John Acquaviva has been at the heart of the electronic music industry since the 1980s. His pioneering record labels with Richie Hawtin helped define the sounds of House and Techno through the 90s and beyond. His Definitive Recordings label recently joined the ranks of the Get Physical family in Berlin so we thought it a good time to catch up with John to discuss the move and what lies ahead.
WWD: Hey John, having you with us on When We Dip is a pleasure! What’s good and bad in your world?
It’s great to be chatting with you guys. It’s always a pleasure for me to talk about what I love, and it’s a particular pleasure to revisit Definitive Recordings with my dear friend Roland Leesker and the Get Physical crew. I am excited to re-release some of our original classics and relaunch the label. The bad in my world is that there never seems enough time. And also that a lot of electronic music is derivative instead of definitive these days 😉
Returning to your early days, what was the underground dance scene like growing up in Ontario? Toronto was always a thriving club town, going back to the disco days of the 1970s. I grew up down the road in London, Ontario, and it too was thriving. Even when commercial disco hit the wall at the end of the 70s, clubs continued and thrived by playing funk on weekends from Prince to Kool and the Gang, George Clinton and everything in between. I started a Monday night in 1982 as part of my 8-year residency, playing pretty much every night where I’d play new wave and electronic music. The night exploded, and we were doing about 700 people every Monday night, taking us right up to acid house towards the end of the 80s. I come from perhaps the best but globally unsung group of mixers and club DJs, and what I learned in Ontario allowed me to shine once I hit the big leagues of the global club circuit.
Back in the 90s, you launched Definitive Recordings alongside Richie Hawtin and Karl Kowalski. What can you tell us about the early days of the label, the highs and the lows? We had finally been taken to the world’s heart when we launched Plus 8 records and became famous for techno, but for all of us and myself in particular, we had much broader taste than just techno. I was a
disco DJ from the start, so Definitive Recordings was us trying to show the house side of ourselves. Whereas techno was and often is pretty serious, house is about groove & rhythm; it’s ok to be lovely, beautiful or sexy. So I suppose the only lows were when most people thought we were merely techno, and the highs were when the world also took definitive to heart and gave us love and respect for this side of our creativity.
WWD: What can we expect to hear from Definitive moving forward? Will you still be handling the A&R?
We are re-releasing some of our favourite classics and some new things. I am thrilled and having fun working as A&R alongside this incredible team.
WWD: This year saw the Definitive catalogue acquired by Get Physical Music? What is your relationship with the label, and what can you tell us about how this came about?
I have known Roland since the days I was buying records at Delirium in Frankfurt, alongside Heiko M/S/O, Ata and Ricardo. We drifted in and out of each other’s paths, and about a handful of years ago, we reconnected as friends and label owners. We both have a shared passion for the music business; I have focused more on the Plus 8 fund I founded and saw some of my friends focus on the pressing, distribution, and licensing fronts, and Roland was one. He kept pushing me for music and promos. I told
him I was a little too busy to take care of it, so ultimately, it became a natural decision to work and support Roland from the other side of the business, letting him do what he does best, and I work under a bigger more robust team so that when I do spend time with music, I can focus on the creative part of making and finding great tunes.
WWD: Celebrating this new era for the label, Get Physical Music present the first release in a new various artist series focusing on some of the label’s best tracks. What can you tell us about this record and the planned series?
So after a few sessions with Roland, he reawakened me to what was still a great body of work in the very early vinyl-only releases. There is still a lot of demand among collectors, so we thought it would be nice to reissue a snapshot of the past with so much quality. This year is just about showing we are back and reminiscing with reissues as we gear up back to speed.
WWD: After so many years of experience in the industry, what advice would you give to younger generations looking to start their own label?
There is no one right way to do a label. Plus 8 and Definitive were pretty ambitious, and they worked well. For many young producers, it’s often better to learn by working with a friendly and established label and feed into their community, or for real visionaries, you’ve just gotta do it all your way, and a record label allows for that.
WWD: As summer is now on the horizon, what are your plans for the season?
We just did a show in Berlin, and then we are about to announce some regular events in Ibiza, as well as special Detroit, Toronto and select cities around the world. So basically…summer is all about select shows and sun.