ve really come full circle and I’m still doing what I love and dreamed of as a little boy.

Have you still got goals?

The cheeky answer is my goal is to survive for the next day! I have a pretty voracious appetite, I’m an omnivore, I love working with people I love just enjoying life and grabbing a bite of everything, so i love travelling, so for me in part, it’s not Just touring as a DJ but touring and meeting people with new ideas and new technologies. For those that don’t know me, take a look, were really into bringing our culture, not just culture, but all that surrounds it with the technologies forward so I just love meeting people and I travel a lot of distance to meet interesting people and I also appreciate to talk on and on and hopefully to motivate and inspire people. So it’s been a pleasure to travel. I’m just looking for the next party, the next gig and the next interesting thing person or event.

Tell us a little bit about the technology stuff that you’re doing. 

OK, so for some people that may not know me, I hooked up with a guy called Rich Hawtin in 1989 and we started making records in 1990. techno records with Plus 8 and then we kinda just practised what we preached – we believe in technology so we got it the Final Scratch technology which everyone might be familiar with,Traktor Scratch and then Beatport, a lot of people and fans probably went there, and then we sold Beatport 3 years ago to a bigger concern and now we in the next generation, so you’re familiar with LANDR.

LANDR is about mastering, about making music sound better so if you had a vinyl ripped and you want it to sound better or your just learning how to produce. Mastering is one of those really tricky things so LANDR and SubPac which is feeling a body buzz and the HEAR technologies, which is wireless hearing, award-winning technology from Doctor Labs to Pacemaker which is really cool. So yeah we just love meeting people who are taking new ways to enjoy music and bring it into our lives which is at every level. Music is a huge part of our lives so I’m just happy to try and you know, scratch that surface.


Can we talk about SFXE?

Sure. So is this the business part of the programme?!

Hahahaha, yeah the business part of the programme! So as a business decision, you sold Beatport and it happened and it’s ended. Do you still stand by the decision to do it? 

Yeah, I mean, I’ve come and gone in a number of companies and I worked for 9 years at Beatport – longer than most people have jobs – I very much care about the community we cared so much that we thought that there was a real problem in accessing music before the internet, underground music, and so we had this idea, we built it and then it was time to move on.

I had hoped sincerely that they would do a bigger job, because they came in and put together a number of companies and I’m friends with a lot of the other companies that were bought, like I was here tonight with Rocco, whose companies put on great parties and then Richie McNeill, my friend in Australia and Disco Donny, so a lot of promoter friends we all were excited to come together in to something bigger. Unfortunately, it didn’t so you can’t have regrets because you gotta move on but I’m proud of Beatport when it was there, I wish they could’ve done more and I’m always involved in our scene so I’m always involved in conversations of how we can make our community better right.

In the day time I sit on the executive board of the AFEM (Association for Electronic Music) started by Ben Turner and Kuroh Nasseri based in the UK and we get involved in education and the whole thing going on with fabric so our community, our global community we care about our global business because we wanna have a good time, but we wanna do it right so we got our fingers in a lot of pies and we try to make them all work out. So sometimes I feel like an ambassador, you know a bureaucrat and that’s kinda life so when I’m at the table I do my very best and I’m sitting at a lot of tables! And we’ll see where all that stuff goes but unfortunately I think some people could argue that they dropped the baton after we handed it to them.

Have you got a comment about fabric? A viewpoint you’d like to put across or has it all been said? 

No, uhh it’s all been said but clearly, I firmly live on the side of… I live 24 hours a day. I work in the day, I wanna go out to dinner, I wanna party with friends. London’s a 24-hour city. The whole world people need to work hard, play hard and I support all of the above so… and its funny I think London can look at the rest of the world, look at how Berghain’s gone about it. They’ve really integrated better with the city.

I have a degree in Statistics and I think the numbers are irrational. I think people hurt themselves falling down stairs or self-inflicted, so the irrationality, it’s the same thing when you know it’s safer to fly an aeroplane for example, but people should be afraid to get into cars. So you know, when they talk about clubbing and the darkness, it’s all wrong. It’s all just irrational. If London’s a 24-hour city the people should be allowed to enjoy themselves and let loose and then go back to work and work hard.

It’s been fantastic to meet you John and chat briefly. We should maybe do one more and cover releases and stuff. Have you got anything coming up or have you stopped for the winter? 

I kinda keep going. For me ‘touring’ means select dates but I do do a lot of podcasts and a lot of guys are doing that so I can send one to the show. I work regularly with MixCloud I love those guys, I think MixCloud is more appropriate than some of the other bigger companies. I think they are very DJ friendly and so I’m very loyal to them. I’ve done a few releases, summer releases. I worked with Manuel De La Mare, Olivier Giacomotto, m.O.N.R.O.E.… So yeah, just keep searching.

DJ Awards photo credits: Andrei Oprescu, Julian Jooste and Robert Sczcechowiak