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The DMC Story

Tony Prince & The Disco Mix Club | Tony Prince

The ingenuity and foresight of DJ Tony Prince resulted in the creation of the DMC record label, the hub of the thriving UK dance remixing scene. Wilf Smarties talks to Tony about how and why the label was set up and persuades remixer Phil Kelsey to take us through a typical remix.


DMC, founded by far-sighted DJ Tony Prince to service the needs of the DJ community, has enshrined the remix in the popular imagination. Wilf Smarties goes behind the scenes to discover how this unique label was set up.


There was much scepticism in industry circles when Mr Prince left Radio Luxembourg to form a company which specialised in selling sequenced music under a special licence to club jocks. The establishment at large (with certain notable exceptions) thought he had mislaid his marbles. After all, here was a man saying he would throw all of his effort into servicing a market that as yet did not exist!

The secret is Unique Selling Point, and that's what the Disco Mix Club (DMC) has in abundance. Having shrewdly spotted the gap in the market for mix tapes, then vinyl compilations, Tony Prince also managed to obtain a licence that enshrines DMC's right to a virtual monopoly over the supply of exclusive remixes of selected dance tunes to DJs. DMC now manages a swathe of top UK DJ remixers who, having been nurtured by being given the chance to remix exclusive club product, are now let loose on just about anyone, including industry stalwarts Kylie and Dannii Minogue, New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, OMD, David Bowie, ABC, Heaven 17 — the list goes on — as well as a host of bona fide dance artists like Ce Ce Peniston, Dina Carroll, Alexander O'Neil, and Michael and Janet Jackson.

You might never have heard of DMC Limited, because their products are excluded from the usual retail outlets. You might have heard of Tony, who has a show on Capital Gold. You've probably heard of Mixmag, easily the UK's most influential dance music magazine, and you must have heard of the World DJ Mixing Championships, also organised by DMC in conjunction with Technics, who are to turntables what Roland are to drum machines. Stress Records is a newish development, being a 'proper' dance label capable of signing artists.

The DMC operation is owned by Tony and his wife Christine. From the original idea it has grown into a multi-national organisation with 32 offices throughout the world, mostly staffed by freelancers. On the payroll, however, are 32 employees, including three in New York. Head office is on a modern business park in Slough, where you will find three modest recording studios, ace remixers, and the most plunderable wheelie bin this side of the M3. So, how did DMC, the Yardbirds of the UK DJ scene, come from nowhere to become the music business' second best kept secret? (The first being why CD prices are so high).

AWAKENINGS



Tony Prince: "I was a DJ with Radio Luxembourg for 16 years, and for the last nine of those, I was program director. We used to get tapes from DJs who wanted to become DJs on the station. One day I got a tape from somebody who I thought was cuckoo. It didn't have any voice on it. You don't apply for a job on Radio Luxembourg without a voice! But this guy seemed to think he had something to offer.

"Listening in the car a bit more intently going home that night, I realised what he was doing. He was sequencing the tracks together in a flowing mix, rather like I'd heard in the New York clubs, Studio 54 style. I personally had a couple of shows on Radio Luxembourg that were dance music shows and I just thought it would make a nice feature if this guy came in and mixed some of the hits together every week. He was called Alan Coulthard, a young Welsh guy, who was studying to be a lawyer and played around with a couple of Technics SL-12Ds in his bedroom.

"He started doing me these mixes for my disco show — I tried to get the record companies interested in putting some of the mixes on record for public release, but they didn't see the sense in it. Then one day I got the idea that DJs in nightclubs who couldn't mix would be interested in receiving regular mixes on tape that they could feature, and sound a little bit more sophisticated. I also thought it would work great for the record industry as a promotional platform. This was in 1982.

"So I went to see Maurice Oberstein (an old crony!) who was the head of the BPI committee and he said he thought it was a fantastic idea that would work well for everybody, both DJs and the record companies alike, and I should get a licence from the BPI. The industry was just creating a background sound licence, and I got into the same queue as Rediffusion, companies like that, so we got this very strange licence that allowed us to dub any BPI member company product onto a cassette and rent that cassette out in a high street shop. It wasn't quite what we had in mind but it got us on the road. It meant that we could use any record we wanted sequenced into a mix which we called a Megamix. For every tape we sold, we paid a royalty to the record industry.

"Slowly, over the 10 years we've been in existence, we moved from a cassette to a record, from a record to three records, and we now do three records a month. We've moved from Megamixing to remixing."

REMIXING



Can you tell me more about this transition from megamixing (sequencing/seguing dance tracks) to remixing?

"It was very hard in the early days to get multitracks. That's where sampling really got forced out of us. The only way you could remix was to sample. Through the frustration of the DJ not having access to a multitrack, they started sampling. The first time I experienced it was either in our 1983 or 1984 convention (DJ Mixing Championships) at the Hippodrome, when a Swedish lad came over with a bunch of Swedish (DMC) members. He mixed the Human League's 'Don't You Want Me Baby' and he used a live sampler on stage — it was absolutely mindblowing what he did with it, this kid. We'd never heard of him: Sanny X he was called, and he got a standing ovation. We had about 1500 DJs in the Hippodrome and they gave him a standing ovation. He inspired the whole damn world that night.

"He inspired me to give him a job. He came over to live with us for a few years, and did a lot of DMC remixing — we built a studio in my home for him. He had a very, very big success in Europe with a Tina Charles 'I Love to Love' remix which sold a million around the world. Apparently Sanny was last heard of working in his dad's restaurant in Greece! Alan Coulthard and Sanny X are, I think, two of the biggest influences in the DJ world, outside of your legendary nightclub DJs who are all well known. They pushed new technology and methods into the fledgling DMC studio.

"DMC started to get a little bit popular, the membership was escalating, and bloody big Sony wagons (they pressed the records) were coming up this country lane in Burnham. The neighbours complained and the planning people came and nabbed us (for the recording studio!). And that's why we're sitting where you're talking to me now. About four years ago, we had to make the move.

"At that point, the boys who were working for us included Steve Anderson and Dave Seaman, who are now Brothers in Rhythm. Alan Coulthard was still with us. Les Adams, who we took to great success as LA Mix, was here. We managed a guy called Mike Wilson from Chicago at that time, he had big success with Arista. All the DJs told us what kind of a studio they wanted, and we budgeted accordingly and got what you see downstairs."

THE BIZ



Did you encounter problems from the way your initial licence was granted?

"The restrictions have been a nightmare. It's OK the record industry saying, you can take any of our tracks and use them as background music — as long as it's on a rental basis that's fine: that's a background sound licence. But we were different. We were taking a Goya and daubing over it. Now that needs an extra permission, it needs the creative consent of the artist, the copyright owner, the creator. We had moved away from Megamixing, which was harmless, seguing a couple of records together; the sampler came into our life, so we came up against the problem of how to persuade the artist to let this little Welsh DJ do a remix. Slowly, throughout the years, we've built up the artists' confidence, purely through being bloody good, and employing people who are brilliant at the art of remixing, to the point now where Michael Jackson comes to our people to get his records remixed."

What happens if you do a remix for DMC (as opposed to a major label) which turns out to be a potential monster smash? How can this be sold through retail outlets, which DMC is legally not entitled to do?

"If we remix something from Sony, for example, we put it out on DMC and it turns out to be phenomenally successful, Pete Tong starts playing it, Steve Wright starts playing it on Radio 1, then we do a deal with the record company and the producer who did the original remix. Everybody gets together and a deal is ironed out. It does happen from time to time that some DMC mixes are so popular they are released because of public demand."

MIXMAG



"Our cassettes went out with a newsletter, which we decided right from day one would be a magazine. So we did a 16-page black and white and we called it Mixmag. That serviced the DJs with information, and the record companies started advertising in it. The magazine grew and grew until one day we suddenly realised through our subscriptions that a lot of non-DJs were accessing the magazine. We realised that it was time to push the magazine out into the public sector because there were more kids buying it than legitimate members of DMC. So at that point we let Mixmag go onto the WH Smith/Menzies circuit, and it's doing 40,000 now, and growing all the time. But those 40,000 aren't DJs, they're the people the DJs play to. We also have another magazine called DJ Only, which is, like, back to square one, a 16-page black and white newsletter for the members, which we were doing 10 years ago."

Mixmag obviously has great potential to influence dance trends. I overheard you on a call saying how dance music was getting boring, and how we need to bring songs into the genre. You're in a good position to put that idea into a lot of peoples minds.

"Where we are influencing the market is in our annual World DJ Championships which are sponsored by Technics and have been for seven years. Until recently that was a competition for a DJ with two turntables and a mixer. We always eliminated technology from that competition because we wanted it to be accessible to a kid who could only afford two turntables and a mixer. But after a number of years we realised there weren't many new tricks they could do with two turntables and a mixer. We realised we couldn't fill the Albert Hall with an event of that nature again, so we decided we'd let technology inch its way into that event. Now we allow samplers, synthesizers, drum machines, and three people in a team. One of them's got to be a DJ. One can be a vocalist, the other can be a rapper, one can be a programmer — we embraced a lot of (technical) problems staging this thing, but we did it this year."

STRESS



We move on to Tony's latest project, Stress Records. Tony informs me that Stress was not the first time DMC had made a foray into the retail market. In the mid '80s, DMC Records (as opposed to DMC Limited) was formed, licensed to Arista, mainly to release the original creations of in-house DMC DJs.

"The guy who ran the business affairs for that label was Keith Blackhurst. What I was trying to do with DMC Records, he finally did on his own with Deconstruction. Stress is the inheritance, the continuity of that — the thinking that, OK, we're a management company, we've got studios, we've got producers, and from time to time they create something. What do we do? Go to a third-party record company and get them a deal (which we still do)? But sometimes it's easier to say, we'll put it out — we'll work it ourselves. Stress Records is a Deconstruction in the making. It's got the right people running it, they love music, and they're inspired by the music."

Might the majors eventually be usurped by the independents like Mute, 4AD, Decon, and eventually Stress?

"I don't think they'll ever let that happen, they'll buy the independents out. Who owns Deconstruction now. Deconstruction or BMG? It's hard to say. I actually do think we need majors — society needs stars, and there's only two industries that can provide them — the film industry and the music industry."

If you found some artist who you thought was going to be the next Prince or whatever, would you go for it?

"If I found someone with an awesome talent I'd throw my life and company behind them. Definitely."

At which point my cassette runs out, right on cue.

After the interview I rejoined my cohorts in studio 1, where we were mixing a track for Stress. Across the way (and along the walls of most of the corridors!) is the despatch area, from where records are boxed and sent all over the UK and elsewhere. There was a particularly heavy shipment going out that day. Next thing I see is that Tony and Christine are in there, pasting on labels themselves, giving a hand to their hard-pressed staff! Can you imagine the severed head of a major record label doing anything like that?

THE DMC STUDIOS

Downstairs are three control rooms, two small (very!) with Fostex 16-tracks, and a larger one with a 24-track Saturn, Akai S1000s, Drawmer DS201 dual noise gates, Lexicon PCM70 reverbs and Sountracs consoles throughout. The main room is quite well equipped (I saw an Eventide H3000 harmoniser in there); DAT machines are all professional Sony or Technics models, and the effects racks are pretty full. A decent selection of synths and a 909 drum machine were in evidence. However, I felt that, had the move been made more recently, proportionally more floor space would have been given over to music production. Tony responds: "At the time there was a lot of quarter-inch remixing going on, and the rooms were quite adequate — and we've found that we can still make great records in the 16-track situation. Take Phil Kelsey; all his releases as PKA have been created in the smallest of the three studios, proving that you can make some bloody big sounds in there.

"Now we're getting further away from these studios. Brothers in Rhythm do their initial recording in our 24-track downstairs, then to finish it off they're up in Sarm (West) in very much more plush and luxurious circumstances. Now we have to look at our surroundings here and question whether they are adequate — we've come a long way from the DJ and his two turntables."


THE DJ OF THE FUTURE

"In years to come, you won't see one guy playing a couple of records, you'll see two or three people on stage who are getting back to the old idea of a group formulating music. Nicking a bit of people's stuff here, a bit of their own music there, and you will be attracted to go to that venue like we were attracted to go to see certain groups in the '60s, because we heard they were great. We'll go back to nightclubs, not because we hear they've got a great playlist of records, but because they (DJs) are such unique individuals. DJs are now making records and becoming stars. Let's really go for it!"

What did you think of the recent Brits awards? The Brits is by far the highest profile event, yet dance is making more waves than the traditional rock circuit right now.

"The BPI have got their thing, which is rock, and Rob Dickens, the boss of WEA, has said in print why he doesn't put more dance music into The Brits Awards: 'They've got their own awards' — he's talking about the one we put on every year. If you went to record fairs two or three years ago, you wouldn't see dance music anywhere. You go to a record fair now, and it's nearly all dance music that people are collecting."

How do you feel about the push from major labels, and the BBC's Radio 1 (and Virgin Radio), to try and put rock music back onto the agenda?

"I think there's some student brains running our industry — they should do what I do and delegate to young people. It's their time. In the old days, you had to form a band and work bloody hard doing the circuit to build up a reputation. And then you had to go and do these showcases in front of the A&R men, take a risk, get management behind you. You had to court the A&R industry, a process of years and years of effort. Now you've got a guy who can make a record in an afternoon in his bedroom. He presses his own records, he sells in the key record shops who are into this kind of record. He's made three or four thousand pounds, he's happy, and he goes off and makes another record."

How do these guys get the money to make a record?

"How do they get the money to buy two SL-12s and a sampler? How did groups used to get Fender Stratocaster guitars and Vox amplifiers? They aspired to them, and these kids are now aspiring to being able to press their own records. It's not expensive. I can go out and get you 1000 white labels for around £600. It's the cost of a holiday, and they'll go without a holiday, press the records, and make a couple of thousand pounds.

"The (record) industry's got very big problems, the stars aren't coming through. The kids in the attics aren't finding the vocalists. When I was a kid of 15, I wanted to be a singer, and I became a singer by forming a group, and playing in pubs for £2 a night. Where do vocalists get their experience now? There's no circuit for live bands; maybe the DJs should go down to the local Karaoke night and listen for a young girl or guy singing in a pub!"



Previous Article in this issue

Ian Boddy

Next article in this issue

Remixing With Phil Kelsey


Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.

 

Sound On Sound - Nov 1993

On The Record

Interview by Wilf Smarties

Previous article in this issue:

> Ian Boddy

Next article in this issue:

> Remixing With Phil Kelsey


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