Dreamstate Artist Spotlight – Activa
Every once in a while you meet someone and you are just in awe
The mere presence makes everyone around them better but the effort in their crafts is what makes the overall scene better. There are a few guys who can do that, and one of them is Rob Stevenson, better known as Activa.
The way he described his process, you can see how his mind works and how that translate to his own productions. He may have been low-key working on productions the past few years, but Activa is ready to jump back into touring with a schedule that is quickly filling up.
If you ever get a chance to see Activa live do it. The beautiful sounds of yesteryears met with the driving beats of today, Activa is threading the needle to bring the sounds together and to a whole new level as I am just excited that he is finally coming to SoCal.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with me today! Congratulations on the announcement of your Dreamstate SoCal Debut. You are doing a very fun B2B with the ‘boss man’ John Askew, called AA Meeting. Please elaborate, who picked that name and how did it come about?
Thank you for having me! Thanks, yeah, I am really excited that this has come about. Myself and John have been talking about doing something like this for a long time [a fair few years] and only recently things for me clicked, whereby I saw a way to progress.
Essentially it’s a ‘live’ set made up of Ableton and a few bits of hardware that will give us the ability to live arrange music and (hopefully) live perform certain elements. The difference with this project being we are writing a lot of music; music which is specific to this project and to the live set itself. The tracks will never be ‘finished’ therefore never released and the set itself will potentially change every time.
We will have flexibility over a lot of the elements of the track as well as the arrangement so it makes it far more fun (albeit more nerve racking too) to perform.
The AA Meeting name came from and old discussion and collaboration that created a track called ‘667’. It ended up being a breaks track that was on John’s album. Name wise, the AA bit being ‘A’skew and ‘A’ctiva.
Your new track ‘Defiance’ is amazing. It will be released at the end of June on FSOE Clandestine. Are you excited for this release? When you complete a track, do you know where you want it to be signed? How is your process for picking a label?
‘Defiance’ has been one of those tracks that I would never thought would be released. I like a range of different styles and often find myself taking reference from older trance, where there wasn’t necessarily any riff. These days there is a large amount of trance that is a full ‘wall of sound’; with a fast 16th arp riff and massive crescendos. It can make things difficult sometimes to keep the pace of a set constant, or even increase it but giving the crowd a slight break from that constant rollercoaster and intensity of drop build with a big riff then kick in.
That’s what I made ‘Defiance’ for; the bigger picture whole set view. It can be played early in a more pumping set to drop things down [or] ease the crowd in before building back up to those ‘peak time’ tracks.
When I complete a track I usually have a good idea of where I would like it to go. Having been around a while, I have a good relationship with a lot of different labels and I tend to fire things through to Fadi I think he might like. I do tend to stick to 2-3 labels though and work more consistently with a couple rather than sign a one off just because they’ll take it ; shows consistency, something producers have to have a lot of these days.
I also have to take ‘Regenerate’ into account too and make sure that the music is spread correctly and signed to a label I think it fits with. The techy feel to ‘Defiance’ seemed to go with the sound of Clandestine.
It is that time of year where fans get to vote on Trance Podium, probably one of the polls with accurate data in my opinion. You made a post, asking your fans if they think you are deserving to vote for you. Why did you position it in that way? Do you think artists/producers should ask their fans to vote for them? Why or why not?
Difficult question. There’s a game to play if you want to be successful. The more successful you want to be, the more you have to immerse yourself in the game.
I have never really been someone who is comfortable asking for anyone to vote for me and that I think comes across in the way I asked.
The shift in the scene away from the music and toward what has become a guerrilla marketing campaign saw polls being used for a new purpose. Being in certain polls allowed you to command more money for gigs, better lineup placements etc.
I think the people who follow me understand that I would always like to gain their genuine support and that if they wanted to vote for me, that they are voting for the right reasons as well as me asking for the right reasons; not using it as some kind of marketing tool.
I suppose you could see it as an informal reminder.
You teamed up with Sean Tyas to form Regenerate Records. This seems like a real natural fit between you two to work together and have made some solid investments in young talents already. What do you personally look for in signing a track? Where would you like to see the label go?
We go way back and with me releasing on Regenerate since my return, it made sense that we got together and pooled resources, ideas and each other’s benefits to try and push the kind of music we think is slightly missing, but also trying to steer a direction from certain artists as well.
Regenerate was, for the most part, quite dark and aggressive, which has its place, but I think Sean heard elements of my newer music which really twigged with him and made him think about where he started and how things have developed away from that.
We’ve both gone back to a more ‘traditional’ trance production but are 100% pushing melody and the kind of melody that has maybe started to disappear in the 138-140 bpm range [which] I mentioned earlier about the wall of sound arp style riffs have really taken over.
I would like to see the label develop and have a small set of strong stable artists but artists who constantly want to come back and release with us time and time again as we aim to do things the right way and really push the music a label should.
Artists constantly returning shows you’re doing it right.
You have some amazing productions under your belt but you also have some amazing remixes. What are your thoughts when it comes to remixing a track? Have you ever heard a track and thought to yourself, “I can make this better?”
I’ll be honest, remixes are a bit of a strange one. There are different reasons for doing them but I try to keep away from thinking I’m making them better as what is better is so subjective. There have been some in the past where I have really stuck to an older version and just updated it, usually on iconic tracks whose remixes I did were close out of respect. Cafe Del Mar is a perfect example. Loads of people have remixed it and none (in my opinion of course) have come close to the Nalin & Kane remix. My remix was close to theirs as I essentially felt it was old enough to warrant and update in production but not to try and ruin what is a stunning melody.
I usually only look for a direction to take my remix and can justify doing it to myself, nowadays anyway. A few years back I’m not sure i was so careful.
There have been tracks though where I thought ‘I can’t make this better’!
Finally, if you could only live by one motto, what would it be?
De-stress, relax and enjoy.
Although it’s picked up again in the last year, music for me is a hobby. I have a full time job which has removed the stress that’s working for myself as a music producer brought. Once you’ve de-stressed, you can take a step back and properly relax. The more relaxed you are, the more enjoyment will come.
I now only go into the studio when I have something in my head. If it doesn’t work then I’ll leave it. There’s no pressure to make something just to keep my ‘1 release per month output’ going. It’s far more enjoyable!