Interview with D.A

D.A aka Dire Affectionate aka Urban Enigma

It's about time we learned about a little bit more about Daniel Clarke A.K.A 'D.A', international musician, producer, industry entrepreneur & founder of NexGen Music.

We finally managed to catch up and pin him down for a few minutes at the NexGen Music Studios in Washington, DC.

Jem: When did the record label start and where? Why did it move to NY and then DC?

D.A: Actually the record label started back in the UK in 2001, under the name 'Dire Productions' which I started at college to cater for the TV commercial and short film projects that I was providing jingles and mini-soundtracks for. I was actually born in NY, so in 2003 I'd decided to move back to the US and of course the label came with me. After 8 years building the NexGen brand from my basement dungeon in Brooklyn, NY, and having built some good connections in the DC area, I decided that I needed a change of scenery and relocated down to the DC area.

Jem: What inspired you to start the label?

D.A: That's a great question and I could probably keep you here for days on this one.. The short version is that back in the early to mid 90's, with the UK Hardcore/Breakbeat scene in its prime, closely followed by the birth of Drum & Bass – as a young, aspiring, and impressionable 'bedroom' DJ/Producer, I was totally captivated by this new, unique and very distinctive sound, more than anyone else around me including all of my close friends. I was snuck into parties at venues like the Laserdrome in Peckham, and AWOL at Ministry of Sound and managed to rub shoulders with some of the Drum & Bass/Jungle scene legends like Micky Finn & Darren Jay, Ray Keith, MC Dett & MC Five-O to name just a few. Once I started dabbling with music production at around the age of 14, I already knew that I'd create a place for myself in the scene – in fact I subconsciously made it my mission.

Now, what really led me down the label route was actually something completely unexpected that I'd faced at the time. Once I'd spent enough time honing my skills in the studio, I began to distribute demo after demo to record labels, but rarely got a response. I was so confident and determined that my music, and also my vision for the evolution of my sound could definitely hold it's weight alongside music that was being played around that time. I then made a promise to myself that I would start my own record label in the future. I also made a decision that when I have a label I'd never put the same barriers in place for up and coming artists that I had to go through. Actually, it's a philosophy I've continued to live by up until today.

Jem: What is the vision of the label?

D.A: Another BIG question. Well the short answer is that our vision is HUGE. NexGen has what we could call perhaps, many 'tentacles'. Our music is so interesting and diverse, while also offering the right balance and mixture of the underground, with music that everyday people find somewhat familiar and can relate and vibe to – and it's not technically considered mainstream. We've spent years defining and refining this approach, and in terms of our continued goals and vision we are very much about the artist.

Ask yourself this question: where does the artist even fit in, in 2012? An even bigger question still – what defines an artist in 2012? With easy access to music technology, complete with all of the tools and music sample packs so readily available nowadays, there are 'artists' and 'producers' out there making huge names for themselves without even knowing how to read a note on a staff! Music production, as well as many other creative industries has been permanently changed by technology. It's evolved, which has blessings and a curses in many ways. We're indifferent about it all except for one key area - it's become extremely noisy out there!

Some of the best talent – artists that may not have the time, know-how, or ability to market themselves efficiently in today's socially driven online 'circus', are finding it difficult to make themselves and their talents stand out amount their peers. They need our help, and we need the talent, so our vision is to continue to grow the label while investing in our talent to ensure that they grow with us.

Jem: What does it offer artists other labels don’t?

D.A: We offer our artists many things, but first and foremost we offer our artists a family, and we come with wide open arms... If you were to randomly ask any of the artists that we currently have on our roster, I'd eat my hat if they didn't all agree! I think the second most important thing we offer to our artists is our precious time and our ears. Going back to the question earlier about why I started the label and the barriers put in place, our most important asset to our artist is taking the time to listen and critique their music. Some of our best artists started out by sending us music over the space of several years, and through our personal touch, approach and spending the time advising them on their music and encouraging them to keep submitting demos – a few of them finally sent us that tune where we were like "f*** yeah! This is the one!" Obviously there are other perks like accessibility to collaborate with other label artists, professional delivery of their music e.g mastering and production services, and proper promotion and distribution of their music.

Jem: What are the main features of the new music store? What does it offer the consumer?

D.A: The new store will first of all feature tons of music from our artists that would probably never see the light of day. Adding music to our own store and offering multiple formats depending on the release (cd, vinyl or digital), will no longer be seen as a risky proposition, simply because we'll be completely in control of our own distribution. We've also implemented coupon code redemption into the store, in which we'll be dishing out very generous discounts all over the net and local media. We've also snapped up a couple of other indie labels and their entire back-catalogues to feature their music in our store. This means that we can offer even more diversity of music to feed our audiences. There is however a much bigger piece to this story of why we've made this huge investment in our store – a grand master plan maybe..? I can't reveal any specifics at present, so we'll just have to wait and see what happens!

Jem: What type of distribution set-up do you have?

D.A: NexGen has worldwide distribution in pretty much all global territories for all media formats that we produce and sell.

Jem: What have the key achievements been for the record label?

D.A: This is probably the hardest question, because success in the type and style of music, and the 'niche' industry that we've chosen to grow into is so hard to measure. That being said, hearing some of your music used in places that you'd never imaged you ever would, does give you tingle. We've had our music used in huge TV shows in the US such as 'Top Chef', we've had numerous music placements in UK independent films (including the BBC), and we've even licensed our music out to mobile gaming app developers that have of the best ratings and followings in there respective genres. If I had to pick one major achievement, I'd say that the achievement is that fact that the label even exists… It's scary to think that you could dream of putting something together like this all of those years ago, and then actually see it, live it and breathe it. That's an amazing achievement.

Jem: What are your plans for DC specifically?

D.A: We'll I'm here to stay for a while that's for sure! As I'm pretty sure you're aware, something is brewing up big-time in DC. It's been a long time since I've witnessed and been apart of such a young and vibrant scene. We're lucky enough to be very involved in the local scene the way that we are, and NexGen is building good relationships with venues like; U-Street Music Hall, 930 Club Backbar, and Velvet Lounge to name a few. Also, I'm one of the Co-organizers of the DC Electronic Dance Meetup Group which is something I'm deeply passionate about.

Jem: What inspired you to start up the DC Electronic Meet-Up group? What have you learned from it.

D.A: Actually I cannot take credit for starting the group. It was originally founded sometime in 2008. The previous group organizer decided to step down in April 2011 and Joel Blumenthal alongside his close buddy Aaron Kramer (now both my close buddies), decided to set up and run the group. I met up with Joel about a month after he took over the group and I immediately saw the potential in the group, and what it represented along with it's importance within the local scene. The DC Electronic Dance Meetup Group is what I've dubbed as a 'promoter agnostic' group. We post nightlife events up on our page featuring select EDM events happening weekly within DMV.

The events we choose to feature is at our own discretion and we do not accept any payments or perks from promoters or club owners – that is unless we ask for it! What I'm learning about this experience is really about the power of the group. We have access to a wonderful and abundant group of individuals that promoters typically cannot reach. Our members just want to go out and have a good time and are not really hung up on what DJ is playing or if it's a swanky/'divey' venue. We put on many our own events at all of the clubs I've mentioned earlier, some of them the best parties I've ever experienced! Our group is all about no ego and expectations except going out and having a good time. As a growing record label in the local scene, having an audience like this is gold dust!

Jem: Do you want to sign DC local artists?

D.A: Absolutely without question. We're already in the recruiting phase.

Jem: How do you describe your personality as an individual?

D.A: Not that I'm super-superstitious, but I'm a 1st born and your typical alpha male. However I also have a very deeply passionate, gentle and affectionate side hence my producer pseudo's containing the word 'affectionate'. I am probably one of the most fiercely dedicated individuals you'll ever meet, and the type of person who really doesn't know when he's been beaten. That being said, I am very aware that there's always two sides to a story, and sometimes my intenseness can catch even the best prepared off guard at times. ;)

Jem: How has your cross-atlantic industry experience informed your music industry journey?

D.A: I've said this many times to people since moving to the US, but I'm lucky to have come from Europe when I think about music on a whole. The fact that I was able to witness the pinnacles and births of so many new music genres growing up. I initially owe our soulful, sophisticated and spiritual sound back to my UK roots, however the US has opened up my eyes and presented musical opportunities that I could never have believed possible. I happy that I've been this blessed!

Interview by Jem Bahaijoub @ Imagine PR, (Washington, D.C)