Patricia Johnson

Music News, Reviews, and Interviews

Interview: Riva Starr Follows Inspiration to Tech House and Beyond

You’re probably already familiar with DJ/producer Riva Starr’s most popular track, whether or not you realize it. You’ve seen it on tank tops and drawstring backpacks at EDM festivals, and you’ve heard neon-clad college kids chanting the four-word title ad nauseam: “Eat Sleep Rave Repeat.” Riva Starr (otherwise known as Stefano Miele) released the track — a collaboration with Fatboy Slim, featuring vocals from Birdyman — in June of last year, and with the help of a remix from EDM king Calvin Harris, it has since become something of a raver’s mantra.

This kind of mainstream success was somewhat unexpected for Miele, who actually feels more at home in the underground tech house scene. Although some well-meaning new fans have made misguided assumptions about his style after hearing the “Eat Sleep Rave Repeat” remixes, Miele is adamant that he does not play EDM. “I’ve been trying to work hard to let people know that as much as I respect the Calvin Harris remix — because of course that’s given the track a different level of popularity — I still try to stick to my sounds, and I don’t like to play mainstream music.”

In fact, throughout his entire career Miele has made a point to avoid trends and follow his own musical interests, and he is frequently praised for being incredibly versatile. He began playing breakbeat as Madox in his home city of Naples. Developing as a musician in this coastal Italian city was, he says, “crucial in my style and in the way that my style has been recognized as different from the others.” The city’s creativity, wealth of cultural influences, and strong club culture (especially for tech house) helped mold Miele into the well-rounded musician that he is today.

Miele also frequented London breakbeat parties and brought back this U.K. influence to Naples, where his unique style set him apart. He became quite successful as Madox, but grew bored with breakbeat and decided to start from scratch to pursue his new, ever-evolving style as Riva Starr.

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“I was playing in big clubs as Madox and then the very next week I was playing in a pub for fifty pounds. In a way it was good because I had the chance to improve my new style as Riva. Whereas when a lot of people who were doing breaks back in the day turned to the 4/4 style they all went straight banging electro or big room electro, I tried to stay away from those sounds and make it a bit more original.”

Of course, transitioning from a well-known and successful project to an entirely new sound with an unknown name had its challenges. “With every producer or artist, there’s always a cycling moment where your inspiration just expires and you find yourself always doing the same things and not having fun anymore. It takes a while and it takes a lot of struggling and pain sometimes when you really have to find your new way to find inspiration and fun again.”

Miele saw this challenge as an opportunity to finally find his groove and identify his own signature sound. It proved to be a wise career move: his mischievous brand of tech house found a home on dirtybird, then Jesse Rose’s Front Room Recordings and Made to Play, and Fatboy Slim’s Southern Fried Records. The popularity of his debut album’s single “I Was Drunk” and its, um, quirky accompanying video proved that his initial transitional struggles were well worth it.

Surrounding this success, Miele started his new label Snatch! in 2010. He explains that the name is intended to be cheeky, as in “trying to snatch some samples and recreate some club tracks from the samples.” His philosophy is to push new, unsigned talents, many of whom are from his native Italy.

Last summer, Miele released on Snatch! his second full-length album, each track quite different from “Eat Sleep Rave Repeat” only a month prior. Hand in Hand shows Miele expanding into indie-electronic and beyond, featuring vocals from Rssll, British rapper Roots Manuva, and roots reggae singer Horace Andy (who you may know from Massive Attack).

“I come from a rock background so I really wanted to do something different. A lot of people were saying, ‘you have to do it with a different name, people won’t understand that it’s not club music’… but I don’t mind. I want people to know that I’m a crazy bastard. I just want to do what I like to do.”

Lest his club music fans be disappointed, Miele enlisted a number of his favorite artists to remix his Hand in Hand tracks for the dance floor. The result is Club in Hand, which is stuffed with thirty remixes from the likes of Uner, Mixhell, Claptone, Yousef, and Addison Groove, among others. The remixes represent a wide spectrum of dance music, and, much like the originals, there is something for everyone to enjoy. “I chose the remixers according to my taste, and because my taste is quite wide and I come from breakbeat, hip hop, drum & bass, and rock, I tried to keep it interesting.”

Miele is currently working on some new ideas and side projects that will take his sound into a slightly different direction, though he’s still secretive about the details at this point. He’s achieved enough success as Riva Starr that he can safely follow his musical whims without needing to endure the arduous process of starting from scratch again — though we know that wouldn’t stop him.

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