“There were a lot of terrified people in that queue,” Denis Sulta explains when we speak on the phone. I’m here in Manchester, he’s down in London making arrangements for what could and should be another major milestone in the high-flying Scotsman’s career.
Having moved from his native Glasgow to Berlin earlier in the year, he now finds himself hauled up in the English capital not because of DJ bookings, but instead the administrative hoop-jumping required to secure a U.S. visa ahead of a North American tour currently being planned for the back end of 2017.
To paraphrase Fatboy Slim, he’s come a long way, baby, and in not that much time at all. Cutting musical teeth first in his hometown on the Clyde, and then over in Edinburgh after relocating for university, around four years ago he was playing the backroom for Scottish clubbing institution FLY, a night he still holds a residency at alongside fellow lads doing very good Theo Kottis and Jasper James.
“The residency has been so crucial and beneficial for the following I have in Scotland. I’d totally agree that residencies in general seem to have fallen by the wayside these days. When I was first getting into the scene to start off with, I was seeing different people playing each week. Of course there was Harri and Domenic at the Sub Club every week, but that was a more mature crowd,” Sulta explains when we ask about the importance of securing a regular slot when it comes to finding your feet, sound, and confidence.
“Tom, who runs FLY, was one of the only people supporting new, up and coming artists and offering them residencies. And that’s something that has paid off- not just for us as DJs but him too. Having that face of ‘this is who we believe in and we’re sticking to it’. I couldn’t be more happy to have been a resident there for so long.”
Needless to say, then, it’s been a rapid rise to electronic stardom for the man in question, and one that’s not always been easy to get his head around.
“Overwhelming is a good term to use. When the first indication comes that something like an American tour might happen you can’t do anything other than stare at the email and laugh really. Is this meant for me? Then you realise it is real and you have to pull your socks up, and take the opportunity. You’ve been working hard at this, so give it your best shot. You have to rise to it, but it’s wonderfully exciting.”
Sulta is one of a new breed of British DJs that have embraced the physicality that was once par for the course when mixing tunes. Although renowned as primarily a house and techno player, his background in hip hop has informed both tune selections and approach to moving crossfaders from channel to channel.
“Turntablism was never something that I pursued, I was never a scratch DJ . I used to play a hop hop night for a guy called Don G, who is now doing big things in the Glasgow hip hop scene. I played more hip hop in Glasgow than house and techno, and more house and techno in Edinburgh than hip hop.
“My style was always more party based, but when I play house and techno I don’t stick to the seamless mixes. I like the way things cut in and out, and aren’t always perfect. I like to go into different areas. Those are the things people notice. A seamless mix from start to finish - if you don’t show the seams then it feels too flat. I like the energy that comes from showing the mix. It gets a much better crowd reaction I feel.
“I think hip hop had more of an influence on the music that I make, though. The sort of hip hop I played was all very synth oriented,” he continues. “Working at Rubadub is what changed me from that half time, hip hop sound, to four four house and techno tempos. And then I got educated in those genres, in disco, but still kept key elements of the other styles- the synth work in there.”
It’s perhaps not that surprising that Sulta has blown up in the way that he has. Or at least not from the outside looking in. After a decade of minimal dominance in four to the floor club culture, recent years have seen an exponential rise in the popularity of everything from nu-disco to banging house, rave-y techno to wall of sound chaos. In short, people seem to be looking for powerful noises again- tones that take no prisoners, and offer two options- get involved properly, or stand aside.
br>This might be a welcome switch for many, but according to Sulta the cyclical nature of what’s in and out of musical fashion can still be restrictive for those looking to establish themselves in the game. “There’s a huge pressure on young people to fit in anyway, and that comes from a very early age, from school, family… So if you want to be a DJ you have to make a tech-ish tune, or one that sounds like this or that. Then you become what is seen to be a producer or DJ. “But you’re essentially following a pattern or template that doesn’t really show off what you are as an individual, and what you have to offer as an individual. And this is something I’d love to encourage more people to break away from. People should be more of themselves, and that should be OK.”
As a point, it’s impossible to argue with. Not least given unique experimentation has been a cornerstone of the electronic scene since its inaugural days. How ironic, then, that everything from crowd expectations to programming within that same scene can also stands in conflict to the vital sense of creative freedom. It’s something Sulta has been keen to reject in his own productions and sets, and in turn this has helped- rather than hindered- his path to widespread prominence. “I think house and techno these days get pigeonholed. A lot of people think they don’t really take off anywhere. That’s because I think a lot of people don’t feel they have the courage to play things that evoke an emotional response. A lot of stuff is lowest common denominator- drops that don’t push anyone to think about the track they’re hearing.
“I’m about to release a record this year that has several oddities on the production. In two of the tracks there are moments when things come out of time, and the look on people’s faces when it happens- some are like, it’s the DJs fault, it’s not seamless, it’s not good. The people telling me ‘you have to change this, the edit isn’t right’- it’s because they made the effort to listen to it. So they will always remember the track, wether it’s a good or bad response at least it provoked an emotion. People seem to be scared of being different, or being who they are.”
The overriding message being that, first and foremost, this thing of ours- these beats, rhythms, samples, and synths- should be focussed on allowing people to have fun and express themselves; from those in the booth to those sweating it out on the dancefloor. An understandable point of view for someone who made their name playing and partying at a night built by friends, for friends. An ethos that Sulta seems to maintain even when things are as serious as serious can be - global bookings for big room shows, high profile releases, an ever-growing legion of fans and followers. And it’s this mentality Manchester can expect when he arrives to play The Warehouse Project this December, considering what happened last season.
“I’m so, so excited. I could not be more chuffed to be at The Warehouse Project this year. I did two shows there last time round, one just myself in the second room, another with Artwork on New Year’s Day. Both will stay with me forever - they were just fantastic. The place gets everything right, and the crowd are totally mental.”