When we think of the most versatile producers in the industry, Riva Starr is a name that is not far from the mind. The Napoli-born and East-London based DJ/Producer, known by his family and friends as Stefano Miele, has been spinning records for as long as he can remember. Originally from Napoli, Italy, Riva Starr was clocking in his 10,000 hours long before his alias was born.
It didn't take long for Riva Starr to make it on the Festival circuit and to play heavy stages at Glastonbury, Fuji Rock, Warehouse Project, Elrow, etc. Snatch! Records had showcases at BPM, Creamfields, and Cocoon Ibiza. His individual tracks, as unique as he is, have been released on across labels such as Dirtybird, Hot Creations, DFTD and many others.
Magnetic Magazine had the rare opportunity to sit down with the industry icon and talk about his approach to production, the state of the industry and upcoming projects. You can also check his exclusive mix for Magnetic Mag here:
Magnetic: I know you hail from Naples. So, in your opinion, between moving from Naples to London and so many years under your belt in the music industry, how far has the electronic music scene come since you first came out as Riva Starr?
Stefano: Well, it has changed possibly a thousand times. I’m talking about genre, trends, the way the music is put out there, the way the music is received, how long a track lasts. Everything has changed so drastically, even in the last five, six years. Riva Starr was born October 2006. So it’s almost 11 years now.
MM: And you have been DJ'ing longer than that?
SM: Way longer. I’ve been deejaying since ’92, ‘91, even before I could even drive. So, I had to have my mom to take me to the parties. In the beginning, I was doing mostly birthday parties. Anytime they did the 18-year-old parties. I was playing there to get some money to buy the records and then eventually move on to the bigger shows. But I started productions pretty late, so that’s why I haven’t been there with the old-school guys. So yeah, it changed a lot.
I mean now with everything so manic, so hectic. You know releases don’t last more than a couple of weeks or a month. I mean, you finish one hit and then people are asking for the next big track already. So, it means that there’s is no way that the tracks last like they were lasting before, with the attention span so short now. Everyone always wants new things all the time. People are forced to push out much more stuff, and obviously, you end up with lower quality releases as well. You can’t have good high quality over and over again, releasing every three weeks a month. So yeah it’s been changing a lot.
MM: If you release a lot all the time you end up saturating the market, so it sort of lowers the value of what you’re doing, I guess?
SM: So yeah, the market is well saturated now. That’s the problem. Even with my label, Snatch!, we release every two weeks. For me, it was unthinkable. The thought was crazy. Every two weeks? No way. But now it seems so normal that it’s actually working for us. But if you think about, it's such a short amount of time that you hardly ever have anyone digest the actual release, and you have a new one already. Unfortunately, that’s how it works nowadays, and it’s so easy to set up a label and put out music out there, even if the quality is low. It’s pretty hard. So you really have to have stuff that stands out if you want to get heard.
MM: For you on a day to day basis, like you just said, there’s so much music in the market, and you, yourself are running a label and sort of expected to put out new tracks. What’s your process like? How do you go from 1000 songs in your library to the select few you play or decide to release?
SM: In terms of what I play, there’s a clear amount of randomness. I spend a lot of time selecting the music I think is good. Depending on the parties, I randomly pull them from Snatch! or my personal catalog. For instance, I had to play at a very special little club in Mexico City on Saturday for a very select few people, and I wanted to do a sit-down house selection. So, I chose to a lot of oldies from the nineties. It all depends on the party.
The good thing about having a 200 GB USB, is that you have a lot of options and you can decide where you want to go with the selection depending on the party, itself. So obviously, if you’re playing a big-room or big festival you end up playing the bangers. Whereas if you play in the UK maybe you play in a certain way than when playing in Asia. So sometimes it’s part of the job to actually test different things.
In regards to Snatch!, I really have to test the tracks out after the first selection. Once they make it to the first selection, I need to test them in the club and see how they sound in the club. I want to see how people react, and if there is a good response, I end up signing them. So, it’s a process that lasts, I would say, from two weeks to a month, because you do not always you have the chance to play everything or it’s not the right party to play the tracks. So, I always ask the producer to be patient. Back in the days, they were just saying “fuck off, I’ll just send it to someone else”. Whereas now, because the label is doing really well, they are more willing to wait and see if they manage to make it to the release, which is a good point for the label.
If you sign the release from the producer, it’s also a responsibility on you to do a good job. Not just for your label, because you don’t just want to release his stuff and then it sits not being played. I’m a producer myself, I know there’s a lot of time and effort and money behind it. So, you really want to give them the extra value. That's why people like to produce on Snatch! because they see that we only release stuff we think can do well.
It is like what we were saying about the saturated market, once you get the trust from your customers, the very people that are buying your music, they end up actually checking out your new releases, even if it’s not promoted online. They know you release every two weeks, and they trust that they would like those releases. So, that’s an added value and it is a big help for the label because there’s a fairly small amount of people that will check out releases anyway. That trust makes all the difference to me and the label.
MM: Yes, you develop a brand and a trusting audience. I can definitely see that being a very strong way of retaining your fans, especially for the label.
SM: There are so many labels out there, and there’s only a certain amount of expositions, place banners that you can compete for, or magazine placement, or whatever. So if you for some reason don’t release every two weeks, we can’t make it to the main banner and tell people “Hey this is out”, it’s almost priceless to have the fan base checking the label output every now and then, because that means at least we have the hardcore fans' attention, those that are buying the releases and are following that.
MM: In your experience what has been the most effective way of marketing yourself amongst all those other labels that keep popping up? You know, everybody wants to run their own label and wants to make their own music. So, I can imagine that there is a lot of competition for the fans' attention.
SM: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I have always been releasing what I like. See with my style, I always try to do something different from the others, like put in some actual ideas that would stand out from the mass. Try not to follow trends and trying to actually produce a "sound". Every time a person says, “Hey, I listened to this track, and I thought it was a Riva sound or was a Snatch sound." For me, that’s a huge compliment because that’s another priceless thing to have, something that sounds like you. Whereas a lot of other tracks nowadays have no identity, they just sound like the other, because the producer just wanted to chart.
They follow what’s going on at the moment, and they try to emulate that sound. Whereas we try to have our own sound, and that’s really important. So, I have always been trying to do that and focus on building our own particular sound. Even with Riva Starr, you will hardly have an anonymous track. I always try and put some ideas, some elements that just makes the track record nice and full. It’s just the way I like it really and the way I choose the tracks that I play. I think that’s a really important side of the production if you want to stand out against the masses.
MM: I was actually at your Snatch Records event as BPM. Since this was a showcase for your label, how do you go about making the decision of who to put to represent your sound? To represent Snatch. A lot of those artists may have released on your label. They’re not necessarily a part of Snatch Records, but they were there playing at your party and showcasing what sound you want.
SM: Well, I guess it’s all about the DJ. I’m very picky. I’m very difficult on who I like, because I’ve been DJ'ing for so long, and I know I’m difficult. I really know what I like, and there are very few DJs that I really like and I really want to play at my parties. Dennis [Cruz] and Emmanuel [Satie], for instance, are two I was super happy to have on board because they really understand the Snatch! sound and they really understand how I want to drive the night. I mean, nowadays, it’s becoming kind of a joke sometimes when you hear DJs playing over and over the same stuff. It’s probably like the EDM parties sometimes. Everyone playing the same shit and not giving the audience anything more to the imagination. So, you really want to give them a different experience when they come to your party. A showcase needs some form of curation.
MM: Are you just as picky when it comes to how you approach choosing who to collaborate with on new tracks?
A: Yeah of course. 100%. Most of the lyrics, the singers, the vocalists on my tracks have this sort of trickiness in the way they do the vocals. Like if you think about Beardyman, or Green Velvet, or Gene Farris, or even Nôze back in the day, when I did “I Was Drunk.” They’re all tricky as fuck. So, they just do something a bit differently from the others, and that’s what I like. Even Dajae, the ways she sings in the diva style, is different from all the others.
MM: You’re working on some upcoming releases? I know that there is some you can’t really talk about. But at the very least, those you can talk about, from what I understand, you have one release coming out this month and another in May.
A: Yeah, I have a few. I have one on Seth Troxler’s label which is the one coming out this month called “Another Dimension.” In May another release with Dennis Cruz and Gene Farris, which is called “Play” on Snatch!, and then during the summer, I have another release on Hot Creations and another to be released on Cajual. Plus a bunch of remixes.
MM: That’s a lot of releases to have in the next couple of months, and a lot of artists tend to release only one track every so often. How do you manage to juggle all these releases on various labels including handling your own alternative releases on Snatch! on top of touring?
A: It’s kind of impossible in a way, but I make so much music that I really want to release immediately. It so the matter of just finding the right timing. I’m trying to keep that one and a half month or two months in between the releases. Plus, I have a bunch of side projects like the “Soul Speech” or “Genghis Clan” for DIRTYBIRD. So, whenever I don’t release as Riva Starr, I usually work on some other releases with the side project. Actually, “Soul Speech” was the most sold track on Traxsource last year. Well, it’s actually the first track ever from the side project. So, not a bad start.
MM: Are you excited for any upcoming release in particular?
SM: All of them. I think they’re all pretty banging in their own way. The one on Seth’s label is doing the round now, and it’s creating a lot of hype. I’m really happy about the release on Hot Creations. It’s pretty a big growing label. The one with Dennis [Cruz] and Gene [Farris], as you may imagine, is a deeper affair. I’ve been playing with all of them non-stop for months, and I’m super happy and actually can’t wait to see them released as well because I think people will love the tracks. I produce a lot of stuff and some of them just don’t see the light of day. So, I don’t necessarily have to release everything I produce. The selection of all my current productions, I’m super happy with all of them.
MM: Based on your lifetime of experience in the music industry, how has your choice of technology changed over time? You came from the era of vinyl and now we are almost in the 22nd century and we got people playing on iPads!
SM: I don’t mind. For me, the most important thing is the way the music is picked, and the way you play the music to the people. Not in terms of the technical way, but how do you select the track and how do you involve the people. So, you can do it with an iPad, with vinyl, with Traxsource. You can do it with MiniDisc and you can do it with cassettes. I don’t mind. As long as you manage to get the vibe going, to understand and read the crowd, with good quality music. For me, that’s the essential thing. So, the actual equipment you use, for me, it doesn’t matter. But at least, the minimum has to be that you do the best selection you can, and you try your best to read the crowd and involve them in a very good experience.
MM: Some people today are under the impression that if you can play on vinyl, you’re somehow much more superior than some other DJs. I think it’s all about how cool you are.
SM: Yeah, you know what? I’ve always chosen substance in front of the coolness. Sometimes coolness also means frustration. Coolness can also mean that you’re not good enough and you want to fake it. You want to mask it with some "coolness" of sorts. In most cases, the concept of "coolness" justifies many things that are not. So, for me, the substance must be at the forefront. Then if you’re cool, people will decide it. It’s not that you have to tell them that you are cool. If a DJ is good, he’s good with vinyl, and he’s good without vinyl. It’s not that you playing all of a sudden makes you a better DJ. That’s not true because you can be a crap DJ even if you play just vinyl. The same thing with producers, you can be a crap producer if you have a million pounds and studio. Or super good producer with just a crappy laptop and Serano.
MM: It’s not in what you have, it’s what you do with it.
SM: Exactly, that statement touches to a very sensible matter for me. All this "coolness" has gone to the extreme. I have associated trying to be cool as being fake, nowadays. So, that’s why I don’t like it.
MM: Your experience and lifetime in the industry have had a lot teaching moments. What kind of advice would you give to young producers and DJs today? What kind of investment do you think that they should put more effort into as they try to enter the world of music?
MM: I think they should put their efforts towards their originality rather than the copycat. There are too many kids that want to rush to the top trying to copy other people’s style, sounds that are trending at the moment. Whereas, I think a more organic buildup with some more original ideas and sounds will pay off much more solidly in the long term. I always tell this to my friends or to the young producers that ask me things. I really think that if you manage to find your own sound and your own ideas, you will eventually have a better result at the end. You just have to be patient and work hard rather than have everything right now.
Check out more on Riva Starr here!