The secret to a successful career in music-making, says Naples-born, London-based producer Riva Starr, must have something to do with having the ability to “surprise people”.
The former breakbeat producer, Balkan house hit-maker and all-round production whiz Riva Starr, aka Stefano Miele, executed just such a ‘surprise’ career-shift-shaping move last year, when his co-produced smash-hit ‘Eat Sleep Rave Repeat’ (he co-produced it with Fatboy Slim, with Beardyman on vocals) got remixed by Calvin Harris and became one of the biggest EDM anthems of all-time, defining a catchphrase for a new generation of dance music fans.
“For me, the Calvin Harris mix of ‘Eat Sleep Rave Repeat’ was like the Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ for the new generation, the EDM generation,” says Stefano. “That’s fine. That’s great. But it’s not really my style. It’s not something I’d play in clubs. The original version of the tune was an old skool-sounding acid number that we’d made in 45 minutes, a year before the Calvin Harris mix.”
The ‘Eat Sleep Rave Repeat’ slogan is now emblazoned on t-shirts, tattooed on people’s bodies and — over a year since the tune became a hit — remains the catchphrase most associated with EDM, but Stefano has moved on. “I’m excited about my remix of Harry Romero’s ‘Tania’,” he says, talking about his recently-released version that’s being played by everyone from Loco Dice to Marco Carola and Butch.
“The original of that was always one of my favourites. It’s just simple, chunky, the way he cuts the sample is amazing. It’s very hard to make a track that is huge with simple elements, which is always my aim when I’m doing tracks. I’d made a bootleg of it a while back and I’m friends with Mark Knight. I gave him a copy and he said ‘Hey, we just re-licensed it, do you want to make an official remix?' And I was like, 'Hell yeah!'”
Also fresh is the first installment of Stefano’s new ‘Polaroid EP’ series, out now on Snatch! and featuring a song called ‘In My Soul’, a catchy house tune with a piano loop and a vocal all set over a pumping 4/4 beat. “If you listen to ‘In My Soul’, it’s pretty simple, but I just tried to play around with the effects and the way the voice drops in.”
This method of playing on the dynamic of a track rather than adding more and more elements is where his head is now, says Stefano.
“Adding lots of elements to a tune — whether it’s sirens, white noise or whatever — is the concept behind EDM and it’s not really my thing, so I want to do the opposite of that right now,” he adds. “That EDM sound is great for festivals but I want to be a bit more minimal with my productions. I think it’s all about finding the right balance with fewer components. That’s the secret. That’s the magic.”
FROM BREAKBEAT TO HOUSE
Stefano applied that “magic” touch to ‘I Was Drunk’, the ‘gypsy house’ tune that exploded into the mainstream when it was released on Jesse Rose’s label in 2008. “To be honest, I made ‘I Was Drunk’ by mistake,” he admits. “I’ve always been a fan of traditional folk music, so I made that track just as an experiment. The sample isn’t even Balkan.
It’s from a jazzy, swing band from Paris. Jesse got hold of it and wanted to add vocals, but I didn’t really want to release it — because it had started out just as a bootleg. But Jesse said ‘Every time I listen to this track I find myself in a stadium with all my Scottish friends jumping and screaming’ so we’ve got to release it. He was right, too.”
‘I Was Drunk’, and the ‘If Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade’ album that followed it in 2010, might have been the first time house music fans became fully aware of Riva Starr, but by then he already had over a decade of music releases under his belt.
After a brief foray making electronic pop in his band Miele (they released two albums on Virgin in the 1990s), in 2002 Stefano decanted his penchant for DJing d&b and hip-hop into a breakbeat project called Madox.
With releases on London labels Vinyl Addiction and Mantra Breaks, Madox inspired a new breakbeat sub-genre called ‘plod-step’ at the time, so dubbed because most of the tunes were defined by a ‘kick drum, snare drum’ formula that Stefano now admits “wasn’t very breaky at all”.
Madox was so successful on the UK breaks scene that Stefano kept bagging gigs at Fabric and other clubs in London. “It’s probably because of the success from Madox that I eventually moved to London in 2007,” he says. “I fell in love with the DJ lifestyle. The music I made as Madox was breakbeat, but it was pretty housey too.
I remember thinking breakbeat was getting a bit stale when I first heard tunes on Dirtybird, Claude VonStroke and the early Jesse Rose stuff with Frontroom and Made To Play. I heard d&b and some breakbeat elements in this music that made total sense to me. And that was it for me. That’s when I started producing house music.”
After the success of ‘I Was Drunk’, in 2008, Stefano says he ended up playing 200 gigs a year for three years, in what became a very hectic career schedule. “I didn’t really have time to think about what was happening.
I did a few remixes. I was flavour of the month for a while. I was also signing music very quickly to the label because I didn’t have time to focus on that properly. For a couple of years, I really felt like I was missing my point.”
It was at that stage, he says, that he decided to “stop and rethink”.
“That’s when I started working on new tracks and re-defining my sound. What came out of that was ‘Eat, Sleep…’ but that tune is a collaboration, so it’s not really 100% me.”
PRODUCER VS DJ
The Polaroid Sessions, says Stefano, are just one way of pressing ‘reset’ on his career. He chose the name Polaroid, he says, because it’s a snapshot in time, a way of capturing a moment. And that’s what he says he plans to do with this series.
As well as those releases, he’s working on a new project with fellow Italian producer Santos that we can expect to get the first taste of some time at the end of the year. His ‘Samba Creola’ track on Fatboy Slim’s recent Brazilian album 'Bem Brasil' flips a nod to his passion for making contemporary dance music with a traditional flavour.
His Riva Starr ‘Hand In Hand’ LP — released last year and featuring Roots Manuva and Horace Andy — was a way of exploring a more indie sound, he explains.
“When you’re a producer you can use different names, you can make something with a different name for fun, do something mainstream, you can do whatever you want,” he says, mentioning his El Pocho moniker for the music he put out on Cadenza a while back as an example.
“But when it comes to DJing you are putting your face at the front of what you play. That’s why I’ll never play something I don’t like, just because it’s popular. I’m playing a lot of the kind of house music I release on my label.”
This summer, he’s been putting his ‘face at the front’ of a series of Snatch! parties in Ibiza, combining a boat party with a collection of pool parties at Santos, on Playa D’En Bossa.
“The concept of the Ibiza residence is kind of like a marathon party,” he says. “So it starts with a boat party in the morning — from midday to 5pm, and that’s a bit more chilled out in terms of music. Then there’s a pool party, at Santos, in Playa D’en Bossa, which is more chilled again. Then, once or twice a month we’re doing a party at night, at different venues.”
And, he says, he’s been teaming up with Ibiza party collective Where Is, who do secret parties on the island at locations that they reveal details of via the WhatsApp messaging service on the day of the event.
“The Where Is parties started out as a winter party for the locals,” he says. “You just need to know the right people and they WhatsApp you the address. It’s very old school, in a way. That’s what I’ve been missing in Ibiza in recent years. I love the official parties I do with Pacha, Space and Vista and stuff, but I also love this old school approach to parties.”
When he’s DJing, Stefano says, he likes to change styles and tempos, sometimes in the same set. “I'm preparing a live set with TRAKTOR and an AIRA TR8 drum machine to be launched after the summer,” he says.
“I thought it was time for a change.”
Talking about change, Stefano says the ultimate example of why it’s so important to a successful career is Fatboy Slim, who he collaborated with for ‘Eat Sleep…’.
“He’s a genius,” he says. “He’s such a humble guy. He’s had so many shifts in his career, from his 1980s pop success with The Housemartins, then, later on Beats International, then big beat and now his career as a DJ and producer. When we made ‘Eat Sleep Rave Repeat’, it was on our hard drives for a year because we weren’t sure about pretending to be fucked up and telling the story.
I thought it sounded fake. Norman came up with the idea of saying we met this guy while we were record shopping in New York. It was a white lie. We used it for three months. He put the SoundCloud link with the track and that explanation on his Soundcloud page. It really gave added credibility to the track. It told a story.”
And that’s just another touch of magic. Keep listening for more soon.
SNATCH!... AND GRAB
Five of the artists and their best tunes on Riva Starr’s label…
Favourite Snatch Track: ‘Let It Be’
“Santos was making chart hits in the 1990s (who remembers ‘Camels’?), and he’s still making underground hits now.”
Favourite Snatch Track: ‘Get Lost’
“Piero had an underground hit a couple of years back with ‘Party No Stop’. Get this for a club banger with dark beats.”
Favourite Snatch Track: ‘Abduction’
“Ruben belongs to the new breed of young artists pushed by Snatch! Check this for his trademark rolling house beats.”
Favourite Snatch Track: ‘Dissolute’
“Paride is a new addition to the Snatch! roster. One to watch for the future.”
Favourite Snatch Track: ‘Wait the Vibe’
“This mad duo comes from the south of Italy and they’re the ones to try if you like twisted house.”
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