Beatport Hype: Aquaregia
“The catalogue has a focus on musicality, an aspect I feel is oftentimes underemphasized in the techno space,” Emily Nicoll, founder of Aquaregia Records, tells us. And while melodies have made a swift comeback in hard techno recently, what sets Aquaregia apart is its emphasis on emotional, “compositionally driven,” sounds. “You won’t find the raw, loud, distorted, high-tempo acid bangers here,” Nicoll says.
Until recently, the Canadian-born melodic acid techno imprint released only a handful of artists, most often Vancouver’s 747, who’s been with the label since the beginning. But the Aurora Centralis remix EP, featuring reworks from Schacke, Tin Man, Primal Code, and nthng, marked a turning point.
Speaking with Nicoll, we learn about this young imprint’s story so far, and Nicoll shares an exclusive mix, which you can check out below.
How and when did you first fall in love with acid and techno?
I can’t remember exactly when, it was sometime early on in university, but Plastikman definitely played an important role in getting me into acid music. Being Canadian, Richie Hawtin was one of the first techno artists I discovered, and at the time he played pretty often around Ontario. Digging deeper into his catalogue I found his Plastikman stuff, which instantly hooked me onto the genre. From there, I was finding similar music from around the same era, like Hardfloor and Laurent Garnier, and then ventured further back into the early acid tracks, like DJ Pierre/Phuture and Armando. I’d have them on repeat, just letting the 303 notes massage my brain. I got so addicted to that sound; there’s some quality about it that just makes you feel good. The most simple acid songs really have that effect — it’s almost medicinal. It puts you at ease and takes your mind somewhere else.
For techno in general, my tastes slowly morphed over time to end up here. Hearing music on big club systems definitely played a role. The Guvernment (RIP) in Toronto was an important club for me when I first started going out. A bit later, it was Stereo in Montreal, and then, of course, as I traveled more, Berghain.
What made you decide to start a label of your own?
Growing up, I always had this kind of internal conflict between my scientific mind and my artistic one, and as I got older, I started neglecting my artistic half a bit. I was working in the cleantech space and was always surrounded by passionate business owners and entrepreneurs, which really drove me to pursue my own passions more deeply. The label is something of an answer to make up for the time I’d lost studying and working a corporate job — a place where I can curate a specific story to share with the world. It feels good to now have complete control, artistic freedom, and the ability to operate without any imposed rules. While the label’s primary focus is on the artistic side, I still try to weave in scientific motifs where I can, like in the artwork, descriptions, and song titles.
Tell us about how you first met 747 and how you’ve grown your label’s roster over time.
Ryan and I met while studying chemical engineering at university. It was an instant connection when we discovered we both were into the same music. With techno not being too popular in Canada, it was always a struggle to find people who shared my music taste. We’d go to the rare techno event in our university town, but more often, we’d make the road trip back to my home city, Toronto. 747 was producing all through school, so a few years later, when I was ready to start a label, he was really supportive and keen to share his music on it.
Once Aquaregia gained its reputation, demos started to come in, and that’s how I came to know the other artists on the label, Troma & PERS1, and Téo Dréan. We’ve also had some guest remixers on the last EP, which featured Schacke, nthng, Tin Man, and Primal Code, all reworking 747’s track “Aurora Centralis.” It’s been a journey for the label to reach this point, but with the ever-growing roster and new projects on the horizon, it feels like it’s just begun.
What inspired the move from Toronto to Berlin?
A lot of venues were being closed down in Toronto. The real estate was either too expensive or being cleared to make way for new condos. New things would start, but sometimes the vibe would be off. A crowd from an adjacent scene would sort of take over because their clubs were getting closed down as well. Recently there have been a number of amazing new collectives doing cool stuff in the city, so the future is looking bright, but the one thing that still has room to grow is the quality of the event spaces. Bookings can be good, the atmosphere can be good, but there still isn’t enough investment put towards rebuilding clubs with quality sound systems and layouts. That’s one thing that’s so alluring about Berlin. There are so many clubs that seem so meticulously curated to have the perfect vibe, layout, sound, everything. The city also embraces them and endorses them, emphasizing the cultural importance of keeping these places alive. Techno, there is mainstream. In Toronto, I was always the one with “weird” music taste. Berlin was different. It was nice to have a place where that part of me fit in. I’m back in Toronto now, though. I did end up missing the many amazing aspects of Canada while I was away. But who knows, I may be back to Berlin or somewhere new soon.
After five years of running your imprint, what are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned?
One of the most important things I’ve come to realize is that there is no right way to do things in this industry. It’s okay to find your own path. And unless you know someone who’s done the exact same thing before you, you’ll need to figure it out on your own with trial and error and many mistakes. Coming to terms with this has definitely been one of the harder things to do. My fear of making mistakes and looming imposter syndrome sometimes gets the better of me, but enduring the struggle and figuring it out solo makes the gratification of achieving each success so much greater.
What sets Aquaregia apart from other acid and techno imprints? Where does the label get its edge?
The catalogue has a focus on musicality, an aspect I feel is oftentimes underemphasized in the techno space. Aquaregia’s music thematizes using the 303 in uncommon ways — you won’t find the raw, loud, distorted, high-tempo acid bangers here. Rather, the music is more emotional and compositionally driven, keeping it subtle, smooth, natural, and human, while still maintaining a techno backbone. The softness of acid married with pads seems to be the sweet spot in creating this atmosphere. Each track penetrates deep into the listeners’ emotions and has the ability to transport to a new realm, with each song being both nice to listen to at home while still working really well in the club.
The music seems to resonate with a lot of people and it’s been surreal seeing notes of support from fans expressing their appreciation for the music. The songs are inherently more musical in nature, which I feel makes it natural to forge a connection to them, whether that’s through a feeling the song gives, memories of the time they first heard the song, or simply the imagery the song conjures up. There always seems to be something memorable about the tracks.
Tell us about how you came up with Aquaregia’s name, overall aesthetic, album art style, and merch collection.
The name is a nerdy homage to my chemical engineering background — ‘aqua regia’ is a chemical mixture made up of nitric and hydrochloric acids first discovered by alchemists, with an industrial application in gold refinement.
The overall aesthetic of the label involves soft neutral colours and greyscale. I like keeping everything natural and organic to reflect what our music is saying. It’s techno, but still has a subtlety and musicality to it. The album covers for Aquaregia are all done by me, and I just try to embody this same notion in the artwork. I’m not a trained artist, so it’s a lot of messing about and trial and error to create the right imagery. I take a lot of inspiration from old geology or paleontology texts and research papers. I also draw inspiration from photographing and manipulating natural objects.
The merch collection is somewhere I’ve been trying to have a bit of fun, incorporating some anime/manga-inspired artwork and tie-dye along with more basic logo tees. I like to keep each design a limited edition so that the fans can feel like they own something special and unique. Once something sells out we won’t bring it back.
What’s coming up next on Aquaregia?
Following on from the success of his debut album, 747 has a new EP coming up; Troma & PERS1 also have fresh material in the pipeline, new vinyl is in the works, and I’m also working on a new concept for a VA project that I’m really excited to present.
But first up is an ultra dreamy two-tracker from Berlin-based artist, Téo Dréan, which comes out this month. He shared a comment from his friends with me, which I think embodies the EP perfectly — that these are the kind of tracks where you turn to your friends on the dance floor during the break, hugging them and telling them you’re happy to be there with them.
Tell us about the mix you put together for us.
It’s a healthy combination of the range of styles I’m into. Of course, lots of acid, some electro, some ’90s tracks, and some deeper hypnotic stuff. I also snuck in a couple of unreleased tracks, like “10×400” from Téo Dréan, which will be out on Aquaregia this month and a forthcoming cut from 747. I try to maintain a balance, flowing through a range of emotions and senses — hypnotic sections you can get lost in, complemented by melancholic and moody parts, as well as uplifting euphoric segments.