As Seb Wheeler swaps Mixmag for Defected, are things going to get any better for the beleaguered dance magazine under new stewardship?

Things have not been good for Mixmag for some time. Their print edition continues to be on a coronavirus imposed hiatus, with all the lucrative advertising revenue that the print format can surprisingly attract. And now they are without an editor.

Yes, Seb Wheeler, the editor of their digital output for several years now, has jumped ship. Exactly who will replace him has not been announced at the time of writing, but this currently means that Mixmag has no editor for its digital product or print one.

So where is Wheeler off to? He’s heading off to Defected, the new colonialists of house music. His job is to lead the digital marketing team – given the job of promoting Defected mostly involves writing “in house music we are all equal” in the ITC Avant Garde typeface, his new job shouldn’t be too taxing.

As for Mixmag, what’s next? Wheeler leaves behind a pretty unremarkable legacy – the magazine is increasingly known online for its clickbait headlines and doom-laden articles. These may generate clicks and controversy, but they offer nothing new to club culture or anything else they were originally set up to cover.

Barely a word gets written about the underground movements trying to get off the ground. Issues like the gentrification of dance music and plague raves certainly don’t merit a mention. And on the weekend, there’s no one in the office!

It doesn’t help that Mixmag is a tired brand in desperate need of refreshment and new energy. Don’t take my word for it – previous print editor Duncan Dick openly states this on his LinkedIn page. Great journalism is the exception, rather than the rule – and these stories are invariably almost never followed up.

At a time when dance music needs someone standing up for its interests and defending its culture arguably more than ever before, Mixmag has been – quite simply – found wanting. The only question now is what are they going to do about it?

They could do worse than turn to Kwame Safo, known otherwise by his alias Funk Butcher. His Blackout edition was one of the best in many years. It showed courage, guts and a fearless spirit – exactly what Mixmag needs if it’s to have any chance of survival in the future.

Because believe it or not, the reason I criticise Mixmag so harshly is because I want them to do their job better. Dance music needs big representation keeping an eye on the scene and speaking truth to power. Most of these voices have disappeared in the past few years, and a lack of scrutiny is bad for the whole scene.

Will they take a leap of faith, or are they too concerned about upsetting the powers that be? We shall soon find out.

As Defected release over 140 tracks from Todd Edwards archive tomorrow, a pertinent question – are they repeating the mistakes the majors committed with house music in the 1990s?

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…

What disease – and it’s not coronavirus! – threatens to bring the dance music world crashing down? Why the idolising needs to go

I remember the first time that I read a dance music magazine. It was all the way back in October 2001. I was at college at the time studying for my A Levels and I had some time to kill before I had to catch the bus home.

So I wandered into town and saw a newsagents. I’d never been in here before and I saw they had a huge selection of magazines and newspapers – many of which I’d never seen before.

Whilst browsing, I saw a copy of Ministry magazine. Believe it or not, but before the internet came along, you had to get dance music news through the press. There were few ways to get it directly. If you weren’t in the scene, you had to go through the gatekeepers in the media.

I enjoyed reading the magazine and I bought many more. But as an overly inquisitive 16 year old studying Sociology – oddly enough, one of the better decisions I made at that age – I noticed one thing. The coverage was very positive. Insanely positive.

There was little criticism of anyone in there. Certainly not in the way you’d expect to see in newspapers, for example. And this trend over the years has just got worse and worse. It’s gone from being positive to downright idolatry.

And I can’t help but think this is an incredibly dangerous development. It creates the conditions where DJs can put whatever the hell they like on their riders and if you dare criticise them even mildly, they come at you like someone who’s just been caught kicking a puppy.

Whilst there are plenty DJs at the top of this scene who are humble and haven’t forgotten their background, let’s be perfectly blunt here. There are many others who are a bunch of overpaid prima donnas with a truly staggering sense of self-entitlement.

And I believe one of the reasons for that is the sheer amount of idolatry they’re exposed to. They’re treated like kings, and some of them inevitably fall for the hype and think it’s the truth.

They’re not used to dissent. They’re not used to dealing with criticism. In social media, they have a friend. Their fans will unfailingly speak up for them, defending them. Most of the time, it means they don’t even have to answer it in any way. They can express their view by simply liking a tweet or even saying nothing.

They make threats. They threaten to stop you from progressing further in your career. They find out what you want and they threaten to stop you from getting it. This is why they’re absolutely terrified of outsiders – there’s nothing they have in the artillery to stop them.

Derrick May is the perfect example of this. For years, he was venerated and worshipped as some kind of god. This allowed him to behave in whatever way he liked – hence why he’s now accused of sexual mispropriety against at least 18 women and has made a career out of pretending he can play.

No one ever challenged him on it, and he’s still benefitting from idolatry now. His stooges, like Carl Craig and Patricia Altisent, are defending him whilst he somehow pretends that anyone who doesn’t like him must be a racist.

This is an utterly contemptuous and disingenuous line of defence which the dance music press should have torn him to shreds on. Instead, they reported it – even they couldn’t ignore this – but made no further comment. Were they seriously that terrified of his Mickey Mouse lawyer?!

It’s high time that this culture of deference and idolatry in dance music stopped. Otherwise, the egos are just going to destroy what’s left of the scene – and since the egos will be rich, they won’t suffer…

Harry Romero and the duties of house music’s statesmen

Death is very much present in the world of dance music at the moment, and not solely due to Covid-19. Robin Rush, Angel Moraes and Claudio Coccoluto are amongst those to pass away in recent days, so it’s understandable that many have questions on their mind.

Harry Romero, no less, is one of those who asks a very pointed question.

This deserves a pointed answer, so I’m happy to offer my thoughts. I believe that the current generation of house music stalwarts has a duty to guide the next generation. As Mr Romero points out, the current generation will not be around forever. If new and upcoming talent is not nurtured, house music has no future. It’s as simple as that – names like Kenny Carpenter must realise that too.

It also involves speaking the truth and calling out wrong where we see it. Unfortunately, this is an area where Mr Romero has shortcomings in. Remember when Erick Morillo died last year? He committed suicide with a sexual assault charge hanging over his head. Since then, it has transpired that Morillo was an aggressive and prolific sexual predator.

Harry Romero used to work with Erick Morillo. The two were friends and business colleagues. Romero provided numerous tracks and remixes for Morillo’s Subliminal label and the two worked together frequently for many, many years.

Why does Harry Romero have nothing to say on this subject? I have scoured his social media from the past six months and can find no reference whatsoever to the allegations circulating around his friend. Why has he, as a stalwart of the scene, got nothing to say on the subject?

Is it because Morillo was a personal friend? Is it because he believes that Morillo was falsely accused and that speaking out will harm his standing with the likes of close friend Roger Sanchez, whose girlfriend was allegedly a victim of Morillo? Is there another reason for his silence?

The current generation, as I said, have a duty to encourage the next generation to come forward. They also have a duty to ensure the next generation can do things in a way even better than they did. Romero’s silence over this matter – and it is a far wider matter than his old friend, it’s about what sort of culture we want in the house music world – casts grave doubt on whether he is up to the task.

How did it get to this, Mayday?

Derrick May might have been a good person once. It’s hard to know. I struggle with the idea that a person is born evil, but I definitely know that people can be corrupted along the way. There are others who know May personally – they’re more in a position to comment on that.

One thing he can certainly be called – four letter expletives aside – from the perspective of an observer like me, is a survivor. You don’t get this far without being able to adapt to a situation and survive. For example, May sometimes does gigs where he appears to play his own songs live. The fact that he can’t actually play the piano doesn’t seem to have stopped him.

Last week, I reported that May had persuaded a judge to dismiss a defamation action against Michael James. This was even though it was May himself that instigated the action. Why would you drop an action that you instigated yourself?

There are a few possibilities, but the most likely is that May has gone into survival mode. He faces legal actions elsewhere – for instance, Derrick May still faces a $6 million dollar lawsuit for a rape he is alleged to have committed in Toronto in 2004.

This legal action was brought forward by no less than Gloria Allred. Given her success rate, May might well be terrified of facing such an adversary. I know I would be.

He also has a lawsuit currently being brought against him by the mother of his own children. How much has he fallen in order for that to happen? Like every other rat, May has good survival instincts. Chances are he’ll manage to resolve this one somehow too.

Nonetheless, he now faces an uncertain future where he never knows where the next allegation is going to come from. It’s only going to get harder and harder to persuade the world that all these women are wrong when their numbers keep adding up. And let’s not even get onto the subject of his career – most likely now damaged permanently.

Where did it all go wrong for you, Derrick?

How to win a remix contest (by someone who won one and doesn’t know how!) – Part 2

I’m currently running a two-part series on this site telling you about my experiences with remix contests. I’ll tell you about what went wrong with all the ones I didn’t win, and what possibly went right with the one I recently won for Russian label Mask Sexy Records.

Yesterday, I went through what definitely didn’t work for me and, chances are, probably wouldn’t work for you either. In this concluding part, I go through what just might…

If you’re reading this, frankly, I’m a bit surprised. Maybe you haven’t seen the first half of this series yet. Maybe Google has sent you to this page first. Otherwise, you might be best to hold off having any confidence in what you’re about to read until you’ve, well, read it first.

After my experience with the Quantize Recordings contest, I stopped entering any remix contests at all. I’d made my mind up, or so I thought. You can’t do anything with the remix if you don’t win because it’s copyrighted to a record label from the second you submit your entry – look it up in the terms and conditions, it’ll usually be right there. And even if you do win, record labels are usually under no obligation whatsoever to actually release your remix. Again, look up the terms and conditions on various remix contests if you don’t believe me.

That was until around October last year. I came across a record called “Don’t Give Up” by Dormidontov & Newzs Feat. Michael Balzer. It was on a Russian label called Mask Sexy. I’d come across the label a few times before and I liked some of what they put out. Then I noticed that they were running a remix contest.

I was initially hesitant. I’d had experiences of them before, and all of them bad. I sat on this for a little while thinking about it. During a moment where I was in between projects, shall we say, I thought why not? I downloaded the vocal stem and started work. I didn’t do it with any intention of submitting the entry. I did it solely to pass the time – and I found myself being a lot more creative all of a sudden.

That bassline reminiscent of the sound of numerous speed garage tunes from the late 1990s? An entirely deliberate choice to contrast with the softer sounding chords elsewhere in the mix. I thought it worked and I stuck with it. Everything else came along so much quicker without the pressure of trying to conjure up some pre-conceived notion that someone somewhere may or may not have.

The only constraint I gave myself was to stick with a vocal mix. As much as I enjoy doing dubs, I couldn’t see any in the release history of the label, so I thought I wouldn’t stand much chance doing that.

Is this a contradiction with my statement saying I was only doing it for fun? Most definitely, yes. It was at this moment I realised I had to send this thing. So I found the email address for the label and submitted my entry. I got a courteous reply saying that they were looking forward to checking it after the closing date.

The closing date came and went and I heard nothing. I just chalked it down to experience and said I wasn’t doing any remix contests again. And then I happened to be scrolling on my Instagram feed and noticed a post from the label announcing the winners of the contest.

Much to my surprise, I read my name on the list. I had to read it several times to make sure that I wasn’t having some weird out of body experience. Seeing my name on there was utterly humbling. I never expected it in a million years and it restored a little bit of my faith that some of these contests are actually judged on merit and not on pre-conceived ideas by labels not wanting to pay.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to check out the release very soon, and hopefully, this series has helped you out with a few remix contest conundrums. And if it hasn’t, well, you should have probably held back your confidence in the first place!

How to win a remix contest (by someone who won one and doesn’t know how!) – Part 1

Today and tomorrow, I’m running a two-part series on this site telling you about my experiences with remix contests. I’ll tell you about what went wrong with all the ones I didn’t win, and what possibly went right with the one I recently won for Russian label Mask Sexy Records.

In today’s first part, I go through what definitely didn’t work for me and, chances are, probably won’t work for you either…

If you have come across this article through my social media, you probably know roughly what to expect. You probably know my sense of humour and what comes with it. So you’ll know to take anything written over the next two days for what it is. I simply speak of personal experience.

If, on the other hand, you have found me in the future from a Google search, I imagine this title hasn’t filled you with the utmost of confidence. Nor should it, frankly. I have no idea if what I’m about to write has any lessons in it whatsoever. I’m just going to tell you about my experience with remix contests and you can take what you’re going to take from that.

So I’ll start by declaring that I don’t know exactly how many of these I’ve entered. My first one was on Beatport many years ago – it was for a song called “Funk Dat” by Sagat, which originally came out in 1993. I entered it simply because I could and because I wanted to try remixing something. I was learning exactly how my DAW of choice – Cockos Reaper – worked, and I thought the best way of doing that was to work on something where the ideas were already partially there. I think this was the right strategy for me, it might not be the best strategy for everyone.

I never won anything for any of these. And let’s be frank about the reasons for this. Most remix contests are commissioned by record labels who don’t fancy paying someone to do a remix. Back in the 1990s, remixes cost a lot of money. If you wanted the likes of David Morales, Marc Kinchen, Todd Terry, Masters At Work or whomever to do a remix of your track, it was going to cost you big bucks. It wasn’t remotely unusual for them to charge £15,000 and above.

Labels were more than happy to pay in those days because the money was there to do it. Vinyl sales often counted towards the ultimate chart position of a song, so a decent remix pack on the 12” could help swing it in favour of a particular release. The remixers knew this, and charged accordingly.

Those days are long gone. Budgets at most labels are far thinner than they used to be and remixes have been particularly badly hit in this regard. So remix contests are a useful way of getting a remix without paying for it. They also usually – especially in the case of the major labels – are looking for a particular sound. They want what’s hot. They want what’s going to do well on the streaming sites, because that’s where their listeners are these days.

And who could blame them? That’s their job. If you want to enter a remix contest for a major label, my advice is to be acutely aware of these facts. There’s absolutely no point anyone going into this without both eyes open. Unless your remix becomes an absolutely huge global smash hit, there’s simply no way you’re going to make much from it. Just do it for the fun. It’s not like you’ll be able to do anything with it if you don’t win, anyway…