Becca Frankland spoke to Defected boss Simon Dunmore about the brand's ethos, the tech house phenomenon, the allure of Croatia and much more.
Date published: 2nd Mar 2017
Defected Records is one of the biggest and most respected dance music brands in the world, and rightly so. Founded in 1999 by Simon Dunmore, what began as a label now boasts events, artist booking, management and even its own festival, all with the intention of giving people the greatest dancefloor moments of their lives.
The British imprint, which is heavily influenced by US house music, has successfully preserved the genre's history and legacy whilst continuing a new one, bridging the gap between generations of music lovers from across the globe. A triumph which would have never came to fruition if it wasn't for the man behind the brand.
Simon Dunmore got his break into the industry working as club promotions man at Cooltempo, before he was approached by A and M records to run the AM:PM dance department in 1994. Five years later Defected Records was launched and released its first record - Soulsearcher's 'I Can't Get Enough', which reached No. 5 in the UK singles chart.
Now the label can count the likes of 'Finally' by Kings Of Tomorrow (Sandy Rivera), 'Another Chance' by Roger Sanchez and 'Hey Hey' by Dennis Ferrer as some of its seminal releases, with those long associated with acts present on the roster alongside talents like Sonny Fodera, Sam Divine and Franky Rizardo. Defected also has a sister label and events brand Glitterbox. Born in 2014, it celebrates classic and contemporary disco.
Dunmore’s been DJing for over 25 years and has seen many trends come and go, but one thing has stayed consistent; his commitment and enthusiasm for one of the most rewarding yet competitive industries out there. With the second edition of the Croatian festival on the horizon, and having just announced the brand's return to Ibiza, we spoke with the boss about all things Defected.
What does an average day in the life of Simon Dunmore usually entail?
I mean it's quite varied actually, obviously a lot of it is listening to records and signing them, putting events together and making sure that the events are in line with the release schedule. If we've got a release coming out we'll make sure the person associated to that record is playing an event, stuff like that, we're always looking for synergy across the board.
Are there aspects of the label which you wish you had more time to be involved with, likewise are there elements which you wish you could distance yourself from occasionally? What’s the balance?
I would like to have more time for people. I'd like to be able to speak to people and to listen to what they're working on music-wise and see if we can help them. I think that the bar is set reasonably low these days for music that's released, but we can try to hook artists up with musicians and songwriters and stuff like that.
In regards to something I'd like to distance myself from, that would have to be the politics of the music industry. You know, everyone has an opinion and everyone is entitled to one but sometimes when you're working with multiple artists on an event then opinions can conflict. It becomes difficult to unravel and keep absolutely everyone happy, that's what takes up quite a lot of time to be honest.
Defected's ethos, to me, is all about unifying people through a love of house music. At a time when social and political standing is so volatile, do you think it's more important than ever to reinforce positive messages through the label?
Yeah I believe so. A lot of what's going on, particularly over in America, with this talk of bans on certain religions or origins travelling, it's not great at all. Even with something like leaving the EU, at a time when I think everyone should be coming together, I think we're pushing each other further apart and that's never been a good thing.
You're right, house music has always brought people together from different nationalities or sexualities. Everyone has been able to get on and party their way. That's always been something that's made me quite proud to be associated with house music and to put on these events.
Do you think that the origins of house music, and the sanctuary it offered people who were classed as ‘outsiders’ is often unknown or forgotten about by younger audiences? Or do you think this prejudice lies with the older generations?
You know what, I think that the younger generation are a lot more accepting; they've grown up in multicultural environments and they're much more open to someone being different. I think it's the older generation that has that prejudice. In my experience, people who are going to clubs now seem to connect really, really easily.
As long as I've been clubbing, I can barely remember any time when I've seen any trouble or agitation, it very rarely happens which is an amazing thing. Sometimes you just go down the high street on a Saturday night and you see it more often than you'd like to. So yeah, I think the younger generation are far more accepting than the older generation. I understand that the older generation have grown up through certain eras that have given them particular views on things... you'd think that they'd be able to let go but they don't really seem capable of it.
I think when you see something like a particular artist having an argument online with trolls, or even something as drastic as BPM, you really see that dance music community coming together and backing each other up...
Yeah well the BPM thing was an exceptional set of circumstances, Mexico has its problems and it was massively unfortunate that it happened. Like you say, in those instances they do work as a catalyst for bonding and coming together and saying, "we're not going to be beaten by acts of terrorism or acts of brutality or prejudice".
Our Glitterbox mantra at the moment is 'Love Is The Message' and that's born out of everything you're talking about. People are disenfranchised at the moment. If you look on Twitter, there's a lot of hate being spread and it's really unnecessary, it's just such negative energy which could be used in a better way. I don't understand why users follow people they don't like and feel the need to troll them on the internet, why don't they follow those who they like or admire?
Some people have too much time on their hands. Are there any particular instances when you've seen Defected unite people in times of uncertainty, perhaps a particular party or feedback from a certain track?
Without a doubt the festival we did in Croatia last year. We weren't asking people to come to a nightclub, we were asking people to travel from all around the world and basically book a holiday. We had people come who had travelled literally on their own from Melbourne, from Tokyo, from Canada, and they got to Croatia and introduced themselves and made friends really quickly - friends for life.
For me, to inspire one person to travel from somewhere like Australia to an event in the middle of Europe in summer, is quite mind blowing actually. To get 1500 people to do it is something I'm extremely proud of.
What does Croatia offer you as a location that elsewhere in the world doesn't?
We decided that we needed a challenge; we needed something fresh to offer our crowd and Croatia has been on people's to do lists and bucket lists over the past few years. It's really grown as a clubbing destination, and I think it will continue to grow. If people want to travel and experience it from a clubbing perspective, then we wanted to be there when they arrived.
Obviously it may change as it becomes more popular, but I just found it more open-minded and it offered some experiences that you can't get in Ibiza, stuff like open-air clubbing all the way through the night with a really good soundsystem. Even in the UK, when you go to a festival you often find that the sound restrictions are so stringent that you can barely even hear the music, you know, you can have a comfortable conversation with someone next to you.
Whereas in Croatia we were able to have a soundsystem which is really worthy of dance music; you could hear it and feel it, not only during the day time but right through the night as well. I remember when I used to go to Ibiza in the early days - 1986 was the first time I went then again in 1988 - and they had Amnesia and Pacha outside, the freedom and euphoria that you got listening to great dance music under the stars is something that's missing from Ibiza at the moment, although it does offer many great things.
You’ve just announced Defected’s return to Ibiza after a year hiatus whilst you launched the Croatia festival, what was the process when deciding what venue would be best for the brand on the island this time around?
We're always forward thinking, we have to be. We've been going 18 years and I think if we didn't push ourselves and leave our comfort zone then we wouldn't be here today. The first three or four times that I went to Ibiza, I went to San Antonio. I know that's where a lot of people go because it's more affordable than the other areas on the island, so I think that having the parties in Eden will capture the attention of clubbers of a younger age, and that's our future.
It was a deliberate choice to go into the heart of where the young clubbers are and offer them a great clubbing experience in the hopes that they will stay with us for the next five to ten years, which many people have previously.
Ibiza, in a lot of ways, is powered by VIP culture now, was there ever a point when returning to the island didn’t seem likely for Defected?
We recognise that market, it's a viable market but we also think that there needs to be balance on the island and that there needs to be affordable clubbing as well. So that's what we're offering. Obviously we're doing our Glitterbox party in Ibiza still, that will be announced soon, and that's a clubnight which is probably going to appeal to a slightly older demographic and a clubber who is maybe going back to Ibiza for the 10th or 15th time, that's a different market again.
I think that what we're offering with Defected is clearly aimed at the younger crowds, the DJs we have are suited to those younger ravers and for these DJs to be affordable in Ibiza will give us an advantage over our competitors.
Naturally, the music released on a label changes over time. Defected champions a lot of underground names, alongside the more classic artists which have released on on the label years. The whole 'tech house' thing is massive at the moment with the younger crowd, do you find that popularity for certain sub-genres can affect the stuff Defected puts out?
I'm often quoted as saying house music isn't just one genre or sound, it's just great dance music across the board, whether that's disco, soulful house, all the way through to techno. I think that the tech house phenomenon is down to the fact that; it's really easy to make, the bar is set really low and technology has made it very easy to make them. Because they're so generically put together it's really easy to play them too.
I think that it has saturated the market, we acknowledge it of course, but we would like to associate ourselves with the better end of that market, the better DJs and producers. Maybe that sound will influence some of the music we're releasing but I believe if you put all your eggs in one basket, once that genre moves on then you can quite easily die with that. We like to have an across the board philosophy with the music we release, it keeps it interesting for the people who support our music, and for those who buy and even review it. The moment that we are pinned to anyone sound or any moment in time, it's going to make life really difficult.
I personally love all the vocal led stuff, which Defected releases a lot of, something which I think really sets the label apart. Do you think that story telling through words in dance tracks is something which has been left behind in some respects?
Yeah like I said earlier, it's easier to make a record on the computer but it's much harder to get a vocalist into the studio and write a song and then craft a track around melody and chords and lyrics. The thing with these tracks is they literally come and go in a weekend, they're replaced by more tracks of the same nature soon after.
If you go to a club and the DJ drops the right song at the right time, that's a moment that you'll remember forever. No one will in years to come sit round a coffee table with their mates and go, "Oh do you remember when so-and-so brought the bassline back in on that record?" But they will be able remember those big records... they're big moments and that's why those records are successful.
DJs need diversity, I play tech house records in my sets but normally they're transition records, they're never going to be the totality of my sets or of Defected Records as a label.
Defected is always pushing forward with the most relevant media, whether it's playlists, radio shows (listen to one above) or streams. How important do you think this multimedia approach is to developing a brand?
It's essential really, a lot of people just seem to focus on Beatport and they think that's the be-all and end-all of selling records. My kids now, they're streaming, they're on Spotify and Apple Music and they're consuming dance music that way and around the country other younger people are probably doing a similar thing.
Like with Croatia when we said we wanted to be there when people decided that's where they wanted to go on holiday, we need to be on Apple Music or Spotify or Mixcloud or Traxsource when that's where they decide to consume. People like their dance music but everyone wants to consume it in different ways. It's very important that you are present across all platforms otherwise they'll just move on, and once you've lost the opportunity you might never get it again.
Which labels, outside of Defected/Classic/Strictly Rhythm, do you respect and enjoy personally?
For me, it's the classic labels because they're part of my formative years of going out and those certain records have really formed my taste in music. Labels like West End, Philly International definitely. In my rack at home I have dedicated sections for those type of labels, I have them for Strictly Rhythm, Subliminal, Nervous, Tribal, Twisted, Slip-n-Slide just to name a few - all of the great house labels from over the years.
My aim was always for Defected to be in people's racks for years to come. If people proudly have a Defected section then we've succeeded because that's what I'd always set out to do.