MBW is in Simon Dunmore’s office, which occupies the far corner of Defected’s east London HQ.
Large professional Genelec studio speakers are in view on either side of his desk, which Dunmore is sat behind, with the label’s busy open plan office behind us, separated by a glass wall.
With our interview nearing its end, and all our questions asked from the sofa on the other side of the room, he seems contemplative, as he says: “When I take time out to speak to people like yourself, I do actually think about what we’ve done and the changes and everything. It’s interesting.”
It makes sense that he’s feeling reflective today; we’ve spent the last hour talking about his life in music and the 20th anniversary of the music company he started in January 1999. Not to mention the fact that December 4, 2019 marks his 30th year in the industry.
Yet Dunmore has not got to where he is now by feeling nostalgic for the past.
“Whilst we want to acknowledge that we’re 20 years old, and we do want people to be aware that we’ve been around and we have that kind of longevity, we’re very focused on what’s in front of us, rather than celebrating what’s behind us,” he insists.
Defected has evolved alongside the world around it, successfully adapting to changes in the technology, media and music industries over the last two decades, diversifying and future proofing its business in the process. As a result, muses Dunmore, “Defected is not a record label anymore. We’re much more than that,” he says.
“We’re a music company. Ultimately, we own a lot of media. We own footage and photographs. It’s not the business that I started. Everything has grown.”
For the uninitiated, Defected is one of the world’s most respected names in house music.
In 2019 – Defected’s 20th anniversary year – the company has sold over 450,000 tickets for its events and clocked 960 million total streams.
Other highlights from the past year include two sold out festivals, two Ibiza seasons as well as parties in the US, Australia and throughout Europe.
In terms of current Defected releases, Endor’s Pump It Up is No.21 in the UK Top 40 and No.15 in the Shazam UK chart, while Roberto Surace’s Joys is a global hit, approaching 17.4m total streams.
Dunmore (pictured), a DJ, former record store employee and A&M Records A&R exec, started the label with a succession of hugely influential Top 40 singles in 1999. Soulsearcher’s I Can’t Get Enough was the first, hitting No.5 in the Official UK Singles Chart.
That was followed by tracks like What You Need by Powerhouse Feat. Duane Harden (No.13), and Paul Johnson’s Get Get Down (No.5). By 2001, Defected had scored its first No.1 UK single with Roger Sanchez’s Another Chance in July of that year. Today, Defected encompasses a network of over 10 imprints including Classic Music Company, Glitterbox Recordings and 4 To The Floor.
In recent years Defected’s output has resonated with a new generation of house fans, with chart successes like CamelPhat & Elderbrook’s Cola and Storm Queen’s Look Right Through.
Defected’s online reach is vast, including a Facebook page with over 720,000 followers and a YouTube channel with 495,000 subscribers. Its audience is loyal and its Defected events, whether in the US, Ibiza, Croatia or London have secured a legendary status amongst dance music fans around the world.
“Whilst we want to acknowledge that we’re 20 years old, and we do want people to be aware that we’ve been around and we have that kind of longevity, we’re very focused on what’s in front of us, rather than celebrating what’s behind us.”
Simon Dunmore, Defected
The team behind Defected are experts at both fan and producer community engagement, with, for example its imprint DFTD, which Dunmore describes as a feeder label, used to “sign producers that are probably quite early in their career”.
Or there’s Glitterbox, started five years ago when Defected “identified a gap in the market” to capitalise on disco and classic house nostalgia in the form of a party and an imprint. “We were seeing people in clubs that were 40, 45, 50 years old,” explains Dunmore.
“They wanted to reminisce about their earlier clubbing days when they were in their prime. So we started a party called Glitterbox. If a record fits within that environment now, then that will be released on Glitterbox. “Dropping a classic in the middle of a house set and seeing the crowd go crazy is something not enough people do in my opinion.”
In spite of everything Defected has achieved and become, Dunmore won’t take credit for being a master strategist, and as he looks back over the last 20 years in the interview below, he insists that it all comes down to reading the market, reacting quickly and knowing his music.
“There was no master plan for it to be like this,” he tells us. “This is all organic growth. We see opportunities and we move into them. In this industry, certainly in the last five years, you’ve had to be very nimble and make decisions really quickly.
“Sometimes you have to make tough decisions: making people redundant, telling people that the music that they’re making isn’t right for your label anymore, being honest with people. Some people appreciate it and some people don’t. But at the end of the day that’s why we’re still here after 20 years.”
What is house music and how has your understanding of what it is changed over the last 20 years?
House music is a genre that people try to pigeon hole, and in my opinion, in its truest form, it’s just music that’s played in clubs. House music is generally dance music that’s based around a 4/4 beat, that’s obviously played in clubs, and it’s very broad actually.
“House music is a genre that people try to pigeon hole.”
It can be anything from disco to techno, and everybody has their own interpretation of house music. I like my house music to have some soul and some emotion in it. That’s what we tend to focus on and that’s what we tend to release at Defected Records.
We’ve been listening to your Influences Essential Mix (for BBC Radio 1) and we’d be interested to know where your love of funk, disco and soul came from?
In the ‘80s I used to go clubbing quite a lot. I lived in West London. I used to travel into central London and there was a multitude of scenes all kind of based around the ‘rare groove’ scene.
The rare groove scene was a scene that was very eclectic musically, they would play soul records, funk records, jazz records and early hip hop records. DJs would literally genre hop and go between all of these genres.
They were my early clubbing years. I had an amazing time. I met some amazing DJs who are still prolific and still well regarded today – people like Gilles Peterson, people like Norman Jay. That was really my introduction to the soul and funk scene, via the rare groove scene.
We understand that you worked at a record store. What record store was that and where was it?
The record store was called Record and Disco Centre. It was on Rayners Lane. It was a very important store actually, because it was the shop that a journalist called James Hamilton used to buy his records at. Every Friday James Hamilton used to come into the store, and he was the Dance Editor for Record Mirror magazine.
Every club promotions guy from a major label, or every A&R man from a major label would come in and give me a promo and say, ‘Can you make sure James gets this?’ Sometimes you’d get a box of promos and they’d say, ‘Make sure James knows this is selling well.’ It introduced me to a lot of influential people and people with standing within the music industry because they used to come down to the store primarily for that reason. That wasn’t why I worked there, by the way.
Why did you work there?
The reason I worked at the record store was just to be closer to the music. It used to sell imports. It was actually the first store between Heathrow and the West End, so what happened was the import vans would collect their music from the airport. They were traveling to London, and en route they would stop at the Record and Disco Centre in Rayners Lane so we would get the import records before anybody else had a chance.
How many people worked there?
Three or four, so it was busy. We worked hard. We we put in long hours, but when you’re doing a job that you’re really immersed in, and that you enjoy, you get enormous satisfaction from it. The music was particularly amazing during that period of time and selling great music to people is something that I’ve probably done all of my life, as a DJ, or as a record label owner, but doing it on a one-to-one basis over the counter was really gratifying.
How has vinyl influenced your business over the years? We’ve heard that in the ‘90s particularly, dance music kept the vinyl industry going. Is that true?
Well, I mean vinyl was predominantly played by DJs and there were an extraordinary amount of DJs and nightclubs and venues playing music; so if you were going to play music in the ‘90s normally you would be playing it on vinyl.
Then obviously, you had the ability to play it on CD. I think when people had the ability to burn CDs and their own CDs, and they were able to get digital files of records and whatever, vinyl started to decline because one, in terms of its weight and size, it’s much easier to carry a CD case around with you.
And two, it was just convenient. You could get a record online, you could burn it. You didn’t have to travel to a store, etc. It was a slower decline. It’s quite funny actually, because I look at it now and I find it quite ironic that people hailed it as the death of vinyl, and yet it’s outlasted almost every other format of music. It’s outlasted the cassette, it’s outlasted the CD, and I think that’s because there’s a romantic attachment to vinyl for some reason.
People look at it as the legitimate format for the connoisseur. There’s this whole debate about DJing on vinyl, whether it’s a more pure skill to be able to DJ on vinyl. I don’t actually subscribe to that, but the real kind of militant aficionados of dance music say you’re not a real DJ unless you’re playing on vinyl.
Do you DJ with vinyl?
Not now. Not these days. Although, saying that, I am playing a party at the end of the month where literally I’m just playing 7-inch records. I mean, it’s extreme. I’m not even allowed to play album cuts on 12-inch.
What do you think about SoundCloud’s integration with DJ software, like Serato, from a DJ and label boss’s perspective?
It’s a weird conundrum for us, the digital world, because, initially, it made life very difficult for a record label. Napster came along, file sharing – it’s all very well documented, so I don’t really need to go into that. But it changed the way that people consume music, and it changed the financial dynamics of the music industry as well. Initially, we had our head in our hands and we were like, ‘We’re fucked. How are we going to deal with this?’ But then we also realized that the internet connected everyone.
“In the same way as Napster connected everyone and gave people the ability to share music, it also gave us the ability to talk to our community and to market our records really effectively, very cheaply, very instantaneously.”
In the same way as Napster connected everyone and gave people the ability to share music, it also gave us the ability to talk to our community and to market our records really effectively, very cheaply, very instantaneously.
So whilst the internet made life difficult on one hand, on the other it made the business much more effective. I think we were quite quick to seize upon that. We view technology as a really good thing. Going back to playing records, it’s great if you can play records on vinyl but you can be way more creative if you play records digitally. You can loop them, you can add different effects, you can have numerous tracks running all at the same time.
After you worked at the record store, you got a job at Cooltempo Records, how did that come about?
I got offered the position because of working in the record store. I just got to speak and meet with club promotions people or A&R people. They’d come in, they’d ask my advice, I would give them records that were selling well. As a result of that, I had a good relationship with a guy called Steve Wolfe, who was the A&R at Cooltempo Records. He had signed Adeva and Kenny Thomas, acts that were very successful at the time, and he offered me the club promotions role.
What was it like working there at that time? What were some notable projects you were working on?
We worked Adeva, Kenny Thomas, both of whom had sold very well on album. They had single success, but they sold albums as well. I worked an Arrested Development album [3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life Of…], which was a huge success.
There was the single People Everyday, but the album sold really well. Gang Starr was a real cross section of one off dance records and acts that went on to sell a lot of albums. It was a great introduction.
I worked with great people, I had great mentors, and I just soaked it all up. I would leave my house at 8am in the morning and probably get back at 10- 11 pm at night. The long hours weren’t a problem because it was just the best job ever.
Were you DJing at the same time?
I was, although at that time from starting at a record label, probably up until 10 years ago. I definitely decided that I wanted to be a music man, rather than a DJ. I took working at a record label very seriously, and if you’re DJing on a Friday and Saturday night, that means you can’t go see other clubs, or acts, or just see what’s happening. You’re just living in your world.
It was really important for me to travel up and down the country, to travel to other countries to see what was going on, and create my relationships. I remember quite vividly promoting a Kenny Thomas record called Outstanding, where I had a Fiesta 1.1. It was just a car that rattled when it went above 80 miles an hour, but we went up and down the whole length of the country, drove to Aberdeen doing PAs.
When we would go to towns, it’s a very old school promotion philosophy, but we would go to a local radio station, we would visit local stores, we would do a PA in the evening, and we did that for a three to four month period. We probably did 80 to 90 clubs, but that created a demand and an awareness of the record and when we released it went straight back to number 12 in the chart.
Has being a DJ helped when it comes to having business discussions with DJs?
I think being a selector, a DJ, someone that can have an opinion on a record very quickly, almost sometimes on the first listen, sometimes records take a little bit longer, has helped me.
I’ve always shared my taste in music, from the early days of collecting records and making tapes for your friends, then going on to DJ, then going on to work in a record store, that’s all about me going, ‘I like this record.
You need to know about it.’ When you’re playing as a DJ, if you’re playing records that are not known to people, you’re saying, ‘This record is something you need in your life.’
That extends now to signing records and promoting them on your own label. I mean, I would hear a record that would come in as a demo, sometimes with A&R, and sometimes it would come in and we don’t have to make too many comments or push the producer too hard, but it’s like, we like this record, we believe in this record, we’re endorsing this record. You need to know about it as a DJ, as a punter. I think that’s pretty much what I’ve done all my life.
Then you worked at A&M’s dance imprint, AM:PM. How did you end up working there?
That was because we had good success at Cooltempo. I was doing club promotions, and I’d evolved into doing some A&R. I’d signed quite a few one-off singles. I was working with some great remixers, some great producers, and the vacancy came along at A&M and I got offered the position. It was an amazing label.
They had Sounds of Blackness, CeCe Peniston, and I did all the remixes for Janet Jackson’s Design Of A Decade album, which was just her greatest hits. So we did up to date interpretations of When I Think Of You and The Pleasure Principal.
It didn’t start off amazingly well. I didn’t sign too many records that had chart success, but we spent a long time establishing our reputation and what the label was about musically. I think it’s really important that a label has integrity within dance music, and that’s quite difficult at a major, because they just want you to have success. They’re not interested in a cool record that sells 2,000-3,000. They want something that’s going to sell 300,000. So I was very fortunate that my MD and my boss were very patient with me. Then I signed Ultra Naté, Free, which sold 600,000 copies and was No.2 in the chart. Then Mousse T., Horny, which did pretty much the same.
Then, what happened was PolyGram, who owned A&M Records, was sold to Universal. Universal merged A&M and Island. I liked my job at A&M and I didn’t necessarily want to go and work at Island Records. Sometimes things happen for a reason. At that moment I got offered some funding by Ministry of Sound to start my own label, Defected Records.
It just seemed like the right opportunity to be in control of my own destiny, rather than working at a corporation where it’s out of your control whether they’re going to merge one label with another, or merge one department, or a new MD comes in and he might have his own guy for dance music and your face doesn’t fit anymore. I felt that if I was going to succeed, I would rather do it on my own terms.
Defected’s first releases were obviously very successful and influential. How did you find those initial tracks?
It was an extraordinary rich period for house music. I think the difference between the releases then and the releases now is that people saw the value of investing time in the studio. If you were a DJ/Producer and you had a hit record like Bucketheads or Daft Punk, Stardust, Music Sounds Better With You or whatever, those records would sell hundreds of thousands of [copies] and you saw a good financial return from that.
Whereas, when dance music started to struggle, and everyone felt that they could make their music on laptops, and they didn’t feel the need to go to studios anymore, and they didn’t feel the need to collaborate with keyboard players, or percussionists, or vocalists and whatever, the level of creativity within dance music I think suffered enormously.
“The public are no fools. They know when something has a limited amount of creativity and a limited amount of emotion associated with it.”
The public are no fools. They know when something has a limited amount of creativity and a limited amount of emotion associated with it, and they just stopped buying dance music. I think we still suffer from that now. DJ/Producers feel they make more money on the road, by touring as DJs, than they do by going into studios and making records, so they invest their time and energies on the road instead of creating great music. But at the time, in the year 2000, people spent time and they invested money in making great records.
They just kept coming at us, and when you’re on a roll and you have momentum you try to make sure you maintain that. Also, people like to support the new guy, the new artist. Being a hot new label, you get even more attention, so we were signing records that were successful.
Then people were coming to us with records saying, ‘We want you to work this record.’ It actually created some problems, which I’m happy to discuss. One of them was that I had so much fun promoting, releasing, and enjoying the success of the records that sometimes you forget that you’re running a business and you have staff to take care of.
You have admin, you have to hire, you have to fire. Running a business is something I’d never done before, so I had to contend with that. The other thing was to have hits we had to manufacture CDs, we had to manufacture vinyl, and that all costs money. Everyone wanted to be paid within 30 days, but within the music industry normally you get a 60-day term with your distribution, or maybe it would be on consignment.
So whilst you’re having all your costs up front, the return for your investment was way, way further down the line and we just ran out of money. Even though you knew the money was going to come back in further down the line, it wasn’t in the bank when you needed it to be and that caused an issue for us.
How did the link with Ministry of Sound work in the beginning?
Ministry of Sound were having issues with obtaining repertoire for their compilations from the major labels. The major labels had their own compilation businesses, so if they had a hit they would keep the hit for their own compilations, rather than licensing it to the Ministry.
Ministry’s reaction to that was to start up their own label so that they had the repertoire, they didn’t need to go to the labels. So because we’d had the hits that we had at AM:PM, the idea was that we would collaborate, I would run the label, they would have access and the benefit of the hits that we created and the repertoire that we owned.
How important have Defected’s live parties on Ibiza or elsewhere been to the success of the overall brand?
They are what keeps it real for our community. You can release a record and everybody can enjoy it. If you align it to the fact that there is a DJ playing it and there’s fifteen hundred people going crazy to it, they all got their hands in the air, and can communicate and amplify that on social media, it just really underlines everything that you are doing.
It’s a very complex interaction, to be honest with you. Our philosophy in terms of events is we only book DJs that are releasing music on the label. It’s not like we go, ‘Jamie Jones is the hot DJ, or Solomun, or David Guetta, or Calvin Harris’.
“if you can convince people that what you do is real and exciting and you set high standards, they’ll stay with you.”
If only we had the money to book DJs like that! It’s about supporting the people that support us by giving us music that we can release on the label. The DJs are then super happy because we give them an opportunity to play to a really engaged audience. So, again, everything feeds into each other but the strength of what we do is the fact that we’ve really been able to grow our online communities and we have significant numbers on all platforms – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.
And if you can convince people that what you do is real and exciting and you set high standards, they’ll stay with you. The thing that really brought that home to me was when we decided to do our festival in Croatia.
We had four thousand people last year but it’s not a one day event; it’s a six day event. And we persuaded four thousand people to take six days out of their life and come to our festival. They travelled from Australia, the States, Scandinavia, Japan. It’s quite mind blowing that what we do is significant enough for people to want to take a week out of their lives and to come and listen to our DJs and our music.
Has that been a strategy or has it all happened organically?
It happened organically. The reason we started our events was because about 15 years ago, radio decided it just wanted to have a pop format and not play dance records and support unknown artists. So our reaction to that was to tour, like a band would tour, and to put ourselves in front of people.
“As the industry and technology and social media’s evolved, we evolve with it.”
As the industry and technology and social media’s evolved, we evolve with it and we try to tie everything in, in a way that’s cost effective.
So we’ve got a record, we need to promote it before it goes to radio and we need to create awareness. We give it to a DJ, they play it at an event, we film it, we put it on Instagram and everyone goes, ‘What’s that record? When can I buy it?’Music Business Worldwide