The slogan on his business card reads "Better Friends Through Music Since 1979." There could not be a more appropriate motto for this twenty-three year old prodigy of the sonic sort. To his credit are nearly twenty productions and remixes on labels including Aja, Beau Monde, Fiji, Terraform and Tweekin. This spring will mark a milestone in his young career as Music Fiction, his first full-length, is released on the illustrious Om Records, the label that Rithma lovingly refers to as "home".
Born Etienne Stehelin, Rithma was raised and continues to reside in Topanga Canyon, a small, rural community outside the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. His mother was a musician in the sixties and seventies, performing in front of thousands at the Grand Hotel. From her, the young Etienne learned the piano and picked up on singing as well. He classifies his early influences as classic rock and roll, specifically citing groups like Led Zeppelin and Little Feet. Around the age of thirteen, Etienne began playing the guitar and, by sixteen, had his own rock band called Waffle. He fondly remembers gigs at the famed Whiskey and Roxy on Sunset Strip when his hair was longer and groupies flocked. In high school, Etienne obtained his first techno tapes from his friend and future partner Scott Findley; he would fall asleep to the music of Jason Blakemore, Jesse Brooks and the like. "I fell in love with the music long before I knew what it was about," he remembers. "I knew that it was what I had been looking for." He discovered raves in the mid-nineties, but unusually, instead of deciding to purchase turntables and begin playing records, he determined that he would make his own music. "I thought production was the only way to go," says Etienne.
Soon afterward, he sold his Volkswagen bug and, with his father's help, purchased his first keyboard. His next acquisition would be a sampler, eventually followed by one turntable with which he would mix records with his own productions; these first tapes were made under the moniker Rhythmic Mind. It was not until 1998 that he would direct serious attention to DJing. On an acid-infused hike in the wilderness, the name Rithma was born. Continuous solo studio experiments eventually prompted pressings of Rithma 001 and Rithma 002, the latter of which garnered some attention from New YorkÕs Under Cover Music Group (UCMG) and led to his first legitimate release in 2000, which he produced with Scott Findley. Since then, there have been numerous productions on the aforementioned labels and an accompanying DJing career that has taken him to many destinations in the Western United States as well as abroad to far off countries like Lithuania.
After only minimal interactions with the man called Rithma, it is obvious that he is one of the few free spirits remaining in dance music today. His silly yet mature persona enables him to enjoy life, love people and remain content while quietly taking house music to the next level. He clearly falls slightly left of the center, not only in his presentation of records as a DJ, but perhaps more prominently, in his efforts as a producer. Incorporating the psychedelic elements of his self-proclaimed second home of San Francisco with organic instrumentals and his own down-to-earth vocals, time and again he achieves a unique balance of dance floor concoction and pure listening pleasure. The intermingling of brief instrumental compositions with atypical house, varying electronic grooves and an undercurrent of funk and melody mesh fluidly together painting a picture of rare sonic beauty; it is apparent that Rithma is musically wise beyond his years.
Rithma smiles gleefully at the fact that Om has embraced him with such open arms. "I love Om," he says simply. "It just feels like such a family. I'm offered general creative freedom with the constant opportunity to improve on everything I do." Though he is not a planning man, there will be at least one more full length for Om in the near future.
But for now, he is enjoying living in the moment, often pinching himself when he ponders the success he has attained thus far. "I used to wonder what it would be like for this music to be your entire life; now it is," he says. "It's still difficult for me to believe."