We Chat To DEAN FUEL About His New Label ‘Smaak’


ALL WORDS: Lu Makoboka

For the past couple of years, the name Dean Fuel is definitely among the most recognizable names in South Africa’s Electronic music scene by virtue of his compelling sets and his extensive contribution to the culture. He’s well known as a DJ, Producer and of course a father… Although with inception of his new record label ‘SMAAK’ he continues to exhibit his versatility in music as the head of a young label.

SMAAK offers a fresh and dynamic approach to all things House, Tech and Progressive, spreading a passion for the ever-evolving sound that truly resonates with those in the know. The first single that will be released is an engrossing 6-minute journey called ‘All In’ produced by Dean Fuel. In this interview Dean tells us more about his second child ‘SMAAK’, the creative process behind his upcoming track and much more. 

MCBN: During these times of uncertainty and chaos, what are you doing right now to cultivate a sense of clarity and calm?

Dean: I try to stick to a basic home life routine – keeping things as  normal as possible… in the week it’s waking up, coffee, exercise, cooking, and quality time with my son (he’s the best)!

Weekends I “hook up” with mates over ZOOM and have house parties playing music, talking shit, and hanging out!

I try avoiding social media for all the fear-mongering that’s happening right now – it’s exhausting!

MCBN: You’ve mentioned that you consider yourself a DJ first and foremost, and then a producer. I’m curious as to what DJing gives you that music production can’t?

Dean: DJing for me is the “ying” to producing’s “yang” … most music I write will be done by myself alone in a studio, DJing is where I take that music, and share it with others!

It’s all about that connection on a dancefloor, the interaction, feeding off the dance floor’s energy, they feeding off mine… It’s something I desperately miss now in lockdown! 

MCBN: What are some of the challenges you’re faced with right now in the developing stages of your new record label SMAAK?

Dean: It’s a difficult time for a new out label. Global economies are stuffed, and that’s bad for business in general.

While there are no dance floors happening, DJ’s are earning less income, and able to spend less on new music which is bad for any label!

Having said that, I still do my best to keep up with new music – including it in my livestreams, as well as for my podcast – #LetsGoDancing.

On the positive side – we are focused on a digital release strategy – with the music available for all the streaming sites (such as Spotify), so that we can reach as many listeners and build up a fanbase of people that share our love for this style of music.

MCBN: There are tons of discussions nowadays when it comes to the value labels bring for artists in a world where everyone has the tools to grow on their own. What are the key things a label should be focusing on when working with artists in order to provide value?

Dean: Great question! Yes – these days it’s not hard to self-release your own music – so why a label?

For me, a label has to be more than the admin, or the “brand” – it needs to be a home! A place that brings similar artists, producers, DJ’s and fans all together.

For SMAAK – my goal is to provide all the back-end support that a label should (distribution, design, admin, accounting, etc.) but also be the place that nurtures new talent, and becomes a tastemaker and leader of the sound that I’ve been so passionate about as a DJ / producer myself.

If I can bring the right energies together: for original music, remixes, etc. AND take care of the ‘details’ of it, and let the artists focus on the music and creativity – then I’ll be happy!

MCBN: Coming from a musical family, you’ve been exposed to a wide variety of music, although what was it about Electronic music that captured your attention enough to want to pursue a career in DJing and producing it?

Dean: Simple – I fell in love! The only way to describe going to my first rave was the feeling of “coming home”! That feeling is still as strong today as it was all those years ago.

Everything from the music itself, and the way it simply made my body move – through to the connection with people on dancefloors at ‘raves’, the sense of community, acceptance to be weird, to dress up, go crazy – it all just felt right to me!

I specifically remember always needing to watch the DJ’s, to see how they were creating this music experience, and I’ll never forget telling my mates – ‘one day – I’ll be up there’!

MCBN: Your upcoming single ‘All In’ is quite the sonic voyage and I’m sure you’re excited for the masses to hear it! Can you take us through the production process of the track?

Dean: The main body of the track was written fairly quickly and organically … using reference tracks from other labels and artists that I love, and making it fit me, and my style.

When testing it out, and listening back to it, I realized it needed a vocal part… 

Finding the right vocals was a challenge, but when had them – it was a case of making sure the words and phrases fit into the arrangement of the track.

This took quite a bit of back-and-forth with my A&R team till we felt we had it right. I also sent it to other producers for feedback – I think it can be such an important part of the process, to value the opinion and input from people you respect.

For “All In” – I wanted to keep it a dance floor groover, with an epic moment to see it through – hopefully that’s what we’ve achieved.

MCBN: In your opinion, what are some of the bad recommendations/advice which you commonly hear in your profession?

Dean: Not sure to be honest … I tend to focus on good advice – haha 😉

One key thing I always put forward to guys wanting to get into the scene – is to do it for the love of it, and I know that can be a cliche – but it’s a cliche for a reason.

Doing this – and doing it right – takes time, patience, and LOTS of hard work and effort – so if the love isn’t there, it isn’t worth it.

MCBN: So… 1) An artist/band you would have a D.M.C (Deep Meaningful Conversion), 2) An artist/band you’d love to party with. 3) Artist/band you would like to be within the studio for a week.

Dean: DMC = Carl Cox … sadly have never met him, and I figure he has literally seen and done it all … must have some great stories to tell.

2. Party = Fisher (who else than this crazy Aussie)

3. Studio sesh = Eric Prydz (the master)

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