A SHORT HISTORY OF...
Words by Jake Gable @JournoJake
With further emphasis in the modern world placed on anti-discriminatiion in all forms, it’s no surprise that a brand which so publicly adopts the slogan ‘In Our House We Are All Equal’, has stood the test of time when coursing the choppy and somewhat unpredictable nature of the musical landscape. Navigating the seas of the ever-evolving change in aural trends stands the admiral of Defected Records himself, Simon Dunmore, the hugely personable industry figurehead who started the label in 1998.
Resisting the urge to compromise the Defected ethos, even during the ‘EDM’ boom at the turn of the ‘teenies’, the UK imprint’s no-nonsense attitude towards high-quality gimmick-free house music has truly managed to stand the test of time, whilst others around them have perished. “I’m a collector of labels. My ambition was for people to have a Defected rack in their collections in the same way they'd have a Salsoul rack, a Prelude rack, a Philly International rack,” Dunmore told DJ Mag. After a decade working in club promotions and A&R for the majors, he founded the label with a firm plan and long-term goal: To establish the United Kingdom's answer to Mark Finkelstein and Gladys Pizarro’s legendary New York imprint Strictly Rhythm.
Securing early label releases with the likes of Masters At Work, Dennis Ferrer, Roger Sanchez, Kevin Saunderson and Todd Terry was a blistering start, but there have certainly been bumps in the road since the turn of the Millennium for the London-based imprint, which has now successfully expanded into the world of events, merchandise, charity partnerships, and so much more.
“We were never a cash-rich business,” added Dunmore. “So we always had to manage our finances very stringently. Around 2004, we noticed a decline in income over a couple of months. We knew DJs were now able to play our records without buying them, and people were definitely raising their concerns. We had to adjust. We cut costs quickly. We cut overheads, staff, we had to make people redundant, which is tough when you work with people so closely. But sometimes you just need that little bit of luck. Then we signed Bob Sinclar’s ‘Love Generation’, quickly followed by ‘World Hold On’, which were both Top 10 records in the UK. At a time when everyone was struggling, that gave us just enough breathing space financially to ride it out.” Growing his empire as time progressed, Dunmore, and Defected, have managed to incorporate a range of labels, such as diffusion imprint DFTD, Glitterbox, and 4th Floor. But it was in 2003, when Defected evolved into Defected In The House, that the brand started to soar meteorically.
First establishing a name in London’s Ministry of Sound, becoming a regular quarterly residency, the brand soon reached Pacha, and by 2005, had already released the 100th track on the label. With Dunmore stepping in to relaunch Strictly Rhythm in 2006, Derrick Carter and Luke Solomon’s ‘Classic’ imprint soon joined the family thereafter, becoming a part of the Defected brand in 2010. Despite the rise of house music globally, Defected faced a fresh challenge at the turn of the last decade when more and more listeners started to shy away from the soulful, driven sound of real Chicago-inspired four-to-the-floor music, in favour of the commercially viable pop-focused ‘EDM’ explosion. Like all strong companies, they held their own and stayed true to their beliefs.
“We have always stayed in our lane,” added Wez Saunders, Managing Director of the Defected brand. “Defected has always released 'real' house music. Vocal, song-based music in the main. Even through the EDM-era, as a business we remained true to our routes and rode it out. Of course, during that time other genres and labels were popular, but those that stuck with us continued to grow trust in our output as a business. I think people feel they know what they are getting in the main at a Defected or Glitterbox event, or with one of our releases and that helps, no doubt.”
With Defected going from strength to strength in recent years, the label has expanded to various events worldwide, hosting Printworks takeovers, Ibiza residencies, and their own festival in Croatia, hosting more than 200 events worldwide by the end of 2019. But it’s the A&R department’s ability to take a chance on a future-hit which sets the company apart from their rivals.
When others refused to take a chance on Camelphat’s ‘Cola’ in 2017, Defected stepped in to take the runt of the litter and transform the sugary flurry of addictive club-floor refreshment into a sticky treat for the masses, with the track starting to fizz, sparkle, and pop all the way to a GRAMMY nomination. A similar feat followed just two summers later when Endor’s ‘Pump It Up’ burst into the UK Top 10, garnering an eye-watering 140 million Spotify streams globally. “A record like ‘Cola’ was an incredible song that not only was played by DJs in Ibiza and around the world, but it also went on to be nominated for a Grammy and an Ivor Novello Award,” added Adrienne Bookbinder, A&R Manager of Defected.
“On the other hand, ‘Pump It Up’ was a track that took the world by storm, everyone from your 5 year old nephew to your 80 year old grandmother probably heard it," continues Bookbinder.
"A record like 'Pump It Up' was just stuck in their head, worldwide. We’re in a really unique position because we’ve created our own hype machine. We can break records at club level, but also have an engaged audience on the floor and a community online, and when these records have the right combination of ingredients, we have laid the foundation and told a story that helps these cross-over to a much larger audience.”
Finding ways to adapt to the recent pandemic, Defected’s reputation - remarkably - increased throughout lockdown, thanks to innovative virtual festivals, in which the brand’s community voluntarily donated over $600,000 to the COVID-19 solidarity response fund. With between 1.8m and 3.2m people tuning into the show across Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and Twitch each week, the message to the nation during a time of global solidarity couldn’t have been any clearer… In Our House, We Are All Equal.