12 years on from founding Defected Records, Simon Dunmore is still at the coalface. You could forgive the boss of one of the UK's most venerable (and successful) independent dance labels if he decided to take a back seat, but Dunmore still wants to graft. As DJ Mag catches up with him, he's at the airport, about to fly out to the Far East, where he's playing a clutch of gigs in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul and Singapore.
Oddly, Defected feels more established than its years, like it’s always been around. Launched in 1999, after Dunmore had A&R-ed for major label dance imprints like AM:PM and Cooltempo, it scored a top five single with its first release, Soulsearcher's ‘I Can't Get Enough’.
Ever since, thanks to a varied roster that has featured big hitters and underground players alike, it's walked that tightrope between bringing dance music to the masses and maintaining credibility. This is no mean feat. It's had chart smashes with Roger Sanchez and Bob Sinclar, and released stone-cold classics for the house music canon like Kings Of Tomorrow's ‘Finally’ and Masters At Work's ‘To Be In Love’.
It's straddled UK garage, New York house and drum & bass, with producers like Paul Johnson, Charles Webster, Dubtribe, Dimitri From Paris, DJ Gregory, Mood II Swing, Mr G, Jerome Sydenham, Dennis Ferrer, Blaze and âme all turning out quality material. There is not another label in the UK that can say they've done what Defected has done.
“I'd get bored if things were about one definite sound,” says Dunmore. “But we have to have an element of commercial success. So we've got the Shapeshifters and Bob Sinclar, and they provide a big opportunity for the label, one that oils the machine so that we can work with people like Maya Jane Coles. And that feeds my soul, working with new people. So it's about having balance.”
One thing that Dunmore has honed over the years has been a sense of timing. Three years ago, Defected picked up the catalogue of revered producer Marc Kinchen. With the classic house sound now having come full circle, enjoyed as much in the underground clubs of Berlin as it is in the UK, he bided his time.
“The timing was uncanny, all of a sudden, that old school organ and bassline sound starting becoming big again. MK's been an unsung hero on the house scene, so it was good to highlight someone who made those great records back in the day.”
Their Ray Foxx single ‘The Trumpeter’ from this summer has been another crossover hit for them too, getting as much airplay on 1Xtra as it did on Radio 1. “The best records appeal cross-genre,” he says. “If you can hit two or three, then you're onto a winner. If a record sits in one place, it's always tougher to promote it. It's like âme's ‘Rej’. When we signed it, we just thought it was a great record. We could see people like François K playing it and Louie Vega and Danny Krivit. But there were techno DJs playing it, as well. So it had something beyond it being an underground techno record. You just have to read the tea leaves a little bit.”
The man who gave Dunmore his first shot in the music industry, Cooltempo A&R man Steve Wolf, schooled him in sniffing out these dancefloor hits.
“There's two ways of signing records. You can hear if something’s a great record, but sometimes you can smell it with your nose, you can just sense it. Take ‘The Trumpeter’ record, if you looked at who was playing it without even hearing it, you'd see that Tong is on it, Annie Mac's on it, Target's on it, Trevor Nelson's on it. That's pretty broad. You don't even have to listen to it to know something's going on.”
Lasting this long in the perilous dance industry is commendable, having seen labels come and go on a monthly basis for over a decade. Dunmore is understandably proud, but very much without hubris. “Sometimes you get a moment, and you think, 'Wow, how did all that happen?'. You just have to be creative. It's just about being honest and people working together. But I'm super proud we've been going for 12 years.”
And so he bloody well should be.
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