Defected Director — In Conversation with Simon Dunmore (FoH2016)
The Defected offices were kind enough to open their doors to me and let me sit down for a chat with head honcho Simon Dunmore. We look at some old ideas of Disco Demolition Night and and talk about the legacy of truly great dance music labels through the decades. Straight shooting and direct is the name of the game with Dunmore, and it's easy to see just how he turned Defected into the bastion of great house music it is today while somehow remaining modest and grounded about what he wants to achieve with Defected.
Make sure to check out the Defected Presents Glitterbox teaser on the Spotify playlist for this interview as you go through. It certainly illuminates the area.
FOH: Disco was a dirty word for a very long time though wasn't it?
SD: It was because it kind of got hijacked by pop producers and it was a very popular form of music. And the whole "disco sucks" thing; there’s much debate whether that was a racist or homophobic movement as much as a hatred for disco. There were some pretty bad disco records around at the time, I love my disco but you know, records like “Dance Yourself Dizzy” by Liquid Gold is not going to be in my playlist. It's a pretty terrible record. I think it was initially aimed at those kind of records. The other thing was as well, was the major labels and certainly radio stations at the time, they had a huge preference for rock music, and huge preference for rock acts, and middle of the road acts. And disco challenged that a little bit because it was so popular. The reaction was a little bit of that, a challenge to the old guard and the old school, and I definitely think there was some racism and some homophobia going on there too.
FOH: Yeah, do you think there's any credence to that? Because some people have bandied it back and forth whether it was, or it wasn't homophobic and/or racist—I don't think there's a definitive answer.
SD: It was slightly before my time. I'm kind of aware of it. It was hard to say because from what I'm told the records that were burnt in the centre of the baseball park, there were some great soul artists in there, some Donna Summer records in there. They're amazing records! And you can't define amazing records. Obviously it's from the disco genre but they were so popular that they were pop records. That was nothing to do with disco. They're amazing records! And some records are so huge and so popular that they transcend the genre where they originate from. And it wasn't just burning bad records: it was burning a whole culture. And obviously the gay dance scene and disco was made by Black people and played in gay clubs. So it was hard to say with any certainty but there's probably elements of truth to it.
FOH: In my head you can tell the story of house music with like 5 labels which would be Casablanca, DJ International, Trax, Strictly Rhythm and then Defected. Are you aware of how important Defected has been?
SD: I can't align myself with those labels
FOH: Really?! I'm curious as to why not.
SD: Because they're the originators, they're the ones that made it all happen and we're just following in their footsteps. They laid down all the foundations for what we do today. They're the pioneers. I feel that we have integrity as a label. All of those labels have integrity and I think that's really important but, you know, when you're running Trax and you've got people like Marshall Jefferson and Frankie Knuckles and Larry Heard walking through your door with a record that they've just made that's a moment in time. That's never going to happen again. I mean Strictly Rhythm; they had Armand Van Helden, Masters At Work, Roger Sanchez, DJ Pierre, just walking through the door with record after record. And what has happened since that moment in time is all of those people now have all their own labels. They don't feel that they need to have a label, so if it was back in the days when it cost a lot of money to press and distribute and promote a record etc. we still might have those records coming through the door on a regular basis. But now the internet makes it really easy for someone to distribute and promote and release their own records. They don't feel that they necessarily feel the need for a label like Defected, so we have to work really hard for our opportunities.
My ambition when I started Defected? I've got my record collection and I've got my Philly International section, and my Salsoul section, and my Strictly Rhythm section, my Nervous section, all of the great labels. Azuli, Slip & Slide, 4th Floor, labels that I collect. I collected music and I collected records and I racked my records in labels, in blocks. And in years to come I just want people to have a Defected rack. If they have a Defected rack and obviously present in their collection then I'll have achieved what I wanted to achieve. But I can't compare myself with the people that paved the way.
FOH: One of the things that's really intrigued me is when you look at house music throughout its existence, if not before, tracks like “Baby Wants To Ride”, or “Can You Feel It” by Fingers Inc. or Eddie Amador's “Rise” is a good example, loads of these tracks have this kind of weird religious, or quasi-religious overtone where there's either a preacher or its about elevating yourself etc. There seems to be something of the Black civil rights movement in there.
SD: I think it's all about feeling good for yourself and feeling good about yourself and realising that. The Jesse Jackson speech "I Am Somebody" has been used in quite a number of records. For me the most important thing about house music is the social aspect of it. Most music does have a social element going on in it, but in house it just seems to be stronger than most other forms or musical genres. I guess back in the day people would go to church once a week to meet likeminded people or people they didn't see every week and whatever, and when house exploded people going to the clubs do exactly the same thing. But I think that it, certainly in the initial days, I think MDMA or association with those kind of lyrics: it was euphoric moment in time. It was just a very pure moment in time. I don't really want to get into a debate on drugs, but it's part of society these days. Kids take drugs. People take drugs. You can sweep it under the carpet and try to ban it or whatever, but it's omnipresent. Everywhere. Once you acknowledge that and that it's there, and you align it with music you can see why certain genres work in a certain way.
There's a lot of people around and everyone will have their take, their twist, their different opinion. Todd Terry. In the beginning there was Todd Terry. Clearly.
FOH: Things like that! "In the beginning there was Todd Terry." There's all this religious overtone when people talk about house and I don't get why.
SD: In the beginning there was Jack. And it's like— I don't know why. I don't know why either. I think the thing about it is speeches, especially uplifting speeches, preacher’s sermons and similar. They fit really well with house productions. I've got a number of acapellas you can just throw on top, and they just work every time. They're not in time, they're not in key. They're just amazing DJ tools. I don't necessarily think the people who're putting those records together are praising the lord or going to church. They just work. They're very convenient, they work really well!
— Cover photo courtesy of Gavin Mills.