August 30, 2011

BASICS Podcast 010 - Donga - Well Rounded Records

For the past four or five years we’ve been given the chance to witness a rather large number of intelligently engineered independent labels spawn all over the world, most of them having the sole purpose of pushing electronic sounds to a whole different level.

One of these labels in particular has caught our attention and it is, alongside its two freshly crafted sisters and their owner, the subject of our 10th edition in the podcast series – cover story and Q&A included.

Well Rounded Records has been around for a couple of years now. It is an open-minded label based in Brighton, UK, focused mainly on putting out state-of-the-art productions on acetate support and has been responsible, among other doings, for Deadboy’s discovery and part of his debut on the world stage, for the heavily anticipated Cash Antics EPs and for housing brilliant, both upcoming & established producers at critical stages in their development process as artists, such as Hackman, Doc Daneeka, C.R.S.T., Submerse, Littlefoot or Kidkut, to name just a few.

Having 10 releases spread across its whole existence so far and a weird-you-out logo, Well Rounded established itself as one of the important experimentalists on the ever-growing UK Bass scene, specializing in House, Techno, Dubstep, R&B and Bass Music fusions and, in almost every single case, packing the results up for the dancefloors. From Deadboy’s heavily rinsed U Cheated, the rare appearance of the House / Funky infused project – Ultrasound and the brilliant Donga & Blake – Grown Ups EP (including a staggering Geiom Remix), to the Future / UK Garage takes of Littlefoot, Submerse or C.R.S.T. and Kidkut’s bangers, this is one label that is not afraid to make a number one priority out of reaching its own maximum potential diversity.

And as if its horizons weren’t broad enough, there are now two more personas of it in the game: Well Rounded Individuals – which has seen two Juke and Post-Dubstep-ish releases from talented young producers like Wheez-ie or Graphics getting pressed – and Well Rounded Housing Project, mainly focused on putting out classic House takes from the likes of James Fox or Outboxx.

To top it all, add up these three labels’ ages, multiply that number by 10 and the result should tell you the approximate amount of time their owner, Donga, has been around for, spinning and building tunes and getting involved with clubnights, record stores, bands and whatever music-related thing you can possibly think of.

We managed to steal some of his time for a smart and personal mix and a rather consistent Q&A that should give you a more in-depth perception of the philosophy behind Well Rounded and its subsidiaries and get you up to date with Donga’s take on music in general, amongst other good-to-know facts.

The mixtape itself is a true masterpiece. A complex journey through what Donga’s influences and current musical preferences look like and through what Well Rounded means from a sound showcase point of view.

It’s a pleasure, it’s very very clever and we highly recommend it!


01. The Haxan Cloak – Hounfour (Temple) [Aurora Borealis]
02. 2000 and One – Crystal [100% Pure]
03. Deadboy - Heartbreaker (Julio Bashmore 2010 Remix) [forthcoming Well Rounded Housing Project]
04. Alex Jones – Romania Pika [Hypercolour]
05. Dom – Blakelock (Donga & Blake Dub) [877]
06. Donaeo – Party Hard (Instr.) [White]
07. Urfali Babi - Disko Kebap [Nublu]
08. Malik Alston – Dance Jazz [Soiree]
09. Arkist & Kidkut – One Year Later [Hotflush]
10. Hackman – Your Face Pulling My Hair [Greco-Roman]
11. Kris Wadsworth – Mainline [Hypercolour]
12. Dubkasm – There's A Dub (RSD Remix) [Sufferah's Choice]
13. West Norwood Cassette Library – Get Lifted [WNCL]
14. Presk – Mold [4th Wave]
15. Kowton – Show Me [Naked Lunch]
16. Skinnz – Get It On [forthcoming Well Rounded]
17. E-Dancer – World Of Deep [KMS]
18. Ex-Pylon – Hammerfest [Studio Barnhus]
19. Monolake – Melting [Imbalance Computer Music]
20. Graphics – Adjectival E [Well Rounded Individuals]

DOWNLOAD (via Sendspace)

Knowing Donga:

BASICS: You’ve been in bands, you’re a DJ, you’re a producer, you own three labels, you’re putting nights on, you have a job, a beard and you have a thing for owls?! Anything else we should know about you?

Donga: Yes, I’m utterly mad.

B: Before getting into more current stuff, I’d like to talk about your history as a musician, producer and DJ. I know there is quite a number of projects you’ve been involved with. You’re a veteran. What are your roots? What did you use to build or spin back in the days and more important, what stayed with you after all these years and what faded away with time?

D: Well my father was a mobile DJ. As a child I used to go with him when he played at the more family orientated functions and he would leave me in charge when he needed a break. I learnt to cue and crossfade aged about 5 I’d say. I’ve stayed on vinyl and turntables to this day - to date I haven’t played any MP3s or CDRs in clubs ever.

Production wise I released my first electronic production in 1993. I have released countless records under a large amount of guises. When I started, myself and 2 friends pooled our equipment together and created a basic home studio. We had an Atari computer sequencing our MIDI equipment and a sync-box to keep our analogue sequencers in time. We had a very labour-intensive Casio sampler, guitar FX pedals etc. In fact I made some of my own earliest released material with only a drum machine, one analogue synth and a four track.
I think it’s true that if you are keen to express yourself you can do it with very little. The desire, passion and inspiration needs to be there. The equipment is not so important.

Anyway, so this is all hardware gear being fed into a physical mixing board which was the most rewarding stage for me. Doing live takes to digital tape, fading things in and out, muting and un-muting, adding live FX. Sometimes random mistakes would provide the highlight of the version - things you couldn’t design or predict in advance.

B: That brings us up to date with three names you’ve been associated with lately: Donga, Chirm and Ultrasound. I know two of them – Ultrasound and Chirm – are collab projects and the third one is subject to that as well (Donga & Blake). A short background check on each of these? Any other active moniker I’ve missed out on?

D: Ok, Ultrasound is a vehicle for myself, my cousin Chaos and friend Richter. Myself and Chaos have collaborated since the 90s so we have quite an innate understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Richter brings in ideas that are more likely to push us into different creative possibilities beyond our established language.

I think that within collaborations, although the physical input can vary from track to track and person to person, what is invaluable is people’s personalities as catalysts. Everyone approaches an instrument in their own way. And sometimes it needs a person other than yourself to see potential in something you may dismiss.

Chirm is just myself and Richter. We live in the same town so we get a chance to meet more easily and often than Ultrasound which does lead to some tracks being made.

I produce with Blake quite frequently and this has worked well because we met through DJing where we realised we had a lot of musical taste in common. When we got in the studio we discovered we could combine his ear for texture, production and the technological side of the equation with my ‘give me a midi-keyboard and not a mouse’ approach.

B: It’s not easy to narrow your productions down to a certain style, genre or even bpm and I think it’s fair to say your tunes are often quite different from one another. There’s Housey stuff at around 120 bpm, there’s UK Garage / Funky influenced faster stuff, there’s slo-mo, 100 bpm, dubby material – Ultrasound – New Direction on Clandestine Cultivations – and so on. How would you describe what Donga, the producer, actually means in terms of sound?

D: No-one has ever asked me a question like this! Basically, I try to avoid definitions in life. You can’t always tell a book by it’s cover and it’s ignorant of people to think they can. I can’t pinpoint what my aim is with sound - it’s led by instinct and the mood of the moment. I believe it should be reflexive, evolving, open and free. Being over-concerned with style or form as a pre-text to being creative leads me into blind alleys. It’s just electronically realised music.

B: Obviously some of the stuff you’ve been building found a home on your own main label – Well Rounded Records. Tell us a bit about how this label was born and why?

D: Deadboy has been a long-term friend. He was occasionally sending me his tunes just for some thoughts and feedback. I had the tracks that became the ‘U Cheated’ EP for quite some time. I had no intention of starting a label, but these tunes had started playing in my brain. Eventually I realised that I thought they deserved to be pressed on vinyl and might sell. I contacted Martin & Jackmaster at Rubadub to get their advice and opinions. They were very excited and supportive. So the label began….

B: Let’s talk about the material Well Rounded Records has released so far. Diversity seems to be one of the leitmotifs for this label. What are its borders in terms of styles? Where do you think it stands on the scene at the moment?

D: This is tricky. I don’t really like borders but I think there are limits to how diverse you can be with just one label. So I started another 2 haha!

I guess Well Rounded is more for cross-fertilisations and hybrids of House, Funky, Garage, R&B and Broken. I would consider releasing any combination within that range that works for me. I guess the releases are mostly around the 130 bpm area.

As for where we stand, I find this almost impossible to pinpoint as we kind of exist in a bubble. I don’t necessarily feel too much of a kinship with any one scene or label hence the need to start a broad-minded outlet of our own. Although not an influence, Planet Mu is perhaps the best example I can think of a label where I sometimes have no idea what style the release will be until I put the needle on the record, yet I buy and enjoy a high percentage of what they put out. So props to them.

B: When it comes to a varied catalogue, I always believed there’s a thin line between catching people’s attention and alienating them. You’ve managed to keep things well on the bright side so far and gained serious support from both DJs and listeners out there. How are the tracks picked and how is the release calendar put together? Is it a natural progression of things or is it something planned well ahead? Like a matter of putting the right record out at the right time.

D: I discover people in all sorts of ways, sometimes I approach them and sometimes they send things to me. It’s difficult because I now receive so many demos I don’t really have enough spare time to check and respond to them all.
I try not to over-think the picking of the material, similar to how I select records to buy in a shop. I pick things based on whether I have a strong emotional or physical reaction to a track. In the best cases I will have both responses. I try not to let the market or current trends taint my outlook on what we should release.

Sadly with the production of vinyl there can be difficulties and delays. This means things can take a long-time to come out. I just have to hope that whatever feeling caused me to select the material endures until it’s released.
Once I have committed to a release it joins a queue. We are scheduled quite a long way into the future.

I hope people appreciate the extra effort of us releasing on vinyl and are prepared to wait a while longer to get it on the sexiest format available.

B: Cash Antics. A couple of words on the concept behind this EP series, its name and the artist / track choices so far? Are there plans for a 3rd installment?

D: Right, Deadboy had amassed a few tracks based around R&B acapellas and we picked 3 to put out as a cheeky EP - a really fun project. The vocals were either by Cassie or Ashanti so we combined the names to come up with Cash Antics. It also played into a fantasy of us being playas or high rollers.

For the second one we knew we wanted to put out ‘Fireworks’ and that our friends Gongon & Bad Autopsy had ‘Mag’ that was a big favourite with us both. So we took the concept further and decided to make it Various Artists EP this time around. Skinnz got in touch with ‘Turn U On’ and Doc Daneeka reminded me of his re-edit of Gatto Viola’s ‘Backstabbin’ Angie’. It’s a pretty sick EP I reckon.

We certainly do have plans for a 3rd but we are subverting the formula. We need to extend the concept but take it into a new area. I don’t wanna say too much at this point. It should be out before the end of the year.

B: Well Rounded Individuals is something I’d like to talk about in extent. You started it back in March to provide for even fresher(!) sounds and artists. Why weren’t Wheez-ie’s or Graphics’ sounds suitable for the main label in your opinion? Is the Individuals name something that states the fact that each record / release is self-sustained, unconnected to past or future stuff on the label?

D: You’re correct, as well as saying these producers are talented Individuals who have their own unique sound, I was also hoping people would view each release as a stand-alone statement that may not link to subsequent projects.

I heard Wheez-ie’s Juke material and thought it offered a fresh and exciting take on the style. I fell in love with one track in particular, ‘Leave Her Alone’, which I couldn’t resist asking to release and we started to compile an EP together. I think it’s a quite brilliant selection.

However, I felt that putting out something in such a notably different style might be a step too far on Well Rounded so started to conceptualise another outlet for things that didn’t fit on the parent label.

We are getting Wheez-ie back on the label. I really rate him. We also have an EP from Distal who produces music in all sorts of directions but often with a vibe that’s really unusual. Check his recent Tectonic and Fortified Audio releases for evidence of that. His EP for us, which includes a track produced with Chicago’s DJ Rashad, is an absolute banger I promise. We also have an EP in the pipeline from a young man called Spare based in Notts, UK. I won’t attempt to categorise his music but there’s a quality to it that’s strange and exhilarating.

B: Well Rounded Housing Project is the youngest of the three labels under your protective wing and, quite frankly, it has put out two releases that I personally find as being absolutely brilliant. James Fox – New Jack Swing is an amazing take on extensive R&B samples use, while Outboxx are taking on boogied down House and Jazzy influenced stuff like there’s no tomorrow. This label is more limited in terms of what it releases and it has quite a simple philosophy behind it, right? You give it a properly built House track, with lots of groove and a strong personal input from the producer and it basically puts itself out.

D: I feel very at home with House. I had an epiphany when I was younger. I thought dance music should be hard, aggressive and fucked-up. Then one night as an impressionable teenager, I took some acid and ended up at an illegal party where a bunch of guys that looked like football hooligans (the smartly dressed kind) were freaking out to this slower 4/4 music with soulful vocals and messages. It blew my mind. I suddenly saw all these links back to Soul music and Disco. I realised I could finally openly enjoy this music that my peer group often sneered at. I left them to listen to whatever nosebleed nonsense they were into and started buying US imports.
I guess the music on Housing Project reflects all the diverse forms I believe House can take, as people will discover across the releases. I am very excited by all the different approaches we have curated to put out on this label. I believe spreading the word of House music should be like a crusade. When a House track hits the spot it is righteous and will last all time.

B: There’s common ground between Well Rounded and its sublabels. They all are digital labels as well, but they have acetate at their core. The name itself suggests it. Please expand on that a little bit. How does putting stuff out on wax reflect for a label in 2011? How about the three vinyl only releases so far – Cash Antics Vol.1, Vol.2 and WRHP001? Is it a white label thing or?

D: The vinyl-only projects are for when we feel we are unable to do a high-profile or full release of material based around extensive sample use. To sell digitals of these would take the piss whereas we have to sell a certain amount of vinyl to recover our production costs.

The name of the label does have a double-meaning relating to both the physical shape of records as well as when something is said to be ‘well rounded’ which, by my understanding, means having a healthy balance of different qualities.
My position is that if we are unable to continue to justify releasing all our material on vinyl then I will close. Digital as the only format does not embody enough achievement for me to bother. I know a lot of my views are unfashionable and our world seems to value convenience over most things but I want something that I can feel - both musically and physically.

B: Separate topic now for future plans and releases you’d like to mention. There must be something in store for each of these installments. How about some Donga material? Is any of your stuff getting a release soon?

D: I’ve mentioned quite a few things above but the next 2 or 3 things are Skinnz’s ‘Put It On’ EP on Well Rounded, I like to think of this as colourful bruk-Garage. You need to hear it perhaps to understand what I’m trying to express there. That will hit the streets in September. This will be followed by an EP by xxxy who I’m a big admirer of. When we last discussed material he was considering a track he made with us in mind that had big hands in the air potential and brought a massive smile to my face. It’s gonna be wonderful.

Next over on the Housing Project we have a 12” of both of Julio Bashmore’s remixes of ’Heartbreaker’ by Deadboy. I’m really proud to have Matt come across to do something with us, I’ve DJed alongside him a couple of times and I’ve been really impressed. I’ve been playing out the white label of this and it’s going down brilliantly! This will also be out in September.

I’m gonna drop at least one EP of productions that I have had a hand in before the end of the year. This will include a Donga & Blake re-edit and an Ultrasound original tune on it for sure and possibly a 3rd from another related project. We’re still tinkering with that.

Dom - Blakelock (Donga & Blake Dub) by Donga

B: Let’s talk about Donga – the DJ for a bit. What are your favourite sounds at the moment? You play out quite a lot and you’re a DJ that knows how to connect deep / smart sounds and dancefloor material in a set. What does your usual club selection consist of, if you have one?

D: If you start playing out regularly you can’t avoid playing some of the same tunes for periods of time but it’s important to me to always mix things up from past to present. I deliberately drop energy down to build things back up and mix across styles and so on because otherwise I don’t feel challenged and that‘s what brings out the inspired stuff in me.

I think this can have varying results for crowds if I’m honest depending on what they expect from a night out. There are always plenty of people who are gonna step up and play all the bangers you know and love, or impress with a set of completely unreleased dubs by them and their artist friends, so if that’s what you want, don’t bother checking me. I feel in our mad quest to know what the next hype is we are overlooking so much good material in the present. Our culture is too disposable. I think it’s quite healthy to alternate between the familiar and the challenging. Contrast is where it’s at for me.

B: You’re also a huge vinyl enthusiast / vinyl exclusive DJ. How large is your collection and what are some of your most priced possesions?

D: My collection is into the thousands, some at my mother’s home and some at my current flat. People have suggested the floor might collapse which actually made me think! However, I respect people that maintain a tight reign on quality over quantity. Having this many records can make things difficult, I sometimes go through hundreds of records before a gig without finding certain things because I have no filing system in place. I don’t look at market values for records, some things that you can find for pennies are the best records I’ve ever heard. My most prized possessions would probably be records I can imagine I might still want to hear at retirement age, say something like Miles Davis’ ‘In A Silent Way’.

B: In relation to that, tell us a couple of words about the mixtape you put together for BASICS. Selection, how it was recorded, etc. And last but not least, why the Noizy Tables thing?

D: Noizy Tables is a reference to my badly set-up Technics. There’s all sorts of rumble and stuff. I look at records that I’ve been feeling recently and without practising put them in an order that I imagine may work. Then press record. If I end up over-rehearsing or thinking out mixes they become a drag to make. I feel as a DJ I’m in a transition at the moment, I sense something around the corner. Maybe this mix reflects my current somewhat confused and unresolved state. Either way, I did my best to make it an entertaining journey through different moods and atmospheres somewhere between dancing and listening material.

B: It’s been a pleasure and sincere thanks for taking quite a large amount of your time to do this! Highly appreciated! Cheers and best of luck with whatever the future may hold for you and Well Rounded!

D: Thanks very much for asking. The interest means a lot and it’s really great to reveal more of the thinking behind what we do. Peace. :)

Thus being said, make sure you get your news feed from Donga, Well Rounded Records and its sister labels via Donga's SoundCloud, WR SoundCloud or on Facebook.

Also, their eleventh release on the mother-label comes from Skinnz and is now available for pre-order at Redeye Records and all the other good vinyl stores. Cop it!

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