Get to Know: Aquarian
From: Toronto, Canada
For fans of: Aphex Twin, Special Request, J-Zbel
Key tunes: Lil Nas X ‘Old Town Road (H.A.M. Need 4 Speed Remix)’, ‘Before I Forget’, ‘Hamburglar Helper’
Aquarian is sipping tea at home in Berlin. The Canadian is back in Europe after a festive break that included time in his native Toronto, and Brooklyn, where he lived for 10 years until a recent relocation. “The food is much better there,” he laughs, “so it’s nice to really indulge. There are a lot of parallels with the joys of eating and the joys of experiencing music — they’re very visceral, but also sensual and real art forms.”
As anyone who has bought one of his EPs will know (and that includes Aphex Twin, who has played some of Aquarian’s tunes with Deapmash as AQXDM at his recent shows), Aquarian likes food, both eating it and cooking it. He includes his own recipes with each release, his label is called Hanger Management, and his last release was a series of H.A.M. edits, featuring a tongue-in-cheek but brilliant speed garage remix of Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’. “I was obsessed with the original,” he laughs, “and I’m just a bit of a weirdo joker.” Whenever he plays it, the club goes wild. As silly yet successful as it has proven, though, February will see him put out something very different. ‘The Snake That Eats Itself’ is his explosive debut album and one that deals in the brash breakbeats, hardcore techno and dystopian moods with which he has made his name on labels like UNO since 2012. It is, he says, “an extremely self-serious, earnest” record that will resonate with exactly the sort of people who might ordinarily hate a speed garage edit of a pop song.
But that dichotomy and sense of humour is what defines Aquarian. “I like so many different kinds of things and to only express one facet of them feels limiting,” he says, before explaining that the album was born out of feeling similarly limited by the “constraints of DJ culture”. As such, next to whirring drum patterns and doom-laden bass that will melt your face, there are moments of quiet introspection like the unsettling ambience of ‘New York, An Eternity’ and weird beauty of the dream-like ‘Letting Go At Arm’s Length’.
This album was four years in the making — largely due to how long it took to get the kick drum on ‘Hate Is A Strong Word’ exactly how he wanted it — during a time of great personal intensity, as he finally made a permanent move to Berlin. The music “is a coping mechanism against homogenised seriousness,” says Aquarian, who adds that “genre agnosticism” has been a guiding principle ever since he started out. After playing in metal bands, his first electronic experiments came as dubstep was peaking, then splintering. At the time, his Toronto scene was a real melting pot, so he soaked up everything from Nine Inch Nails to The Prodigy, drum & bass to trip-hop. “There is a really strong Caribbean community in Toronto, so soca, reggae and dancehall are all deep in the city’s culture.” It was a trip to Unsound Festival that was a real eye-opener, and the exact moment Aquarian knew “that was the kind of place I wanted to perform”.
His next gig comes on his birthday — he is actually an Aquarian, but doesn’t follow astrology — and 2020 will also see him tour his new live show, with visuals developed by his friend, Sougwen Chung, a ground-breaking AI researcher. There will also be some new music, which he reckons will mark “something of a new chapter”.
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