Based out of New Jersey, producer Tiro Rivera crafts effortlessly danceable house music that’s inspired by disco and ‘80s R&B. His latest release, a four-track self-titled EP, brings together soaring melodies, bumping bass-lines and feel-good vibes to produce his most accomplished release to date, a technicolour collection of melodic, instrumental house tracks.
Tiro Rivera has been fully immersed in the music world since he first heard R&B and disco coming out of his radio in the early ‘80s: “I loved it and I knew that I needed to be in music. It was the one thing that really moved me.” Working as a talent buyer for prestigious NY venue Webster Hall, he moved among high-profile artists while running his own production company and record label, Insane Productionz.
Now turning his talents to dance music, he’s working under the alias SkullandHeadphones to produce solo music that brings together the neon-lit melodicism of New Wave and disco with the dynamic energy of and spiritual uplift of house music.
Listen to ‘The Red Zone‘ and get to know SkullandHeadphones below!
Looking back, what were some of your earliest entries into music appreciation? And music production?
In terms of music appreciation I can think of a couple of sources of inspiration. Firstly, there was a radio host called Paco who used to play on WKTU92 in New York City, and he was instrumental in pushing 70s disco and 80s RnB. I remember I used to sit next to the radio waiting for the next song to come on and trying to record it onto cassette tape! Another one that not many people really talk about was a DJ called DJ Tony who used to play at a high school party called Odyssey in Union City, New Jersey. He had a record store in Union City, and he decided he wanted to put a dance music party on for the neighbourhood kids. That party birthed such Subliminal Records legends as Erick Morillo and Jose Nuñez. DJ Tony inspired us all, I’d like to do a documentary about him someday.
As for music production, in about 2000 I moved into the Subliminal Records headquarters in New Jersey. All my friends, Erick and everyone else, were all involved in dance music and I wanted to get involved. I started going to the Subliminal Sessions parties, and around that time myself and my friend Benji Candelario went into the Cutting Records studio and did an India Arie bootleg, which was my first track. Back then Downtown Records was THE distribution company in NYC, and we managed to get a deal with them! From there I got into running events and eventually working as a Talent Buyer at Webster Hall in Manhattan for a few years. Once I left Webster I decided I wanted to start producing properly, so I bought myself some equipment and got into the studio and started making music.
What inspired you to start making the electronic music that you are now?
Disco, and everything that I grew up with. One of the things I always appreciated about dance music was the happiness. One of the first concerts I went to was a hardcore gig, and everyone was angry and looked pretty dangerous! I loved that the crowd at dance music events was always open, accepting, and positive.
What key pieces of gear/software are you using to define your sound?
My piece of gear I’m most passionate about is my big modular rig, but I don’t actually really use that when I’m recording, I prefer to just jam out with my, making crazy sounds out of nothing. When I’m recording my main DAW I use is Reason and my main synth is the Dave Smith Prophet 12. I prefer using hardware in general as it’s much more of an immediate and tactile creative experience than clicking on a piece of software.
Has your arsenal of equipment changed much since you first started?
Definitely. I started off just with a computer and Reason in the beginning, which I was drawn to as it functions a lot like a modular synth in many respects. From there I started building up my modular rig, which took a couple of years as modular gear is quite expensive. I’ve now got a nice collection of hardware which works well for my creative process.
Which three albums or artists would you say have influenced your sound in a big way?
First of all, Sylvester with that voice of his. Don Ray was a big artist I loved, he did a few big 80s RnB tunes, and Gino Soccio! A lot of people talk about Giorgio Moroder when referencing that era, but Gino was just as bad as Moroder or anyone else.
Any new or upcoming artists on your radar?
Yes! I really like looking for new upcoming artists who are hungry, I love an underdog. Some newer artists who I’m into right now are: Yuna, Tuxedo, Electric Youth, Hot Flash Heat Wave, Drab Majesty, and The Regrettes.
What inspires you outside of music?
Everything that inspires me is pretty much within music, whether it’s doing events, making music, or whatever, that’s what gets me excited in life.
What do you want to accomplish with your music?
Hopefully it’s heard, hopefully people enjoy it, and hopefully it affords me an opportunity to live a good life and pass something on to my next of kin.
What, in your opinion would be the perfect genre fusion?
Definitely starting with disco or house music, and then mixed with Dominican merengue. I have Dominican heritage so that would work nicely for me. I also know a kid who’s a badass blues guitarist so maybe we could get him on a house track.
What can we expect from you in the near future? Any upcoming projects or releases in the pipeline that you would like to tell us about?
Right now I’m promoting this SkullandHeadphones release that just came out, and I’m going to be putting together a party with Tina Paul bringing the vibe of The Paradise Garage and Studio54 to Miami which is really exciting! She’s a really accomplished photographer and probably covered more of NY in the 80s than anyone else, so she’s the perfect person to run this party with.
Famous last words?
Just dance, baby
SkullandHeadphones is represented by MN2S