At the tender age of 24 you wouldn’t expect someone to be so level-headed whilst being regarded as ‘the next best thing’ in the clubbing world, but there’s certainly something special about Hector Barbour. It took me a while to actually get a hold of him (almost six months to be exact) but when I finally did, it was a 48-hour window in which he would make his AVA Festival debut on the iconic Boiler Room stage, and take a quick ride down to Dublin to play Forbidden Fruit Festival. Somehow though, I managed to squeeze myself into that hectic time-frame for an extended chat with the enigmatic artist.
For people who don’t know who Hector Barbour is, he’s the face behind the pseudonym Denis Sulta, a young Glaswegian DJ and producer who has risen to success quickly, but well-deservingly. Most people will know him for his 2015 hit ‘It’s Only Real’, but he spent many years grafting up and down Scotland, and earning his stripes in Rubadub, an influential record shop in Glasgow. I couldn’t get much out of him at AVA Festival as he was too focused on his Boiler Room set, but as we took the car to his dressing room following his set at Forbidden Fruit Festival, he took a moment to compose himself and opened up.
Photo credit: Sean Bell
“I feel absolutely minced, I can’t believe that just happened, the reaction in that tent was just overwhelming. I had no idea about the size and scale of this event, everyone that has been involved in this has done a seriously good job.”
I’ve always wondered how he managed to craft such a distinct sound for himself, especially at such a young age. I was also aware that artists often don’t ‘find their sound’ until they’re in their later years.
“First of all, that’s very flattering, thank you very much,” he humbly replied. “I don’t know really, I guess I just made music that was important to me. I only worked on a couple of instruments that I knew how to use and it just came naturally, I didn’t want to sound like anybody else, I wanted to sound like me. All of my songs are either based on a story or a feeling towards a person, or some sort of interaction. They are all little stories, that otherwise, I would not be able to articulate or express properly.”
I wondered then if it was only music that allowed him to speak about these stories, and if it was a case that it’s difficult to articulate his experience.
“Exactly! The thing is, it’s quite inherited in young men especially that we don’t particularly talk about our feelings. It seems to be kind of a hard thing to do. For me, it’s a very big release being able to say what I want to say through music and I’m glad I found a real release through that. But, I’d encourage everyone to make music that is from the heart.”
Photo credit: Allie Glynn
I was curious to find out whether he thought this was the only reason people should create music, or any kind of art, or is the prospect of wealth a driving factor too.
“Everybody makes music for different reasons, and there are people out there that make music for money because they are really ‘good’ at making music. The thing is, you have to find a way to live, so there’s nothing wrong with making music and making a living from it, but there has to be some sort of ‘morally sound’ part of it. The people that I’ve worked with that make music for a living, like proper producers, they’re not bad people, and they’re not doing it for the wrong reasons, but those guys don’t DJ, they don’t play shows, they sit and they make music in the studio, and that’s their living. Make music for the reasons you think are important, and if you can find a way of making a living from it, then do it!”
Before I knew it, we were thirty minutes deep in conversation. It was clear to see Hector spoke from the heart, so we took some time to reflect on his career, and in particular ‘It’s Only Real’…
“I remember it very well, I was sitting working on the drums for ages and ages! I didn’t really know what to do with the track, I got really frustrated, and I was trying way too hard. At the end of the night, I was like ‘fuck this’. So I unplugged my laptop, sat in my bed, played a melody on the keyboard of my mac and listened through my laptop speakers. I then layered the melody and thought to myself, ‘this is fun, like a daft little thing’, but I think that kind of made it what it was. It’s not produced amazingly, it was just me. I wasn’t trying too hard, it was just me jamming in my bed. I can’t tell you how surprised I am that it did so well and thank you to everyone that supported it!”
Whilst we were on the topic of his music, I had to ask him about a track that echoed quite deeply with me called ‘MSNJ’ that featured on Jackmaster’s DJ Kicks, and I found out that it’s a track that’s close to his heart.
“It’s called ‘My Soul Needs Justice’ because it’s got quite a deep meaning for me, and I’m very chuffed that it resonated with you,” he says.
I moved on to his second family, Rubadub. At the mere mention of the Glaswegian institution, Hector filled up with gratitude and spoke out.
“I cannot stress enough how important Rubadub has been for me. Working there and being involved in the family meant a lot to me, those guys are just amazing. I’ve got so much to thank them for and I’m so grateful for everything they’ve taught me.”
I hate to admit it, but I was sort of disappointed that I couldn’t get a hold of him much at his Boiler Room, but I can’t help but imagine the pressure he was under, especially with it being his debut at AVA Festival too. When I spoke to his tour manager Sean beforehand he said, “Denis will be in demand from Boiler Room/they require his attention.” It wasn’t until I actually spoke to Hector himself that I truly understood the pressure he was under.
“Do you know what man, I’m going to be honest. I was losing a lot of sleep over it. It’s a huge opportunity and honour to not only be asked to play AVA, which I’ve wanted to play ever since it started, but also to do the Boiler Room stage, it was incredible. The support I’ve had in Belfast has been mind blowing, so I wanted to do everybody proud. Looked after myself, practiced loads for it. I just thought to myself, ‘everything is contextual’ – you could play a ‘cool’ underground set for an hour, by you know what, if I’m going to be at a festival, outdoors, on Saturday, the sun is out, everyone’s going mental, let’s have fucking fun today! It was bonkers man.
“The worst thing is though, you turn up half an hour early and everyone is like, ‘Are you nervous yet? You must be shitting yourself’, and I’m just like ‘Yeah I am, that’s not fucking helping, Jesus Christ’. But it was great, and there’s no point in being nervous because once you are prepared, and ready to rock, everything is fine.”
Photo credit: Grant Jones
2016 was a high flying year for Hector: not only did he win breakthrough British producer at the DJ Mag Awards, but he came in at #26 on the prestigious Resident Advisor Top 100 DJs poll. On the topic of pressure, I assumed he took last year with a pinch of salt, but there had to be something inside him that he felt needed to live up to the expectation again this year.
“To be brutally honest, it was the biggest shock to the system ever, I never expected myself to be in the RA Top 100, let alone be so high. There are so many people out there that are technically and considerably better DJs than myself, however when I first saw it, I was like ‘Shit, I’m number 26’. Going into gigs after that I felt like people were expecting me to be this special person. It definitely had an effect on the way I played initially, but I worked it out in my head and I realised that the reason I was in it, was because I was just being myself. Once I came to terms with the fact that, as much as I’m super grateful for everyone that voted, it doesn’t define me. I just want to be myself and play what I want to play.”
‘Nein Fortiate’, pronounced ‘nine forty eight’ came out in February this year, but we haven’t seen a lot from Denis Sulta production-wise since the release of the EP on his very own Sulta Selects label. I was eager to find out what the rest of the year holds for the young prodigy and his imprint.
“There are two records coming out this year. Basically my schedule has been, for a better phrase, fucking ridiculous, man, and it’s been very difficult getting use to it. I refuse to let that beat me, however it does get in the way of me focusing on releasing and creating music, but we got all the mastering and test pressings done earlier this year so it allowed me a bit of time to focus playing. We’ve got the test pressing of the next release done, and it sound greats. Actually there’s a bit of a story behind it. I had a dream one night about this guy getting lost in the Amazon rainforest and it’s all about the story of him getting lost and how he finds his own way out. Basically he experiences something he could never ever share with anyone else. You can expect two more records from myself before the end of the year!”
Almost an hour later, and five missed calls on my mobile, our chat was interrupted by a member of security at the festival because Hector’s driver was waiting for him, which meant the interview was drawing to a close. By now, most of his hectic weekend schedule was over and he was beginning to feel more at ease. I asked him what he gets up to when he goes back to Berlin, where he now lives.
Photo credit: Allie Glynn
“Monday, Tuesday, I don’t want to fucking hear a kick drum. Not even the slightest little bit of a snare, nothing. Peace and quiet you know. Sleep, order Deliveroo.”
Get a Dominos pizza or something, I ask?
“Mate, I fucking hate Dominos.
It’s just my reflection time when I’m off, and that’s important because if you don’t sit back and think critically of how you were over the weekend, then you don’t get any better. Thinking about stuff is just as good as physically practicing.”