The triple-disc Defected In The House Ibiza albums are the only ones that Simon Dunmore himself mixes each year, and the series has become something of a cast iron tradition, loved by Defected’s core fan base as much as by the wider clubland cognoscenti. Ahead of its release, Defected's Ben Lovett caught up with the man himself to discuss his approach to the mix and the challenges creating it produces.
Simon Dunmore has already spoken this month about his annual Defected In The House Ibiza mix compilation as a ‘flagship’ release. Remarkably, considering the progressive industry in which Dunmore operates Defected, not much has changed since the series first launched in 2004.
“The series hasn’t really developed” Dunmore opens, frankly. “Of course, the sound has evolved with the technology and we have moved with the times in terms of the house music we include. But really we have stuck to the same vision from day one; that vision has been totally consistent. The key, for me, is that we have embraced all forms of house...all forms of good music. We’re not interested in the detail of what style this record is, and what style that one is; we’ve simply included good music. I think that people have responded to that. They know that they’re always going to have a good experience with the compilation, and that trust between us has grown and grown. That’s what has made Defected In The House Ibiza the cornerstone of all our summer activity, be it albums, events, merchandise, marketing....”
According to Dunmore, around 75% of the cuts included on this summer’s Ibiza album are in some way related back to the Defected family, be they releases by artists currently on the label’s roster (DJ and studio-wise) or former signings still with close ties. As such, there is a close correlation between compilation track-listing and the overall line-up for Defected’s 20-week season at BoOom! Ibiza, which begins 20 May. Both established and fast-rising names including Oliver $, Catz ‘N Dogz, Andrea Oliva, Christoph, Dennis Ferrer and Guti have been confirmed, this week, to play the first phase of Defected’s summer season; those names also appear on In The House Ibiza 2014.
“It’s a logical process” Dunmore matter-of-factly states. “Yes, absolutely, we want to capture the spirit of Ibiza this summer, so in compiling I’m thinking generally about the music that will matter. At the same time I’m thinking that the compilation we put out can further support the artists we choose to play our parties. Our parties aren’t simply parties. We want people to have a great time and they usually do but there’s a bigger picture – we can support the artists who have a recording history with us, or some kind of meaningful heritage, and they can support us back. By linking any of our compilations and events together we find the events are better subscribed and the albums generate more profile. The sum becomes greater than the parts. I’m actually surprised more labels don’t operate in this way, but many just don’t. It’s a simple strategy, and one that enhances both the music and the business.”
There are challenges. As affiliated artists grow in profile, so the offers of work arrive from elsewhere in the marketplace. It’s inevitable that certain successful acts will flirt with other labels and promoters and, regardless of whether or not they loosen ties with Defected, will seek to pursue more self-serving interests. “It’s extremely rare for us to interrupt our roster of DJs, we try to be loyal to our family. We’re usually OK but sometimes artists don’t reciprocate our support for them” Dunmore confesses. “We aggressively promote our compilations more than others, and we pride ourselves on our wider social media, press and marketing activity. Where we’re able to elevate our artists really well, and put them on a much bigger platform, there is a greater chance of them getting other offers and of their heads being turned. There is always a risk of talent moving on.”
Dunmore, however, has thought his way round the issue: “To be honest, we can’t deny people other offers and we wouldn’t want to hold them back because that only compromises the relationship. All we ask is that when these things happen, those artists give us some level of loyalty...so we can work again in the future. At the same time, to use a football analogy, Defected is all about building an academy of young talent. By nurturing the younger generation we can keep ourselves fresh, and constantly evolve. It’s not good to only focus on your starting line-up.”
How, then, does the ‘manager’ go about picking his winning compilation format? How much of the process is clinical research and how much spine tingle? “It’s a balance, naturally” he answers. “I’ll start with 60-70 tracks and split them down into areas like vocal, instrumental, deep and uplifting. I use Ableton these days which makes things easier because I can colour code record types and ensure that the colours don’t dominate in anyone area. This allows me to shake the mix up and re-arrange elements of it in the overall sequence to get the best results. You have to work harder on sections of the mix where you’re moving from say techno to disco, the shifts of 10 BPM here and there need careful attention. But for the most part things really do come together organically; I tend to have a feeling for what vibe I want and how I want the overall flow of the mix to go.”
That Defected In The House Ibiza 2014 covers three CDs of engaging electronic music makes it longer than your average club compilation –does the extra plastic afford Dunmore any extra favours as compiler and, crucially, editor? For it must be difficult to sum up nights and nights’ worth of sweaty, switched-on White Isle action via a single album – at least a triple-disc scenario provides some additional scope?
“Whether it’s one or three discs you still have to pick records from a much wider pool of music” he contextualises. “Ultimately you have to be brutal and I’m OK with that. I don’t agonise, I just try to follow my instincts. With the Ibiza format specifically, three discs means we can reflect different environments on the island – daytime sounds, the club, and the dubbed-out early hours. We can also throw in curveballs and surprises which is fun.”
He continues: “I remember what Dimitri From Paris told me 10 years ago when he mixed his first compilation for Defected – he told me you are mixing records for people to listen to rather than dance. Of course, you want people to feel the music and be taken on a journey but the compilation offers a different landscape to the club. Each disc is 78 minutes or so and you’re working hard to add variation and a number of different dynamics in that short timeframe. The key through all of it is, as cliché as it sounds, is to find good records.”
And those records should avoid dating themselves to a particular passing fashion or trend, or else the compilation they appear on risks losing some of its impact. “They [the tracks] shouldn’t be too specific” Dunmore clarifies. “For example, I could have included a couple of dubstep tracks on the Ibiza compilation I did two years ago because I really liked them. I knew, however, that they’d sound really dated now. I’m looking for classic records with which to make classic albums. The longevity of a compilation only strengthens the artists we work with, the events we run and the overall Defected name.”
Released in the next fortnight, Defected In The House Ibiza 2014, has real creative backbone. Unearthed gems from Drew Hill (the stunningly ethereal Studio 2) and House Master Baldwin (the haunting, acid-tweaked Don’t Lead Me, featuring Inner City chanteuse Paris Grey) - previously vinyl only - work well with new exclusives such as Deetron’s shimmering remix of Wallflower’s folk-edged Say You Won’t Ever and Oliver $ & Jimi Jules’ deliciously low-slung, disco b-lined Pushing On. And that’s aside from those aforementioned, spot-on contributions by Ferrer, Christoph, Guti et al.
This is house at its most extreme and exciting boundaries – and everywhere in between. Deep, cerebral, fully-flared, pumping, fierce, abstract...there’s something here for anyone of an electronic persuasion. “House isn’t a specific sound and I’ve always thought that way about Defected” Dunmore urges. “That’s the great strength for us because in truly believing that, we feel able to play good music without fear of straying from one fixed genre to another. It’s whatever works; whatever we feel.... All of our compilations are recorded in the same way, and that’s why we have such a broad and engaged audience.”
How does Defected view the future of the compilation market? As technology marches relentlessly on, so the number of ways in which to digest music mixes multiplies. Physical formats are no longer the be all and end all, as Ostgut Ton’s recent announcement around its Berghain and Panorama Bar albums seems to testify. Is the current way in which Defected outs its compilations likely to change? “I can only, realistically, look at the compilation sector’s near future and, honestly, I don’t see any changes coming” Dunmore argues. “Streaming is on the horizon and there are an increasing number of ways to access mixes for free, some of them illegal, but we have an engaged community here and as long as we remain consistent we’ll be fine. Because of the time and effort we put into our compilations, we’re able to offer value for money...real quality. I think our audience has a refined taste - they want something extra, something a little bit different which they feel sets them apart and yet bring them closer to our world. And with tools like social media we can directly engage those people and keep their attention with just a little care and attention. I think we’re well set for the future.”
Which actually leads us back to Dunmore’s football theme; a staunch supporter of the ‘beautiful game’ (and QPR) for many years he’s keen to reassert the similarities between football and record label management. “You have your squad, your subs, your coach and your main team” he smiles. “There are moments when your players get comfortable, they’ve had a nice little run and take their foot off the pedal. We have to keep them hungry. Having an academy of young talent chasing at their heels helps; and then we’re already competing on lots of interesting and exciting fronts, not least the compilation side of things. Right now the Defected team is in great shape and there’s lots more great music to come; not least in Ibiza this summer. I’m certain.”
Words: Ben Lovett