Simon Dunmore

Bring the beat back: on tune in Ibiza

THE HOUSE THAT SIMON BUILT


With Ibiza’s summer party season busier and buzzier than ever before, Ben Lovett meets the man behind the brand that’s rebooting the Balearics.

The White Isle is dancing to a new beat and it’s all because of clubland godfather Simon Dunmore. Where the shallow bombast of electronic dance music (EDM) and relentless machine-pulse of techno have dominated recent Balearic soundtracks, Dunmore has found room for something different. “One weekend a few years ago, some friends called me from Ibiza looking for recommendations on where to party,” he says. “They didn’t necessarily want the harder or more commercial sounds available to them but there was nothing really in between that I could suggest.” The conversation got him thinking and, a year or so later, Glitterbox was born. “It was a party reclaiming that sense of clubbing people had forgotten about; a party harking back to Ibiza’s euphoric past whilst adding something contemporary.”

Launched in summer 2014 at the Ciprianibacked Booom!, Glitterbox promised a warmer, groovier taste of up-tempo, Saturday-night sounds built around the disciplines – old and new – of house, disco and soul, and endorsed by Dunmore’s globally successful record label Defected. It was served with a broader conceptual mix of art, intellect, futurism and fashion but revellers took their time to warm up. Faced with something wildly different to the norm, and distracted by a football World Cup in Brazil, they didn’t immediately swarm. “We had a difficult start, yes, but those people discovering Glitterbox had a great time, as did we,” he says. “And then word started to spread. The subsequent growth came from being a party in Ibiza that you had to discover. It wasn’t immediately in your face.”

Here the DJs are clubland characters with infectious personalities reflected through the music.

Dunmore hired renowned artistic producer Mark Herman as creative director for Glitterbox’s sophomore season, who promptly sharpened the night’s experiential edge via the dynamic, theatrical performances of rotating dance crews such as Sink the Pink. British painter Mark Wardel, collected by the likes of Boy George, Kanye West and David Bowie, was recruited to design the artwork and put his stamp on Dunmore’s vision of an emerging dance community and burgeoning brand. The Friday party, at that point in the legendary Ibizan venue Space, and boasting an expertly-curated roster of highly personable, whip-smart DJs ranging from Normans Cook and Jay through to Louie Vega and Julio Bashmore, quickly established itself as the island’s most vital nightspot. Now located in brand-new club Hï Ibiza (where Space once rumbled), Glitterbox has continued to make a mark in all the right ways. Has the original formula needed to evolve to fit the new place? “Not really,” Dunmore replies. “We’ve not overpushed the promotion because we still want people to seek it out. Here the DJs are clubland characters with infectious personalities reflected through the music. People can let off steam for the weekend and really engage with that music. They’re not filming on their phones, they’re enjoying a social experience. This year we have another great mix of luminaries and underground talent – artists like Armand Van Helden, Aeroplane, Soul Clap. It’s already been a brilliant start to the season, so we’re all set.”

People can let off steam for the weekend and really engage with that music. They’re not filming on their phones, they’re enjoying a social experience.

What does Dunmore make of Hï, a major symbol of Ibiza’s rapidly changing – and rapidly gentrifying – landscape. “It’s amazing… totally unique. Unlike the other clubs, it doesn’t have any tradition so there is a freedom to shake things up,” he believes. “A lot of money has been spent on the soundsystem, the facilities, even the toilets, but it’s all properly considered. It’s all been put together well and that gives Hï an advantage. Remember, clubs like Pacha and Amnesia started out as fincas [farmhouses] but Hï is a purpose-built club. It’s going to make waves.”

The island’s burgeoning VIP status, and the influx of affluent new tourists that brings, has posed challenges for some elements of its iconic club scene. “The balance between Ibiza VIPs and core clubbers isn’t always right,” Dunmore says. “The VIPs usually feed off the clubbers but if a venue caters more towards one crowd than the other then the atmosphere suffers, the DJ plays too conservatively, and everyone loses interest. Glitterbox is conscious of that – as is Hï for that matter.”

Dunmore, 55, started out in his early twenties as a funk and soul DJ. It was followed by time behind the counter at record shops, and then a stint at the Cooltempo label. During the mid-1990s, the Londoner progressed to running A&M Records’ pivotal dance imprint AM:PM (home to anthems such as ‘Free’ by Ultra Nate and ‘Give Me Love’ by Alcatraz) before launching Defected. Founded in 1999 with a loan from Ministry of Sound, the label has been expanding, diversifying and disrupting ever since.

What is the secret of Dunmore’s entrepreneurial success? “I have no specific business qualification,” he admits. “A lot of it, very simply, has been down to gut feeling about the music.” But surely there’s more to it than that? “I do have a particularly strong work ethic,” he allows. “The music is a hobby and a job – I never switch off. I’m always checking on DJs, clubs and new releases. I stay grounded… do my research, and where some of my peers have lost their hunger I’m just as passionate as I was on day one. You can’t always be right but, when you are, others quickly join. With Defected, I guess we’ve been right a lot!” This summer, Glitterbox is once again joined by the more youthful and muscular Defected in the House residency at Eden. And there’s even more on the way. “We’ll tick the boxes in terms of good business sense, strategy and marketing but music remains our primary catalyst. Our instincts here will define everything we do.” Can he elaborate? “Take Croatia, we took our first proper steps here last year with a Defected Festival. It was driven by gut feeling, and it was a huge success. We’re back this August and ticket sales are flying. We’ve also hosted Glitterbox in London now and, whilst that’s been out of its Ibiza setting, it’s totally proven itself. There’s set to be more events like this, and more great compilations and EPs of course. We’re also doing more with our radio show streams, and relentlessly exploring new products – some with risk – that we think can further build our consistency for great music and experiences, not to mention build our community.”

The togetherness of a banging dancefloor is a powerful thing. We just have to carry on.

Many industry commentators lament a lack of truly classic house music from the current international club scene. Naysayers tut about technology and how, despite making electronic music more accessible, evolution in production equipment has lit the touch-paper for hundreds of additional record releases every week – most bedroom-based, laptop-made and poor in quality. For Dunmore, however, it’s not simply a question of quality compromised by quantity. “There’s just not enough great music being made, full stop,” he argues. “It needs originating. If a few of us in the dance community do well, then others will do well. Artists are starting to recognise the returns that can be made through streaming services like Spotify and Deezer, so that’s a start. If a few more producers realise it’s worth investing more time and effort in production for the digital market, then the quality will come through. Recording by laptop on a plane or train, between gigs, is not necessarily the best environment for classic dance music.”

Dunmore is talking to Victor immediately after the terrorist attack on London Bridge and the restaurants and bars of nearby Borough Market. Proud Londoner and major party-starter, how important does he feel a unifying drumbeat is after such barbarous targeting of the capital’s nightlife? “We can’t let this situation affect us and we won’t,” he states. “Of the parties I’ve been to since [the attack], there’s a real defiance from people. We also saw that with the One Love Manchester concert. The togetherness of a banging dancefloor is a powerful thing. We just have to carry on. Personally, I don’t believe you can change your destiny – I am here to help spread great music that puts a smile on people’s faces, so I’ll keep on doing that no matter what.”

Glitterbox

SIMON’S SUMMER SOUNDTRACK

  • Aeroplane ‘Love on Hold’ (Dimitri from Paris Remix)
  • HiFi Sean feat Crystal Waters ‘Testify’
  • Lapsley ‘Operator’ (DJ Koze’s 12-inch Extended Disco Version)
  • Ralphi Rosario feat Linda Clifford ‘Wanna Give it Up’ (Lego Dub)
  • Soulsearcher ‘Can’t Get Enough’ (Dr Packer Remix)

SIMON’S TOP SPOTS

  • Babylon Beach, Santa Eulalia “This beach restaurant has a spectacular full moonrise”
  • Benirrás Beach, San Miguel “This is an incredible stretch of sand to the north of the island”
  • Cas Pages Restaurant, Santa Eulalia “A truly authentic Spanish grill”
  • Glitterbox at Hï Ibiza, Playa d’en Bossa “The White Isle’s most hedonistic party at the new clubbing hotspot!”
  • Jockey Club, Salinas Beach “With a live set from island legend DJ Pippi, what could be better?”

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