On a rainy Wednesday afternoon in November, we are invited to Barrientos’ Studio on Union Street in Glasgow. Behind a mysterious door with a sign saying ‘Illyus’, we find ourselves in a cosy studio. It feels like a time capsule: sound-proofed from the on-goings of the outside world and with dimmed lights that blur the concepts of night and day. One of the walls is lined with synthesizers and opposite stands a large computer screen. Over a large mixing table, a couple of his vinyl EPs hang on the wall. We sit back in a comfy leather sofa and Barrientos shoots us a relaxed smile from behind the coffee table.
Barrientos is not like any DJ we have met before. When we ask him about his life at the moment, his first complaint is not having a bigger kitchen.
- I love to cook! I never even allow my girlfriend into the kitchen. There is simply not room for two people in there.
We laugh at the breaking of gendered roles and our prejudice that Scottish people only eat ready-meals and take-out food.
- My mom is Chilean, so I have grown up with homemade food. My mom hates ready-meals. She scolds me and still asks ‘Are you buying ready meals?’ to make sure I’m eating healthy. Anyway, I can’t eat crap food otherwise I can’t concentrate.
Barrientos has an unusual background for a DJ. He grew up in Glasgow, with an English father and Chilean mother, and fell into classical music at an early stage in life.
- When I was in high school, I played classical music, so I spent a lot of time learning piano and flute. I used to go to the music school, RSAMD, The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. I was really into classical music.
The gap between classical and dance music may seem distant, but Barrientos’ musical development began in his early teens, when visiting the music festival Rockness:
- A DJ called Erol Alkan was performing in a tiny tent, with 400-500 people. He was completely in control of the crowds. Everything he did the crowd appreciated. I had never seen anything like that before. It was very tribal and he was really into it. I got shivers watching it.
From that day, Barrientos knew that he wanted to DJ, but his parents thought he needed something safe to fall back on.
- I only wanted to do music, but my parents told me I couldn’t rely on music because it is an unstable career. At the time I didn’t want to hear that cause I had my mind made up, but my parents were just looking out for my best interest.
Even though Barrientos has been a DJ for ten years, he has still managed to finish an engineering degree, a medical master and now he is in the middle of a PhD.
- It really freaks me out that it has already been 10 years since I started doing dance music. You need to be persistent. You need to know people. You can’t expect to have gigs if no one knows you. I always make sure I am nice to people so that they remember me as a nice person.
It certainly has been a long journey for Barrientos. His first gig took place in the basement of Nice’n’Sleazy’s, and after that, it was a steep learning curve. He never had anyone tell him how something is done, so he had to learn to use all the computer software himself, by reading magazines and watching tutorials on Youtube. After a while, he made more contacts and the ball started rolling. Rob Etherson from the duo Mia Dora listened to his tunes and gave Barrientos constructive feedback. Blogger Colin Brownbill of SynthGlasgow loved his music and promoted Barrientos on his blog. Finally, Mylo’s former manager Kevin McKay heard his mixtape for SynthGlasgow and offered him to remix Romanthony.
Today Barrientos has reached international acclaim with tours to London, Ibiza and Austria, but he still loves the Glasgow scene.
- It is such a ridiculously good city. It has a really appreciative crowd. If you come to a gig and you are pretentious, you will get told. Dance music is a big community here too. DJs know each other: we support each other. People really like a good night and many DJs are coming to play in Glasgow because of that.
It is difficult not to like Barrientos. He is an extremely talented, but humble person. When he talks about his music, he stresses that it is not about him but about the crowd. Just like his first experience of dance music at Rockness, his music has always contained a social element.
- For me, writing music has always been for people, not for me. When you are having a club night, it is about people’s experience and their night. They appreciate your music and they are having a journey. I always try to remember that. I don’t want to be too self-indulgent with music.
We tell him it must be difficult to stay grounded after playing to crowds of 7000 people.
- I’ve got friends who I have been friends with for years now and they always bring you ‘back to the ground’. It’s so good to have honesty around you. Also, playing to larger crowds you can kind of play anything to certain extent. With a smaller audience, you can see more reactions and if they lose interest they will leave. If you are going to the right direction you can see them get into it, you see they are enjoying it and filming it with their phones. It is more personal. I like to stay to the end, shake hands with the audience and chat to people.
Barrientos’ has recently thought more and more about what direction his music should take, which has resulted in some major changes.
- You begin to realise the more you DJ and who you DJ with, the type of music that you like. I realised we weren’t playing our own music anymore. The music was going back to more like a European sound. But, it is difficult to change a sound entirely, so we have worked hard in the studio and slowly changed it. We have been writing so much. I am predominantly a writer: I write the music and Illyus is the head of production and styles the sounds. We are planning for next year at the moment cause it is not long left.
Next year is packed with amazing new releases that you won’t want to miss with singles on Suara Records, Toolroom Records, and Glasgow Underground, plus a compilation CD called Toolroom Live 04 with Technasia and Ramiro Lopez.
A strong ‘80s-style diva voice emanates from the speakers as Barrientos plays us one of his latest tracks. It is clear that he has put a lot of work into it. There are over 40 layers in the track and each sound is styled to perfection. We immediately find that we can’t sit still to this kind of music and start to long for a dance floor.
To be a successful DJ is more work than you can imagine. We begin to wonder if Barrientos ever feels like he wants to give up in the face of the competitive music scene.
- Music is still fun for me. The last year it has become more serious, which is good. Even if I never get to the stage of having a career or doing it full time, I will still do music. If not DJing, then in some other form. For example, I devoted so much time to play piano and when it stopped, the music did not. It just changed form.
Two hours have passed while we were in the studio and chatting to Barrientos. It feels like only ten minutes. As we exit the building and enter the depressing Glasgow rain, we look forward to the GUM Launch Party on December 4th at the Art School Assembly Hall. We can’t wait to let down our hair, dust off our dancing shoes and dance to the groovy tunes of Barrientos, our very own and much-loved Glasgow DJ.
Tickets to see Barrientos perform at the GUM Launch Party can be bought at:
By Sofia Linden and Saara Antikainen