If one were to cast a template for a forty something man – footy, clubs, fashion, music, tribes – then it’s probably fair to suggest that Simon Dunmore might well provide its typical case study. Raised on a diet of music and clubs and the perennial disappointment of QPR (an underachieving English football team), Simon Dunmore has clocked up thousands of miles on street culture’s byways and boulevards.
These days, of course, he’s the man behind the enormously successful Defected Records, whose portfolio includes scores of Top Twenty hits, from Bob Sinclar and Soulsearchers to Kings of Tomorrow as well as myriad club bangers from the delicate deep house of Charles Webster to DJ Gregory’s Gallic brand of afro-house. Despite his avowed housentric take on dance music, however, Simon was not an immediate convert to the cause. “I didn’t get it at first,” he confesses. “I didn’t like the acid scene, the music or the fashion associated with it. The house I liked was stuff like Blaze’s ‘Can’t Win For Losing’ and Ce Ce Rogers, something with a bit of soul in it. That’s what eased the transition for me.” You can hear echoes of those early records in everything he has released subsequently.
Dunmore’s been DJing for the best part of 25 years now and has passed through more tribes than Bruce Parry, from ska and rockabilly to New Romantic and soulboy (and he didn’t have to go anywhere near the Amazon to achieve it). Simon cut his teeth working behind the counter at Rayners Lane Record & Disco Centre, which sounds about as glamorous as road sweeping in Rochdale, but in the late ’80s and early 1990s was a crucial store for underground imports (Brandon Block and Street Corner Symphony’s Glen Gunner also worked there) and it was through here that he got his break into the industry working as club promotions man at Cooltempo when a regular customer, Steve Woolf, offered him a job.
During his time at Cooltempo he was involved in a range of classic dance records (Adeva, Juliet Roberts and Shara Nelson) before moving on to AM:PM where he delivered many hits for the label, including monsters like Free by Ultra Nate, Give Me Love by Alcatraz and Ultra Flava by Heller & Farley Project. But Dunmore confesses to feeling a creeping cynicism towards music while he worked there. “When you’re working at a major it’s all about having hit records and making money and there’s not much time for anything else,” he explains. “The labels I’ve worked at, they did put out some good records, too, but to the people above you it’s a business. When I left AM:PM after working for Polygram I realised you can sign records that only sell 3,000 copies; if the economies of scale are right you can still make it work, it allowed me to listen to music in a fresher way. You could never do that at a major, although my time there was a great education and got me connected….. on other people’s time and money.”
In 1999, Janet Bell and Simon decided to break free from the corporate world and strike out on their own. Defected was the end result. They were helped considerably by scoring a Top Ten hit (Soulsearchers’ Can’t Get Enough) with their first release. Over the ensuing years they’ve racked up a strong of chart successes but just as importantly, records that have made the world a better place, such as Julien Jabre’s Swimming Places or Do It Now by Dubtribe Soundsystem or Ame’s Rej. More recently, they have begun exhuming dormant catalogues of some of the finest dance music of the Eighties and Nineties after securing deals with Northcott and Junior Boys Own. Apparently, there are more to come. “There are lots of catalogue owners that either haven’t got the facilities or don’t want to get involved in promoting their music. So we speak to them and tell them we can promote their music on our website and include the tracks in our compilations and if it’s something they want to get involved it’s good for us too.”
Ten years down the line and they are still enjoying success despite the industry (and, indeed, world) looking much different to the late Nineties. “Defected is completely different to what it was three or four years ago,” admits Simon. “But I’m not going to complain about the Internet and file-sharing because it takes and it gives back almost equally. We hit a far bigger audience than we used to. Our promo costs and mastering costs are down by almost 90%. So yeah, your revenues are down but so are your costs. Our website is massively important to what we do. We do merchandise and downloads directly from our site. We do events. We DJ and we do DJ management. There are things that we do that we never used to, but for it’s still about maintaining that love and enthusiasm for music.”
It’s a tough market out there, but Dunmore and Defected are survivors. Still here after ten years, and still wondering when QPR, apparently now the richest club in Britain, will fulfil their potential.