In conversation with Vancouver music producer Actntrl

To be an aspiring bedroom producer in 2017 is to likely be holed up in a gentrified neighborhood’s  basement suite—affordable for the sole reason that rent is split with at least three other roommates.

Most of this rings true for Vancouver music producer Actntrl, otherwise known by friends and family as Agustin Aponte.

It’s the afternoon in Vancouver and Aponte answers my Skype call in his basement Kitsilano bedroom, a spot he rents out with three other roommates.

Colloquially known as ‘Kits’, it’s an area notorious for its severe over-saturation of yoga pants and sees business executives getting off work by two to head to its beaches to play tennis by three.

I interrupt him working on a guest mix.

If it weren’t the weekend he’d be in the office at this time, instead spending the hours after six producing those heavy bass lines that craft the dusky underground club worlds in each of his tracks.

Given his mix of Hong Kong and Argentinian roots, and having spent the past five years in Vancouver, each track sees a sprinkling of both international and Canadian west coast flavours over top of your pre-existing European brand of tech house.

By west coast, I’m referring to the dominant culture of Vancouver and Calgary’s version of future bass.

It’s a budding scene that can see itself falling into a trap of imitation of homogeneity—enter Rendrd, a digital collective on which Aponte is part of the core team.

As a pioneering effort to engineer a more diversified electronic music scene in the city by spotlighting west coast-based creatives, Rendrd is their answer to a local scene lacking in exposure and personally described by Aponte as “Salt City”.

“Everyone just hates on each other,” he says, “If you look at all the Fabric lineups, there’s always one local room. When I was in Bristol, there was one room just for locals. I feel like that’s such a positive culture. Everyone always big ups each other.”

Six months after releasing his first track, and now with eight tracks out (half of which are remixes), and Aponte is keeping a steady pace in terms of releases and production experience.

He’s had a residency at M.I.A., a nightclub in Vancouver which has previously hosted the likes of DJ Ez, Hayden James, and Ekali, and he’s also seen guest features on a number of UK platforms, the biggest of which was Rinse FM.

“I’ve found that naturally, most of my listeners are from the UK and the channels that have been supporting me, like Library UK and Tech Lab. Rich from Sub Soul downloaded one of my songs, so that was pretty cool. Right now I’m still just sending out every sound, which is just part of the process.”

It’s a lifestyle that bears a stark contrast to what was in the cards for him before all this.

“I did one of those summer internships at a bank where you do three months and, if you do well, you get a contract when you graduate. That’s what I thought I was going to do since first year. My supervisor, Stanley Chen, he basically told me before I left, ‘Hey, this isn’t for you. You can do this but your heart’s not in it. This is not what you want to do for life.’”

Still, before the internship, the seed had already been planted.

A previous summer spent in the UK saw him going out every weekend and immersing himself in the local music scene, “That trip was really the one that planted the seed in my head that maybe [making music] was something I wanted to do.”

One weekend spent visiting friends in Warwick particularly stands out, and he recounts, “We went to a night called Switch, and that was when My Nu Leng played, right before they blew up. That night I saw Merlot, Lil Silva, and it was at a student night. I couldn’t believe how much local love there was.”

Anyone who’s moved from a culturally rich city to one less developed can appreciate the affinity and how, fast forward three years and a bit, Aponte would end up right here.

Can you please describe in detail how to ‘Act Natural’?

The name credit goes to my good friend Brian. I was just asking him what name I should have. He was throwing them out to me, and that one stuck.

I like it because the idea behind it was that it’s like something you’d say to your friends when you’re getting pulled over by a cop, right? Like, “Shh, shh, Act Natural.”

Like someone in the club listening to your music and almost getting caught with drugs.

Yeah, I mean, my sound’s pretty high energy. So, you know, I want it to be played in clubs, right.

You grew up in Hong Kong listening to rock music.

Most of the classic rock stuff. I’ve played guitar since I was 8.

Really, it was after seeing School of Rock, but I ended up being pretty decent at it, and I was into all that classic rock—Led Zeppelin, ACDC, all that.

Right, and that influence makes its way into your production process?

Yeah, sometimes I still think of melodies on the guitar and the theory that I did retain for some reason does help me quite a bit.

I try to make my stuff a bit more melodic than the current prevalent brand of tech house, which is just the same bass line over and over again.

Is that the sort of direction you were trying to take with the Björk track?

Yeah, just trying to show that I can make darker stuff, deeper stuff. I don’t really limit myself to the kind of music I make, but I do always start off with a theme.

So with the Björk track, I wanted to make something that was dubby, something that would be played at 4AM in the club. That was my vision for it.

I think it’s important to always have that vision before you start a project, otherwise it becomes an open-ended piece of shit.

I was also interested in why you choose to sample UK sounds.

Right. The songs that I sample or remix are songs that I personally love.

In terms of reach and getting my name out there, my Benga & Coki mix is the best performer so far, just because most of the feedback I got was that I’d made a version that was really easy to mix in with other mixes and I kept a lot of the original vibe—which was what I was trying to do.

What about grime? Canada’s love affair with grime is blowing up.

Grime, yeah! The part of grime that I like most is the production—it’s so different from what we have in North America.

I’m also a huge fan of all the beats coming out from North America, like Metro Boom—killing it. 40—killing it. All those guys from Toronto.

Is that production focus the same for you?



I don’t want to limit myself in that aspect. I do try to use and sample vocals in every song. But since I started, it’s mostly about time and money.

I can’t afford to hire vocalists right now. I don’t have enough of a presence to command collabs. I’m seeking out locals who wanna do something special.

Do you think that’s something that’s been hindering the creative industries, especially for our generation—the affordability aspect?

You do have to make certain sacrifices.

I just started working full time a few weeks ago, and I’m usually pretty fucking tired by the time I get home. Not physically tired, but just kinda mentally tired from sitting in the office.

But it’s a fact of life. If you really want it, you’ll make it happen. Just take a quick nap and get to it.

You studied IR.

And Econ, and Spanish.

That’s all super political. In this heated political climate and with social media, do you think it’s important for artists to be outspoken about political issues?

Short answer yes, long answer no. I’m not invalidating other people’s experiences here, but people like Kendrick, he actually knows whats up.

What really ticks me off is when Meryl Streep, who gets paid three hundred grand to wear a dress, has the audacity to feel like she’s somehow connected to reality.

I do think it’s important to have an open conversation about it, and not just invalidate opposing opinions as racist, transphobic, or bigoted just because we disagree with it.

I feel like that was one thing we really missed out on and kind of caused our current political situation.

On a more lighthearted political note, would you rather have a pint with Justin Trudeau or Theresa May?

I feel like Trudeau is more likely to pay for my pint, so…

[Laughs] Have you seen the articles going around about his ass?

I mean, it’s a good distraction from the huge deficit he’s running us into.

When you make your visuals, or even just the artwork behind your tracks, do you have a common theme in mind?

Actually, Paige Bowman does all my art. She’s an extremely talented artist from Vancouver. We have an organic process where I send her the songs as I work on them and she makes what she sees.

So she makes each work to your music?

We started doing that recently, but for the first few I basically told her what I was making and she would send me like ten, and I would pick the one that I felt fits the song the most.

Did you meet her through Rendrd?

No, actually, um, [laughs] I matched her on Tinder. The conversation steered into art and stuff.

Did you two ever hook up?

[Laughs] No.

Literally, I just matched her and was like, ‘Yo, your art is sick,’ and she was like, ‘Yeah.’ I was like, ‘K, wanna build?’

She fucked with the vision?

Yeah. [Laughs]. They should make a Tinder for artists who’re tryna build with each other.

They should, that’s a good idea. Do you fuck with the vision?

Platonically.

[Laughs].

Don’t publish that.

Nah, she’s dope. It just never got to that point. It ended up being about art. She was a huge Miyazaki fan and she saw my tattoo and all that.

It was really one of the weirdest things that happened on Tinder. Not the weirdest still, though.

I wouldn’t use ‘weird’ to describe it.

It’s chance. And now she’s part of a really successful project, as I’ve been told. Now I know who my team is, and she’s definitely a core in that team.

Especially with art, because I feel like the visual accompaniments she makes really, really go well with the music, and those are the comments I keep getting from people, like, ‘Who makes your art?’

Do you feel like you’re lucky to have a team to begin with? Sometimes any creative pursuit can feel incredibly lonely.

Oh yeah, definitely.

I don’t know if I told you this, but my mom took me to see a Chinese fortune teller when she was here, and she was basically like, for most things I do I’ll have someone who will help me along the way.

When I was in Vancouver I went to a temple and also got my fortune told.

Yeah, like your 8 letters, right?

Yeah, I got the same fortune as you.

That’s lit. No way. Are you born in the afternoon, like at noon?

Yeah!

Oh, same dude. No way.

Boukie.

It said a bunch of stuff. Like I’ll have to struggle for a bit, but along the way I’ll have people that will help me.

The Chinese word is ‘Quay Young’—it’s for someone that’s really important to you. I don’t intend on it being a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it kind of seems like it, you know.

With real life and getting a job, it’s been a lot of rejection and disappointment, but now it just slides off me.

It’s thick skin and it’s accelerating.

That’s the biggest thing we can take from, I don’t know, things like fortune tellers, is just this concept of self-fulfilling prophecies. It’s just about getting to know yourself. That’s the whole thing with destiny.

Definitely.

Wait, which temple did you go to? The one in Chilliwack?

Um, no.

Oh I know, it was in Richmond.

Yes!



I know exactly which one.

I was told, ‘You’ll have one person around who’s going to support you’, and I know exactly who that person is now.

I don’t know who mine is, I’ve had a couple. But I can’t rely on that, right? Just gotta do my own thing.


Featured images by Will Selviz and David Fluharty.