Sam Dexter Whips Up a Deep and Dazzling House Mix
Sam Dexter Whips Up a Deep and Dazzling House MixDecember 21, 2020
Working alongside Kevin McKay as the lead A&R for Glasgow Underground, Sam Dexter knows what makes a good house tune. Sorting through countless demos to find the gold amongst rubble, Dexter is not only a fantastic tastemaker but a well-versed DJ/producer.
Dexter first set out to become a DJ at 15, studying music technology at his local college while working at a grocery store to help support his record habit. As Glasgow Underground began to grow exponentially in 2014, McKay found himself in need of someone with a head for the dance floor, a solid work ethic, and a pair of well-tuned ears. Finding an immediate trust and kinship in the burgeoning DJ, Dexter has helped McKay turn Glasgow Underground into one of the decade’s most successful house music labels.
Dexter first started releasing his own productions in 2018 via his Hungarian Hot Wax imprint, as well as Glasgow Underground. With the help of Kevin McKay, who has been schooling him along the way, he has become the label’s lead deep house artist. This year alone, he’s released myriad of booming tech house tracks, such as his collaboration with Mallin “Looks Good On You,” the bewitching “Catch Your Eye,” and his irresistible rework of the 1991 Drizabone track, “Real Love.”
Read our interview with Dexter, and listen to the mix he provided, below.
Where are you from, and can you tell us about one of your earliest dance floor memories?
I was born in Wales and moved around a lot with my mother as a child, finally settling in Stafford, a small town in the midlands. Stafford has some dance music history with rave legends Bizzare Inc. and Altern-8 hailing from these parts. It is also the home of seminal house night Swoon in the ’90s, which brought through big names such as Boy George, Masters At Work, Todd Terry, and many more. Despite this rich history, by the time I turned 18, any credible nights in the town were few and far between, and celebs such as Peter Andre and some bloke from Eastenders were passing through the local nightclub. Add that to the university campus closing, and things have become quite sparse around these parts. Still, the transport links — 30 minutes to Birmingham city centre via train, 45 minutes to Manchester city centre, just over an hour to London, one hour from four major airports — and the town’s beautiful countryside keep me here.
My first memory of a ‘proper dance floor,’ apart from trips to Ibiza aged 16 and 18, was seeing Tim Sheridan and my idol at the time, Switch, play a night called Very Very Wrong Indeed in Leeds. The room was packed, and the energy was electric, which did nothing but confirm my love for house music. I also used to travel to Manchester to go to Sankeys for nights such as Zoo Project.
What did your initial DJing and production journey look like, and how has it progressed over time?
I got into DJing while in high school. A friend of mine was playing hard house in his bedroom on two Stanton turntables, and I was hooked. My friend kindly taught me how to mix after school, and at 15, I bought my own Numark direct-drive turntables, and then any money I could earn would go on records. After I left school, I studied Music Technology at Stafford college and worked at the local supermarket to pay for records I would get from Hard To Find Records and Tempest Records in Birmingham. I played my first gig in Stafford at age 17. I had put up posters around town and thought I would smash it, but I ended up getting kicked out after an hour after the bar manager realized I was 17. She also told me my tunes were shit, so I had to pack up all my records and leave. Good thing only five people had shown up.
How did you first get linked up with Kevin McKay and Glasgow Underground?
After DJing in Cyprus for the summer in 2014, I returned to the UK and found myself a bit lost. I had just DJ’d at least twice a day for the last six months, and suddenly I found myself needing to find a ‘real job’ to keep myself going in the UK. Glasgow Underground/Kevin had put up a post on social media looking for help listening to the high volume of demos the label was receiving. Kevin took a few people on, but I really saw this as an opportunity to get my foot into the dance music world on a level that was more than just DJing and putting on small parties, so I grabbed the chance with both hands. I made sure I didn’t miss anything in the demo inbox that I thought was strong. Eventually, I was the only one left checking the demo inbox. Kevin and I realized we were from similar backgrounds and had similar interests, and our working relationship and friendship blossomed from there.
As Glasgow Underground’s A&R, what are you usually looking for when you’re rifling through demos and submissions?
Glasgow Underground isn’t subtle, we are a house music label, and we sign music for DJs. That is it. When listening to demos, I am looking for those tracks that DJs are reaching for in their bag when they are playing to a busy dancefloor, whether that dancefloor is in a superclub in Ibiza or a small back room in a commercial club with three members of S Club 7 showing their face in the main room. Despite this sounding obvious, I feel like we do this pretty well.
Who are some of Glasgow Underground’s most exciting new talents?
Although 2020 has been a write-off for clubs and events, I feel like there has been a real chance for new producers to make an impact on the DJ sites. Producers such as Argentine Gruuv and T.Markakis from Greece have seized this opportunity and have had big releases with us this year. 2020 has also been a superb year for up-and-coming producer and all-round great dude Mallin. Mallin’s stripped back and DJ friendly deep house sound — with hints of garage influences — has seen him grab decent chart success this year, and I know he is only going to go from strength to strength in 2021.
We’d love to learn a little bit more about Hungarian Hot Wax. When did you start the imprint, how would you describe its sound/aesthetic, and what are your future hopes and plans for the label?
Hungarian Hot Wax, named after a chili pepper of the same name, was started in 2015, not long before I joined Glasgow Underground. I started the label as I was sat on some music from a friend that I thought was really strong, and I was certain dance music was the industry I wanted to be involved in. I didn’t know anything about what it took to run a label, and I just jumped straight in pressing the first three releases to vinyl at a huge personal cost. I soon realized this wasn’t going to be sustainable and eventually made the label digital. I wanted to run the fairest label in house music, so I make sure the contracts with artists are 50/50 splits and bring through as many local up and coming artists as possible. As well as the classic trial and error method, Kevin taught me a lot in regards to what it takes to run a label, so I realize what a fortunate position I’ve found myself in. As the label has grown, I’ve found a nice sound and feel with it, and I am thrilled with the group of artists I now have contributing to the imprint. In 2020, the label moved to weekly releases after I spoke to the regular Hot Wax artists and tried to give them something to focus on during the COVID lockdowns in the UK.
Your single “Real Love” made quite a splash this year. How did you link up with Elliotte for the track?
“Real Love” has totally caught me by surprise with how well it has done. The track initially started as an edit of the Drizabone original from the ’90s that I had made for my DJ sets. That edit ended up being played by Ridney at ADE and Alex Cooksley when he was warming up at the big Kasbah parties in Coventry. Kevin then insisted I do a proper version for Glasgow Underground and suggested we get the vocal resung, which is where Elliotte Williams-N’Dure came in. Elliotte is a broadway performer in London with a fantastic voice. The moment we got the vocals back, we were blown away by the tremendous job Elliotte had done. I didn’t have to do too much else from my original edit as Elliotte’s vocal was THAT good, in my opinion. It was a really fun track to work on, and the original has gone on to be streamed over 150,000 times on Spotify alone with Kevin’s edit nearly at 500,000 streams, which I am still trying to get my head around.
Tell us about the mix you put together for us.
I really enjoyed recording this mix, and I am so grateful for the opportunity. I feel like this is 60 minutes of what you would hear me playing in nightclubs right now if nightclubs were still a thing. 2020 has been a year where I have genuinely enjoyed shopping and connecting with music despite the circumstances. I’ve genuinely come to find a new appreciation for DJing at the moment, even if I have been DJing now for 15 years, which makes me feel old, although, at 32, I feel as if I am just getting started.
This mix is straight-up house and deep house with tracks from local Midlands lads and friends Tommy Vercetti, Josh Gregg, and my Hot Wax partner in crime Alex Cooksley, all of which are doing great things, and I couldn’t be happier for them.