Jonty Skrufff – Discobelle Interview
A brief break from all the music today, here’s an interview we did with the lovely fella Jonty Skrufff when we were in Berlin a few weeks ago. Enjoy.
Either click the link above or read the whole thing after the jump.
â€œThis is the score: Discobelle.net is a Swedish blog about music. Because we love it, not because we want to cheat anyone out of any money.â€
Starting life four years ago as a club guide for DJs performing in Southern Sweden, Discobelle is nowadays one of the Netâ€™s most influential and busiest download portals, attracting up to 200,000 unique visitors a month. Not that everybodyâ€™s impressed, as the siteâ€™s rather pointed mission statement suggests.
â€œWe donâ€™t post albums, just single tracks, remixes and videos. A few times a month we have exclusive mixes from DJs all around the world as well,â€ it continues. â€œWe strongly suggest that anyone that appreciates the music that we post, also finds a good way to support the artists behind it.â€
Chatting to Skrufff.com today in a gloriously lit Berlin loft apartment on a sunny Sunday afternoon Discobelle co-founder Martin is in appreciative mood himself, having DJed at uber-hot Berlin warehouse club Villa last night (with fellow Discobelle DJ Kristian). The pair later ended up at Berghain at 9am (where they were delighted to discover no queues) though six hours later theyâ€™re fresh faced and lucid without a hint of having partied the night before.
And while Kristian pops out to pick up his girlfriend, Martin (a university administrator during the week) kicks off the interview by cheerfully dismantling the idea that free downloads are killing the music business.
â€œI would say itâ€™s the opposite actually,â€ he smiles. â€œFree downloading allows more people to get their music out there to a wider audience. Before you had to send your music to radio stations, or magazine or labels now you can be heard. I think itâ€™s a good thing because people discover more music and hence they will buy more music,â€ he suggests.
Which raises a number of points. Firstly, none of their tracks are â€˜stolenâ€™ or forwarded by DJs abusing promo lists: instead almost all the downloadable tracks on Discobelle are promo copies sent in directly by publicists and producers, who are asking them to upload their music rather than demanding they take it down.
And secondly blogs like Discobelle (and fellow download sites such as SheenaBeaston.com, Big Stereo, Fluokids and Music Ninja) are now so successful that theyâ€™re even threatening to supplant old media in the same tastemaker/ gatekeeper position magazines and radio stations once controlled.
â€œWe get around 150 emails a day containing tracks and mixes and we upload around 5 posts a day, which might be tracks or mixes. Or maybe a video thrown in,â€ says Martin. â€œSo weâ€™re doing about 25 to 30 a week out of a thousand of so tracks and mixes.â€
Spinning at Berlinâ€™s Villa last night (which happens to be programmed by their fellow Swede and Awesome booking agency chief Leo) the duo are increasingly recognised as DJs as much as bloggers, though back home itâ€™s a different story, both readily admit.
â€œWeâ€™re actually more well known in other parts of the world, itâ€™s like that clichÃ© of the prophet not being recognised in his own homeâ€™,â€ Martin laughs.
Kristian (whoâ€™s just got back) agrees, noting that while they know most of the mainstream media people in Sweden personally, their profile locally remains decidedly low.
â€œWeâ€™re still not invited to the big events such as awards ceremonies and I think thatâ€™s crap,â€ he chuckles (prompting an outbreak of giggling from Martin), â€œBecause some of the artists who won awards were people we were the first to discover: we posted their first tracks.â€
â€œItâ€™s a little weird,â€ Martin adds. â€œWe get emails from American PR companies sending us tracks by Swedish artists but sometimes Swedish producers still donâ€™t send us them: at least not directly.â€
â€œIt might be that weâ€™re too close to home,â€ Kristian interjects.
â€œWe had a discussion with a local club magazine recently, the biggest free street magazine in Sweden, about why they never wrote about us. Because they write about absolutely everybody else, all of our friends, and they told us we were so big that we were competition. It kind of makes sense, but on the other hand weâ€™re not a publication, weâ€™re four guys doing a music blog. Just because weâ€™re big doesnâ€™t mean that some big commercial organisation, we need support too,â€ he says.
â€œWeâ€™ve also never really been part of the hip scene in Sweden, weâ€™re really down to Earth people. I donâ€™t know if we care enough to be amongst the â€˜in- crowdâ€™. Itâ€™s not that we donâ€™t want to be (both laugh again) but we donâ€™t really know how to. We do our own thing and thatâ€™s it:â€
Recognition issues aside (theyâ€™re clearly more than comfortable with their outsider somewhat nerdish status), both guys are absolutely charming brimming with enthusiasm and energy which is particularly impressive given their night time adventures.
Discobelle, photo by Max Adolfsson (Autumn 2009)
Skrufff.com (Jonty Skrufff): The net and web 2.0 is constantly developing incredibly quickly, how much has the vision of Discobelle changed from when you started five years ago?
Discobelle (Martin): â€œIt started more or less as a club guide for Southern Sweden then we discovered that people enjoyed the mixes of artists we posted who were coming in to DJ at different local clubs. So we posted more of them. And then switched from Swedish to English. So at the very beginning it was a website promoting the local club scene then it moved on to becoming the blog as it is now. Hopefully now weâ€™re seen as being tastemakers rather than just a blog. Weâ€™re also more involved in the Discobelle label activities to.â€
Skrufff.com: How did you develop from being a small local Swedish club guide to the international entity it is today, how much was luck involved?
Discobelle (Martin): â€œI think we were absolutely spot on with our timing. Blogs were just popping up in 2006 and we had artists from different clubs doing mixes and it all just grew, like a monster (chuckling).â€
Skrufff.com: Are you all still doing day jobs?
Discobelle (Martin): â€œThree of us have regular day jobs, Kristian has just quit his job and heâ€™ll be focusing on DJing and club nights in Malmo.â€
Skrufff.com: Daniel Haaksman from Man Recordings was chatting to Skrufff.com recently and he said being a label owner doesnâ€™t help him much any more to get gigs and he suggested that blogs are now the new labels in terms of what people follow: whatâ€™s your assessment of the blog world?
Discobelle (Martin): â€œThere are so many blogs, everyone has one, and there are thousands of MP3 blogs. Since we started in 2006 itâ€™s exploded but I would say yeah, maybe heâ€™s right about blogs being the labels, with people going to them as the new tastemakers more than the old regular media.â€
Skrufff: Are you listening to all the submissions you receive?
Discobelle (Martin): â€œIâ€™d be lying if I said yes but a lot of things we get sent arenâ€™t really for Discobelle, theyâ€™re from promotion companies who send the same releases to everyone. But we have an idea of which ones to check out.â€
Skrufff.com: What advice would you have for somebody reading this, wanting you to listen to their track, what should they do?
Discobelle (Martin): â€œThey should NOT send a generic standard email that they send to everyone. They should include a personal touch. And they should use Soundcloud or something similar rather than attaching the track to an email, because that just clogs up the mail quickly.â€
Skrufff.com: Even on that you must get at least 50 mails a day from people who do that, what else should they do to get noticed?
Discobelle (Martin): â€œIâ€™d say also send us Discobelle style music, ie dance music, I work in an office eight hours a day constantly listening to music.â€
Skrufff: Do you get many people offering you money to upload their tracks?
Discobelle (Martin): â€œNo, not yet (chuckling).â€
Skrufff.com: Are you hoping to be offered money?
Discobelle (Martin): â€œYes (laughing). I wouldnâ€™t mind. Itâ€™s producers, promotions companies and DJs sending in mixes who weâ€™re in contact with.â€
Skrufff: Who have been the biggest producers youâ€™ve broken?
Discobelle (Martin): â€œOh, er, when we started out we posted a lot of Baltimore club music, American producers, such as Tittsworth and DJ Ayres. We also covered some of the London tech-house people such as Mowgli and Zombie Disco Squad. We also try and focus on Swedish music.â€
Skrufff.com: Have you heard the new Tiesto/ Diplo collaboration?
Discobelle (Martin): â€œYes (giggling).â€
Skrufff.com: What do you think of it?
Discobelle (Martin): â€œEr, itâ€™s more Tiesto than Diplo, we talked about it earlier, maybe Diplo took the money and, er, ran. Iâ€™m not a big fan of Tiesto so I donâ€™t like it that much: itâ€™s too much like Tiesto. But Diplo needs to be paid, he needs to get his name out there so thatâ€™s cool.â€
Skrufff: Do you have any tips on how to attract a big audience for a blog?
Discobelle (Martin): â€œWeâ€™re still doing it because itâ€™s fun, once it turns into a chore people will probably notice quickly. Do it for fun and post what you want: the things you like. Then it will probably work.â€
Skrufff: Were there any specific steps you took to popularise Discobelle outside Sweden?
Discobelle (Martin): â€œNo, we spread totally via word of mouth.â€
Skrufff: Do you get much competition from rival blogs, any dirty tricks, is it a particularly cut throat world?
Discobelle (Martin): â€œIt is cut throat, yes, but most of the other people from blogs are pretty friendly. We have a mailing list for other blogs called Grindinâ€™ and we have 60 or 70 blogs, small label owners and UK PRS who are on that list. So weâ€™re all friends. Thatâ€™s people such as the American blog Big Stereo and Floukids in France. We help each other out. A few of them have also started labels so weâ€™re cross posting.â€
Skrufff: Is the goal to sell the music on the Discobelle label and make money?
Discobelle (Martin): â€œThe goal is more to put the music out there and to break even which is what we do. Once we start earning money weâ€™ll split it between us and artists, itâ€™s not really about making profits.â€
Discobelle (Kristian): â€œWeâ€™re a small group of people which means we can go with the flow. The label started out as a small project but itâ€™s so far been so well received that we might develop it further. The only thing we agreed is that when it stops being fun thatâ€™s when we decide what to do. Or maybe theyâ€™ll be a breaking point when we decide to all quit our day jobs and concentrate on Discobelle full time to take it to another level. Thereâ€™s no master-plan.â€