Aquarian is an antidote to po-faced monolithic techno - Features - Mixmag

Aquarian is an antidote to po-faced monolithic techno

The Aphex Twin-approved artist crosses genre boundaries with flair

  • Patrick Hinton
  • 19 March 2020

Putting off vital work is rarely productive, but it was an “extended procrastination period” that sparked the launch of Aquarian’s musical career. The Toronto-born artist had stopped making music in 2009 after moving to New York to study photography, but his creative urge returned during a demanding spell of finals. “I didn’t feel like writing any papers,” he says. Come 2012, ‘Obsidian’, his debut EP of hybridised techno-rooted mutations, dropped on UNO.

The boundary-breaking imprint, home to the likes of Arca, Mykki Blanco and Fatima Al Qadiri, was a fitting outlet for Aquarian’s introduction: adhering to genre confines has never been his thing. He learned piano as a child and played drums in punk bands as a teen. A love of film scores and hardcore music grew to include crossover dance acts such as The Prodigy, Underworld and trip-hop innovators like Massive Attack and DJ Shadow by the time he started high school. Once he was old enough, he frequented d’n’b and dubstep parties in Toronto such as Dubslingers, which took place in a tiny, 45-capacity dub reggae bar.

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Around the time the dubstep landscape cracked, he moved to London to study at Camberwell College of Arts and had some formative experiences at Hessle Audio nights at fabric. “I’d be on the dancefloor, like, ‘I don’t know what fucking genre this is, but this bangs’ – that feeling of utter confusion and also wonder,” he recalls. Back in New York, Sepalcure (Machinedrum & Braille) were another pivotal influence.

Since then he’s launched his own label, Hanger Management, bundling gourmet recipes in with its releases; he’s also put out an experimental cassette on Quiet Time and collaborated with Deapmash on the ravey AQXDM project, unleashing two EPs on Bedouin and Houndstooth which have been getting regular airplay from Aphex Twin. “I never expected that to happen. I don’t think anybody expects it,” he says.

This February the 31-year-old released debut album ‘The Snake That Eats Itself’ on Bedouin. The 10-track LP is at times snarling and abrasive, but also showcases a more plaintive side to Aquarian, including the use of his own vocals for the first time.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing. The album was ready three years ago, but ended up shelved after he says a label “ghosted” him. Hanger Management was set up due to “a lack of interest” from other outlets, while DJ bookings in NYC were thin on the ground. “I had lots of music sitting around that I’d spent forever on. It’s a struggle early in your career to get music signed,” he says.

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Now living in Berlin with an increasingly busy schedule, including a debut Dekmantel appearance locked in for this summer, he puts his success down to the increasing openness to artists dissolving genre boundaries.

In his sets, he’s not afraid to put a speed garage edit of ‘Old Town Road’ alongside industrial thumpers. “It got kind of exhausting to be part of this monolithic, faceless techno block,” he says. “Those surprise moments can be really memorable and potent.” If you think techno is fun at parties, but find po-faced techno DJs tiresome, don’t sleep on Aquarian.

‘The Snake That Eats Itself’ is out now on Bedouin Records

Patrick Hinton is Mixmag's Digital Features Editor, follow him on Twitter

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