Every now and then we notice a label-pattern emerging. With so many more independent labels around now, it seems to happen more and more. Release after release has that familiar little code or image that subconsciously threads them all together at the back of your mind and niggles away at you until you take the time to dig a little deeper…
Well Rounded Records has been the cause of this lately. Although we didn’t know it at the time, a trip to Beatport to pick up Deadboy’s huge U Cheated EP was our first introduction to the label. Keeping an eye on the likes of Manchester’s xxxy, a love for Leon Vynehall’s Mauve EP and most recently, stumbling across South London Ordnance has pointed us quite clearly in this direction. So we thought it was time we stood up and gave Brighton-based Well Rounded Records some love and attention.
Well Rounded Records is the parent of two wonderful, bad-boy children, Well Rounded Individuals and the Well Rounded Housing Project. Whilst the Well Rounded Housing Project imprint technically focuses on releases that derive from house, the Well Rounded Individuals impression has free reign.
The label was started by DJ and producer, Donga. Donga’s work started in a record store in Brighton by day, giving him full-time exposure to endless supplies of records, new and old. Since he launched Well Rounded onto the scene in 2009, he has given an array of then relatively unheard-of producers such as Julio Bashmore, xxxy, Deadboy and Hackman a platform which would allow them to share their music – both physically and digitally.
We caught up with Donga on his return to from this year’s Echo festival in Croatia. Not only that, he’s very kindly agreed to put together a new mix for us…
First of all, thank you very much for putting together a mix. Can you tell us a bit about what you’ve picked out?
No particular rhyme or reason, just pulled out some things that have been tickling my fancy lately and jammed. Listening back it’s a bit rough here and there and doesn’t follow the most logical direction throughout but I can’t plan my sets as it feels too contrived and clinical for me. Most gratifyingly I received some fresh white labels of some forthcoming WR releases, so I’ve got 7 tracks from us in there which are set to hit the shelves over the next few weeks!!
To catch people up, what’s your story and how did the label came about? How did you wind up DJing and producing?
I’ve been DJing since I was a kid really. I used to take over at some of my dad’s gigs when I was a little boy. Put my first electronic record out in 1993. I have released a shit load of records under many many aliases, but I’m not inclined to go deep into that as it’s all about looking forward and finding the next musical thrill or challenge. I ended up doing both of these things because I’m basically hot for vinyl. I hope this does not prove to be my ultimate undoing, haha.
Your label’s discography is a testament to the fact that you’re obviously an advocate of cutting edge UK sounds and showcasing fresh talent, what do you think shapes or has shaped your personal taste over time? Have you always had a flair for the bassier side of things?
I’m a pretty handy drummer and my approach is to bond musically with the bass player. Without a strong rhythm section you ain’t doin shit. And in simple terms, if it’s bass we’re looking at, then shouldn’t that bottom end potential be pronounced? If it’s bass – make it bassy. This is where too many rock musicians miss a trick, so I inevitably ended up listening to funk, dub and dance music to get that low end buzz.
The 2009 U Cheated EP from Deadboy was obviously a massive hit and is now documented as a club classic of recent times, it was also Well Rounded’s first release. Did you expect such a great start? How did that affect the direction you took things with the progression of the label in 2010?
Basically that was just the reaction the music provoked happily. I find it difficult to discuss too much about how we may have approached the strategy of releases because I really try to shut as many of those thoughts as possible. We want to release music that has a wide enough audience to sustain ourselves but that’s not a guiding principle. Errr, yeah this stuff is difficult to define. I don’t want to pigeonhole myself. Broadmindedness is key. One sound will never be enough for my appetite.
There’s a huge amount of exciting, genre-bending music coming out the UK at the moment, did that have an influence on you starting up your sub-label ventures in 2011?
It all makes sense to me. Some quarters of the industry are a bit unsure what we are up to. No surprise there. Again it’s hard to explain why I am trying to do so much. Bare enthusiasm for these particular tunes and artists I guess. Well Rounded was named to suggest a healthy diet should include lots of different, yet complimentary components. It’s all an extension of that maybe…
With artists and labels being so heavily intertwined these days and becoming effectively a brand together, do you think it’s important for every label to have a family of artists and a signature sound? Have you got a label family feel forming over at Well Rounded?
I’d love to view us as a family but truth is I don’t exclusively hold people down. I think if people are particularly ambitious then they should be free to pursue the best options put before them with my blessing. But we are always here for them should they wish to return at any time. I think this engenders a good feeling between us which is why people come back and play our showcases even if they haven’t released with us for a while. I’m not interested in signature sounds, just quality. I’d rather consider a record that I may struggle to fully grasp rather than more functional fodder that sounds barely different from other stuff. People should be aiming to be stand alone mavericks in my opinion.
Look at UR from Detroit – from deep space electro to hard acid techno to gospel house all under one banner. THAT I can respect. I’m not that interested in my peers unless they appear to be doing something a bit different. I could mention a few but I hope they might know who they are…
We’ve seen that you’ve just come back from Glade Festival and Echo in Croatia, how were those?
Festivals is all about weather right? So here’s the UK story: I played 20 foot in the air in a precariously constructed pyramid at Glade for Sneaker Social Club. Myself and our host Richter got lashed by wind and drenched by water that was being blown directly off a tarpaulin down onto the mixer and vinyl etc. Then we had sound issues. I struggled on for as long as possible but had to admit defeat. The crowd that gathered were great though and Jamie from SSC / Hypercolour is an absolute trooper. I would do almost anything for him!
And in Croatia: Temperatures got up to 42 degrees. My records were nearly melting on the decks. We did a 7-hour showcase from 5pm to midnight on the main stage and it was a beautiful unforgettable experience for me. I could gush on for ages here but basically I recommend people get out to this one next year. It looks likely we will be going back though still discussions to be had…
Can we expect to see you & the WR crew at all the biggies this summer?
A lot of UK festivals haven’t picked up on us yet. But i’m used to playing the waiting game. We got a big one in Sweden with only 3 UK label showcases, us, Swamp 81 and Numbers, so that’s getting a bit more like it I guess. I would imagine we will do more next year. The ones we have done so far are already talking about us coming back so response is good.
It’s only June but what’s been your biggest festival track so far this year?
Toooooo many. But Justin Martin’s remix of Kemistry by Goldie is one. I been reviving Just Vybe by Scratcha and Fatima and thats done the trick, and from us XXXY I Know This Cant Be Love and Wheez-ie’s Choke Hold blow the tent roof off a treat.
We’re amazed, do you still have time for your record store job with all these gigs and labels to run, not to mention the merchandise!?
Mighty Humble Clothing take care of everything with the shirts and are doing a fantastic job. Big respect to them. I don’t work in a shop at the moment. I have done on and off since I was 18. I am a bit too busy right now. It’s nice to concentrate on being a digger / punter and DJ. Maybe I’ll open my own one day if younger generations decide to get off their asses and into physical shops in greater numbers?
We’ve been hugely impressed with the releases so far this year, most recently from South London Ordnance, who seems to be getting an excellent response to his new Trojan / Pacific EP. What have we got to look forward to this summer?
The next few up are South London Ordnance – Trojan / Pacific (out in a week or two), then Spatial – Deconstructivist Dubs (mid July), then a 4 Track Various Artists EP of slow house lushness called The Slow Spectrum on Housing Project and an EP by a wild new talent from Nottingham called Spare on WR Individuals. Beyond that, Cash Antics Vol 3 / Hodge / more Leon V and tons tons more I could mention. I urge people to support our vinyl releases as much as poss as the mission moves ahead…
Finally, you’re a big vinyl lover – which 5 pieces of wax would you not turn up to a WR party without? We’ll be down the front at the next one…
This changes all the time. My current top 5 might be:
The next party is Friday 20 July in our hometown of Brighton at the fantastic Green Door Store venue under the station and its FREEEEEEEEEEEE!!! 11pm – 5am in the company of Deadboy / Roots Unit / Donga / Blake. If you can reach, come and join the jam.
We’ll leave you with this, a video we fell in love with earlier this year. Whether or not you caught it the first time round, it’s well and truly worth a visit, or a revisit. Absolutely beautiful. Now go and snap up the Well Rounded back catalogue, it’s well worth it…
XXXY – I Know This Can’t Be Love from Big Egg Films on Vimeo.