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Jonty Skrufff – Discobelle Interview

Jun 5 2010

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.

Jonty Skrufff – Interview with Discobelle

Either click the link above or read the whole thing after the jump.

“This 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.”

Starting life four years ago as a club guide for DJs performing in Southern Sweden, Discobelle is nowadays one of the Net’s most influential and busiest download portals, attracting up to 200,000 unique visitors a month. Not that everybody’s impressed, as the site’s rather pointed mission statement suggests.

“We don’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,” it continues. “We strongly suggest that anyone that appreciates the music that we post, also finds a good way to support the artists behind it.”

Discobelle online

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 they’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.

“I would say it’s the opposite actually,” he smiles. “Free 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 it’s a good thing because people discover more music and hence they will buy more music,” he suggests.

Which raises a number of points. Firstly, none of their tracks are ‘stolen’ 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 they’re even threatening to supplant old media in the same tastemaker/ gatekeeper position magazines and radio stations once controlled.

“We 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,” says Martin. “So we’re doing about 25 to 30 a week out of a thousand of so tracks and mixes.”

Spinning at Berlin’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 it’s a different story, both readily admit.

“We’re actually more well known in other parts of the world, it’s like that cliché of the prophet not being recognised in his own home’,” Martin laughs.

Kristian (who’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.

“We’re still not invited to the big events such as awards ceremonies and I think that’s crap,” he chuckles (prompting an outbreak of giggling from Martin), “Because some of the artists who won awards were people we were the first to discover: we posted their first tracks.”

“It’s a little weird,” Martin adds. “We get emails from American PR companies sending us tracks by Swedish artists but sometimes Swedish producers still don’t send us them: at least not directly.”

“It might be that we’re too close to home,” Kristian interjects.

“We 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 we’re not a publication, we’re four guys doing a music blog. Just because we’re big doesn’t mean that some big commercial organisation, we need support too,” he says.

“We’ve also never really been part of the hip scene in Sweden, we’re really down to Earth people. I don’t know if we care enough to be amongst the ‘in- crowd’. It’s not that we don’t want to be (both laugh again) but we don’t really know how to. We do our own thing and that’s it:”

Recognition issues aside (they’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): “It 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 we’re seen as being tastemakers rather than just a blog. We’re also more involved in the Discobelle label activities to.”

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): “I 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).”

Skrufff.com: Are you all still doing day jobs?

Discobelle (Martin): “Three of us have regular day jobs, Kristian has just quit his job and he’ll be focusing on DJing and club nights in Malmo.”

Skrufff.com: Daniel Haaksman from Man Recordings was chatting to Skrufff.com recently and he said being a label owner doesn’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: what’s your assessment of the blog world?

Discobelle (Martin): “There are so many blogs, everyone has one, and there are thousands of MP3 blogs. Since we started in 2006 it’s exploded but I would say yeah, maybe he’s right about blogs being the labels, with people going to them as the new tastemakers more than the old regular media.”

Skrufff: Are you listening to all the submissions you receive?

Discobelle (Martin): “I’d be lying if I said yes but a lot of things we get sent aren’t really for Discobelle, they’re from promotion companies who send the same releases to everyone. But we have an idea of which ones to check out.”

Skrufff.com: What advice would you have for somebody reading this, wanting you to listen to their track, what should they do?

Discobelle (Martin): “They 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.”

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): “I’d say also send us Discobelle style music, ie dance music, I work in an office eight hours a day constantly listening to music.”

Skrufff: Do you get many people offering you money to upload their tracks?

Discobelle (Martin): “No, not yet (chuckling).”

Skrufff.com: Are you hoping to be offered money?

Discobelle (Martin): “Yes (laughing). I wouldn’t mind. It’s producers, promotions companies and DJs sending in mixes who we’re in contact with.”

Skrufff: Who have been the biggest producers you’ve broken?

Discobelle (Martin): “Oh, 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.”

Skrufff.com: Have you heard the new Tiesto/ Diplo collaboration?

Discobelle (Martin): “Yes (giggling).”

Skrufff.com: What do you think of it?

Discobelle (Martin): “Er, it’s more Tiesto than Diplo, we talked about it earlier, maybe Diplo took the money and, er, ran. I’m not a big fan of Tiesto so I don’t like it that much: it’s too much like Tiesto. But Diplo needs to be paid, he needs to get his name out there so that’s cool.”

Skrufff: Do you have any tips on how to attract a big audience for a blog?

Discobelle (Martin): “We’re still doing it because it’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.”

Skrufff: Were there any specific steps you took to popularise Discobelle outside Sweden?

Discobelle (Martin): “No, we spread totally via word of mouth.”

Skrufff: Do you get much competition from rival blogs, any dirty tricks, is it a particularly cut throat world?

Discobelle (Martin): “It is cut throat, yes, but most of the other people from blogs are pretty friendly. We have a mailing list for other blogs called Grindin’ and we have 60 or 70 blogs, small label owners and UK PRS who are on that list. So we’re all friends. That’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 we’re cross posting.”

Skrufff: Is the goal to sell the music on the Discobelle label and make money?

Discobelle (Martin): “The goal is more to put the music out there and to break even which is what we do. Once we start earning money we’ll split it between us and artists, it’s not really about making profits.”

Discobelle (Kristian): “We’re a small group of people which means we can go with the flow. The label started out as a small project but it’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 that’s when we decide what to do. Or maybe they’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. There’s no master-plan.”