RIVA STARR: the story, the man and the music

You get a little excited when you are about to jump on a boat party with Tube & Berger on the Croatian coastline. Then you receive an email, with a change of plan. They will be joined by Stefano Miele, aka Riva Starr. This is basically how my Defected Croatia experience started just a couple of days before the Festival itself. I know, as if it wasn’t good enough, right? Well I guess me and the others on the boat were quite lucky bastards (also because Purple Disco Machine unexpectedly joined them too, with a surprising, although short, introductory dj set, but that’s another story).

We had the chance to sit down for a conversation with Stefano. I would not call it an interview, but more of a chilled chat. Everything at Defected Croatia was chilled, informal, and relaxed. So why change this with a formal interview?

Stefano moved his first steps into music in a unique period of recent Italian history, particularly for the city where he was born 42 years ago, Napoli. It was a period of hope, not just for Napoli, but for the entire south of Italy. A land that was for a long time forgotten and left aside, was rising again under the light of international attention, with new and energetic social, cultural and – for some extent also political – forces. These new energies offered different perspectives to young people. It was period of artistic experimentation, with contamination coming from the traditional sounds of the past and other modern ideas taken from the outside and reshaped in different forms.

Most of the promises of that period, though, were not met. But still, we can enjoy some of the good outcomes of that vibrant period. One of them is for sure Stefano.

Why did you leave Napoli and why London?

Riva Starr: I love Napoli, is my city and it is still my favourite place to play. But at a certain point of my life, I felt like I needed to move on from there. Napoli is a very complicated place by itself, with lots of contradictions. It can be a very dark city, in a good sense, but also in a negative one. And being in Italy, doesn’t help at all. Italy is not really the best place to have a career as an artist because you don’t get the support you deserve, you don’t usually get the recognition of your work. I choose London because I thought, back then, that it was the best place for me to express myself freely, to connect with different people, mixing ideas, and have more opportunities.

When you first arrived in London, how was it? Did it take long for you to find your way?

Riva Starr: When I moved there in 2006 I knew the city already. I have been there many times to play, visiting friends, looking around to buy new records for my previous project (Madox), and just experiencing the city. That was years before I moved there. But at the same time it was not that easy. It took me a while to adapt and to find my own path. For a couple of years, my only source of income was coming from remixes I was doing and by playing after parties. I remember I must have done something like 70-80 remixes, just in the first couple of years. That was were Riva Starr started, a new chapter of my life. The first period in London, it wasn’t easy at the beginning, but I insisted.

Before becoming Riva Starr, Stefano was known internationally as Madox, a project he launched with Mantra Beats. The music was essentially breakbeat, probably the first in Italy to do so. But the scene was a little too slow for his taste. That’s why he decided to turn a page and choose a more risky path, changing his music genre to house and restarting (almost) from scratch.

I’ve got to ask. Where does the name Riva Star comes from?

Riva Starr: Well it is quite a story. I was with friends and we had a few drinks, let’s put it like that. Watching Youtube videos we stumbled upon some of Gigi Riva, the Italian football player. So Riva comes from that. Starr come from the Gang Starr, the hip hop crew from New York. It is quite random I would say, but it seems to work so far.

Being called Clubber Confession, we need to ask. Have you been a clubber before being a dj and producer?

Riva Starr: I didn’t really had the time to be a clubber, as I started djing when I was 11. I have always been on this side of the booths, but I enjoy it very much so far.

You started quite young, do you remember the first times you have been playing in clubs?

Riva Starr: I remember it was a very hectic period, even chaotic to some extent, but in a good sense. Lots of different influences. I loved djing and I was doing it with friends and people I was close to. I remember a very important club in the city’s clubbing scene, called Velvet, which is now closed sadly. I played quite long sets, 10 hours long sometimes, even if back then I played different music. Nice memories.

Riva has published last march his album Definition of Sound with Green Velvet’s Cajual Records label. Recently, two special remixed versions of the same album have been released, on the 5th of August and the 2nd of September, including Mat.Joe, Detlef, Santos, Will Clarke, Emanuel Satie, Paul C & Paolo Martini and Paride Saraceni remixes. Also, last July he released Naples Play Bass EP on Snatch! featuring iconic singer, producer and Daft Punk collaborator Romanthony.

You have been collaborating with many interesting artists. We all remember the work you have done with Fatboy Slim on “Eat, sleep, rave, repeat”, can you tell us more about it? And are you planning other collaborations like this one?

Riva Starr: It took me a while to finally convince him to work together. It was a two years of effort, trying to combine our two agendas and touring and to find the right moment. When we finally got into the studio, we did the track in 45 minutes. It just clicked immediately. It is easy to find common ground when you work with such artists. Now I practically don’t play the track anymore, but it was great working with him.
Talking about other collaborations, at this moment I would rather focus on my work. I feel freer to express myself and to do what I really like, without having to compromise too much. I will probably do that again when I will have a good opportunity, but not for now.

You play around the world, Europe, Asia, America. Is it any different to play in those places?

Riva Starr: Yes very different. Europe is quite different, we have an established scene which is kind of unique in its own way. I feel that in the US there is still lot of work to do in terms of clubbing and partying. There is a lot space to work out things better. It is a huge market, but for now it has not expressed its potentials fully.
About Asia, I have been playing in China for example, I have been to festivals in Beijing and Shanghai. They are crazy for electronic music. Still, it has nothing to do with what we see in Europe, but it is a very interesting and growing market.

You also have some personal connections with China, right?

Riva Starr: Yes I do. I have a degree in Chinese Literature and I have been living there for six months of my life. It is a culture that I appreciate and love very much. Of course, it is very different from western cultures, but that is probably what is more interesting about it. They were very surprised when I recorded a promo video for a Chinese festival speaking their language.

The boat party at Defected Croatia was sick. Stefano played a selection of tracks that moved from a more intense and pushing start with some techno-oriented tracks, to a more soulful second half and a chilling funky conclusion when we were entering back the small bay of the Garden in Tisno. There space for some tec-house recent release, and for some summer hits, such as Dennis Cruz See Line (Wade Remix) and How We Do by Raffa FL, for some classic tracks from the ‘80s like the New Order’s Blue Monday, but also for some dancehall raggae classic like Wayne Smith’s Under Me Sleng Teng. It was truly special, not just because Stef is an experienced dj with a vast knowledge of music. More important was the ability of understanding the people in front of him, connecting with them to another level, and delivering not just a dj set but a true party.

When you prepare your set, you have already in mind what to play or you just improvise? On the boat, we have just seen you playing some classics, new things, spacing in other genres, is that something you do often?

Riva Starr: I think it is important to be flexible, because you need to be able to adapt to the reality on the ground. I do not think it is feasible to prepare the sets in details. I usually bring with me an USB key with around 100 tracks and then I try to select the best for the vibe and the crowd I am facing.
I do not usually play those classic tracks from the past as I played today, but the boat party was a special situation. On the boat people wanted to have fun, smile, I thought it was the right moment to mess a bit and mix things around.

The next Amsterdam Dance Event is coming, are you going to be there? And how do you see ADE compared to WMC in Miami?

Riva Starr: Yes, I will be in Amsterdam and I cannot wait for it. It is always great to be there, a magic atmosphere. And it is definitely more important than WMC. This is probably due to the different cultures related to electronic music in Europe and the US, we talked about it before.
I will be at ADE with a pretty busy schedule. We have a meet ‘n’ greet at the In Deep N Dance record shop in Amsterdam on the 19th then I will be playing for Defected In The House on Friday at Air and we will have our own SNATCH! stage with Verknipt on Saturday.

Could you please specify better the difference between Snatch and Snatch Off? What is going on with the first one and what with the latter?

Riva Starr: Snatch OFF is simply a more dj tool outlet for the more stripped out track. It is more essentials, beats and dj tools for the booth. On the other hand, SNATCH! is more a classical label. With SNATCH we try to explore a wider musical spectrum.

On the same day, Riva performed a tremendous set closing the main stage at Defected Croatia. Useless to say that he just demolished everything we saw before on the boat, building up a totally different set. Much more crunchy, pumping and uplifting. Flexible, adapting to the different environment, but always grounded in his principles of top quality music, taste and class.

Thanks for the chat, Stef, very much appreciated.

Before ADE you can catch Riva in Valencia, Turin, Toronto, Dallas and St Petersburg. Check the Facebook page for more info.