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From Record Store Clerk to Star DJ, Hector is Collecting Pieces of House Music History

'Papi' drops an exclusive THUMP mix and shares his journey from the Phonica record crates to techno star status.
October 29, 2014, 6:28pm

Hector is a boss. Straight up.

Working behind the counter at London's legendary Phonica Records, the relocated Guadalajaran was more than just an aspiring DJ. To Phonica and their clientele, he was a trusted vinyl digging apprentice and a walking, talking beat catalogue to them all.

"Luciano and Richie Hawtin, they had always been reserved. A little quiet, which is fine. But Loco Dice, it was fun to interact with him," recalls Hector. "I remember he came in the shop and I really didn't know who he was. They told me he was this big DC-10 guy. But I didn't give him more privilege. I treated him like a normal person."

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Hector found Dice some deep stuff, and the Desolat label chief came back the next week and soon after a relationship was born. "People always get intimidated to see the guy behind the counter. But once you make that connection and know what they enjoy, it's magic. I started to know what he and everybody liked, and would keep piles on the side," he said. "They would call me when they came into town and ask me to get some music together. At some point, you quietly feel a little bit a part of their success, like 'Yeah I gave him that record!!' That's how you feel cool, no?"

But after being taken on tour by Dice and bred into a full-fledged talent himself—one affectionately known in the industry as Papi—Hector admits it was quite a leap going from picking records for a star artist, to being the guy dropping them. His safety net at Phonica had now vanished, and Hector knew he would be the one onstage having to make his famed selections work. Now, the pressure was all on him as a performer to live up to his choice cuts.

"At the beginning, I never even thought about me having a huge gig at, say, Fabric. Big names came into the shop and would buy 30 new records. Then I went to go see them and they dropped ones I sold them. It was amazing how well they worked. I'd be next to the DJ booth and they'd call me over, telling me how much they loved it. But then you get booked to play Fabric yourself and it's like a puzzle. I would remember what I sold to who and how they used it, but now it needed to fit my style. My feeling. The way that I wanted to do it."

Hector knew he had to take risks. "It's one of the main things I always do when I DJ. I never, ever prepare my sets. I know my music, I know what I have, I go to a club and I freestyle. I go out there and play whatever I have in my head. So, to move from the days of selling the records but now playing them, it was like, 'Okay, let's do it.'"

DJs at Hector's level often consider their sound a reflection of where they have been. And in his genre, he is one of the few that possesses such strong Mexican heritage. Then again, he's spent considerable time in the United Kingdom too. There is also his long history in Ibiza, where he used to spend summers handing out flyers. A residency in Berlin, frequent trips to Japan and an ongoing stint in Brooklyn factor in there as well.

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All these destinations have played a pivotal part in his current method. But as Hector continues putting down roots in one international hub after another, I want to know where the influences come together.

"Wow. This is a good question because, look, I spent 11 years in the UK and I used to call it my hometown. I became a Londoner," he reveals in his blended Mexican-British accent. "I used to have my English breakfast and my Sunday roast, while watching Father Ted on TV. I grew up with that and the legendary dance culture. But Mexico was the little tease I had from electronic music from before that. Then I moved to Berlin and heard all this underground, Berghain techno. Which was good, but it's not 100 percent my thing. And in New York, I listened to old legends like Danny Tenaglia, Roger Sanchez and every single person that's been a part of that narrative. Same with Chicago and Japan. Or when I went to Detroit to see how these icons made it."

Hector believes that every place he goes, he collects pieces of house music history. "I'm lucky to be spending time in these cities so that I can understand a little more about the culture, the clubs, the people. Everything has an impact."

It could be one of the reasons why Hector is more open to play all different styles in his sets. "One day I could start with tech house going into acid house to old school and then into techno. It affected my everyday composition, I guess."

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Hector's exclusive mix for us certainly incorporates all of that. And just as importantly, it features primarily unreleased music.

"I checked my computer and realized if I want to do something special for THUMP, let's start mixing all these tracks. Dice doesn't even have these, no one else does." Apparently, Hector never even planned to put them together like this. "I just went, 'Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam,' and it works perfectly. I don't even know if I could do it again! So from here, now it's going to be interesting to see what I'm going to do with these numbers."

What's also going to be interesting is watching how the next year unfolds for him. Hector is currently in the midst of putting the finishing touches on Stoned Raiders, a mixed-media venture that encompasses his clothing brand and record label. Plus there is his self-styled Vatos Locos, a series of parties that he is curating from warehouse raves in NYC to a debut BPM showcase.

"This is a natural thing that just happened. It's crazy how this became a part of me. Everywhere I go, people come with flags that say Vatos Locos. In Italy, I've seen people with tattoos of it now. Dice told me that I should be doing something with this," he shares.

"The thing with this concept is it will be a lot of back-to-backs with my friends, with people I admire. I don't want any egocentric people there. I want people whose music I love and respect. To be more accessible to my fans; sharing and giving back to them. I'm nervous, I'm excited. It's my new baby."

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All the signs are in place for a musician taking his first clear steps to branching out—to building a collective behind himself after being nurtured so expertly by Dice's Desolat imprint.

But with such a bright tomorrow ahead of him, Hector can't help thinking back on being that kid at the London record shop. He still marvels over the unlikely ride he's been on. To the point where if he were to walk into Phonica today and meet a younger version of himself, Hector already knows exactly what he would tell him.

"It's never been easy or anything somebody just gave to me. I left my country, I left my family. I was so young. But I got this dream that possibly I could be a DJ or I could make this music and it has always required hard work and patience," he states.

"I had the worst time, from my record collection being stolen in Ibiza to working in a restaurant with no English just to earn money to buy vinyls. I didn't have decks, I didn't have a mixer or speakers. Then Phonica came into my life and introduced me to the scene and all these heroes who play in it. Things happen for a reason. So if I were to go to a young Hector, I would say if you work hard, you can get everything you always wished for."

And what record could that young Hector pull out to really knock future Hector's socks off? "If he dug up "Knights of the Jaguar" from Rolando, it would be like,'Wow, that's my guy.'"

Take his word for it. Hector is a boss, after all.

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Hector's The Daggers (vinyl only) is out on Overall Music on October 30. You can pre-order it by clicking here.

You can follow Christopher on Twitter at @theCMprogram.

Hector's North America Tour Dates:
October 30 Miami, FL @ Treehouse
November 7 Los Angeles, CA @ Sound Nightclub
November 8 San Francisco, CA @ Monarch

Nov 21 - New York City, NY @ Marquee NY
Nov 22 - Chicago, IL @ Spybar

Nov 29 - Austin, TX @ Vulcan Gas Company
Nov 30 - Miami, FL @ STEAM
Dec 19 - Hartford, CT @ Bocca
Dec 20 - Orlando, FL @ Soundbar