John Acquaviva is a world renowned touring DJ, former owner and founder of Beatport, CEO of Plus 8 Equity Partners, and forever influencer of today’s transition from analog to digital equipment with Final Scratch. The man of many talents recently played a large role in the world of cinema as executive producer in the Horror / Mystery film, The Red Man.
The Sherp sat down with John Acquaviva and friends for a private screening and an in-depth discussion while at SXM Music Festival.
The Sherp: What inspired the movie?
John Acquaviva: Dan Diamond recorded these iconic lyrics in a song called Therapy. While I was in the Beatport Office I overheard the Peace Division remix (NRK Sound Division released in 2005) and was blown away by the message.
“When I go to a nightclub I’m not going for the fire that’s coming out of the walls, I’m not going there to be in the VIP area and drink fancy f&%$ing champagne, nah I’m not going for none of those reasons to tell you the truth, I’m going for the music.”
I knew right there that I had to meet Dan Diamond. Having been a founder of Beatport and the guys behind the label (Tom Hope), I reached out. It took him a while to write back but we found out Dan’s from Detroit and got ahold of his contact. I let him know ‘DUDE you wrote one of the best acapellas for those that are keeping it real in the underground scene.’ Therapy is great, some start in the underground and lose sight of that message; there’s a point that life does many things to you, you grow up, or sell out, each day you get different.
The Sherp: Did you ever feel at one point that you sold out?
John Acquaviva: Some have accused me of selling out but I can look in the mirror and say I’ve done what I’ve needed to do at each phase in my life. Unlike others I lack the need to travel with bodyguards. I started off as I’d like to think as a DJ’s DJ – I had kids and had to start dealing with my mortality and that my career might only last a few years. I needed to start doing things to make more money. I’m not addicted to the lifestyle and try not to sip on too much of the Kool Aid. I also started investing in things. I’m more of a team oriented Alpha dog. I somehow found a reason to be involved with these groups and collaborating with businesses. I think Austin Gebbia does a great job at poking fun at these realities.
The Sherp: Have you considered a career in cinema?
John Acquaviva: I’m a bit ADHD and I like pursuing what sparks my interests; film just so happened to spark my interest at the time. On the music front I’ve produced over 300 tracks and shared the credits with everyone. Believe it or not I was actually an engineer and made more hits than most people with about six #1’s on Beatport. I didn’t want fame I just wanted iconic money which I accomplished; in our underground scene it’s about that equality and symbiosis, if I don’t believe in heroes how can I be one, I’m definitely more iconoclastic.
The Sherp: How do you manage balancing work, lifestyle, and family?
John Acquaviva: Once I learned how not to sleep, it all came together. I used to push all the boundaries and I still got a bit of stamina left in the tank.
The Sherp: You were a pioneer of DJ technology with Final Scratch, where do you see it going now?
John Acquaviva: I was pretty good at DJing vinyl, ironically I DJed at one of the biggest Vinyl distributor’s 10th anniversary party. New context and new times I embraced my mortality at a young age. We’re in a bigger better place now thanks to technology. The commercial scene is now electronic, we used to make fun of rock n roll, so now it’s all the same. There’s popular dance music and underground dance music. Those of us are into this lifestyle clearly run away from the commercial to meet interesting people, be inspired, and maybe stretch our boundaries. At Beatport I made a lot of money from commercial music, I made a lot of EDM and I didn’t like the seed I had sown in Electro House and eventually just turned my back on it. Some may say I’m not techno but I don’t give a sh*t either way.
The Sherp: How did you get involved with Olivier Giacomotto (who wrote the score of the movie)?
John Acquaviva: I was a pretty competent engineer and became blessed to meet a lot of great artists along the way. For instance when I met Richie (Hawtin), we collaborated and he made use of my studio, developing his sound and expanding on Plastikman. Oliver is one of the most talented and sweetest guys, he’s done all kinds of stuff. He’s also one of those unsung heroes. He’s private and a family guy. Our core circle supports each other and pushes each other forward. We all act as counterbalances with a support system. And those who don’t, well I take the piss out of them at private dinners and it’s all good, haha.
Oliver has been the top selling tech house guy and from that he’s gone a bit deeper. Before that he’s produced a folk recording with this ukulele, he made a reggae album, he did a version of walk on by Leiber and Stoller, and actually we do a lot of cooking (I cooked lobster for all my friends yesterday) Mixing food is like mixing music.
The Sherp: What’s your signature dish?
John Acquaviva: I’m an Italian from the south (Orsara di Puglia), we’re more tomato based but I can do it all. Don’t take me to a restaurant that’s not apart of the family or else you won’t hear the end of it.
The Sherp: A lot of DJs have come out with anxiety and emotional issues as of the recent. Have you yourself dealt with any issues that you’d like to share?
John Acquaviva: Who I am now was forged after all these years. First by me taking the plunge and then over the years going in with a group and making that charge, I’m a survivor and still going while at the same time I’ve lost some friends along the way.
The Sherp: What would you tell the up and coming kid to stay focused?
John Acquaviva: I live my life through empiricism. So I tend to encourage people to try and experience things and judge for themselves. A good analogy relates to food. I’m a bit of a bully chef. I only cook what’s fresh. I get into the local crop and when I go around the world I try everything once, and if I like I may do it again. Just because you like something though doesn’t mean it’s good for you. You have to be your own inner-voice. In the movie they allude to this innervoice. When you a make a dumb decision you’re not really listening to your conscience. I can take a conservative stance for the sake of argument.
The Sherp: Having been in the industry for some time do you often find yourself as a mentor?
John Acquaviva: Yes I do, through a number of speaking engagements at universities and private recording studios. Clearly when you’re introduced and someone lays out the history, kids seems to look at me as a mythological creature, he’s still going!? As I mentioned I’m a team oriented Alpha guy and having been at the room at front of the pack. I’ve also sat in all the seats at the table. There’s a law of diminishing returns. I’ve done over 5,000 paid nights as a DJ as of 1982. I’ve probably done more nights than any other DJ; I was apart of the last wave of the disco era club DJs.
Our movie is a little Faustian tale in DJ clothing. People often ask me my age, if you’re DJing full time I break it down as so: think a year of partying is like a dog year (7 years for each 1 human year), I was partying before I started working so I’m around 300 years old.
The Sherp: If you’d have one message that you’d want to be taken away from the film?
John Acquaviva: Art is open to interpretation. We live in an age where we like everything and are meant to be positive. A lot of 80’s stuff was very introspective and satanic. I think you’re wrong to like everything. Ignorance is not bliss. If you keep compartmentalizing it you’ll have an ulcer or you’re going to go crazy, deal with it, with your friends. It’s ok you don’t have to be happy all the time. Without questioning yourself and not being satisfied that’s ok. Some in underground world go to great lengths to have a good time.
The Sherp: Are you spiritual?
John Acquaviva: You know what, it’s great to have comfort in knowing. I’m an empiricist and my role these days is often avuncular.
In the director’s cut there was a lot more religious takes. I’m telling a story and I speak with metaphors and analogies with reference. It doesn’t mean I believe in them all.
The Sherp: So if people were to say what do you believe in would you say yourself?
John Acquaviva: Yes, myself and the people around me, but not as I’m really good or special, not everyone deserves a gold star. I don’t lack confidence but I’m also my own worst critic. You can pick on me all you want but I’ll pick on myself just as much. If you don’t face your insecurities you will crumble apart.
The Sherp: How do you deal with your insecurities?
John Acquaviva: I’m pretty comfortable with where I am right now, and fairly tough as nails. I have a lot of great people around me. If things start happening I can help put out fires, I’m not afraid of doing any heavy lifting. I’ve been on the edge of the cliff and caught myself.
The Sherp: Any closing remarks?
John Acquaviva: Here are a few more songs that have powerful lyrics:
Soft Cell – Bedsitter
“Sunday morning going slow I’m talking to the radio clothes and records on the floor memories of the night before out in club-land having fun and now I’m hiding from the sun waiting for a visitor though no-one knows I’m here for sure”…
I think it’s time to cook a meal to fill the emptiness I feel spent my money going out I’ve nothing I’m left without clean my teeth and comb my hair look for something new to wear start the nightlife over again kid myself I’m having fun”
THE THE – Giant (Matt Johnson lyricist)
“How can anyone know me when I don’t even know myself”
Check out his Facebook page here.
You can check out The Red Man Trailer below:
Words compiled by SAM SIAM
All Picture Courtesy: www.facebook.com/JohnAcquavivaOfficial