Let’s start this piece by being kind. Simon Dunmore is a man who has done much for dance music. From his early days at Cooltempo to being A&R at AM:PM all the way to heading the modern day behemoth that is Defected, he’s a man who’s not afraid to back what he loves.
He took Cooltempo and turned into a credible house label signing artists like Juliet Roberts, Adeva and Kenny Thomas. At AM:PM, he helped create an extremely credible house music label that’s still fondly remembered today. Then he launched Defected in 1999 and it’s still going now in 2021.
Where are most of the house music labels from 1999 now? Nearly all of them are long dead. If the internet and music piracy didn’t bring them crashing down, the collapse of vinyl distributor Amato in 2007 didn’t help matters.
This is a huge accomplishment in itself. The label has survived by becoming much more than that – it’s now an events company amongst other things. As a fan of house music, I’m also very happy when I see old songs that were previously only available on vinyl made available digitally.
But there are things going on within the Defected machine that are inspiring déjà vu – and not in a good way.
For example, there’s Defected habit of buying old record labels. In recent years, they’ve purchased the catalogues of Moving Records, Nu Groove, 4 To The Floor, Slip N Slide, and numerous others. Whilst it’s great to see many of those records available digitally for the first time, it does have more than a touch of the past about it.
In the late 1990s, the majors started doing the same thing themselves. AM:PM was always part of a major, but after owners Polygram were gobbled up by Universal in 1998, the label was closed four years later. Strictly Rhythm was purchased by Warner in 2000 – the label crashed out of the market in 2002 as well.
There are no doubt other examples. There are also cases of majors launching dance labels, but later getting cold feet. Credence was launched with much fanfare by EMI in 2000. The label included Felix Da Housecat, Dajae, DJ Sneak, Eric Prydz, Lee Cabrera and more.
EMI closed it unceremoniously in 2004. And the only label backed by a major I can think of that’s still around from back in the day is Positiva – they somehow even survived their acquisition by Universal.
So, why is Defected doing this? The labels in the 1990s were doing this because they wanted to retain control. Many had compilation businesses and it wasn’t in their interest to have labels making their songs available on all of them.
For instance, Virgin had the Club Anthems series, Telstar had National Anthems and many others, Polygram and then Universal had the Club Mix series, and Ministry of Sound had the likes of The Annual and the Clubbers Guide. Independents would licence to most, but majors would keep almost everything to themselves – unless the song had a ridiculously expensive sample clearance fee to be recouped!
The compilation business is now practically dead in dance music. So this clearly is no longer a factor. But much of the 90s is otherwise being repeated now. It didn’t end well last time, so what’s different now?
There are also awkward questions when it comes to the launch of Defected’s latest label, Sondela. I wrote about this a while ago if you want my thoughts in full, but I’m left wondering why Sef Kombo wasn’t given the top job at the label. Instead, Dunmore put his son – who has no experience of any kind running a label – in to basically keep an eye on him, as if he couldn’t be trusted.
At best, this setup just looks plain weird. At worst, it looks colonial and outdated – it’s as if Dunmore doesn’t trust Kombo, in which case, why bother employing him?
As I piece more and more of these things together, it looks like Defected not only want to monopolise dance music, but its culture as well. I hope I’ve missed something here, and I really hope I’m wrong – because this would be a worrying development.
House music was intended to be for everyone, not just for one or two corporations – and it certainly isn’t in keeping with Defected’s “in our house we are all equal” marketing slogan…