Imprints brings you regular profiles of the most exciting record labels the world over, with input from the movers and shakers who contribute to their local electronic music communities.
Name: Definitive Recordings
Vibe: We try to explain who we are and we try to admit who we are. If you don't understand, I'll try to explain it to you. If you still don't understand, well, not everyone understands house music and that's ok.
Location: London, Ontario
Artists-to-watch: Olivier Giacomotto: people may know the name, but they need to know the name better, this guy is a super talent.
A professional DJ for over 25 years, London, Ontario-raised, Italian-born, John Acquaviva has been at the forefront of electronic music since its foundation. Spanning discos in Canada to Space in Ibiza, Acquaviva is also one of the founding members of Beatport, as well as the pioneer behind the Final Scratch technology—changing the role of a laptop for DJs forever. And yet, there's more. From executive producing a feature film to financing apps, the Canadian still maintains numerous chart-topping tracks along the way. Acquaviva's label Definitive Recordings is not a moneymaking venture, or a concession to the industry—it's a passion.
THUMP: How and why was Definitive formed?
John Acquaviva: For over 10 years, it was like the two musketeers, Hawtin and Acquaviva. I met him in '89 and we immediately connected. In 1990, we made our first record. By our third record at the end of +1990 we had a big hit called "Technarchy," by [the alias] Cybersonik and we became the techno boys that the world loved. Rich still owns techno so our techno history is pretty solid.
We loved so music when we were playing house clubs. I come from the disco days, so as much as I love the raw energy of techno—and we were playing some industrial music then too—I always loved good house music. We launched Definitive, along with a friend called Karl Kowalski, who was one of the guys who introduced me to Richie and we launched Definitive to show our love for house music.
When and why did the revival of Definitive take place?
At the end of the 90s, Richie and I split and we put all of our labels on the shelf, because we went through a lot of changes. I ended up keeping Definitive and he kept Plus8, as we split up various assets on who wanted to run what because clearly Hawtin is a little bit more techno than me, but I won't let anyone debate that, I'll just give him credit for that. Once Final Scratch technology got traction, we had a chance to deal with distribution, but in a new way. Not the old, vinyl way but instead we came together with a bunch of guys in Denver and we launched Beatport. So I'm like, 'Oh man, Beatport, this is the way forward.'
What was it about the digital age that changed Definitive?
I got reinvigorated and I was DJing as much as ever, and I thought, I have got to revive my label because this digital age will make it a lot easier for me to get records into the hands of people who want to enjoy them. Because the challenge for an underground label was: How can I get five copies of a Richie Hawtin or my house release on Definitive to those fans—it's really tough shipping records. But with Beatport, there was a chance for a whole new generation to reach fans in every corner of the world.
How did the music change? Since the beginning?
Launching Definitive, part two was really trying to be hip and young and I feed off of energy from people so to get in touch with that second generation of artists for me was really important and it put more wind at my sails. Definitive was at the forefront because eight or nine years ago, a lot of people were still listening to techno from the 90s, I'm well aware of it—I was there. When some people want techno purist music from the 90s, I think, well that was 25 years ago with all due respect, a lot of the good techno, at least the purist stuff, sounds dated, and needed to move on.
Did the music translate into the scene as a whole?
I've always had one fit in each door, I was a successful club DJ so I played big clubs and I achieved a balance. Techno and house was like that—the posh people sneered at the underground and vice versa. The house guys were sort of guys playing at the major discos, but I knew those DJs and there's nothing wrong with house. There was cheesy house but there was also some wonderful house, I started doing afterhours and gay clubs, when gay clubs in the 80s were the only cool thing about North America. Everyone enjoying music, and progressive and for people who love music, gay clubs were the best place to play avant garde cutting edge music, late at night on the weekends, after going to a commercial club.
What sort of attitude does Definitive bring to the music today?
To quote the famous Eddy Amador song in the 90s, "house music, it's a spiritual thing." Not everybody understands house music and it is as simple as not everyone can feel the hi-hat and the kick and the clap of a song that just gives that raw energy that you connect with and those 50 people, or 200 people or more. You don't need tens of thousands of people in a stadium, waving rave sticks or whatever they're called, glow sticks—that's bullshit.
So where do you see the music industry heading?
I've seen history repeat itself and it's ok to make hits and make money. I live in a capitalist world, I'm actually one of the better DJs at making money, but at the end of the day there is a heartfelt, artistic component and Definitive is that labour of love. By far, it's my hobby business.
And now, pop music is really electronic music. You've always got your two tribes. The underground people are going back and revisiting the past. Some people are even doing super old school revival sounds and it's all part of the backlash. If you notice, the cool clubs are playing really slow, the cheesy pop music is really fast, there's a huge backlash, we chose the slower vibe—just for those who know.
What's next for Definitive in 2015?
One of the reasons we've been kind of quiet is because we've done a movie. While everyone else does documentaries, we've done a full-fledged feature. It's a pretty dark thing, being the executive producer as well as my main artist—Olivier Giacomotto—did all of the music. He is such a talent, not only did he own the charts pretty much for most of this year on Beatport in tech-house but he is just that talented, not too many DJs have the bandwidth to finance and executive produce a movie.
What has changed in the running of Definitive since it's second founding?
I've actually really handed the baton to Olivier in that the last year or two, he's really taking the bulk of the A&R, it's a passing of the guard, it's Olivier's time, he's busier than me as a DJ, I really do step off. I kind of only started stopping doing 100 plus gigs a year over the last two to three years I've been doing 40 to 50 gigs, ones that I want to do. It's really a passing of the baton on one hand and we're so involved, I participate in so many things at just about every level. It's just something I've always done and I'm comfortable with our place in the industry.
One release that you're most fond of on Definitive?
I think you're always fondest of your first—I alluded to it, "House For All." We've done a lot of great things since, but that was sort of our first big hit and it's an anthem for a lot of people in multi-generations so it's that simple.