When I first produced Finally, I couldnt give it away for free. Nobody liked it. Even (Defected boss) Simon Dunmore. He was at AM PM at the time. When I first did it I was in the UK doing some gigs and.I played a demo to him in his office, but it was just a whole different sound back then, but he didnt quite get it.
Chatting down the line from his London base, New York house star Sandy Rivera admits hes long been used to being ahead of the game, with his late 90s worldwide hit Finally being the most extreme if illuminating example.
I just thought it was really, really good record so I tried to give it to people like Harry Choo Choo, he even came to my house and I said do you like this? Do you want it? and he was like No, its a little bit too slow, too housey for me.Three years later, he literally calls me and says By the way, Im sorry man, but thats my favourite record.
For his new compilation CD for Renaissance hes had similar reactions (one reviewer decreed this double CD contains some excellent tracks but one too many changes in musical direction), though tellingly, the reviewer also sings his praises (there is no doubt that the man can pull off some seemingly impossible track combinations),
I got a call earlier today, saying Sandy, you want to know the feedback for the Rennaissance CD? I said: Yeah, sure, he continues.
They said its not really that good, but in the same breath, the same person goes but I know your history, nobody really gets what you do till later. Im like, yes, I know that.
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): Youve done a few compilations in the past for Ministry, Defected and various other labels, is it any different doing a Masters one for Renaissance?
Sandy Riviera: When they approached me, they approached me not to do a full on Rennaisance CD like they are normally used to listening to; they asked me reach into my market more.
Skrufff: Did you spend months and months working out every detail?
Sandy Riviera: This wasnt months and months. The weirdest part of this cd was that I never got the track listing I put in, it went from one hand to another, so I never received masters from labels, because it didnt get to the right person for people to send me masters. Out of the whole compilation I only received one master from a guy in California. Luckily, the mastering suite that I use had a good amount of the songs because they deal with Ministry and Defected and quite a lot of other people and they already had masters. So it was a slightly weird process that split between trying to get masters, trying to get started and trying to find out whats licensed and whats not. A few proposed tracks never came through for me in the end too. Its always a bit difficult you might want to go one way, even if you want you might not get the records.
Skrufff: How different is it sequencing a CD compared to preparing a set?
Sandy Riviera: For me its different because I play so many styles. For some reason if I go to somewhere like Serbia or Sofia in Bulgaria, they dont want any thing fluffy. Im considered one of their best DJs. Normally they pay me to walk in there and do two hours though Ill often end up playing for six hours and it will be minimal tech-house hands up in air records but more on the techy side. Then Ill play in some place like Greece where they know me for a lot of older stuff and I get people coming up to me saying can you play I Cant Stop? or can you play the original of Finally? With this mix cd I tried to do something where it starts from the beginning of the night then progresses through to the end of the night, but its hard to do that in two hours- youre missing a lot of records.
Skrufff: How do you view people coming up and asking for requests generally?
Sandy Riviera: It doesnt drive me mad. Sometimes at the wrong time when you are playing a really cranking record and someone comes up to you to play something really left field from what you are playing, you are kind of looking at them going not right now, maybe a lot earlier. If youve made a lot of records and people know you for those records then people expect you to play them nowadays as DJing is very much a performance. For some reason people want them to play a record that they know, because they are in tune with the actual person thats made it. I get it a lot. I normally work with it, depending on how the flow is. My thing, when I DJ, I need the floor to be jumping around a lot. I cant see the floor still, so Ill change records if I feel that it needs changing.
Skrufff: Are you finding more competition from the local residents?
Sandy Riviera: To be honest, a lot of local DJs are really good. With the internet they are downloading everything and getting records as fast as anyone else. Technically they are really good and they know their crowd better than you will. They are there every week and you are coming in maybe once or twice a year. Normally when you are an outside DJ, they want something a little bit different. They just want a good party. I get to hear a lot a weird things when I go to different countries and they complain about certain DJs, then I hear about the same DJs some place else and the people there say they were amazing. Its probably the same for me. Local DJs in clubs are getting really good so if you are coming out its a bit of competition.
Skrufff: Are you finding you are performing more as a DJ; are you dressing up more?
Sandy Riviera: I always dress up every time I go out, though when Im DJing Ive got to be a little more comfortable, so I guess at a club I might wear a nice shirt but Ill keep a T shirt in the bag in case it gets really hot in a sweaty club.
Skrufff: How is technology changing your DJing?
Sandy Riviera: As far as Ableton is concerned, it drives me up the wall when I see people using it, because it actually mixes for you. Personally Im only looking at it that way because Im kind of an old school guy, so when you are looking at the crowd it doesnt matter. 75% of the crowd just want to hear music, they probably wont even see the computer sitting there, thay will just see the DJs arms going up and their head bobbing and they will just go with that. I think half the crowd cant tell the difference.
Skrufff: You grew up in Spanish Harlem, one of New Yorks roughest areas in the 80s, Todd Terry was saying how he could have gone with the local gang or got into music, was it the same for you?
Sandy Riviera: Yeah, same thing. I got put away when I was thirteen, for about three years in a juvenile detention centre. It was really bad. You never whats going to happen to you in life, whether you make a right turn or a left turn. I was pretty bad and if I wasnt put away at that time and age, I probably wouldnt have changed my life around; I dont know what would have happened to me.
Skrufff: What were you put away for?
Sandy Riviera: At first it started off with doing graffiti, then I just happened to get caught with a gun in the school, at some place and a few of us were found responsible. It was really bad, but you dont know any better when you are that young sometimes. Its the only way to grow up.
Skrufff: When you came out did you get straight into music?
Sandy Riviera: I pretty much went back home and applied everything I learnt up there. I was mainly being told be careful when you go back. Dont look at things the same. I came out with all that advice and looked at everything differently and just changed, working hard, trying to build things up. I was always into music and Id started DJing before I was thirteen and when I was away everyone always had music and when I got out I continued the process and practiced constantly and everything followed through. I had my own record label when I was twenty years old. Things happened pretty quick.
Skrufff: Are you still in touch with anyone from the old days?
Sandy Riviera: No, not as much, just family pretty much. Im the kind of person, I wasnt living in one neighbourhood all my life, I lived in The Bronx, I lived in New York, I lived in Brooklyn, I lived in Queens, going back and forth with my mother and father because they were separated. I happened to be everywhere, so Ive got friends everywhere. I would lose touch with them every time I moved. I was one of those kids, just jumping around.
Skrufff: How easy was it settling in London?
Sandy Riviera: I like London a lot better than New York. They are both different, because youve got the American mentality over there and over here its more the British mentality. Absolutely different, but the cities are now somewhat similar. They are both multi cultural, except here there are probably more Indians and Arabics than there are in New York, but over there you get more Puerto Ricans, a lot of blacks and a lot of Jewish people, so the multi cultural thing is a bit different. I find that London is a bit more romantic,
Renaissance- The Masters- Sandy Rivera is out now
Jonty Skrufff (JontySkruffff.com)