Denis Sulta, Mall Grab, Mela Dee

Denis Sulta and the Art of the Back to Back

May 3, 2023

Harry Levin

3 min read

B2B is an abbreviation central to the dance music conversation. The “back-to-back” set is not only a unique musical experience, but it’s also a selling point. Fans are thrilled by the idea of two of their favorite DJs coming together for one set, and DJs are in a singular position within live music to combine their talents into one craft.

Instrumentalists can jam together, but they are still playing their individual instruments. Whereas a B2B DJ set would be the equivalent of two musicians playing the same instrument simultaneously. As such, with that kind of musical intimacy, a good B2B requires real chemistry.

One DJ who has proven over and over that he has excellent chemistry during B2Bs is the Scottish house and techno bon vivant Denis Sulta, and this skill comes primarily from his intention of putting the dancefloor first.

"A lot of back-to-backs can end up as an elbows out - excuse the phrase - pissing contest. It's something I've experienced a couple of times and I don't think that the atmosphere created by one individual trying to one up the other is particularly friendly on the dancefloor," Sulta told Mixmag in 2019.

Every seasoned raver has been on the dancefloor when a B2B isn’t working. The transitions feel abrupt. There’s no cohesion within the setlist. Rather than being lost in the music the people on the dancefloor are turning their heads to the booth to see if there’s a problem.

On the flip side, every seasoned raver has also been on the dancefloor when a B2B is seamless. It feels like the DJs are challenging each other as much as they’re surprising each other. Every track just hits, and the shared energy reverberates out into the evening creating a truly bespoke experience.

One premier example from Sulta came at Annie Mac’s festival, Lost & Found, in 2018. Sulta took the decks with the Australian alternative stalwart Mall Grab and the techno disco purveyor, Mella Dee.

As Sulta mentioned prior, having one partner in a B2B can sometimes present challenges of ego. So adding another has the potential to compound those challenges.

However, adding a third member to a B2B can also compound the joys of the shared set if, once again, the dancefloor comes first.

In listening to the full set from Sulta, Mall Grab, and Mella Dee, it’s clear they were putting the dancefloor first. They move between genres like disco, dub techno, and house with ease, but they’re still able to create a narrative.

Looking at the dancefloor during the set, it’s more than likely some of the people didn’t even register the shifts in genre. Because when multiple talents coalesce for a B2B, there is no telling where the music will go. In fact, not wants to tell. They just want to dance.

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