The world of electronic music has no shortage of newcomers. Although the Zedds and the Diplos of the world have a monopoly on the dance charts and club hits, there is a steady stream of bright-eyed music producers looking to break in to the scene. Such hopeful is Sebastian Hex, a “former pawn of corporate America” who has a newfound passion of turning his diary entries into songs for the world to hear, from Benny Benassi-esque tunes about human duality, to tropical songs about losing a loved one.
Sebastian Hex is the musical alter ego of New Jersey resident, Ralph Latayan. Growing up, Hex was aware of only one life path: school, work, and then the inevitable existential dread that most adults have learned to live with. He studied Finance in New York, then later got a job as an analyst on Wall Street. After four years in the system, Hex decided that he has had it. “The idea of living this whole sleep-eat-work cycle for the rest of my life was haunting,” he says. “It just didn’t seem like the kind of life I wanted to live anymore. I figured I had to make a drastic choice to alter the reality I was in, so I quit.” In early 2018, Hex left his banking role, just weeks before a coveted promotion.
Reality plays a significant role in Hex’s music and overall brand. Songs from his debut EP, method to madness, features lines like “When your dreams and reality collide / I will forever be right by your side” and “When the night is over and they’re closing up the club / Will you go back to reality, would you rather stay numb?” This fascination with reality – virtual or otherwise – is apparent in his music videos. In House of Cards, we see a woman revisiting the better days of her relationship through VR, over and over again, in what looks like a self-induced Groundhog Day curse. In dark side, we’re introduced to temple devices that represent reality and fantasy, borrowing elements from pop culture fixtures like Black Mirror and The Matrix.
It’s not uncommon for music producers and DJs to have gimmicks that help them stand out, whether it’s through hiding their identity with a helmet or by playing a whole character altogether. Hex, however, says his interest in all things reality isn’t just a shtick. “I actually do love virtual reality! It’s one of the ways I escape when life gets overwhelming, just like writing songs.” His fans, he adds, are familiar with this interest but are well-aware that it’s not just a branding scheme. “Geeking over ‘reality’ is just a small part of who I am, and they know that. I’m pretty transparent with them. They know my real name, they know that I like to buy store-brand sugar cookies whenever I have a new release, and they even know about that time I bought buttermilk thinking it was going to taste good on its own. It was horrible.”
Perhaps it’s the fan-artist transparency, the relatable themes of escapism and “what’s life outside of nine to five” in his music, or a combination of both, that has allowed Sebastian Hex to gain fans despite being a bedroom producer with no label or team backing him up. His growth is not the fastest: his reach of 26 countries on Spotify at the end of 2018 pales in comparison to the 60+ others boasted about in their year-end statistics. But what makes Hex’s progress impressive is his prioritization of building substantial relationships with his fans, and putting the numbers after. “Fake Spotify plays and ‘fans’ can be bought, so I don’t really compare my stats with others’ numbers,” he emphasizes. “But when my followers send me photos of cheesecake they baked because they know I love desserts, or when they send videos of themselves singing my songs in their car, then that’s when I know I’m doing something right. You can’t buy those things.”
If his recent achievements are indicators of his progress, then he seems to be on the right track. For his debut EP, Hex partnered with engineers like Austin Leeds, who worked with the late Avicii during his early producing days, and Arthur Indrikovs, whose credits include Calvin Harris and One Direction, to polish his tracks. His animated music video for dark side was created by Colin Strang, the artist responsible for music videos and concert visuals for EDM heavyweights like Rezz, Ghastly, and Alison Wonderland. Twitch streamers have taken a liking to playing Hex’s music to gaming fans, and Youtube has blessed him with an “Official Artist Channel” badge not too long ago. “[Getting verified on social media] is a very millennial form of validation, and it ultimately doesn’t mean anything, but it feels good to get some recognition,” Hex says about getting a coveted check mark online.
When asked about where he thinks he’ll be in five years, he opted not to answer. “What I’ve learned in the past is that things can significantly change in a matter of months or a year. I try to focus on what I have right now. I literally cannot even visualize what life could be like in five years.” It’s an unexpected answer from a former project manager, whose daily role was to plan ahead for multi-million euro financial projects. But seeing how much Sebastian Hex has changed from yet another disenchanted millennial who believes there’s more to life than sleep, eat, and work, to being someone who lives that exact “more” just over a year later, shows the method in his madness.
Listen to Sebastian Hex’s debut EP, method to madness, on Youtube or your favorite streaming service: www.instagram.com/sebastianhex