Interview: Riva Starr
Ever since his infamous debuts on Made To Play and DirtyBird, Riva Starr has taken a brave dive into a new world of beats, letting the music speak for itself.
Riva records range with the wily eclecticism of all the ages; he strikes chords we can all relate to: from the DJs that have appreciated his work, which is more than evident in his prolific output for 2017. With several EPs of original productions, as well as on his own SNATCH! imprint, Riva dishes out all the latest on the year to come, the year that was, and much more!
“Naples is a very good school for learning how to DJ and to craft your skills.”
When did you first discover electronic music/DJing?
I discovered music when I was very young. I was buying more rock albums and 45s and then I was listening to some mix sets on the radio live from the club on the weekend, I was like 13 and since then I just fell in love with djing. I started buying mixes, 12s, while I was doing birthday parties and paying for it. I remember at the beginning I had very few records so I was trying to make my set using maybe the original version and the instrumental one etc – trying to make the set as long as possible with the few records I owned.
When did you decide to start collecting music? What were you buying in the beginning?
I started collecting music as soon as I had the first gigs that were in this club that were doing birthday parties so I was working 3-4 times a week and basically spending all my money on records, not even buying clothes or whatever, just records all the time! I started with House music then went into Hip-Hop and Drum and Bass after a while, so I became a Hip-Hop and Drum and Bass DJ and then at the end of the 90s I started making break beats because I got bored of making DnB, so I slowed down my beats – still at 135 I remember though! From there on I moved into 2006 to House music again, my first love.
Are there any particular tracks or labels that you really liked when starting out?
I remember we had a record shop in Naples called Flying Records and obviously we had a few very strong labels, Flying was a record label as well and Underground Music Movement (UMM) and they were importing a lot of records from abroad so I was buying records from Strictly Rhythm and there was so much stuff going, even smaller labels that would just do a test pressing. I remember the guy at the record shop would have the best records under the desk and he was handing them just to a few friends and there was some amazing amazing promos.
What DJs did you see at the time that inspired you to get behind the decks?
Because I started very young I couldn’t go to the club straight away, so I was listening to some mix sets from a big club in Naples called Kiss. Now Kiss Kiss was a radio station as well, so I learnt from listening to their live sets on the Friday/Saturday night.
On Radio Ibiza they were doing more technical stuff like using the first AKAI sampler or whatever, so it was unbelievable for me to actually go there and meet the DJs who showed me how the sampler worked and the first sequencers so I just started once I went there and learned a bit from there. Though it took me a while to learn how to actually produce music.
What was the scene like in Napoli at the time?
Well in Naples there’s always been a huge scene for House music and Techno as well. There were the Angels of Love doing amazing parties with thousands of thousands of people and there have been different promoters taking over throughout the years. I must say the crowd in Naples has always been very well prepared and very well educated and they are very straight – they like you or not and they can show it to you. They can be the warmest people ever but if they don’t like you it’s hard work!
So I think for this reason Naples is a very good school for learning how to DJ and to craft your skills. There’s no doubt that some of the best DJs around are from Naples, I mean if you see Carola and Capriati and plenty of others, this is why because you have to work you ass off!
When/why did you decide to make the move to London? Why has London remained your current home?
At some point after the break beat project I was feeling that Italy was stopping me a bit from stepping up and I was playing in London for a few after parties such as the Red Light after party at the Aquarium on Old Street on a Sunday morning and I was playing Fabric quite regularly with the Madox project, so I decided I wanted to try and move to London and step up with music. Most of the industry people I was hanging out with were based in London so I packed up my studio and moved there, found a studio, started to work 24 hours a day with remixes and the early releases as Riva Starr on Dirtybird and Front Room which were two of the best labels for my stuff. And yes London has remained my current home and I love it, it’s still the one of the best places if you do this kind of job, you still have everyone passing by and a lot of people from the industry here. I have my label with my crew here and I actually must say that I miss London when I’m away for too long, it’s my second home for sure.
When did you begin producing your own music?
Regarding the production it took me a while. As I told you I went to visit this radio station called Radio Ibiza where these guys were actually working with the samplers but not actually producing. I knew them because they were doing this kind of like cut ‘n’ paste of all the tracks doing this very crazy mega-mixes with 50 tracks in 10 minutes. I really loved it, but that gave me the hint to try and do something with the actual production of music so I started learning how to use a sequencer. I started with Cubase plus the Akai S-950 which had a very limited memory so I had to find out how to produce something using very limited memory. And since then also with technology improving I started buying some multi-tracks and that really helped out and step-by-step I developed my sound. But I didn’t get into Dance music straight away I was actually working as a Dub master and producing Electronic bands and did my own productions for Virgin and these kind of people, that really helped me out on how to work with all the equipment in a studio and then because my main job was to DJ I thought it doesn’t make sense you just DJ and not produce.
What were you doing in your early years in London as far as DJing or production?
The early days in London I was just working hard, hard and hard. I was just in the studio or playing at some after-parties or travelling or in the studio again – I did something like 70 remixes in a couple of years or something as well as releases on various labels. I really wanted to put my name out there, I really felt the sound was right and I was actually still improving it. You have to understand I was coming from Breakbeat and a lot of people coming from Breakbeat when Breakbeat finished they moved to big-room Electro which was pretty big at the time but I didn’t feel like Electro was the right choice for me. So I had this example of Jesse Rose with Front Room and Made To Play and Barclay Von Stroke for Ditybird, they were just releasing amazing stuff. They were just doing mind-blowing productions, they were really inspiring me so that’s why some of the earlier labels I was releasing on were them. Since then I started to improve my sound, change it a bit, understand what I wanted to play since I would say 2008-09 when I went straight up into House music. And to the Riva Starr style known today.
Tell me about your recent EP on Snatch RAW? Also, what about your choice of Skream on remix duties? How did that come about? What do you think of his interpretation?
My EP, ‘The Basement Shit’ recently came out on my label Snatch! Records and is the first of a new series of EPs on a sub-label of Snatch! called Snatch! Raw.
We have Snatch! and Snatch! Off which is more DJ tool based and then we have Snatch! Raw which is going to be a vinyl and digital label and the sound is more on the raw side, so raw beats and different ideas, nodding at some Techno sounds but definitely different from everything coming out from Snatch! and Snatch! Records.
I’ve been testing ‘The Basement Shit’ for more than one year with crazy, crazy, crazy responses from the crowd. I also had the fortune of having Skream on the remix that loved the track and did the remix in like a couple of days, he was that excited! And I was so happy about it because he is one of my favourite producers and DJs and always an amazing person plus he’s always been very supportive over the years. So, yeah he was the first person to remix on Snatch! Raw and there’s a fourth track called ‘The Flame (Back It Up)’ which is a bit more soulful but still very raw sounding and some very nice vocals on top, more on the old school House vibe. So all in all, I’m very happy about this EP and the response from the people, from the DJs and stuff, it’s been outstanding so I’m super happy about it.
The Skream remix has been huge. I think I’ve played it in each and every festival I played last summer and it just destroyed it to pieces! It’s a banger with no mercy.
This release is also on vinyl. How important is it to you to keep releasing on this format? Is there still much demand?
I just wanted to do vinyl because we started Snatch! doing vinyl for each release and then we stopped because it was a lot of work and the effort wasn’t worth it economic-wise as well. We stopped but every now and then I like to produce some vinyl. For me it’s important in terms of vibe because I was born as a vinyl DJ as well. It’s nice to see your own productions and works and I think for this particular project on Snatch! Raw we wanted to do something special and then put a bit more effort and print vinyl as well. It’s just another thing that makes it a bit more different from other releases on the other two sub-labels. I think there’s demand, it will never be like older days where you were selling hundreds of thousands of singles but I think having something physical that lasts over time is priceless. So yeah I really like the idea and hopefully we can manage to make a few more in the future.
What have been some of your favourite collaborations?
Well, obviously talking about collaborations for me two of the best have been with Fatboy Slim with the ‘Eat Sleep Rave Repeat’ track. The track was born as a acid house number if you listen to the original it’s a weird, fucked up tune with acid house sounds and old school beats and this very crazy 5-minutes non stop vocals. No drop no breakdown, nothing!
Obviously the Calvin Harris’ remix did what it did for the EDM crowd, but the original idea for me is still pretty fresh and I had so much fun working with Fatboy Slim (Norman), he’s such an amazing being, super humble and he allowed me to go to his studio so I saw stuff that usually was watching on TV/documentaries or in some magazine so I actually got to see the real studio that was exactly the same as in the 90s.
The other collaboration has been with Curtis (Green Velvet) who is another super human being and so humble as well. He taught me a lot of things and is such a professional, he knows what he wants and also you can understand that because he’s so relevant still today and I think them two collaborations have been the best and I learnt so much.
Do you have any other upcoming music projects that you would like to speak about?
I always have new music projects on going, I have different side projects as well. Genghis Clan, Soul Speech and others. I have a few releases coming out on Seth Troxler’s label Play It, Say It and Jamie Jones’ Hot Creations plus a new project with myself and Dennis Cruz that is going to be out on Snatch! The first track is going to be featuring Gene Farris on vocals – we’re playing to do a whole album and I can’t tell you more now but it’s a very nice project and happy to work with Dennis who is an amazing producer.
Obviously on Snatch! we have some amazing releases, we’ve just released a new one from Russ Yallop and wAFF and will soon have Groove Armada back on the label with Richy Ahmed and Andrea Oliva remixes plus plenty plenty more.
This year I’m going to be touring worldwide again, trying to work more in South America and America because I haven’t been there much. We’re going to push the Snatch! parties more because we had some amazing experiences over the last year at Sonar, BPM and so forth – We had some festival tents at Creamfields, Tomorrowland so we want to push the brand more. Obviously I’m going to playing as Riva Starr wherever people want me. Business as usual.
“Another Dimension” is available 31 March on Play It Say It