Since 2010, London-via-Naples house producer Riva Starr (née Stefano Miele) has used his Snatch! Records as a divining rod for his own tastes. The label, which Miele uses to curate hardy, set-ready DJ cuts, is a reflection of the accomplishments and learning curves he’s gone through in his career. In 2013, Riva’s name — already well-established in the underground — spread like wildfire for his Fatboy Slim collab, “Eat Sleep Rave Repeat.” While the crossover gave him heightened exposure and a parade of shows to secure his new position, Miele also found himself feeling disconnected around this time, a feeling he says took a toll on Snatch!. It took almost half a year of “going back to school,” toning his approach to listening to his music and how he ran his label, to reach the standard it’s now being recognized for — specifically, its honor as BeatPort‘s Label of the Month and its landmark 100th release.
In advance of Friday’s two-tracker with Chicago’s Green Velvet, Riva Starr is premiering its B-side, “I Feel Good,” exclusively with Billboard Dance. Listen to the cut and catch up with Stef himself in the interview below, where he discusses keeping the hand-picked lineage of open-minded, tech-leaning house music as vibrant as he can.
What do you see when you compare the first Snatch! release with this, your 100th?
We started in a very naive way. We didn’t know anything about how to manage a label and we made a few mistakes, but we learned a lot. In terms of artistic direction, every artist has ups and downs — I had it, and obviously the label had it at certain points. I was traveling too much, I was super tired and was losing focus. For a couple of years we were still delivering decent music but, from my point of view, we were not going anywhere so I decided to stop for a minute and rebuild the sound, both for Riva and the label. That was four or five years ago and since then, the label has been growing nonstop. We’re now in the top 15, 20 labels around. I’m super amped about it. DJs love it and we get probably get like 300 demos every week. All in all, it’s been an amazing experience. We look forward to 100 more.
Do you see Snatch! maintaining the same artistic direction for the next hundred releases?
If you look back at our catalog, we’ve pretty much remained true to our sound — house music with some tech references. We’re not afraid of trying a thing or two in a different direction, sure, but the main rule for me is that it has to work for my DJ sets in the club. If I’ll be able to represent the tracks that I sign when I play in the clubs, that means they’re the right fit for the label. It really reflects what my sound is, what my tastes are. That’s the main goal: to maintain quality in my DJ sets, in my productions, in signing new talents. I don’t mind hosting big names — like with this EP — when they are friends and when they really add something to the label, but I don’t usually go for the name just for the sake of it. I’d rather go for a no-profile producer that delivers a banging track rather than a big name that delivers something so-and-so because it’s whatever.
Sounds like learning the business side of label-running was all in service of your own musical identity.
I know a lot of people that run their labels to follow trends and then change a lot of their [established] sound. That’s a way — maybe a label can be just a tool for the owner’s career to go somewhere, but from my point of view, I like to think about my label like my kid, or my family member or my lover. I want the best for it. The main way of making it right is to follow my taste and be true to what I think. Otherwise, if you start thinking about trends and charts — “Oh, this track will chart, even if I don’t like it” — you get on a kind of weird path, if you know what I mean. You end up losing the focus. That’s ended up happening to me because of my lack of experience, so this time I don’t want to get it wrong. I just want to trust my taste and my collaborators. I’m following the ideal of what my output should be on the label.
When someone comes up to you with a mix and asks about making it as a DJ and producer, what are your words of wisdom for them?
For me, the main suggestion is to always be original — when you’re handing demos over to me or anyone else, don’t [try to] follow what the label is actually doing at the moment. Surprise us with something new. I’d rather you work harder and try and craft your own sound. The best compliment I can get from people is when they tell me, “Woah, this is a classic Riva Starr sound!” Or, “I heard this track, it was kind of Snatch! sounding.” They actually recognize the sound behind myself and the label.
I had a very nice conversation with Todd Terry. He was saying that he loved “The Wickedest Sound,” and I told him that it was strongly inspired by what he was doing in the ’90s, his breakbeat In-House tracks, his cheeky arrangements, the totally wide-open view about what makes a house track. When he told me that, I was the happiest producer on earth [laughs].