Feb 16, 2023
Ana Monroy Yglesias
10 min read
When you meet Riva Starr, his upbeat, playful music makes even more sense. He is warm, positive, humble, and kind. The type of person you'd hope is behind the dance records that bring you joy.
Born Stefano Miele in Naples, Italy in 1974 and based in London since 2008, he has released infectious house records on important labels like Defected, Glitterbox, Hot Creations, Cajual, Black Book Records, and his own Snatch! Records for over a decade.
He started the Riva Starr project in 2006 when he began exploring house and electro, and before that was deep in the breakbeat world under his given name. You likely know Riva from one of his big soulful classic house-leaning records, like "This Is The Sound" with Todd Terry on Hot Creations, or one of his massive tech house bops, like "Beat Freak" with Chris Lake and lau.ra on Black Book.
"This Is The Sound" was a big 2022 track for both Starr and New York house legend Terry, who are good friends and work with the same management. He explains that they made it in an afternoon, after he asked Terry about doing something based around a sample of one of his (many) house classics, 1988's "A Day in the Life," released under Terry's Black Riot alias. They collabed together before on the 2018 house groover "Feelin'," under Starr's Soul Speech alias, which was dropped on Snatch! and was "quite well received," according to Starr. But the reception to "This Is The Sound" was next level.
Todd Terry and Riva Starr
"Jamie Jones liked it and released it on Hot Creations and, boom, it went straight to the top of the [Beatport] charts and people were going crazy. It was a nice surprise," Starr says. "One thing that I never forget that Green Velvet said is that you can't get too attached to the tracks. Sometimes you make a track that you think is going to be number one everywhere and you put all your effort and passion in it, and then the track doesn't do anything. And sometimes you do a track in an hour and it's super powerful."
Collaboration is a big part of Starr's creative output, which includes Star B, his disco and funk-infused project with British artist Mark Broom. Six of Starr's Top Ten tracks on Beatport right now are Star B jams, including their remix of Bob Sinclar's 2000 rave classic "I Feel For You," "I've Got Joy," and "House Massive" featuring MC GQ. He reveals that there are more Star B tunes on the way, along with a Floorplan remix of their Love Will Remain EP. (He's also currently working on a new Riva Starr album, the first since 2018's Curveballs.)
Starr describes the joy of working with Broom: "It's been amazing, actually. I've learned a lot from him. He's a very humble, down-to-earth—as I call him—super producer. He's one of the old-school guys that still manages to keep it current and relevant. He's got a very easygoing approach. No superstar attitude. And we work well together. We love funk and grooves. And he inspired me to go simpler, to not over structure your productions. We have fun playing together as well."
When asked if it's important for him to have different aliases to keep things dynamic and unrestrained by other people's expectations of what Riva Starr sounds like, he says, "Well, they're gonna have doubts about what Riva sounds like anyway, but yes, it's majorly important."
"When I started with Riva around 2006, I was still a bit more on the electro-y sort of vibe, pulling from my breakbeat experience. From then until 2011, everything I was producing was going out as Riva Starr, even more experimental stuff and slightly different genres. I even did an indie-influenced album in 2013. I found out that people get confused, at my expense… So from then on, I started all my 2000 side projects. [Chuckles.]
I have Riva Starr, which is the main thing, I have Soul Speech, which is house, slightly more crossover. I have Genghis Clan, which is the bass house project I use for Dirtybird, and those sort of labels, a more American sound if you want. There's Hyperloop, which is more techno; I did releases on Drumcode with Green Velvet. I have Star B. And I have even poppier projects, a project called Santa Maradona Football Club. There's definitely more, but these are the ones that are still active right now. It's fun for me because I can try different things and move left to right without confusing people and without confusing myself as well."
Across his eclectic and expansive catalog, you can feel that Riva Starr energy. It's housey, funky, joyful, and free.
"One thing I'm very proud of is that both my sound and Snatch! Records seem to be very recognizable. Sometimes I even read reviews saying 'This is kind of a Riva sound' from other people's productions, so I suppose I have my own take on music.
It's definitely bouncy. I like the grooves to be solid and the bass coming from breaks, it has to be quite powerful, even if they're deeper tracks. My sound is ever-evolving, so it's pretty hard to cage it into precise definition. But usually it's quite driving, it's quite solid in the grooves and the bass and it's funky," he says with a smile.
Defected is also an important collaborator and supporter of Riva, as they've been putting out his music since the beginning, tapping him for big remixes, and booking him for their lively, beloved global parties.
"They gave me a lot of chances to put my sound out there. They gave me the Miami in the House compilation in 2010 when I was basically just starting," the "Piknik" producer explains.
He also loves playing their parties. "They're very open-minded. They give the DJs a lot of freedom to express themselves and keep the quality high. The crowd has a very strong knowledge about house, so you can play old stuff and new stuff and mix it together and push new music as well, without the pressure of delivering a super big-time set."
The creative playground Defected and sublabel Glitterbox create continues to inspire Starr. "I'm finding myself playing these more eclectic sort of DJ sets more and more. I did a three-hour set at Press Play at Defected Croatia, which is a special stage where you can play everything from left to right. That was fun. That reminds me of when I started DJing in the '90s, I was playing hip-hop to breakbeat to rock, chemical beats, funk, and everything in between. It excites me because I need to get out of my comfort zone and pull the rabbits out of the hat and make it work. I like to mix different styles because that challenges me as a DJ as well," Starr says.
Like these eclectic free-wheeling sets, his label, Snatch! Records, is also a call back to his early Riva Starr days. Founded in 2010, he's released a wide range of housey heaters from Carl Cox, &ME, Adam Port, KiNK, Cajmere, and many others.
He explains that "Snatch! means freedom," and that it's important that it stays a small, independent, boutique label releasing music he loves, free from external agendas. He loves having a platform to push new producers forward and celebrates all the now-big artists he championed early on. One of his proudest moments is hosting Snatch! stages at Tomorrowland and Creamfields, although he decided to keep things focused on the music, and not get lost in also being a fashion brand and event producer.
"[Snatch!] is so important because it gives me the chance, first of all, to release whenever I want without getting stuck by other labels' agenda. It's been proved more than once where we really believed in a certain sound and release and no one wanted [to release them] and they ended up super successful. For me, having the label is freedom of expression in terms of sound, and it gives me the chance to push new producers.
We had early releases of Solado, Dennis Cruz, Michael Bibi, and I had the chance of hosting Fatboy Slim, Nina Kravitz, Jamie Jones, and Carl Cox. It's my baby. We have over 300 releases now since we launched in 2010. For me, it's an integral part of my work as Riva because it gives me a laboratory where I can test and see how it goes," he says with gratitude.
When asked how he's been able to keep it underground, he responds that while he's not sure if he's underground, but he is himself. He's been DJing since he was 12, so he sees himself as a DJ first and takes his selections seriously.
"I need to be able look my audience in the eyes with pride," he states, adding he'd hate to feel like he'd have to play music he didn't like. He is grateful for spaces like Defected parties where he can engage with the crowd and play a great set of great tunes, versus getting trapped in a more mainstream, trend-thirsty hype machine.
Even so, he's had some accidental hits that exposed him to a much wider audience. There was the absurd 2013 rave anthem "Eat Sleep Rave Repeat" with Fatboy Slim and Beardyman, giving birth to a now ubiquitous phrase that took on a life of its own. Starr explains that the song sat on a hard drive for a year, before Slim decided to include it on his 2013 Mixmag compilation album. (The trio had worked together on 2012's "Get Naked" and "Flexi Lady.")
The phrase "eat, sleep, rave, repeat" came from Slim's lighting tech, he and Starr had the idea to use it in a track. Beardyman came into the studio late and stayed for 15 minutes, just long enough to drink a beer and freestyle that absurd tale of a bender. Starr and Slim finished the track but weren't sure what to do with it. After its release, Calvin Harris remixed the track in 2014, shortening the spoken word part, which blew up and became the perfect crazy rave anthem for that peak EDM era.
Yet, it was another humorous song that most impacted his career, back in 2010. "The track that changed my life was 'I Was Drunk.'" He'd been wanting to explore making a track with Balkan and Italian sounds, and even though he wasn't sure about it, Jesse Rose loved it and dropped it on at Made To Play. Soon enough, Starr touring a ton thanks a track that he didn't even play in his sets until after it was released.
He asserts it was "all the stuff I did for fun" that happened to have the biggest reach.