Sandy Rivera Talks Longevity in House Music & New Single 'Yeah!'

Hubert Warulik
Sandy Rivera

As the man behind "Finally," one of house music's best known singles, you would expect that Sandy Rivera -- who often produces under the name Kings of Tomorrow -- waltzes through interactions with labels who are eager to capture more of his movement-demanding magic on record. In fact, the opposite is true. "I get a lot of songs that people don't like," Rivera tells Billboard Dance over Skype from his home in Poland. "I get a lot of no's." 

After a few years which reflected this reality, the producer is planning an active 2017. The first of his new releases, "Yeah!" arrived last month via Defected, the English label known for its chart-friendly house music, following "Kaoz," a single that came out on Poker Flat last fall. Rivera has more singles signed to Defected, a remix package is due out for another track, "You Work Hard For Your Enemy," and he's also working on an album with the singer April, who glazed "Fall For You," one of the producer's best songs, with her vocals in 2013. 

Rivera knows why he gets the no's: his demos sometimes sacrifice dancefloor functionality for tunefulness. "I'm quite adventurous with the writing," the producer explains. "My demos are always really strange. I make a demo to push a singer to write a song, not necessarily to rock a club. Labels are 12" formatted, want it to work in the club, then they get something from me and they're like, 'I don't know what to do with this.'"

Thankfully, he's learned to soldier through the objections. "Finally" -- recorded on a $200 mic in a room that wasn't soundproof while Rivera's daughter was sleeping on the couch -- was initially turned down by Defected boss Simon Dunmore. "I only made ['Finally'] for an album," Rivera remembers. "That allowed me to be very jazzy with it. I never created an intro or an outro. It was unplayable." Despite this impediment, renowned DJs like Tony Humphries started playing it anyway, and eventually Defected extracted the song from the album and released it as a single; it earned remixes from legends like Masters at Work and an edit from Danny Krivit.  

More recently, "Fall For You" also faced initial refusal. Rivera describes the average negative response: "It's not really clubby, it's not the sound of what's happening." At a time when dancers tend to favor beats with carnivorous chomp, "Fall For You" leans towards the soft grooves of '70s soul, but eventually, Dunmore agreed to release it. "It skyrocketed, it sold a lot, it streamed a lot," Rivera says. "I've got publishing checks from that for at least $30,000." 

He earned the admiration of fellow DJs as well: when Detroit veteran Moodymann released a superb installment of the DJ-Kicks mix series last year, he included a mix of "Fall For You" on it, and you'll still hear it on the dance floor -- last fall it popped up at the club Black Flamingo in Brooklyn during a set by Paul Raffaele and DJ Reverend P. Rivera's tracks often enjoy extended life-spans, in one form or another. Kanye West sampled a Rivera composition, "So Alive," on the vibrant "Low Lights" from The Life of Pablo.

The last time Rivera met up with Dunsmore, he made sure to play him songs from a folder that he thought was Defected-friendly, and it paid off, resulting in several signed singles. "Yeah," the first of these, has enough thwack in its piston beat to fit in any current tech-house set. The drums are joined by two sets of gospel-tinged vocals -- one female, one male -- that serve to heighten the drama.

But Rivera's sudden burst of releases is not just a result of better matching of songs to labels but also a deliberate response to the new musical landscape. "Five years ago, the advice would be not to make that many records," he says. "Now it's put out as many records as you can. For us producers in the house world, we're just flingers. We're not making albums that last two years. Some do, like Black Coffee. He's managed it in a different way, which is really great; we need artists to do things like that. But for everyone else, it's a singles-driven market for records that last two or three weeks in the digital domain. They have a very short life. We've got to fling them out."

What about all the no's? "You can feel really depressed from it," Rivera acknowledges. "Then it works out."


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