As Sidepiece, Nitti Gritti and Party Favor Pay Respect to House Music

Sidepiece Photo courtesy of the artist
click to enlarge Sidepiece - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ARTIST
Photo courtesy of the artist
When tech-house duo Sidepiece dropped “On My Mind” in 2019, it was an instant hit. The sultry earworm hits all the right notes. A hip-swinging bassline, crispy drums, and a nostalgiac sing-along sample from 702 and Missy Elliot’s 1996 hit, “Steelo.”

The Grammy-nominated debut has a timeless quality — and it comes from an unlikely pairing of artists.

Ricky “Nitti Gritti” Mears and Dylan “Party Favor” Ragland were already known for their genre-bending EDM antics. Their first venture into traditional house territory has provided a chance for them to reinvent themselves.

Mears and Ragland connected via Facetime in 2019 to discuss a potential pairing. They were both silently working on music they felt couldn’t be released under their more well-known aliases.

During the 90-minute call, they shared what would become their first two records: “On My Mind,” written by Mears and Diplo a year prior at a writing camp in Bali, and “Temptation” a classic-soul-sampling club-crusher written by Ragland.

They even named themselves that day.

“I told Dylan I always had this dumb idea to call my side project ‘Side Project,’ like on purpose," Mears explains. "And then Dylan was like, ‘You know what’d be funny? How about Sidepiece? And I was like, 'Oh, shit. That's perfect!'”

For Ragland, Sidepiece lets him retrace the footsteps of his career.

“When I started out in Hollywood, [California], where I was coming up, I couldn't get any shows that weren't opening gigs because no one gave a shit about who I was. And so I was relegated to playing tech-house opening sets,” he says. “I was opening up for big-name DJs, and even though I wasn't trying to make that music as Party Favor, the love and appreciation I grew to have for that music taught me a lot about the culture.”
Both members of Sidepiece have a musical DNA constructed by the internet. Mears spent much of his childhood in Haiti, where his parents worked as missionaries.

“My parents were Christian. So we were really only listening to stuff that I was like, 'allowed to listen to,'” he says while holding up air quotes.

He couldn't listen to American mainstream radio, so his knowledge of Top 40 hits from that time is limited. He did have an internet connection and Limewire, the peer-to-peer filesharing app that revolutionized music sharing in the early aughts. His voyage of discovery led him through heavy metal, emo rock, and electro house, finally landing him on dubstep — a clear influence in the bass-heavy sound of Nitti Gritti.

“The internet saved me," Mears says.

The wide net of influences cast led to Party Favor and Nitti Gritti's sound to be loosely described as open-format dance music. They created Sidepiece to have a less fluid focus which is a relief to both artists.

“I think when we first had that first, we were very focused. We were very much like, we want to do this proper. We want to do it with respect to house music,” Ragland explains. “We also want to be ourselves. We want Sidepiece to stand out. I think because we didn't start in the house world, we're able to take some elements of both Nitti and Party Favor and inject that into our version of tech-house while still maintaining one foot in the door [and] one foot out.”

Mears adds, “I think our next batch of music will show our variety of house.”

They insist they won't ride the wave of “On My Mind.” Yes, having a lane to stay in helps them focus. Future Sidepiece releases will express their diversity within the realm, combining Motown, classic '90s vibes, and modern floor-filling bangers.

The past year has been a period of growth for Sidepiece sonically. Yet, Ragland points to the necessity of a dancefloor for dance music to really thrive. A recent International Music Summit business report revealed that the electronic-music business saw an overall decline of 54 percent in 2020.

Ragland and Mears watched from home as their debut release, “On My Mind,” became one of the biggest songs in the world. They haven’t had the opportunity to witness a dancefloor erupt in unison to the chorus.

“We had to hit 'record' in the middle of no shows,” Mears explains. “So, we never really got to experience people singing our song. So, these last two weeks that we've played shows, I've been so excited to make songs that have singable lyrics. And what's always excited me about specifically dance-music crowds is that they typically can enjoy or sing along to a song that's not even out yet. Because they're so excited about something new.”

Ragland adds, “I'm so excited because this has kind of come full circle for both of us. I feel like this project is so new. It's like, we get to be reborn again. And you don't have any baggage from Nitti; we don't have any baggage from Party Favor. People know it's us, but it's like we have a blank slate. For the first time in ten years for me, we get the chance to create our own new path again.”

Sidepiece. With Westend, Black V Neck, and Kyle Kinch. 9 p.m. Friday, July 2, at Maps Backlot, 342 NE 24th St., Miami; Tickets cost $45 via
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Alex Dias is a journalist, producer, and DJ. He's also a husband, father, and a raver for life.
Contact: Alex Dias