|Breaking through: Rivet
Nick Connellan profiles the "new" masked techno producer who wants the focus to be placed squarely on his music.
It's not so easy to interview someone who's existed for just a single year. My hour-long probe of Adam Rivet is met with ums, ahs, lengthy pauses and once, the words "I'm thinking about how much I should reveal." As his strangely expressive mask may imply, Rivet's persona is entirely constructed. Following in the footsteps of Redshape and other such names, he's determined to shelve his old career and begin again, anonymously. Naturally, that leaves most of his life off-limits for discussion.
"With Rivet, I wanted a fresh start," he says, in a strangely accented voice. Despite a strong grasp of English—which is not his native tongue—the language barrier and a case of early morning brain also frustrate our exchange. The latter is a side-effect of Rivet's unwillingness to reveal his exact time zone. "I wanted to break free of the box I made for myself before," he says, "for people to really listen, like I was a new artist or a new name."
In February 2011, Rivet's debut 12-inch, Inside Looking Out, inaugurated Frozen Border's new sub-label Naked Index. Its title track was tough and crunchy-sounding, but shot through with the most fragile of chords. His second outing, also for Naked Index, was picked up by Scuba, who used "Slant" and "Running" for his DJ-Kicks mix. Then there was January's stunning Amid the Roar, another exercise in tough-yet-vulnerable techno, this time for Kontra-Musik. Though each of these records have sounded quite different, Rivet's propensity for mixing rugged and emotional sounds has become somewhat of a hallmark.
"I guess I'm kind of soft behind the mask," he says, unconsciously touching the root of our stilted conversation. As it turns out, the issue isn't really the language barrier, or even the spectre of his past life. Lame as it may sound, music is the only way Rivet can truly express himself. "I'm not like…a writer," he says, "and I can't really speak to people and get my views across." A common disposition among musicians, perhaps, but his method is where things get interesting. Sourced from obscure records or his own field recordings, Rivet manipulates samples to form the basis of new tracks in SoundHack, a program which mixes the waveform of one sound with the envelope of another. Thus, a recording of singing birds is merged with a snare sample to make the birds sound as if they're drumming.
This kind of trickery is just the tip of the iceberg, however. We touch briefly on the subject of the eerie wails in "Sleepwalker," of which I said, "it's hard to identify whether that's a modified voice wailing away, or just a clever bit of electronic sound design." Neither of these guesses were correct; the sound is a trumpet, heavily processed. Even now, this section gives me chills. In "Afterbirth," the hi-hats are a real knife being honed, and "Slant" is built around pitched down and distorted tablas. "I love doing that," he says, "taking something really unexpected and making it work."
As much as these acrobatics are a product of Rivet's desire to distance himself from other artists, he's just as wary of making similar-sounding records. Recently, this led him to remove SoundHack and other oft-used tools from his computer. He also limits himself to just two instruments and five effects per session. "Just to start from scratch every time, that's my goal," he says. "A lot of the scene today is full of artists releasing one kind of sound. I want to try and release records that all have a specific sound." Consequently, he works much more slowly than some of his peers. He recently collaborated with Blawan, for instance, calling him "a force of nature." The results of this meeting are set for release on Blawan and Pariah's young label, Works The Long Nights. In contrast, Rivet labels his own method—involving Cubase, his DAW for the last 15 years—as "old-fashioned" and laborious. "I should really move to something like Ableton, because I could make a track in a few days instead of a few months," he says, "but I like working how I do now."
His latest record for Skudge Presents, Grifter/Sundry, was started two years ago. But this statement should be taken with a grain of salt. Like a writer who only pens their first chapter before pitching a novel to publishers, most of Rivet's tracks are mere sketches. Once a label shows interest in one he hires a studio and completes the mixdown. "It's kind of expensive, so I don't rent the studio unless I know it's going to come out," he says. This isn't just in the interest of quality. For objectivity's sake, he's found that leaving his tracks for days, weeks or months is an absolute necessity. The two-year incubation for Grifter/Sundry was the product of multiple drafts and cooling-off periods.
In "Grifter," the influence of drum & bass is clearly audible. It's just one signpost along the trail, but for careful observers, Rivet's history shouldn't be hard to figure out. As someone named Don_John pointed out, RIVET is the catalogue code for Reinforced Records, a classic drum & bass label. Similarly, Rivet's frequent use of vocal snippets is a hangover from jungle and hardcore, which he grew up listening to, and the mask idea was borrowed from industrial, not from Redshape or anywhere else. "It's not so much about the mask itself," he says, "just not having a face; getting the focus on the music." Even with his previous career, he professes that being in the spotlight and having his face on flyers was unpleasant. Or, as he puts it: "I'm not really into that whole idolising thing."
Techno came relatively late in the game for Rivet, but even now he sometimes finds himself frustrated by the genre. "With techno, it 'has' to be macho, and it 'has' to be dark, and hard and aggressive. I mean, sometimes you just want something a bit cheeky, you know?" he says. It's clear from such comments that Rivet's standards are rather exacting. Shortly after 2000, he simply stopped paying attention to contemporary house and techno, and instead explored the past. This bitter hiatus lasted the better part of a decade. As his work with Blawan might suggest, it was the cross-pollination of genres that finally bought him back. "Techno was techno, and house was house," he recalls. "But after dubstep came and those producers started making house, it's all merged, and now it's okay to just mix all kinds of sounds. It's making it a bit more interesting again."
Also pivotal to his return were tracks from Basic Soul Unit, Kassem Mosse and Levon Vincent. On the topic of this last name, he's particularly enthusiastic. "It's like he doesn't care about how it should sound," he says. "Whatever he makes comes out of his heart, you know?" As he continues on as Rivet, he's realising that this type of attitude is the best way forward: "Even though I felt that I had broken off from my previous music, I still had it somewhere inside," he says. "It's not until recently that I really let loose—putting whatever I feel like in a track, even though I know it's probably over-the-top, or even cheesy."