Bristol’s Thekla, that grand galleon of bass that should be on every junglist’s bucket list, is having a moment. Evergreen monthly bash Intrigue is in full swing: SP and Breakage are limbering up, Dogger and Mindstate are in the wings, and promoter-resident Ben Soundscape has just dropped Riya’s new Whiney-featuring production Blame… meaning host Visionobi has no option but to do exactly what the crowd is screaming for.
And here she comes.
Sashaying across the stage, drink in hand, family and friends urging her on, Ben Soundscape grinning the biggest of grins, the sweating masses are demanding she take the mic for some impromptu vocals – because Blame is simply torching the place. Visionobi hands over. Pandemonium.
This is why we dance.
Of course, Riya’s not even supposed to be onstage yet. She and Collette Warren will later perform their electrifying new album, Two Sides of Everything, live, for the heaving Bristol hordes. This is merely a morsel of Riya. A teaser. One version among many.
Last week it was hosting for Spearhead in London. Last month she shut down Hospitality In The Woods with her unique Riya Live show that comprises DJ set and her own live vocals. Next month it’s a Riya DJ set at Paul T & Edward Oberon’s album launch at Peckham Audio, before more Riya Live at Liquicity Winterfest in Rotterdam, then back her classic hosting vibes at Hospitality NYE in London.
Then there are the releases: a full EP of Riya productions on Spearhead, tracks on V Recordings and Liquicity dropping as you read this, and the small matter of a guest mix for Hybrid Minds’ KISS show.
Laura Pacheco Hill, aka Riya, aka Best Vocalist at the Drum&BassArena Awards 2014 and 2015, aka heart-melting star of Open Page and Kismet and a million more certified vocal D&B anthems, aka a bullet-tough club DJ who has spent a decade re-writing the rules on what a D&B singer can be, is also having a moment.
With five nominations for this year’s Drum&BassArena Awards, she’s scaled the toughest peak of all: establishing herself not just as an artist in her own right, but nailing a new performance format that has taken years to hone and might just change the DJ/MC paradigm forever.
Make no mistake: Riya is now a serious player. Is there another DJ who can kill a set of tough underground steel, where Nymfo wobblers slide into Noisia scorchers – while decorating it with their own live singing?
Or A set containing their own productions and collabs going back more than a decade, from Critical to Autonomic to Shogun to Headz? With unique live versions of tunes both legendary (2010’s Open Page with Lenzman), timelessly anthemic (2015’s Kismet with Hybrid Minds), 2021-shattering (Closer with Monrroe) and downright rave-shredding (check that brand new Blame, forthcoming on Spearhead)?
“Riya has been able to keep at the top due to her tireless devotion to the music we all love, and her ability to continually switch it up and bring something different to the table,” Ben Soundscape tells UKF after his set. “She’s just made an incredible album with Collette, and straight after brings the heat again with Blame which is absolute fire!”
Thekla? Tonight, we’d best call it the Royal Yacht. Because the Queen is in town and we got to have a word with her…
DJ… Host… Songwriter… Live show innovator… You are wearing a lot of hats right now! So how many different forms of Riya could we see at one festival alone?
Ha! Well my Riya Live show brings many of those elements together within one set and gives me the freedom to play a lot of my back catalogue too. For a Riya DJ set, I’m going deeper and drawing for tunes that have been a big influence on me and new tracks I’m really feeling at the moment, as well as testing out new bits I’m currently working on. If I’m hosting a set as a singer/MC, it’s always an amazing opportunity to interact directly with the crowd, and I’ve also of course been doing gigs with Collette Warren, showcasing our joint album Two Sides of Everything.
Ok we count at least four ‘Riyas’ in there.
Yes, four. I guess it is! It’s great to be able to perform and connect with audiences in different ways, and even better if/when I can do them all at the same festival as it shows the different sides of me as an artist/performer.
We’re starting to see more female D&B artists do the DJ + vocals solo show thing – but you’ve been on this for a while now!
I’ve been doing it since 2015 and it’s so great to see more female and male D&B MCs/vocalists doing their own solo shows. As more and more do it, it will start to change the DJ/MC paradigm within the scene and then more promoters will want to book this format which is a great thing for all vocalists and MCs of future generations. It’s still seen as a bit of a risk for promoters and there are valid reasons why, but I think we’re beginning to finally see a change in attitudes towards booking these acts, including from fans, which is amazing.
You make it sound easy – but to break through in a new format is a serious, long-term challenge.
It really hasn’t been easy. It’s been a long slog, over 12 years and I’m still trying. When I first broke onto the scene, I was reliant on hosting other DJs’ sets. I enjoyed that but I’d often get messages from fans asking me why I didn’t sing a certain song – which plagued me to be honest as I had no control over what was played and wanted to be able to sing those tunes too. So when my first album was due out, I knew I had to find a way to ‘present’ it myself.
Singing and mixing at the same time, with different edits and different keys to manage – that’s some technical business!
Yeah, that’s what I thought before I did it! And I still think that. But luckily technology and software has helped me. I owe it to my husband actually. He studied Sound Engineering and is a sick DJ and very familiar with DJing software. He told me about Native Instruments who sell great DJ controllers with a program called Traktor that could potentially help me in my challenge to mix and sing at the same time. At the time, they’d just launched their S5 controller which was a pretty future-thinking piece of kit because it allowed me to mix individual track stems (beats, bass, vocals, music) rather than just the track itself. It also told me if the tracks were in key with each other, which before I knew about Mixed in Key, was a huge help, given one of my biggest challenges in mixing my album together was the fact some tracks are not in key with each other. My other challenge was that many of the vocals clashed and to be able to turn them off or on solved this problem, and allowed me to combine lots of different elements from tracks and blend tunes that otherwise wouldn’t have mixed well together. So that was that problem solved.
The Riya Live show has gone through a number of versions – but you’ve clearly found the formula.
I’ve gone through many different versions of it to get it how I want it now, yes. A key part of the ‘Live’ experience is me singing and getting that right. At first I used a microphone on a stand, but it’d get in the way of mixing and I’d often miss singing cue points which I didn’t like. Then I switched to a table top microphone stand, but again, mixing and singing at the same time just wasn’t really working as well as I wanted.
Travelling with a controller and having to set it all up in a booth alongside the standard equipment was problematic too, so I’ve adapted the live show to fit around the club standard CDJ setup and it makes things a lot easier. I’ve now added in a headset microphone and in-ear monitoring too to keep my hands free to concentrate on the mixing which tends to be pretty fast and furious!
It’s taken a lot of years to finesse it but I love how it sounds and works now and feel it’s a really unique, special show that I enjoy taking around the world.
My next Riya Live performance is at Liquicity Winterfest in Rotterdam on 30th December but I also just found out I’m taking it to Hospitality on the Beach 2022, and who knows where else!
We can’t wait to see you smash festival shows like you did at Hospitality in the Woods. In fact, given the amount of ‘Riyas’ alone, you’re going to need your own arena at some point! Who would you book for a Riya & Friends fantasy lineup?
How many acts can I book!? To start with I’d look at getting Bcee, Kyrist, Whiney, Sweetpea, Technimatic, Ben Soundscape & Collette Warren, Monrroe, The Sauce, and Villem. On hosting duties I’d have Sofi Mari, Visionobi, Tali (if she was over in the UK) and Dynamite MC. I’d book more if I could run a festival and had the budget! These are the artists I really respect for their skills, and because I’ve worked with them on projects in the past. Riya & Friends is something I’ve always wanted to do so… UKF! Got any stages going!?
It’s been quite a journey so far – but somehow it feels like you’re just getting started. You’re up for five nominations at the DNBA awards… again?
I know! What the… I was shocked the first time it happened when my first album came out and never thought it would happen again, so to be up for five nominations in this year’s awards for my second album with Collette is just unreal. Even after 12 years, I’m still surprised and humbled that people continue to support me, buy my music, and book me for events. It’s super special and I’m so grateful. Big up the fans. I/We appreciate you!
And we appreciate that you could probably write toplines and belt out bangers for David Guetta – but you chose D&B! At what age did you have a sense you could really sing?
I don’t know if I ever sensed I could ‘really sing’, I just enjoyed singing and did so from about four years old. My dad was always singing and playing keyboard and my sister is an amazing singer. They used to have singing sessions and would encourage me to sing with them, as well as do karaoke at any opportunity possible!
I’ve written in other genres but I always come back to D&B because I just love it so much. Nothing matches the feeling I get from hearing a D&B track on a quality sound system.
Love it. I smell a ‘formative rave experience’ or two in there…
My brother was massively into D&B and used to go to parties at The Que Club in Birmingham. I remember hearing him play some of his D&B tape packs in his car from nights he’d been to there and thinking ‘this is great’! I always looked up to him as a kid and wanted to do everything he did, so I begged him to take me to my first rave – which he did! I was immediately hooked and finally felt like I’d found a place where I belonged.
You were a D&B DJ before you were a singer, right?
I first worked behind the scenes as a press and promotions person for other artists and labels and that helped me get to know everyone in the scene. At that point I was already DJing and actually played a warm up gig at Hospitality at Herbal, at Dillinja’s Valve Sound System night and at Bryan G’s Bar Rumba night back when I had Technics 1210s! I was singing then too, but just for fun, and some of the artists got to know that and encouraged me to do vocals for them. Some of my earliest collaborations were with Klute, SKC, State of Mind and Bungle, but songwriting was a totally new field to me and I was learning on the job so they weren’t to the standard they are now but that’s ok. That’s why I decided on a name change to ‘Riya’.
And Riya was born!
I changed my artist name to Riya after I started to feel more comfortable about what I was writing about and who I wanted to be as an artist, and that’s when things really took off, leading to the release of Open Page, which completely blew up.
And that was at a time when D&B vocalists didn’t have anywhere near the profile they have now.
Back then, social media wasn’t really as prominent as it is now, Nowadays all artists have to have a degree of marketing know-how. The good thing is most producers are always on the hunt for good writers and vocalists and it’s relatively easier to get into D&B nowadays. Doing covers of drum and bass songs is a great way to get yourself known and heard, and sharing your repertoire with producers has never been easier. If you’ve got a good sound and something to say then producers will be receptive to collaborating.
You’ve kept the sound pretty underground with a lot of your tunes being darker than soulful. How have you resisted the temptation to pursue more commercial sounds?
It’s not really a conscious thing, I have always written from my heart and soul and that’s drawn to the underground sound. When I was younger I was a bit of an outsider and that’s what appealed to me about the underground. When I first started writing as Riya I got offered to write for some bigger artists but what I was writing and singing just didn’t seem to fit the sound, it felt pretty inauthentic too. I think as time has gone on, my listening habits have changed, and I’ve found a new appreciation for the more commercial sounding stuff. I’ve evolved as an artist as a result but I have to have a connection with the track and those tracks tend to be the more emotive, deep, darker ones.
Amen to that. So here’s a question: Open Page or Kismet? You can only pick one.
I’ll always be grateful for Open Page as it opened so many doors, but I’d have to pick Kismet. I wrote it about my husband and I get a lot of people tell me that they’ve played it for their first dance at their wedding or when their child was born. Knowing that this song is the soundtrack to people’s lives at very special moments gives me a kind of joy and satisfaction that is really hard to match.
Riya – Blame is out November 26 on Spearhead