We chat to Wez Saunders, former Singles Manager and now Managing Director at one of the world’s most successful house music labels, Defected Records. Defected count among the vast roster of artists the likes of MK, Dennis Ferrer, Oliver Dollar and Guti.
Defected was established in 1999. Can you explain a little bit about the background of the label. When did you join and and what did you do before that?
Back in 1999 when Defected was established by Simon Dunmore, I was still working in an Investment Bank spending my hard earned cash on Defected’s records! I think it’s fair to say that Defected has gone on to become the global authority within the House genre. Anybody that’s into House music at sometime has bought, owned or danced to a Defected record. I began working at Defected in March of this year (2014, having previously been running my own labels, teaching young people music production and managing artists since the Summer of 2010).
Have you always been into electronic music and who are your favourite artists?
Ever since my Dad introduced me to M/A/R/R/S ‘Pump Up The Volume as a seven-year-old, and not so long after tuning into the then-illegal Kiss FM listening to the likes of Colin Dale, Colin Faver and Trevor ‘Mad Hatter’ Nelson (as he was known back then!) on my Sony Walkman, I have been into electronic music in some capacity; through Acid House and Rave, into Jungle & Drum Bass and eventually House. My friends would be listening to Michael Jackson and Madonna and I would be playing back recorded tapes from Kiss. I was always much more excited by this type of music than pop music.
You’re the singles manager for Defected. Can you explain exactly what that means and what your day to day role involves?
It’s my job to promote the single/EP releases for Defected, DFTD, Classic Music Company, Strictly Rhythm, Soul Heaven, Yoruba and Tenth Circle to club & radio DJ’s, getting the tunes heard & played by the right people in the right places.
Defected is not shy of releasing potentially chart topping tracks, while the sub label DTFD focusses on slightly more underground sounds, although there seems to be a bit of crossover. How would you describe the key differences between both labels?
The vibe behind DFTD is definitely more underground than Defected, although I think both labels tread the very fine line between ‘accessible’ house music and nice-underground better than anybody else out there. I’m saying that as a House fan, not an employee of Defected!
Defected has obviously had a number of high profile hits over the years, but it still releases amazing underground records – records which may never hit the dizzy heights of Roger Sanchez ‘Another Chance’, MK’s remix of Storm Queen ‘Look Right Through’ or more recently Route 94’s Remix of MK featuring Alana ‘Always’ and Oliver Dollar & Jimi Jules’ ‘Pushing On’. Records like Dennis Ferrer ‘Hey Hey’ through to more recent records such as Sonny Fodera & Cervendos’ ‘Let’s Go’which won’t cross over, but they’re records that will be dance anthems for a specific generation. That’s what the labels are all about; timeless and quality house music.
Is it important for you personally to love everything that you release or do you sometimes sign releases if you know that other people will like them?
I’m not actually responsible for signing records, this is our A&R department (Simon Dunmore, Andy Daniell and Luke Solomon), so I don’t actually get involved at that stage. My role is simply to promote the music that we have signed and scheduled.
Graham Gold once said to me that part of my ‘problem’ was I liked everything! What was meant by this was that I could understand the right environment for a record, no matter how big or small. I took it as a ‘problem’ for many years but then I started working at Defected servicing records across the board and realised that I’d found my ‘home’! All of a sudden, understanding the purpose of every record I serviced was a ‘pro’ and no longer a ‘con’.
Promos are a ubiquitous part of today’s DJing landscape. Most touring DJs will receive hundreds in a week. Are there any techniques you’ve discovered along the way which ensure that you get your releases heard by the largest amount of your promo pool?
I don’t want to give away my secrets but let me just say that in any walk of life, it’s much more important to be ‘the man’ and not ‘the machine’. A personal approach – a genuine one at that – will go much much further than automatically pumping out content which is definitely the way of the World for the most part. From my own DJing point of view receiving promos, I know the labels or promoters that send me music that I can be sure I will like as much as I know the ones that I probably won’t. Being able to recognise that from the music-promotions side is crucial. It’s something I continue to try to develop and improve with every release, every change in technology/promo system and no doubt one I will never be 100% satisfied with. Although Inflyte has helped me get closer to that ‘100%’
Some DJs can be very verbose, others monosyllabic. How important is their feedback for you on a release?
In my opinion the DJ feedback serves the artists purpose much more than anything else. It’s a great ‘certificate’ to you as an artist to know that so-and-so DJ loves your record, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be played on the radio or sell. It’s the same the other way around; radio plays or sales figures don’t mean the DJ’s you’d like supporting your music will. It depends on what the artist wants from their record as to how important the feedback is, but what I will say is without the responses (feedback, club/radio play, chartings) those promoting the music or the artists will not know what people think of their record, and without that they may not know how to position the record to it’s full potential.
Does radio still play a big role in breaking releases for you? What and Who are your favourite radio shows and presenters?
It’s one big cycle. Sometimes radio can break a record, sometimes club will break a record. But I don’t necessarily look at those things in isolation. Both avenues require servicing, and on sliding scales. It’s about being pro-active by placing the records in the right places for the right reasons, but also being able to re-act should the direction change for whatever reason.
Because of my role, I listen to a massive amount of radio – particularly specialist shows – from BBC 1, 6 Music, Kiss, Capital, Rinse FM through to independent stations or shows.
Defected run very successful parties all over the world. Do you have a hand in suggesting artists for the Defected events as well? Which are your favourite events and how often do you attend?
I don’t get involved with the dj bookings or events of things but as well as Singles Manager, I am also the Executive Producer of the Defected In The House show and therefore have an eye on our events and input into the guests for the radio show/podcast. I will totally be bias and say the best events are the Defected ones (including our ITH events, DFTD and Glitterbox), because the roads are often blocked and the crowd always amazing!
Which non-Defected records do you wish you could have signed?
There are three records that come to mind as soon as you asked this; DZ ‘House Every Weekend’, Shiba San ‘Okay’ and Josh Butler ‘Got A Feeling (Bontan Remix, Pleasurekraft edit)’. These are records that personally I wish I’d have been responsible for finding or signing, not records I am saying should have been signed to Defected (to make that clear). Just records I’d love to have been responsible for signing or servicing.
What releases do you have coming up that you can tell us about?
I am very excited to be working the Hercules & Love Affair ‘Do You Feel The Same?’ record on Defected right now, with remixes from Oliver Dollar and Purple Disco Machine digitally, and Todd Terry and 6th Borough Project on Vinyl. This is a big record for me – my favourite of 2014 – so it’s very exciting to be working this.
Finally, can you give us the 5 tracks which best represent Defected for you:
1. Hercules & Love Affair ‘Do You Feel The Same?’ – my favourite record of 2014.
2. Oliver Dollar & Jimi Jules ‘Pushing On’ – The first record I worked at Defected.
3. Storm Queen ‘Look Right Through (MK Dub of Doom III)’ – a record I loved and played from the moment it landed on Defected through to it’s #1 spot (18+ months later).
4. Kings of Tomorrow ‘Finally’ – possibly the greatest house record of all time.
5. Masters At Work featuring India ‘To Be In Love’ – epitomises Defected to me, the sound and everything it stands for; quality, timeless house music.
Hercules & Love Affair ‘Do You Feel The Same’ is released through Defected on Monday, December 8th 2014.