The Defected Boss Talks

Posted on July 15, 2015

Words: Abby Lowe
Images: La Skimal.

It was back in 1986 that Defected Records head honcho, Simon Dunmore first stepped foot on Ibiza. In those days he came with the ‘Special Branch’, a community of pioneering dance music lovers, some of who went on to irreversibly transform the music scene on the island. Years later, Dunmore would go on to make his own contribution to music with the launch of Defected Records. Now 16 years into its life and still going strong, Dunmore admits that leaving his job at Universal to pursue his own destiny “could have been the worst decision, but it ended up being the best.” And thousands of clubbers would undoubtedly agree. Defected has been running residencies on the island for 13 years, and this year will be commanding the Terrace at Amnesia on Tuesdays with Defected In The House, and taking over the Terrace at Space on Fridays with Glitterbox. We joined Dunmore at his villa to talk rockabillies, techno and the great unifying force that is music.

Simon Dunmore by La Skimal

This year you’ve got Defected In The House at Amnesia and Glitterbox at Space; how’s your relationship with the two clubs panning out?
At the moment it’s going very, very well but it’s a long season. Every club owner has their own idea of what they want their club to be. The chemistry needs to be right and it also needs to work from a business perspective, and if it doesn’t the chemistry quickly deteriorates. The music industry is very black and white in that respect.

How has Amnesia taken to the Defected crowd?
Amazingly. I mean, much, much better than anybody expected. When it was announced I had a few people questioning whether it was something we really wanted to do, because the Terrace is such a large and iconic room. The competition here is so intense and unless it’s absolutely rammed, everybody will say it wasn’t very busy, even if there are 2500 clubbers going off. We have more than surpassed peoples’ expectations.

How do you keep up with such a fierce level of competition? There must be quite a lot of pressure.
There is, but I make an effort to go out as much as I can. I still buy music, I still listen to other DJs, I still listen to the opinions of people I respect. So I’m always driven in that respect. So when somebody recommends an act to me, I can have an objective opinion myself on how good they really are. If you listen to interviews with people who do quite well in life, the things that seem to drive them is fear of failure; of not being relevant anymore, and that is definitely in me. I want my label, my artists and my nights to do well. I simply hate to fail.

Simon Dunmore by La Skimal

Glitterbox last year had a bit of a shaky start, are you happy with the direction it’s going in now?
With Glitterbox there was a lot of uncertainty around Booom – whether it was going to open and whether the politics were going to affect it. And because of that uncertainty it was really difficult to get the agents and the DJs to commit to the season, which of course, I understand. So we only started promoting four weeks before we opened, which didn’t give us enough time, and we launched while the World Cup was on. But we believed in the concept and that just made us more determined.

But it all worked out in the end.
Yes, it grew. Which is actually very unusual. Usually if a night falters the plug gets pulled pretty quickly. But I think that’s one of the things I was most proud of – the fact that we managed to turn it around after such a bad start. So many people talked so positively about the night by the end of the season. It was quite an achievement.

So where did the idea for Glitterbox come from in the first place?
I just feel that sometimes nights should be about the music first – that’s always been very important to me because I’m very opinionated about music. I don’t disregard music just because I don’t like it – I think there’s a need for all sorts of music, and everybody has their own taste. But music seems to be the least important factor for a lot of nights going on on the island, and we thought there was a gap in the market really.

Many people visiting might not want to listen to techno or commercial EDM all night long, and there didn’t seem to be much in the middle. There are lots of DJs who produce great music who don’t get the chance to play, and just because they don’t have a certain record in the Beatport chart, or they’re not part of a certain crew, doesn’t mean to say they shouldn’t have a presence on the island. It’s tough to promote a night in that way, because you’re not a shiny new, trendy thing. But if you can identify and communicate with your crowd, hopefully they’ll spread the word for you. And that’s really our objective at Glitterbox. It’s people coming together and understanding the music and meeting with likeminded people. And that’s why it grew last year, nobody could walk away saying the music was terrible, they left saying the music and the people were great – it was a real social experience. So it grew from there, and by the end of the season it was a club night they wanted to go to.

Glitterbox by La Skimal

It must be difficult to launch a new night in Ibiza…
We’re quite fortunate at Defected because people seem to appreciate what we get involved in, and over the years we’ve reinvented ourselves to remain relevant with the main demographic of clubbers around the world. The label is 16 years old and if you’re consistent, your audience grows with you, so we have broad audience in terms of age.

We are simultaneously a contemporary and heritage house label. Defected in the House is full on contemporary, a younger house demographic, and the energy is completely different to what we’re creating at Glitterbox at Space. We are lucky we have both audiences. Some of the records we put out cross to both crowds – so for example if you look at Hercules and Love Affair, ‘Do You Feel The Same’, that would appeal to a Glitterbox and a Defected In The House audience. We just seem more able to join those dots than most other labels and producers. Being both contemporary and classic is something that’s quite unique.

Is that what’s behind the label’s longevity do you think?
I think the key is the fact we like soul and vocals in our music. I grew up listening to soul music. I love house, but I like it to have a bit of emotion. House grew out of disco, and as long as you have a great song, you can change the environment of the sound bed it sits on. So if tech house is the ‘in’ thing then we can put a song on top of that. Therefore the constant of everything we do is the song and the soulfulness of it. So we keep an eye on musical trends and we adapt accordingly – I think that’s what gives us our longevity and consistency. Sometimes clubbers don’t realise that the transition is taking place– but we have to be aware of it, and we have to move with the times. That keeps us contemporary from a DJ perspective. And as long as you’re not making quantum leaps and you’re not too radical in the changes you make, people evolve with you. It’s about evolution not revolution.

Are there some constants that will always remain during a musical evolution?
The one thing I don’t think will ever change is the social aspect of people wanting to meet and dance. From prohibition in the ‘30s, through to the ‘40s and ‘50s, rock’n’roll and disco – it’s never going to change. Disco is a term that refers to a people going to a discotheque – it’s not necessarily a sound of a record – it’s that coming together at a weekend to dance, meet a partner and let off steam. It’s part of human nature and it’s a great thing to be involved with. I think it’s one of the things that are certain in life, along with death and taxes.

Simon Dunmore by La Skimal

What era would you have chosen to live in musically, if you’d had chance?
That’s a great question because I feel I’m really fortunate to have grown up through the ‘80s and ‘90s. To go to soul clubs where there were 2,000 people listening to down tempo soul tracks and going crazy, which is something that rarely happens now. The whole soul, jazz, rare groove era was really exciting for me musically. There was real tribalism surrounding music then, with rockers and teddy boys and punks – all music had its own fashion code, a uniform. You’d see a kid walking down the street and you’d know what music he was into by how he dressed, and that for me was really exciting. I lived through the punk revolution that happened in 1976 – I was just 14 years old then – it changed people’s lives overnight. And then in 1988 when the summer of love and the acid house happened, again that was a massive musical movement that changed the direction of people’s lives. I’m glad I experienced those things.

Wouldn’t you say there’s still an element of tribalism present in music now?
A little bit. I think the techno scene definitely that, because that seems to be the one scene that has that one distinct look. But there aren’t many aspects of dance culture where you can identify what music people like by what they’re wearing.

You mentioned that the punk movement changed lives, was that what sparked your interest in music?
No actually, completely the opposite. I was into rockabilly back in those days. I’ve always had that kind of obsession for music. And on the way back from the clubs I used to catch the last train, and there were always punks getting on at the same time. And back then, there was feuding between punks, mods, skinheads and teddy boys and rockabillies. Many of us would all get on the same train every week, it made no sense to be fighting these people, so we actually ended up becoming good friends, some of them still to this day.

What do you think of today’s music scene – techno in particular?
I like all forms of house music, but I like the best elements of it. I don’t believe that one sound all night long is a good clubbing experience. There should be moments in clubbing, and when you listen to one type of music for five or six hours, it’s really hard to go, wow, that one record really stood out. I think there are people that play techno really well – Loco Dice, Carl Cox, Marco Carola, etc. – I think there are lots of people that aspire to them but not all of them play it as well. The problem with techno is that it’s become so trendy that everyone is gravitating towards it and there are so many techno nights on the island. It’s managed to make a lot of DJs sound exactly the same and that makes for a boring clubbing experience and a dull scene.

Defected-In-The-House-with-essentialIbiza-photograph-by-Nic-Click-Ibiza-2014-image10

What sets apart the talent from the followers?
Two years ago we did Loco Dice In The House on Defected, and he put together two CDs. The track list came in and I had a listen to the mix and it was incredible. And then I listened to all the tracks he included and if you listened to them on their own, they had nothing like the kind of dynamic, depth or appeal. He was layering tracks and adding additional production to those records that brought them to life.

Whereas a lot of the DJs that play just put two records together. They don’t have the same energy or sophistication as DJs like Carl Cox, Luciano or Carola – these guys put records together in a magical way, and that’s why they’re at the top of their game. The people trying to replicate that aren’t getting anywhere close – they don’t have the ability to take people on a journey. I think the originators will have longevity and the followers will move onto the next thing and at that point the status quo will be restored.

You must have seen a lot of trends come and go on the island over the years – have you been surprised by anything?
There’s too much emphasis on money and VIPs. There needs to be the high-end side of the island, but I think they should balance it out by making it affordable for young clubbers. You can’t come to Ibiza with 1000€ in your pocket and have it go very far, and 1000€ is a lot of money for kids these days. The kids are being priced out and they’re the ones bringing the vibe, the enthusiasm, the energy. Short term, I think Ibiza will get away with it, long term I think it’ll probably do more damage than good.

What are your top three most memorable musical moments on the island?
1. Going to see 808 State at Ku. I was with all my friends, it was open-air, we were all partying pretty hard and I can have flashbacks about that night that are really vivid. Everyone was dancing round the pool, the stars were out and the sun coming up. It was an amazing moment.
2. Many a night at Pacha. We had nine years of residency there. Pacha is one of those clubs with lots of nooks and crannies and I can remember a closing party in particular when Junior Jack and Kid Cream were playing and the place was absolutely jumping, people were hanging over the railings going crazy…. wherever you looked. I just remember standing there that night and thinking this is incredible.
3. We’ve hosted nights at all the island’s main clubs. To have residencies on the island for 13 years and still be able to provide an occasion where you’re filling the Terrace, that’s definitely something to be proud of.

Glitterbox by La Skimal

What would you say is your biggest personal achievement?
I think longevity. To stay relevant for 16 years shows we’ve been consistent and done something right. We provided people with great music and times and experiences.

Is there any advice you’d give yourself then from now?
I am happy with the way things have gone, so not really. Sometimes I think I could be a little harder in business, a little more brutal and selfish. But then people wouldn’t have stayed with us for so long. I think sometimes I compromise and what’s right for my business because I want to give consideration to the people we’re working with. Having that balance is really important. I think that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing and if you try the best that you can then you can be happy with that.

And what are you looking forward to over the rest of the year?
Both residencies represent a real diversity of talent so it’s hard to pick one night. At Defected and Glitterbox every night is a different combination of artists, so musically it really offers something different every week, and that’s something that’s quite unique on the island.

Simon Dunmore by La Skimal
Simon Dunmore by La Skimal