I first met Brooklyn-based, Canadian producer Aquarian last year at Unsound festival in Kraków, Poland. Having spent his summer living in Berlin, he came to Ireland earlier this month to play the country’s largest festival, out in the Co. Laois countryside: Electric Picnic. This time we would meet in Dublin for an interview, some fifty miles from the festival. As much a fan of food as techno, his latest release on his Hanger Management label is titled Hamburglar Helper / Snack ID. So naturally we dined in Jo’Burger, a local independent burger chain where we could sandwich a chat about music, craft and career in between the caramelised chili banana, apple slices and various cheese toppings on offer.
“I’ve always been obsessed with food,” he explains, “but I let it slip during my interview for RA. It was Thanksgiving and the questions were so vague – ‘What are you up to?’ ‘I’ll tell you what I’m up to, I’m making a stew.’ People seemed to react to that and I enjoy talking about it.” He followed that reference with a recipe for kimchi on self-titled, and extended this thread with his label. “It was born out of being fatigued by self-serious techno posturing. The serious, dark aspect is definitely a part I identify with – I think a lot of people do – but in terms of my personality there’s a bit of a dichotomy.” From the name to the track titles (“Snack ID” is a personal favourite), the entire Hanger Management identity is built on this dynamic. Each release comes with a pair of recipes, created by Aquarian himself. (He even tells me at one point how he’s not interested in eating steak in restaurants, since he’s spent so long perfecting his own take on the dish.) Looking to push the label’s concept further, he initially considered aping the BuzzFeed Tasty style of top-down cooking clip accompanied by his “driving, primal techno”. Instead he opted for the absurdity of reality TV, the result being his “Hamburglar Helper” video, which sees Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen exploits soundtracked by pulsing techno. “I figured I would embrace it with my sense of humour and the juxtaposition between the footage. Also the spectacle of reality TV – it’s so over-dramatic, and the music I make is dramatic as well.”
The label itself was born out of a certain restlessness as despite a fairly regular gigging schedule, he was sitting on tracks that weren’t being released. “I’d revisited them and they still sounded good, and I figured that the people who liked the music that I put out before would enjoy them.” With two years going by without a “serious” release, in the interest of self-preservation he set up his own imprint. “I’m very, very involved so I like to have that control and be on top of everything.” While he’s toying with the idea of a label compilation, Hanger Management is just for him at present. “One of the things about what I’ve been doing is that it’s all in-house. Because of that, it’s also full creative control.”
One rare collaboration to note of is with his internet friend Deapmash, a French producer based in Caen who has released on BNR Trax and Leisure System. The pair remixed “Hamburglar Helper” for the record – their unofficial debut, as Aquarian puts it. “I don’t know how he necessarily feels about it but I’ve been egging him on to call ourselves DJ Poutine. Which is a really stupid idea, simply because I’m Canadian and he’s French, so together we are a French Canadian. It’s an iconic Quebecois dish. We’ve been working together for about a year and we have our record that will be announced in the future.”
Another compelling Aquarian release is his tape for the Quiet Time series. The label sees artists offer up about half an hour of original work (be that a live performance, DJ mix or series of sketches) and this is released on a pair of tapes, which can be shared among friends, along with a zine designed by the artist. Aquarian’s tape is dark and angry, not unlike his club music, though at a slower tempo, treading different paths, exploring other avenues. “I’ve known Eli [Libman] for a while, and maybe a year and a half ago he hit me up. He had this new idea for a label where he wanted to put out his friends’ music that was not necessarily finished or in a song format, just like ‘do a mixtape’. Kind of headphone listening, not something you would necessarily [play as a] DJ. I was in the process of writing an LP at the time and working off the same sort of vibe, I put together the tape for him. But that was all written in a week.”
With Unsound approaching once again, I ask if he would ever want to play there. “I was asked to play the first year I went, last minute, but I was inside a Tim Hecker installation with my phone off. It was a transcendental experience, one of the best things I’ve ever experienced! I was trying to get an LP out this year, so that I could be considered for Unsound. It’s definitely one of my favourite festivals. The first year that I went was completely life-affirming, especially for a lot of the material I’d been working on, which has yet to see the light of day.” He describes this LP as: “experimental, electronic, similar to the Quiet Time tape… Drone, dub techno, IDM.” Something well suited to Unsound, then.
Aquarian – Hamburglar Helper / Snack ID is out September 27 on Hanger Management and available for pre-order here.