Interview: Simon Dunmore & Mark Vessey on showing forty years of influences in one stack of records

By in Features





Simon Dunmore and Mark Vessey discuss their collaboration on Simon, the latest print in Vessey’s ongoing Collections series.

How do you distil 40 years of music obsession into a single stack of records? That’s the question that faced former Defected Records CEO and Glitterbox head-honcho Simon Dunmore upon embarking on a journey with photographer Mark Vessey. 

The latest print in Vessey’s ongoing photography series, Collections, captures the spirit of Dunmore’s extraordinary career from the dancefloor to the DJ booth, from record stores to meeting rooms and far beyond. Spanning genres such as soul, funk, disco, house and much more, the collection is a snapshot of the music that Dunmore has carried through the years.

VF’s Kelly Doherty sat down with Dunmore and Vessey to discuss the origins of the project and the enduring visual appeal of vinyl.

Where did the initial project idea come from?

Mark: It’s something that I always wanted to do and it was through a mutual friend.

Simon: It was from a magazine called Faith, which Defected was involved with when I was working there. I was very aware of Mark’s work because I’d come down to Brighton and seen it hanging in the Enter Gallery. Then, Simon Dawson, that works with Defected and helps edit the whole Faith Magazine, reached out to me and said ‘Mark Vessey wants to collaborate with you’.

I was like ‘really? I absolutely love that’. It was one of those serendipitous moments where we were aware of each other but didn’t know we were both aware of each other. Here we are, about 18 months later, and the work is finished.

Simon Dunmore, Mark Vessey | Photo credit: Toni Tambourine Tambo PR

Talk to me about the selection process for the records you’ve included.

Simon: I spent two weekends going through my collection. I wanted there to be diversity in terms of the artists, producers and labels. I chose records I’d played as a DJ, records I’ve danced to as a punter and as a lover, and records that I’ve signed in my career as a music executive, whether that be working for the major labels or starting Glitterbox.

It reflects my musical journey from a very early age right through to now. I’ve obviously taken a slight step back and I’m not running the label anymore, but I’m still going to share my musical tastes wherever. I’m just not going to DJ so much these days.

There’s a mix of legendary established albums and new releases like Róisín Murphy’s Incapable. How did you select newer releases to be included?

Simon: My thing is, as a DJ, you should be able to pull from the past and play records that sit comfortably amongst contemporary records and production. At a party like Glitterbox, I can play a Salsoul record and I could dovetail really easily into Róisín Murphy.

She’s a modern-day iconic artist who will fit well now and still will fit comfortably into classic record collections 15 or 20 years from now.

How did it feel looking through all of your records? What emotions did it bring to the fore?

Musical journeys are personal to people. People break up to music, they fall in love to music, and they meet people on the dance floor. There were those kinds of memories and memories of being a pumped-up DJ on great nights, rocking the crowd, and that still makes me smile.

Then there are records you hear for the very first time that nobody has heard when an artist or a manager has sent a demo to you and you’re the first person to hear that record, that then is hugely popular and rock dance floors or the radio.

Were there any visual considerations with the selections?

Simon: I had to consider what Mark was trying to achieve, so every record has to have a spine so that you could look at and see clearly.

Some albums are obviously more seminal than others. Something like “The Conversation” by Lil Louis is a very key moment in time for the acid house movement–a Chicago artist doing an album of house music–they were really early days within the scene. That album still stands. Mark guided me through that process heavily.

Mark: We limited it to two albums by the same artists. Then decided which we were going to actually put into the artwork itself.

Simon: I could have picked any of four or five Loleatta Holloway albums. We decided upon Love Sensation because I could tell a story about Glitterbox and it was a disco moment. Even though I loved her as a soul artist, she was an artist who transcended from being a really gritty soul act to being an iconic disco artist that is still sampled today.

Mark, what continues to draw you to capturing collections?

Mark: I love being able to plug into a cultural moment, something where I’m able to go on my own journey and learn through another’s experience.

With Simon, he has 40 years and an expanse of work within club culture and with the record label. It was a real journey for me to learn through Simon. That’s what I do. I really love that it’s almost like a portrait I’m taking. It condenses everything down to become far more than what it is–just a stack of magazines or vinyl–it’s more a representation of Simon’s career, and that’s what I really love.

Simon: Everyone I share the art with is intrigued. They look intensely and can tell their own stories. My collection is probably a similar journey to many people my age and can relate to records specifically. I think people’s interpretations when they look at it may be like mine, but also completely different. You can put your own spin on it.

Mark: It’s an experience as well. Simon’s story reflects the people that he has touched or worked with that have been part of that journey with him in his career. I love that thread and the actual tangible items of the vinyl and how it speaks to us.

Simon Dunmore | Photo credit: Toni Tambourine Tambo PR

Records are something that we display publicly but can tell such private, personal stories. Mark, do you feel you have a better understanding of Simon after this project?

Mark: Definitely. I already wanted to work with Simon and when he came to my house and had a cup of coffee, we talked about his own story, the records that he was picking and the reasons those records were important. I had a buzz after that meeting and it really cemented the work that went into the photograph, and the artwork itself.

Why do you think people have an enduring fascination with the visual element of vinyl?

Simon: I think making music has been made so much easier by technology and people making records on their laptops. If you’re going to invest in going to a pressing plant, cutting a record, trying to get into a record store, going through that whole process of a distributor taking it, a buyer in a record store buying 10 or 50 copies to hang on their wall and trying to sell it, it’s a far more serious process.

There’s also a nostalgic and romantic attachment to vinyl. It’s almost like it’s from something back in the day. People are looking for magic. I cherish the records I’ve bought, that I went to a record store and paid my hard-earned for and racked on my shelves. That process takes a lot of time and dedication.

Mark: There’s the idea that the message is in the medium and you can’t as easily jump with a record. It slows you down and gets us off our mobile phones. It brings us into ourselves in the here and now.

Simon: You can’t pick up a file and look at the sleeve notes or at the artwork, all of those things. I mean, with some of my most cherished records, I love the music that’s contained with them, but I also love the artwork, and I love the musicians that are involved in it.

Simon Dunmore | Photo credit: Toni Tambourine Tambo PR

What do you hope people take away from the exhibit?

Simon: That’s a tough question. I hope they can recognise the fact that music has been such a massive part of my own personal life. I always say that from the days of making a cassette compilation and giving it to my friends, or working behind a record store, or being behind a DJ booth, or even owning a record label–I’m sharing my personal taste in music. I guess I’m very fortunate that people have aligned with that over the years.

I also hope that people will look at the artwork and go ‘I love that record. I love that artist. That label’s important to me. I understand why he’s included that because I’ve got my own Salsoul rack or Strictly Rhythm rack’. There are like-minded people my age or slightly younger that have been through similar journeys and I hope they can connect with the art in that respect.

Mark: I totally agree with everything Simon said. I hope that by telling Simon’s story, people will see themselves.

Simon will launch at Brighton’s Enter Gallery on May 25.