"I really want to be bigger in
the U.S.," Robbie Rivera declares
adamantly at a crowded Miami shopping
mall late one Friday afternoon. His plan
for 2K3: to conquer America, thank you
very much. If the past two years are any
indication, he may be well on his way,
thanks to an endless production output
that has blanketed the global club community.
Rivera's success has come from combining
and subsequently exporting the dirty house
grooves of his hometown, the edgy intensity
of New York's big-room tribal drums and
a mind-bending, relentless keyboard sound
all his own. It has taken him full circle;
no matter the scene, size or sound, there
may not be a club in America where his
tracks aren't currently being played.
"I've been getting a lot of feedback
from DJs who play trance," Rivera
says. "DJ Tiesto is playing all my
stuff. My booking agent in Spain represents
him too, and he's requested all my stuff.
Paul Van Dyk in Miami played my stuff.
It's really cool that I can do a track
that really any DJ can play."
Add to those luminaries a laundry list
of house DJs that includes grand poobah
Danny Tenaglia, chief exporter Erick Morillo
and gay icon Junior Vasquez, to name but
a few. Rivera remixes pop stars like Kylie
and Brandy, creates influential underground
favorites like "Feel This" and
"The Hum Melody," and he takes
club records like Perpetuous Dreamer's
"The Sound Of Goodbye" and Conjure
One's "Tears From The Moon"
in wildly different directions than their
original versions suggested they were
capable of going. He released 40 or so
original tracks and remixes in 2002, seemingly
without breaking a sweat.
And Robbie Rivera will tell you over
and over that it really wasn't hard to
pull off. In most cases, he has planted
himself firmly where he needs to be before
he needs to be there, setting himself
up for the payoff that takes him to the
next step. It is a quintessential all-American
strategy that began when Rivera was just
a boy on the island that is America's
de facto 51st state.
"I grew up in Puerto Rico and when
I was in sixth or seventh grade, I was
already DJing at little house parties
turntables with no pitch," the 29-year-old
Rivera recalls. "It was horrible!
By the time I was a senior in high school,
I was already playing parties every single
weekend all over the island. Plus, I was
playing once a month in a mixshow in San
"After that, I went to college at
the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale,
where I studied music production,"
he continues. "When I was in college,
I had time to mess around with my keyboard
and two turntables, and I started recording,
making beats and stuff."
By the time he was 23 years old, Rivera
had his diploma and was actively releasing
house tracks, when he began pursuing a
business degree at the University of Miami.
Educating himself in the professional
aspects of making music-on both the creative
and financial levels-has proven to be
a shrewd decision. It has given him a
better understanding of the game at all
levels. He knows who has the money, who
doesn't and when he needs it. Unlike producers
with no business sense and a clueless
agent, Rivera tailors his deals with the
companies involved as he sees fit. Even
if he doesn't make a ton of money on a
track, he keeps his name relevant enough
to score the big payday when Kylie's people
"I know I've done some stuff and
was like, 'Why the hell did I accept this?'"
Rivera confesses with a laugh. "But...
you know, sometimes the money comes in
handy. I like doing the underground stuff,
and I usually negotiate my fees [to do
it]. The major labels pay a lot of money,
and the independents usually don't. I
don't really care. I know a lot of producers
who have their fee, and that's it. I work
with everybody. I'm not going to name
numbers, but I work with labels like Tommy
Boy, [the former] Strictly Rhythm-smaller
labels that I know aren't going to pay
top dollar. I still do it because it's
a good track and I love remixing."
The remixes really began flowing circa
1997, when the craze of the day, filtered
disco, was beginning its ascent to the
top of Europe's trend barometer. Armed
with a few simple pieces of studio equipment
and some classic disco tracks, Rivera
tapped into a sound that quickly earned
him a dubious title in Europe: the King
of Filtered Disco.
"When I was doing the filtered
sound, I was just getting disco loops
from old '70s records I had," he
explains. "A friend of mine had given
me a ton of old 45 records, and I just
started sampling through a sampler. When
I added the filters and messing around
with them, people went nuts for the effect.
Basically, it's just an effect. I got
tired of it about two years ago, and started
doing more tribal, dark stuff."
Rivera credits one record in particular
as being the bridge to his current status
in the club community. "I was trying
to do both sides, because I like the filtered
stuff and I like a lot of the New York
tribal drum stuff," he says. "I
never try to stick to one style, even
though in Europe I was kind of labeled
as the filtered guy. I got so tired of
it and I was in the studio one day, and
I just wanted some really, really different,
really crazy, and I came up with 'Funk-A-Tron.'"
"I had it in my DJ box for almost
a full year without showing it to anyone,
because I thought nobody was really going
to like it, that it was too weird,"
he continues. "Then I played it out
at Amnesia in Ibiza and they went nuts.
The flow went up and I showed it to [Subliminal
Records founder] Erick [Morillo] and he
picked it up right away. A lot of labels
passed on it at first. After that record,
things really took off with this new sound.
For me, it's not a new sound
just me doing whatever I want to do in
Rivera hasn't stopped working since,
unleashing a torrent of mixes with deadly
accuracy and maximum efficiency. He's
in his Miami studio by 9 a.m. during the
week, and he's home to his wife by 7 at
night. "I'm not one of those guys
who works at night," he says. "I'd
Part of why Rivera's stuff is so successful
is because he goes crazy without really
going crazy. All the bells and whistles
are there-thundering drums, synths tweaked
to frenzied buildups, with a well-placed
vocal or sample tying things together.
Rivera creates huge soundscapes without
having to use a different machine to create
each part, again effectively remaining
one step ahead of the game.
"I don't use any of the traditional
keyboards," he notes. "I use
the Kurzweil, which nobody uses. I mean,
maybe one or two producers I know have
it in the studio and never even touch
it. All the sounds I do except for the
drums-all the synths, pianos, basses and
filters-come from that keyboard. You can
go into a music equipment store and play
the Kurzweil K-2600, and the 'Funk-A-Tron'
sound is there... everything's there.
It's just the way I manipulate it with
the effects and little tricks I do to
make it sound so thick. I make all my
sounds try to be huge in a big room."
A lot of people would consider that a
smart use of resources, but there are
holdouts. Rivera is unapologetic. "'Trippin''
just came out in an hour," he says.
"A lot of people probably think that's
too simple. I get a lot of critics telling
me that my tracks are really simple-which
they are. But I don't really care. As
long as when I play them in a club, people
go nuts, that's all that matters."
And they do, night after night. Rivera's
DJ career is in full swing, with several
weeks at a time blocked off to play around
Europe. He's finally establishing a firmer
foothold stateside, beginning with a regular
gig in his hometown.
"This year has been really, really
awesome for me DJing," Rivera exclaims,
almost gushing. "I've been DJing
one or two weekends a month in Europe,
mostly in Spain, France, Italy, Germany
and Greece. Now I also have a residency
at Crobar in Miami, which
I'm getting some love down here once a
month. I started a couple months ago,
and it's going awesome."
Next up for the man of the moment: a
compilation, more touring and the revival
of his own label. "Everything I do
now is going to be on my label, Juicy
Music," he says. "I have something
new ["I Want More"] coming out
with Steve Edwards from Cassius' ['The
Sound of Violence']. I'm doing another
new label, which is due out in the U.K.
also next year. I'll have two labels,
so I need demos. I like hard stuff and
crazy stuff. Send me shit. Send me stuff
for my label!"
Rivera is also particularly excited about
the Subliminal buzz track "Liar,"
which may very well mark a new phase for
the most prolific producer in house music
today. "'Liar' is a mixture of Robbie
Rivera meets Moby meets Dirty Vegas,"
he says. "It's really, really different
from a lot of the stuff I do. It's a full
vocal, and it's special to me because
I played all the music except for an electric
Then again, the guy is so ubiquitous
these days that by the time you read this,
you may already know that. Robbie Rivera
is on fire, and you get the sense that
he hasn't even peaked yet. As long as
his trusty Kurzweil is warmed up and ready
to go at a moment's notice, we're all
in for a wild and funky ride.
-- written by Pete Glowatsky