the iJammming! featured wino (and muso):
In April 2001, I threw up a news rave on this site about Finalscratch, the revolutionary new system that enables DJs to play music off a computer hard drive (eg .MP3s, .AIFFs, .WAVs etc) by using a dummy piece of vinyl. (Click here to read that posting about Finalscatch and get a full idea of its capabilities.) I had been shown Finalscratch in action by John Acquaviva, Richie Hawtin's partner in the seminal Plus 8 techno label and now also partners with Richie in the marketing of Finalscratch itself. John and I hit it off immediately, not least because it turned out he's a committed wine buff as well as a great DJ and savvy businessman; we therefore made plans to sit down one evening when he was playing New York to drink wine and talk about the grape and the groove.
Being as things are, several months passed before we got together, by which time Richie Hawtin had already done many interviews promoting Finalscratch; he apprently used the system to compile his new album DE9, a typically Hawtin-esque blurring of the distinction between music-making and Djing. Acquaviva, hardly Hawtin's silent partner but certainly less of a press magnet, released his own mix CD in August; entitled Mainhatten Sound, it's his compilation of tracks from the seminal german label Force Inc. A seamless journey through funky German techno, from familiar and commercial names like Ian Pooley and Stewart Walker to the dark underground productions of Funkknarz and Sutekh, it's a perfect CD for the late night adrenalin rush. When playing out, however, Acquaviva is contentedly populist, as happy to spin seventies classics off his hard drive as keep you in the dark with the latest white label.
On Friday September 7, John headlined the main room at Centro-Fly, and after a day of interviews for Mainhatten Sound's American label, Shadow/Instinct, the two of us, along with Instinct publicist Esther Park, went for dinner at Pipa, a "happening" Spanish restaurant set in the ground floor of, believe it or not, the ABC Carpet store near Union Square. John is something of a star in Spain, for reasons we'll go into below, and his love of the culture was apparent as he took us through the menu and wine list with a healthy dose of cynicism for the restaurant's trendy approach to his adopted second home.
John is also a gregarious conversationalist, and a passionate lover of the good life. We ate well that night, we drank well, and later on, when John played Centro-Fly, we (now being Posie and myself) danced some, we drank some more - and in between digging John's progressive tech/house set, we also grooved extensively to Stanton Warriors' new school take on breakbeat and drum and bass in the basement Pinky Room. I encountered a couple of friends I no longer see too often, came home contentedly tired in the early hours, and had the feeling that all was well with the world. Three days later, on Tuesday September 11 that world went upside down and the meal out with John seemed, for the next several weeks, frivolous, self indulgent, even totally irrelevant. Union Square turned into a public gathering ground in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center, and Centro-Fly, to its considerable credit, hastily arranged a benefit night in which every one, from superstar Djs to security and bus boys, donated their time for free, and $150,000 was raised for victims of the attacks. (For my own part, there was simply no way I could bring myself to go dancing two weeks after the attacks, though I admire those who did.) The idea of $200 bottles of wine, imported barnacles and new-fangled contraptions that allow you to play MP3s as if they were vinyl seemed in immediate retrospect like a last embrace of consumer capatilism before the system collapsed around us.
Time has passed now, and I no longer feel that way. As we are provoked to celebrate our lives to the fullest in the harsh awareness that we could die any day, no one's going to convince me that music, dancing, wine and cool technology aren't among the finest things going. To that end, I'm delighted to post the transcript of our conversation that night, which morphed effortlessly from wine, to DJ culture, to Finalscratch. Those who want to skip the wine part can jump right ahead by clicking here. Those who don't want to skip the wine part - and really, who would? - just keep on reading.
||"I still like my old world wines. The Spanish wines have a bit more oomph than the French wines, but they're not as crazy as the new world wines. New world wines are full of crazy shit, they're just too techno for me. "
-Where does your Spanish connection come from?
I'm European. I was born in the south of Italy. Thus I'm Mediterranean. I didn't have an opportunity to take all my invitations to play in Italy because in classic Italian political fashion . . . I became a Canadian citizen. (John lives in London, Ontario.) And in Italy you have to perform military service. I didn't want to go to Italy and not have the right papers. So I filled out my forms and the stupid beaurocracy lost my forms...It took so long to sort out that I didn't go to Italy between the ages of 16 and 32, and I had to go through a great deal of time and effort to get my Italian citizenship, I had to get notarized letters from all the Italian oficials in Toronto, and I finally got my papers in order a few years ago so I've been able to return to Italy. But in the meantime, I'd been invited all over Europe. I had a lot of initial success in France, and I was then invited to Spain, and Spain has been my replacement for Italy. It's become more than a replacement, it's become my second home.
I love the Mediteranean. I'll do anything. I've played Croatia, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Malta, France...I'm there. I love the food and the culture, which of course goes with the wine.
-So I should backtrack and ask where the wine interest came in.
I come from a poor Italian family from the south of Italy. My parents, like many after the war, immigrated, we came in 1967, and Canada was a great place. Toronto is I believe the largest Italian community outside of Italy - three quarters of a million 1st and 2nd generation Italians. My parents make their own food, my mom makes bread and pasta, my dad makes excellent Mozzarella, and of course he makes wine. I used to have eggplant sandwiches at school in the 70s which is now a delicacy. I grew up drinking wine - except when I was a teenager because my parents were drinking it!
-Were you drinking it before you were a teen?
Yeah, but it was homemade wine. You put some peaches in it or lemons in it, almost like a sangria thing, you make your wine, whether it's good or bad, you drink it. That's the way it is in the Med. Now I get a lot of flashbacks when I'm traveling. Pigs trotters - we used to eat those. You ate the whole animal. In Spain, the delicacy is you have the head in the stew with potatoes, and the honored guest gets the eyes or the brain.
-I'd have a hard time, being vegetarian.
Historically, the kingdom of Sicily and Naples were tied into Spain. The north of Italy, the southern Italians joke, is more like Germany than it is like Italy. We put bread on tomatoes just like the people in Spain do.
In the developing countries there's a great thing that wines should be able to be afforded by everyone. And in France that's no longer true. And that was always a staple of socialism: we're socialists 'cos we can all drink wine together, though obviously that's a shortcut. It's now very expensive. In Italy as well. Wine really is a part of everybody's everyday culture.
(The waiter comes and discusses the specials. One of them is called percebes.)
We'll have some. These are barnacles, in the north they are one of the delicacies, they're quite expensive but we'll have some.
The two rarest delicacies for seafood in Spain are angulas, which are baby eels, maybe 2-3" long, the Japanese eat them raw, the Spanish cook them, in a garlic sauce, you eat them with special utensils, much like caviar so you don't destroy the taste. It's like eating strands of pasta with eyes on it, but very very expensive, more expensive than caviar. Persebes are becoming as expensive as caviar. You have to try them. They're barnacles that look like fiddleheads, so these things grow on rocks in the north where it's always bad weather, and inbetween tides and the crushing of the waves, they scrape them off. You eat the neck. The really good ones come with bits of rock attached.
(The publicist, Esther, and myself, look at John somewhat horrified. He doesn't notice: he's busy scrutinizing the wine list. It's extensive, though not so much with older vintages as with lesser known producers, the mark-up for which is therefore hard to figure out.)
I'm leaning towards Ribera Del Deiro. Pesquera is great, Pedrosa, and of course Vega Sicilia, but we can't go there. (The 1994 is $200 a bottle.) Crianzas are very nice, they're usually like a merlot, softer, younger and lighter. They're aged for a little bit.
-Ribera del Deuro is your strength?
Rioja is like the Spanish Bordeaux. It's the main area, and there are fantastic wines. Ribera del Duero is a little bit smaller, right alongside, a bit more upscale. Spanish wines are heavier than the French, the great French ones are very smooth, like velvet.
-I heard that if Rioja could be compared to Bordeaux, for smoothness, then Ribera could be compared to Californian Cabernets, for strength.
It's in the middle. I still like my old world wines, the Spanish wines have a bit more oomph than the French wines, but they're not as crazy as the new world wines. New world wines are full of crazy shit, they're just too techno for me. (He keeps studying the wine list, a little disappointed.)
The thing I hate about restaurants in North America is that it's all value added. It's about finding something obscure and adding value to it, 3, 4, 5 times. In Spain, the wine lists are wines that you know. Whether it's the simple wines or the lavish wines, you know what you're ordering and the people don't mark up their wines. In America they're always trying to ge you some average wine that you've never seen before. They've got a few names, like Torres is very big, or Faustino V...
-Essentially the very well known spanish producers are also considered the very best producers...
Yeah. They should have Marques de Riscal. I just bought a Marques de Riscal, you could buy it in your boutique in the Spanish Marks and Spencer for $25, and it was the Gran Reserva and it was one of the great wines of 94.
-The Spanish have a nice habit of releaseing wines way after vintage. It's like they consider it their job to sit on the bottles until they're ready, whereas in America, Australia - and France - they consider it your job to sit on the bottles until they're ready.
And the cool thing is they don't charge you for it. Like the Americans would. Or the French would. Like buying wine futures - what a bunch of crap.
-Do you have a cellar?
I have two wine friedges.
-So you have storage?
I have 300 wine bottles storage, and I have about 175 wines right now. I keep drinking down my storage!
(Studying the wine list.)I like Pesquera (from Ribero) very much. Navarra (a different region) is very nice, but they've priced the 94. . .Let's splurge. We'll get the Vega Sicilia 94.
I'm working tonight. It's a good one, not a great one, and it's $195, so that's cool. It's a Quinto. It may be the fifth level of Vega Sicilia. It's like drinking a simple Mouton Rothschild but it's still very nice. Half the wines on this list, we wouldn't go wrong, but they're just obscure wines for export, and that's just bullshit. The $80 wines here are $10-15 wines. It's a great idea in a business sense because Spanish wines are underrated compared to French wines. French wines you're paying Louis Vuitton prices, but in Spain you're paying Gap prices.
-Ribera is generally the tempranillo grape. Am I right?
I believe so. I'm not sure. (In Ribera tempranillo is referred to as tinto. Apparently the Vega Sicilia has some cabernet sauvignon in there too.)
-You play Spain what, once a month?
Yeah. I did my seventh year there this June. They'd like me to play every week. I pretty much go just to Barcelona ten times a year, if not twelve.
-Are you a resident of one particular club?
I've played them all but the last couple of years I've become exclusive. In the heart of the city I play a club called Row, which piggybacks off Florida 135, which is the biggest club. (Florida 135) is basically about 3000 people, it's open only on Saturdays, and people drive there from all over spain. Row opened up in the center of the city to feed off of the artists and reputation of Florida 135. Row holds 6-800 people and has three nights as opposed to Florida which has only the Saturdays. But there's a lot of wonderful little clubs in Barcelona. I think anyone you encounter is very upbeat about Barcelona.
-And you're well known there?
I'm pretty much low key and working class everywhere, but in Spain, I have a pretty high profile. It's funny. I don't do this to be a pop star, but I got some backhanded compliment the other day from some people who are from a different culture than mine - in that I come from a non English speaking background. They were surprised that I was so popular in Barcelona. I was gonna say, Sorry I'm so popular in such a backwater city. I think Barcelona is one of the world's great cities. (John orders the Vega Sicilia from a passing waitress. In two minutes, the head waiter/sommelier is over, making a great show of decanting the bottle, using a candle underneath to ensure any sediment from dried tannin is left behind. It is of course a beautiful wine, with cinnamon and clove notes, the familiar vanilla of an oaked wine, a smooth and supple texture, but still a certain austerity that suggested it could go a long way further.)
What do you feel like eating? I'm such a bully at the dinner table. You're not into chicken livers, Tony? We'll have them anyway. You, Tony, can have the rice and then we'll end with the cheese.
Wine tip of all wine tips: Champagne, and we have just totally cornered the market on this. Salon. It is the bomb. Dom Perignon is for tourists. And Roederer is for trendy tourists. And then you've got La Grand Dame is very nice. But Salon! There's an '89, but we just got two cases of 1985 for the price of Dom Perignon, we bought it for $100 a bottle. Me, Richie Hawtin, and a friend of ours who is a chef. Get it, get it, get it!
-I have news for you. Richie gave Michelle Ferguson, his publicist, a bottle of Salon over a year ago. We had a new year's eve party and Michelle, who had been holding on to that bottle all year, brought it round for us to share.
-It was sensational. (It was. Undoubtedly the best champagne I've ever tasted. The only problem being that drinking beautiful champagne on new years with all the chaos and other imbibing didn't allow us to appreciate it to its fullest extent.)
Salon is such a wonderful champagne. And that makes perfect sense what Richie did- when you're giving champagne as a gift, it depends how much the person knows. Richie being very tasteful will give an excellent champagne hoping the person has excellent taste. Usually the people I know I will give either Dom Perignon, because it's a prestige thing, or last year I gave La Grand Dame - I was too selfish to give out Salon! Sometimes I give out Roederer to trendy people.
Is it a DJ thing? Djs and wine?
In most cases to be quite honest, let's call a spade a spade...It's a bourgeois thing. When you start to make money you tend to blow it, whether it's drinking port or smoking a cigar. Sometimes you do it just because that's what people with money do. To acquire a taste is another thing.
CONTINUE TO PART 2: John Acquaviva on DJ Culture
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