July 13, 2024

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How Defected Records kept the party going during lockdown

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Defected Records

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Defected had plans for more shows at the venue Printworks this year

“This year I wanted to cut my shows back – now I’ve got none!”

For DJ Sam Divine, 2020 was set to be her busiest one yet – she was fully booked until November.

“Last year I missed a lot of friend’s birthdays and weddings because we get booked up so far in advance so this has definitely taught me to get a work/life balance for sure,” she tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

“I did 10 or 12 shows in Ibiza last year so that’s two a month.

“I was getting the first flight out on a Saturday morning, playing the closing set until 7am and then getting a flight.”

Sam is one of Defected Records most recognisable faces – she hosts their radio show, releases music under the label and DJs around the world.

Her schedule’s been cleared for the time being, but she says it’s been a good chance to chill at home and work on some new music.

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Defected Records

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Sam Divine playing for Defected

“I’ve started four or five collabs while I’ve been locked down and I would never have the time to do that if I was on the road because I’m either in a hotel, flying or in a club,” she says.

Another big project she’s been a part of during lockdown has been Defected’s virtual festivals.

The independent music label and events company were one of the first to take up virtual performances and DJ sets – putting on their first ten-hour festival on the 20th March, just before lockdown was announced.

A hugely recognisable presence in house music and disco alongside their sister label Glitterbox, they’ve been responsible for some of the biggest dance music releases in recent years, such as Pump It Up by Endor, Joys by Roberto Surace and CamelPhat’s breakout track Cola.

They were looking forward to the summer ahead with their own festivals in London and Croatia, a residency in Ibiza and hosting stages at Creamfields, We Are Festival and Tomorrowland.

All of which are now cancelled.

Exclusive acts

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Defected Records

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Carl Cox was one of the biggest names to play for Defected during lockdown

The nine virtual festivals they’ve put on during lockdown have been seen by over 14 million people globally, a much bigger audience compared to what they’d get at real life shows.

Like a real festival, they had a number of sets across the day from various DJs, with many of them using green screens to create backdrops and graphics you’d normally see on stage at Defected events.

They’ve also been able to get huge artists like Calvin Harris, Carl Cox and A-Trak to perform.

“We would have never booked those kinds of artists normally because line-ups get done months and months in advance,” Sam Divine says.

“Those artists would have been busy doing their own thing so the fact everyone is grounded means they can do it.”

Simon Dunmore, who founded Defected Records in 1999, says he wanted to bring what made their real-life events so successful to the virtual world.

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Defected Records

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A big part of Glitterbox shows is their performers

“When we initially went into the virtual festival scene, we provided a very broad offering so that everybody felt welcome,” Simon says.

“In our house, we’re all equal and we welcome everybody, but we also want people to feel that it’s special to them and personal as well.”

By incorporating their drag performers in their virtual shows, it matched some of what people might have experienced in real life.

“Great clubs are about the people on the dance floor, the people that understand music,” Simon says.

“With the extravagant flamboyance and charisma – people feed off of that.

“So if you see someone that’s on a podium that’s engaged with the DJ and is loving the record it brings a vibe to the whole occasion.”

Livestream fatigue?

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Defected Records

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Calvin Harris played under his new alias, Love Regenerator

But while some big names have benefitted from the chance to take their performances online, it hasn’t been as helpful for less-established artists.

Simon says smaller acts trying to make a name for themselves with new music have “suffered” trying to make their work visible or find audiences to promote it.

“People have had to find new ways of engaging with their fans and communities, hence why everyone’s clamoured to get online at the same time,” he says.

“It’s been really overcrowded with live streams and Instagram Lives so it’s been a challenging period for the music industry.”

Defected have made sure to give smaller artists a platform as part of their virtual festival line-ups, with people like TQ Grant and Catz n Dogz both performing after releasing new music on the label.

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Defected Records

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Defected have had to cancel their summer festival in London

Defected has now scaled back what it’s been doing online and is putting on more bespoke events for the people who’d booked to go to their live summer events.

Last week they put on their first exclusive Zoom party for the 5,000 people who had tickets for their now-cancelled Croatia festival – it was invite only and had DJs performing to a select group of people who could all see each other partying.

“It keeps the community happy, which is really important and they then tell their friends and that’s more powerful – people talking about our music rather than us saying ‘here’s a great record you need to hear about’,” says Simon.

Virtual festivals and Zoom parties online have ben well received by fans, but even the organisers admit it’s not quite the same as the real thing.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a replacement for actually experiencing a DJ live and being in the crowd and there in the moment to connect to other people enjoying the same thing and coming together,” says Simon.

He doesn’t think there will be any live Defected events this year, but says as soon as it feels safe promises things will “go back to the way they used to be”.

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