By Halim Ardie (Pulse Radio)
Defected Records head honcho Simon Dunmore has clocked up more hours in the dance music industry than almost anyone. Having been at the sharp edge of many musical eras, the seminal UK house label that Dunmore founded in 2000 is arguably enjoying its most relevant and revered period right now. Being a hit factory, both on the dance floor and on mainstream radio, the label was an integral player in house’s reclaiming of Ibiza and beyond, Defected’s releases continue to break boundaries while still pay homage to the early pioneers of dance music. After a hugely successful debut festival in Croatia this summer, and fresh from a milestone 15 year anniversary, we chatted to the Dunmore about the continuing label’s influence, his role in the scene and the challenges we face in an era of club closures and megastar DJ.
Thanks for sitting down with us Simon! So, how was Defected Croatia?
It was an amazing event because it was the first one that we did with a lot of excitement around it. I didn’t know what to expect and we got people from all over the world. People who were really enthusiastic and huge fans of what we’re doing. They came with this energy and community spirit. It just made for an amazing atmosphere. I know people made friends and were talking about meeting up and going again next year. People making these relations that will now last 10 or 15 years, and that’s what house music is really all about. From that perspective it was an amazing success.
That’s great to hear! We’ve also been really interested in Glitterbox, and the huge interest that there’s been for that. Can you tell us a little about how that party came about?
I was in Ibiza a few years ago and my friends would come up to me and ask where to go. I am talking about people who are in between 30 and 40 years old. They don’t like the whole EDM scene because it’s too commercial and they don’t like the Techno scene either, because it’s too dark and maybe too druggy for them. They want to go and dance to music that they grew up to, great house records. And there was really nothing that provided that at the time, they wanted this classic experience in Ibiza. So when I was in Ibiza three years ago we started Glitterbox. The first night there weren’t many people out, but the people who did come for it, walked saying very positive things and really enjoyed themselves. Gradually people started talking, spreading it by word of mouth and they would bring their friends. People started to understand the concept. From there it grew, especially with the power of social media. I really am amazed by what happens with social media, people can be talking about what a good time is happening in real time and this creates a viral sensation.
We started getting 300 to 400 people a week, if compared to other parties in Ibiza this is a low attendance, but for me it was great to see this thing grow. By the end of the season we were hitting 1300 to 1400 people. It was amazing to see this multiply. Then we saw at the beginning of the next season we were starting off with 2000 people. Then by the end of that season we were at 2500 to 3000 people. So now people are heading to the island with Glitterbox as one of their things to do.
We didn’t really advertise it. We didn’t have any “real” superstar DJs driving. It was just good house music played by really experienced DJs who know how to read a crowd. It’s a fun night out; it’s what clubbing is meant to be.
How do you see it evolving for next year?
I don’t really see any reason to change it. I am always perplexed by DJs who are obsessed with having to play new records, always doing something different, having to play promos that are unreleased. We have 30 years of dance floor classics; even obscure records from back in the day, to choose from. I would rather play a good old record than an average new record. So I don’t see any real reason to change it. We have a reason for people to come and that’s to hear good music and see good DJs.
Defected have had a lot of UK chart success over the years. Which tracks were you most surprised to see become huge successes?
Most of them to be honest! Most of them were signed just to be good club records. Then we start to promote them, and they start to gain a profile. Some of our super deep records like “Cure and the Cause” by Fish Go Deep have no reason to really crossover and get lots of radio play which ultimately is the definition of a pop record. Another absolute anthem was Roger Sanchez “Another Chance” which was really just a good club track. Also “Storm Queen” another number one record! Never in a million years would I have thought it would gain the mainstream traction that it did. Of course MK did a really good remix of it. But like all the Bob Sinclair records, you sign them because you think that they are going to be really good DJ/club records, thinking that they will be good for your label, never really thinking that they would grow to beyond your expectations.
How would you define the Defected sound? What do you look for in a track that would be released on the label?
We just want to put out good dance floor records. If we had a sound at any one particular time and then that sound went out of fashion, we would have gone out of business. We are quite broad in our record selection. Like we can put out a tech house record. (Laughs) For example, Joeski’s “Clap Your Hands” is a great tech house record. We could put out Dennis Ferrer featuring Ben Westbeech, which you could call a proggy tech house record, but it has some soul and it has emotion.
We put out different records that have different emotions. That’s why I think Defected has been around for so long. We don’t conform to one sound. Because house music is not about one sound. It’s this broad church that encompasses so many different things from soul to disco, with techno influences and everything in between. And you know as a DJ I try to play across the board. I try to take a few chances, if you take a few chances in the end you feel much better. Instead of just going through a process of just playing the same things.
Is there any sound that you would be happy to see just piss off for a while?
Generic boring tech house, it just bores the heck out of me. It does nothing for me at all. It’s as generic and formulated as EDM for me. To all the people complaining about EDM and think they are cool, well to all the tech house people, the records are just as boring to me. Wait let me back up; I am not talking about techno. There are some great techno records out there, and as well as some great tech house. But there are just so many people making these tracks on their laptops in two hours on a plane and think it is a good record.
Defected are probably going to be influencing current and future DJs for years to come. Which record labels have you found yourself always coming back to again and again over the years?
There are a few record labels that I have been really connected to over the years that aren’t necessarily dance music labels. First one is, Philly International which produced some of the finest soul and disco records that I still love. I mean, you could play the Dimitri From Paris edit of Teddy Pendergrass’ “You Can’t Hide From Yourself” in a club now and the place would go off. Another label is Sal Soul; there is probably not a night in a good club where you don’t hear a Sal Soul record sample. An incredible disco label that still has relevance today. For house, definitely Strictly Rhythm. That’s a label that is very close to my heart. And then there are labels from like back in the day such as Tribal Records that had amazing producers. There is so much music out there and again it depends on the mood that you are in. But these are the labels that probably influenced me the most.
And if you could play to any dance floor at any point in history, which would it be?
It would have to be Paradise Garage. You know Larry Levan is associated with so many great records. Even though he wasn’t involved with the production he played them and made people feel a connection with them. Or if not, the Warehouse in Chicago with Frankie Knuckles. Because these are places that I never got to go to, maybe just a little bit before my time.
Being one of the old guard in dance music – no offense – how do you see your role in the scene nowadays?
I keep myself really active, I listen to as much new music as possible, and I compile the Defected Radio podcast every week. I get new stuff from all the music websites, I listen to all the other radio shows. I keep myself relevant in that way. The music business has changed radically, and people think that they don’t need a record label anymore. That they can just put their music out there and hope for the best. But you need more than that nowadays because there are hundreds or thousands of people out there doing the same thing. So you need to something extra and have the ability to elevate yourself above everyone else.
I see my role as management, helping people to develop their careers and helping people to make better records. Technology makes it easier for people to make music now. Sometimes it’s a good thing, but most often it’s a bad thing. You should be using the technology to enhance your ability. My job as an A&R guy is to push people that extra 20 percent. When you think you are done with the song, there is still that little bit that you can do to the track. Some extra drum programming, or adding some filters. Sometimes you can listen to a track and you think it isn’t doing anything for 5 minutes, but if you listening deeper you can hear the drums are programmed differently or there’s a slight modulation somewhere.
With the recent closure of some iconic clubs around the world such as Fabric and Space, where do you see the scene right now, and what do you think we need to be doing as a community to protect the dance floor?
This is a far deeper problem than just the clubs. There is a preoccupation with DJs playing festivals, which is a big problem for clubs, because they are not supporting clubs in the way that DJs used to. They are playing festivals and getting paid big fees, which prohibits them being able to play in a club. And what the problem is that you only play your big records at a festival. When you are playing in front of 5000 or 10,000 people, that’s not a place where you can break new music and try new sounds. You see that’s what happens in clubs. This is affecting the overall performance of clubs.
Now for Fabric (which has sadly been shut down), there is a larger issue at stake, with redevelopment and the police having it out for them. And for Space, the fact is that they just ran out on the lease for the land. If that wasn’t happening Space would still be there. Space is going to reopen under a new name next year, of that I am pretty sure. The problem with clubland is that the DJs that came from clubland do not support the scene anymore, and they should do that more often.
As a final question; what have you yet to do in your musical career that you are still aiming to achieve?
I have said that if I was to pass on from this world at any point now, I would do so as a very happy man. I have travelled the world. I have been greeted by different people and different cultures. I have been associated with some great artists. I have worked with The Police, with Janet Jackson, and then I have gone on to work with and manage people I really admire. I wouldn’t call everyone friends, but people I get along with really well. I have had really good relationships with people who have made some really amazing records over the years. If I wanted anything more in life, it would to be able to spend more time with my family.