Track by track with Stefano Miele aka Riva Starr
I Was Drunk
“The album took me around one year to finish. This was the first track. At university I was interested in traditional folk music. Back then there was a lot of interest in all this, with the Balkan sound coming through, so I started playing with some of the samples that belonged to my culture.
“I got some ideas going, then I hooked up with Nôze, who were these two gypsy dudes who were making waves on the Get Physical label with some very weird tracks. Obviously they caught my attention, because anything weird – I’m the one [laughs].
“They said ‘OK. We will try and work on it – maybe next week. We’re very busy...’ Half an hour later they sent it over with the main idea for the chorus. I was blown away.
“I normally always do the mixdowns of my tracks, but I couldn’t find the right balance for this, so it stayed on my hard drive until a month before the album was released.
“I wasn’t even playing it out. I was playing more bassy dub at the time. I knew it was a fun track, but I wasn’t sure what to do with it. It sat around while I worked on other tracks.”
“It’s called China Gum because of the Chinese music samples. I actually have a degree in Chinese. Six months before I moved to London in 2007 I spent six months in China finishing my degree.
“I went travelling in the countryside, studying the music there and the instruments. I ended up in this little record shop that had a collection of copied CDs, wrapped in rice paper. They weren’t even official releases. They were full of field recordings of traditional music from all these villages. They were super rare so I jumped on them like a kid on a cake.
“One of the tracks had some drums and voices I used for the main drop here, then I went crazy with analogue synths over the top. It’s a breakbeat tune, basically, done in the transition between Madox and Riva Starr, which you can hear.”
“I was in touch with these bands that were doing this kind of electronic folk music. One of them was the Balkan Beat Box, from Tel Aviv, and they’re amazing. So, we were good friends, and I asked them if I could sample one of their tracks, Bulgarian Chicks.
“Funnily enough, it’s the track that SIS sampled for his tune,
Trompeta. I asked them to use the sample to make a track, then got talking to Jesse Rose about doing a track together, so we did this.
“It’s a very simple beat, and has a very weird arrangement, but it’s our interpretation of that Balkan idea. It was a very trendy sound by the time I released the album.”
“After China Gum and Maria came out I hooked up with a guy called Trim. He was a grime type MC who was down with the Roll Deep crew. We had some friends in common.
“At the time there was this San Francisco hip-hop music called hyphy around. I wanted to do something with that, with a 303-type of bassline on it.
“He came to the studio and we spent a day there, chatting, having fun, and making this track. It came together very easily, I must say.
“The track is between this ragga style, as he’s got a Jamaican flavour, but with this English way of rapping. Then you add the 808 bass and 303 on top and you have quite a mix.”
“I’m a music collector. I have a lot of vinyl. I was digging through it and then I came across this sample from the Lafayette Afro Rock Band. I really wanted to do this more electro type of track, as a kind of tribute to my breakbeat background.
“After I recorded the sample in and tried to make a beat around it, I ended up talking to this French producer behind the Lafayette Afro Rock Band. I just had to get in touch.
“He was a very old man, hopefully still alive now. He was kind enough to clear the sample for us. We were a really small label, so that was great.
“I still play this track today. I see a lot of people like A-Track still playing it. The beat is pretty tough. A proper 808 thing.”
Black Cat, White Cat
“I was watching this video of a guy online playing a violin solo, and fell in love with it, and sampled it. I asked another local band, who were doing some gypsy sounds, to replay it because the quality of the original was crap.
“If you listen to the violin solo now you can hear two layers. One is the replay, the other is the original sample, probably taken from YouTube. It’s got that crunchy sound, with the cleaner sound from the band on top, which contributes to make the overall sound.
“I didn’t think about an album at the beginning, which is why all the tracks are so different. I was doing breakbeat as Madox, and started getting bored, so started Riva Starr in 2006. I was getting into all this new stuff from labels like Dirtybird, and all that fidget stuff with Switch and Justice. I combined that with drum & bass and breaks, which I loved. From 2006-2009 I was making EPs, then decided that it would be exciting to make an album.”
“It made for a different sound to the standard house at the time: more linear …more chops and craziness”
“You can feel the arrangement get weirder with click and crackles in there. It all made for a very different sound to the standard house tunes you’d be listening to at the time. They were a bit more linear. Here there were more chops and craziness.”
Once Upon A Time In Naples
“The next four tracks all draw on my passion for more jazzy, traditional music. This one has a really slow guitar sample, pitched up. I think I did it with Logic’s EXS24 sampler.
“Then I added an electro/ breakbeat beat to it. It’s very vibey. I just wanted to have a track that was different. There was no point making an album with all house tracks, so this was me being eclectic. It was picked up by [UK reggae selector] David Rodigan a lot in his shows.”
“This was released on Kindisch a few years before the album. I still felt it was so, so fresh. It was my first proper tune. It just fit in with the album, on the overall eclectic vibe, so I decided to add it to the track list.
“I got so much support for this track. And people still play it now. I still see Carl Cox drop it in his sets every once in a while. He was a huge supporter of it when it came out. I still think it’s one of the most sold tracks on that label, so far.”
“This is a bit of a tribute to some ’90s kind of house. It has a, I wouldn’t say ‘Eurotrash’...but you know Ramirez? All that kind of stuff that was coming from Italy back then – all big and brassy. Very ’90s.
“The idea was to do some kind of big, tribally sort of track, with those kind of samples in. When I was releasing as Madox, doing my breakbeat project, my label was Mantra Breaks, which was part of Expanded Music in Italy. They have all these Euro house tracks from the ’90s. They had Ramirez’s Hablando on there, so I asked them to use that sample, which is the main kind of accordion sample in Caballeros.
“They were all friends, so I was able to clear this sample, which otherwise would have been impossible as it was a massive tune back then.
“It turned out really cool. It was mainly dub in the vibe. Then there is this big drop, with this accordion in. It came together really easily.”
“This comes from my passion for jazzy, swing stuff. It’s more on that jazzy tip. I knew this track was mainly for the album. It’s very hard to play out. It’s just a track that’s good to listen to.
“There is a nice drum break in there. It’s all live samples. I used to surf a lot through my vinyl, looking for cool drum breaks. I’m actually going to be releasing a lot of new stuff with live drummers on my label, Snatch!
“I want, and wanted, to use people who are actually playing on the tracks and not just relying on electronic sounds. I feel like it’s about time to push some different sounds in dance music again.”
“I decided to end the whole album on a tribute, obviously to Mr Fingers’ Can You Feel It. It’s a cover that is half a cover, in a way. The vibe and idea is the same, but I replayed everything and the notes are different and the arrangement is different, so there is just a hint or nod to the Mr Fingers track.
“I’m still playing this track out these days, to be honest. It’s a very good track and the perfect one to finish up the album.”
Stefano Miele goes by many names, not just Mr Riva Starr. Eagled-eared listeners may also want to check him out when he’s under the aliases of Soul Speech, for some Gospel house vibes. Or his other ongoing project, Genghis Clan, for some more...