How a Visit to Rome Reinvigorated Denis Sulta

Over the best part of a decade, Denis Sulta has become a household name in dance music. Predictably, the fast paced nature of this rise meant there wasn’t much space to breathe. Following his first dedicated period of rest in years, he spoke to Dylan Murphy about the therapeutic nature of slowing down and how it influenced his craft ahead of a unique performance in D8 garden centre in partnership with Absolut.

Hector Barbour hadn’t quite hit the wall last year, but he was tired. Success’s double edged sword meant the same momentum that launched his career continued to propel him forward long after his body was telling him to rest. In the final month of 2022 alone, his gig schedule took him from Liverpool to Sao Paulo, to Belfast, to Tbilisi in Georgia, then his hometown of Glasgow before seeing out the new year in Serbia. It’s not hard to understand why the producer and DJ better known by his Denis Sulta alias needed some time off. Sure, he’d taken an involuntary break from gigs during covid, but these pauses don’t really hit the same when they aren’t on your own terms and like every other DJ on the planet during that time, he was itching to get back touring. That’s without even mentioning the restlessness and fatigue that comes with the accompanying social isolation. So it makes sense he used the new year as an opportunity for a fresh start. 

“I was off for three months and then had my birthday and just kind of spent a bit of time making some music to be honest. So it’s been good to kind of take a bit of a reset and come back into the summer season with a little bit more energy like, because things are about to get quite busy”, he explains.

The Glaswegian DJ and producer had the kind of come up that would overwhelm even the most disciplined monk. In the years between his 2015 breakout Boiler Room set and the pandemic, he released on Numbers and Ninja Tune, held down a BBC Radio 1 residency, had his own Essential Mix, covered Mixmag, toured the world and had another viral Boiler Room set at AVA Festival for good measure. Throw in the kind of showmanship that saw him crowd surf in Sub Club and dance on the tables at a number of gigs and it’s a recipe for someone that needs a really big nap.

 “I hadn’t really taken any time off from touring since I started. So, I just felt like it was quite a nice time to take off at the start of the year. Some people just take holidays, where they go to Australia or something, others will just get lost in the studio”, he says over the phone from his own recording space in Liverpool.

“That’s not to say I don’t like touring, I love it, but it was just getting to the point where at the end of the year there, I just didn’t stop. So, a lot of the time it’s good to take a break so you can sort of breathe and let that creativity breathe because it’s quite easy to get into a place where you don’t listen to much music because you’re just so exhausted by it.”

Denis’ break wasn’t defined by any one action. He wasn’t exclusively hibernating at home or putting himself on a path to become a fitness fanatic. Instead, he actually did a lot of the same things he’d normally do, but this time, everything was underscored by a slower pace. This meant he could let new music wash over him naturally, rather than have his listening habits be dictated by the next show on his calendar. It allowed him to get into a deep flow state in the studio he built during lockdown and further explore how to incorporate his own vocals. More simply, he was able to cook and spend quality time with his partner, who was working in Rome. 

“I was making some music when I was away in Italy actually and it was quite nice to just focus on why I was there. I wrote a song about my partner which was a nice thing to do and it was really nice to kind of get that get out and kind of channel that into something that’s dancy and fun and fresh and all that sort of stuff. And I’ve just kind of been trying to kind of focus a bit less on making music that’s kind of sparse.”

Given his early disco edits, main room sets and work under his Denis Sulta moniker, it’s understandable how writing love songs and incorporating his own vocals could be perceived as a left turn. However, those more familiar with the Scottish producer will know, it’s unexpected moves that have come to define his career. Alongside his performative stage presence, it’s also what divides opinion. In sets, amongst more traditional dance music, you are as likely to hear Destiny’s Child thrown in as you are Queens of the Stone Age. At its best, they’re the kind of selections you can’t anticipate. Ones that irrevocably change the energy of the room for the better. At its worst, detractors would say it’s corny. Either way, that’s what he’s built his career upon and having become a household name, Denis isn’t going to change anytime soon. What else do you expect from a former trumpet player and Scottish Youth Orchestra member, turned hip hop head, whose music-obsessed father raised him on piano, disco and soul? With this in mind, Denis says the time and space afforded by his break gave him time to reflect on his craft and the intention behind different shows.

“It’s one of these things, that the more that you do it the more you learn about it. I think, now, it’s less about being cool. It’s more about being like the all round entertainer to the point where I like to be present in the room. I like to see how people are reacting. I like being confident with the curveball aspect of things. Especially, towards the tail end of last year it was quite easy to think this way at festivals, to go in there and unless people have their hands in the air the whole time like the whole time every track every mix, then you come away from it thinking ‘Sh*t, that wasn’t good enough’. Because you want people to be going f*cking crazy the whole time. But you know, sometimes when you go to clubs you don’t put your hands in the air once and you enjoy the atmosphere. So I think I’ve taken a bit of pressure off myself to constantly come in and hit it as hard as I can because a lot of the time people will just go in there to enjoy the whole thing and then you may have a couple of big moments, but those moments wont hit hard if you don’t have the balance right. I think now, it’s more about trying to keep people entertained.”

Continuing with the deliberate pace of a stoner picking from a takeaway menu, Denis explains this reflection coalesced with a bit of a tweak in his selections. The result was an attitude that was less concerned with ego and more in tune with the experience.

“I think I just want to make people have a good time and it’s not to say I didn’t have that before, but there was definitely a sense before that I wanted to try and play cool stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I think the stuff I play is quite cool, otherwise I guess I wouldn’t play it” he laughs. “I try and always keep up to date but at the same time keep in the new stuff. I think that love of that has kind of returned. It’s great to have a a bit more of a perspective on it now. The whole reason you’re there is because these people have trusted you to give them a good show, you know?”

Denis Sulta and Absolut are teaming up for an event that puts club culture and sustainability at its core. On 22 April 2023, Sulta plays in Urban Plant Life as part of a special one off event that reinvents the space and features custom-built installation, lighting and bespoke bars. The event will run with HVO generators and energy monitors to combat energy waste. Tickets for Denis Sulta’s show have sold out. However, we’re throwing a competition for two pairs of tickets on our Instagram. Click here for more information.