Here goes with the launch of a new mix series - this one is going to be for labels/label owners.
We haven't done one of these interview things for a while - we like to keep them special so this time we're pleased to announce we have Donga in the hot seat, the founder of Well Rounded Records. For those that don't know, this is label where Deadboy had his massive debut release 'U Cheated' which gained the attention of the masses. We wanted to know some more about the man pushing behind all these quality releases, so we had caught him for a quick chat.
Donga, tell us a little about yourself and your musical background...
Well I live in Brighton, UK and spend my time between indie record shops buying 12" singles like my life depends on it. I help out in record shops in town, run a vinyl label and get to DJ a bit so pretty much all areas of my day to day life revolve (no pun intended) around records in some way.
I've been DJing and producing since 1993 as well as drumming in a number of bands with varying degrees of success in underground terms i guess.
Why did you decide to start Well Rounded, and is there any meaning behind the name?
I started the label initially to release Deadboy's debut EP, as I thought it was so bloody good, I then added a second release by myself and 2 friends under the name Ultrasound to test the water. These did well enough to provide the opportunity to tentatively keep going - Ben Hackman was good enough to work with us on our third release and then Deadboy delivered Cash Antics 1. It's just continued from there...
And the name blatantly refers to the physical roundness of records as well as referring to 'well rounded' the expression, my adapted dictionary definition of which is "Comprehensively developed and well-balanced in a range or variety of musical vibes".
Have you any advice for new labels starting out?
From a vinyl label’s point of view, this is probably accepted wisdom but don’t view this as an easy career path. The market for vinyl is pretty small and specialist and you can’t afford many mistakes. I take the view that if you calculate the risks involved and can handle any outcome, then you've got nothing to hold you back from giving it a whirl.
How did you and Deadboy start working together? Did you expect that first release to do as well as it has? Would you say that release, in a way, put Well Rounded in the game?
I've actually known Allen (Deadboy) for a number of years. We met each playing in bands that performed together on various bills. It wasn't long before we discovered we both had interests in a diverse range of dance music - not as common amongst the majority of our then peers - so I guess that brings you together. We've been to Sonar and Bloc festivals a few times over the years and he's been a great support haha!
Jackmaster (of Numbers) was hugely enthusiastic about ‘U Cheated’ and Oneman smashed it too so we knew before it came out that there was a fair amount of anticipation and yeah were pretty confident. It definitely kicked us off with a fair profile but I always knew each release was going to be quite varied, so the challenge was to avoid worrying about trying to follow it up or compete with its success and just stick to our musical instincts.
How's the Brighton based club night coming along?
It's going pretty good. I am fortunate to be working with Paul from Aka Aka Roar who is doing a large proportion of the promoting. Aka has to be considered as one of the best nights Brighton has for more underground music, consistently booking people that go on to be significant and key players such as James Blake, Girl Unit, Jackmaster, Ben UFO. The list goes on and on.
We've been aiming for something slightly lower-key with Well Rounded, compiling line-ups balancing artists on the label and producers and DJs that we respect. 3 dates in we've had Deadboy, Doc Daneeka, Hackman, Submerse, Altered Natives and 2562. I really want to get the formula perfected for our night. It's another learning curve like the label
2010 has seen some massive releases on Well Rounded personal favourites being 'Cash Antics Volume 1' & Submerse's 'Hold It Down'. What have you got in store for us in 2011?
Thanks. Cash Antics 2 has just dropped, there's talk of maybe extending the series onto a third. We shall see. And Submerse has kept some special bits under the radar for us that I think will surprise interested parties - he's quite multi-faceted.
We have a hell of a lot in the pipeline. Don’t want to get too far ahead of myself so I’ll just mention the next few projects.
The next Well Rounded 12"/digi EP is by Nottingham's Littlefoot. I guess often perceived as a future garage producer he has however been expanding his sound of late - dropping tempos and channelling influences into a 4/4 Detroit techno meets UK garage hybrid. He’s definitely got his own flex. It's really exciting to catch producers as they are in a new transitional stage. Felt the same way around the Hackman EP - really excellent stuff with an indefinable quality. This will be in the shops in January.
I've also somewhat crazily committed myself to founding 2 new outlets - once again all releases on vinyl. The first new label is Individuals. The main thing to note here is that the styles represented will be quite removed from the usual Well Rounded sound. We would like each of the releases to be viewed as a stand alone self-contained project and we want to let the genre change from release to release in any direction at all. It's just about highlighting producers who are exciting and innovative in their own field whether that is downtempo, electro, juke, techno or whatever. The first release is a banging Juke affair from Wheez-ie from Texas in the US. I believe he stamps his own authority on the Juke template and brings in ideas that are unique to him. The EP is good and broad including a slower jam (at 140!), 2 heavy havoc-inducers and a haunting tune called 'Leave Her Alone' that had me flipping out. This should also hit the streets in Jan.
The second label is Well Rounded Housing Project - as the name suggests this will be a dedicated House label as that remains the cornerstone of my taste. I have 5 or 6 releases lined up for this, including some quite fancied bits, but I’m just trying to decide which to launch with so keep your eyes peeled for info shortly and expect some tasty platters ;)
Watching you play at Pubstep on vinyl was very impressive, is shopping for records like it used to be?
My father was a DJ so I grew up with a man coming in from record shopping and checking out his new tunes at considerable volume with palpable excitement. I think this is one of the few ways we could bond and my fate was sealed haha! It's influenced everything. He had such broad taste - from Disco to Punk to Irish jigs. I think that exposure to so many different styles of music can be seen in the A&R philosophy of the labels - though I wasn't consciously aware of this until recently.
I got my first regular DJ gig at a club in Tunbridge Wells that burnt down sadly. I played records between bands during the first half of the night, then at 11 they moved the gear off the stage which then became a mirrored dancefloor - loads of lights though I experimented freely with utter blackouts at strategic times. I was getting hammered and playing early UK Breakbeat Hardcore, Belgian rave and some Industrial US techno VERY shoddily and swearing down the mic at people. They seemed to really enjoy it. This was 1991. So nearly 20 years outside the bedroom!!
Record shopping is still the same for me though there are fewer places to go. Brighton's got quite a good number of shops though - I favour Rounder, Edgeworld, upstairs at Wolf & Gypsy and Rare Kind. I limit my search to what I physically discover in front of me - so no mp3 or CDRs in my sets. This helps me to focus my search nicely I find. I don’t particularly want to play the same records as you - so I look closely at different genres, checking all the b-sides etc, looking for the lesser-spotted gems! That's trainspotter talk for ya!
I do find having worked behind the counter in various shops over the years that people don’t seem to have as much patience or commitment to checking out new stuff. They come in armed with info off the internet and that's pretty much all they want to find. Also because mp3s are cheap people are a lot more hesitant about parting with the cash for wax. I have readily accepted that vinyl keeps me poor. I guess I’m from a different generation where vinyl was the only option and that's why I’m resistant to change!
Who's impressed you with their productions the last couple of months?
Outboxx from Bristol definitely - got something coming with us - and James Fox's 'New Jack Swing' is a peach! Zoltan Isz from Romania has a special take on heavy and driving house that I’m feeling; Graphics is doing something refreshing at 140 - not easily falling into Dubstep or garage categories. South African house really excites me - seems more raw and instinctive and less considered than some British based stuff. Julio Bashmore is brilliant. Gongon & Bad Autopsy. I'll stop here coz I keep thinking of more and more!!!
Can we expect some more productions from yourself?
Every now and again. Our Ultrasound and Donga & Blake EPs have been quite low-key compared to the other WR releases, but I stand by them hard. I guess the stuff I get involved in is generally a bit subtler. I would never sit down and try to make a grimey-banger - i mean that's not me, though I can appreciate those tunes when made by people who truly identify with harder styles. It's gotta come from an honest place.
Thank you for your time. We’re looking forward to all that forthcoming material. On another note, we have our Brighton club night launch on the 19th of February at Jam with Shortstuff and Tom@Ramp; hopefully we'll catch you there.
I WILL be there - in the shadows I expect haha!
001: Well Rounded Records [mixed by Donga]
01. Doves – Birds Flew Backwards (Chris Watson Remix) [For Us]
02. Cottam – 4 [unknown]
03. Space Dimension Controller – Transatlantic Landing Bay [R&S]
04. Romanthony – Fall From Grace (Tony’s Main Mix) [Azuli]
05. FCL – ‘Let’s Go’ [We Play House]
06. Altered Natives – The Rain [Boscomi]
07. Mical Rhebess & Pevanu – Look Twice (Take II) [Ojodeapolo]
08. Deadboy – Fireworks [Well Rounded]
09. Martyn – Shook Up 
10. Redshape – Future Shock [Delsin]
11. Sunship – Almighty Father (Solid Groove Remix) [White]
12. MCMLXXXVII – Work [unknown]
13. Round Two – New Day [Main Street]
14. Isolee – Jelly Baby [Playhouse]
15. Littlefoot – Great Dark Spot] [Well Rounded]
16. Richie Hawtin – ‘Monkee’ [Minus]
17. Dubbel Dutch – Pulso [unknown]
18. Joy Orbison – BB’ [Doldrums]
19. First Choice – Let No Man Put Asunder (Ron Hardy Re-edit) [White]
20. Theo Parrish feat IG Culture – Traffic [Kindred Spirits White]
21. Caribou – Sun [City Slang]
22. Doves – Birds Flew Backwards (Chris Watson Remix) [For Us]