Achal Dhillon 6th Oct 2021

'If there was more revenue support from DSPs, a lot of indie labels could become fully fledged record companies'

Good Neighbours is a series brought to The IMI by The Music Federation’s Achal Dhillon. It's designed to highlight individuals in the music industry who embody that unique sense of indie community and are changing the biz for the better. This time, Dhillon sits down with Polarface founder Jason Ngimbi

Jason Ngimbi (alongside his buddy Cheyenne Walker) started Polarface Music Group in 2016 – something of an alarming year on the global political stage and one in which, you can imagine, the conditions for a fledgling record label – especially one owned and operated by persons of colour – were, quite frankly, not brilliant.

Since really getting to know Jason (full disclosure: Polarface was one of the first companies to join The Music Federation) the most honest, albeit self-aggrandising way I can reflect how I feel about him is that he reminds me of, well, me when founding Killing Moon about a billion years ago. The far more charismatic, intrepid, and probably friendly version of me, at least.

Continuing the honesty, I don’t think there’s anyone in my world that I respect more than Jason when it comes to finding talented artists, marching up to them and forging a relationship. It’s inspiring to say the least, particularly at points in recent history when I have lost sight of the importance of music.

I will just have to forgive him for being a Spurs fan because no one is perfect.

Then there’s the community spirit that I feel Jason carries around with him as a matter of course. As immediately as an opportunity comes his way, he’s extrapolating the many uses that might exist for the benefit of those around him. There are a few individuals in the music industry that feel taking a truly equitable approach to artist development as opposed to a hyper-opportunistic one is the way to go, and I think Jason personifies this ideology.

Without necessarily wanting to turn Jason and co.’s mission statement of signing and developing great artists into a crusade for societal change, the fact that Polarface exists is more than sufficient evidence that those very changes are already underway. I am excited to see what Polarface does as it establishes itself as the next great indie A&R powerhouse.

Tell us about yourself and your music business…

I’m Jason and I operate Polarface Music Group, a record label, events and management company. I was born in Manchester but grew up in London.


How did you first start working in the music industry?

Starting Polarface was my first introduction to the music industry. When I was at university, I knew I wanted to work in music and run my own business. I’m very fortunate that I’m from a family of entrepreneurs who inspire me and made me realise from a young age that I can do whatever I want and lead on my own terms. Polarface started from running club nights in Manchester, which eventually led to releasing records – our 001 being rapper Clive Mercury’s Orange Rooms EP.

What do you feel has been your biggest success in your career thus far, and why?

Firstly, starting the company and operating for nearly five years. Running a business is not an easy task and I’m very proud I have been able to hold on for so long. It just shows that if you love something and have a deep passion, you just have to keep going because you never know where it can go.

Secondly, hosting independent sold out shows for our artists and seeing their music featured on Radio 1. I don’t care what anyone says, seeing your music on Radio 1 will always feel special. That’s why radio is not dead to me.

Thirdly, people tell me that they respect Polarface. I didn’t come into this game to get people’s approval. However, it’s important that you acknowledge the respect and support. It really does go a long way and it shows you’re doing a great job. To me that’s a big success! Anyone who has started a business probably has the same thoughts when things aren’t going their way: ‘What the hell am I doing? Should I stop?’ But, when myself and the team have been putting in the work, it’s nice when people recognize it.


What has been the biggest regret or low-point in your career so far and how did you deal with it?

I wouldn’t say I have had any regrets, to be honest with you. I can definitely admit that I have made mistakes but, in the end, I don’t regret, I just learn from them.

There have been times when my A&R decisions were wrong, where I signed the wrong artist or missed out on the right artist. There have been times when I’ve seen the label struggle to generate money. 2020 was, of course, a hard year for everyone – the live sector is where we generated most of our income. To lose that was difficult. However, I’m grateful to have great partners in Cheyenne [Polarface GM] and Charlie [Berry – Polarface COO], who kept the label’s spirits alive and, most importantly, took me out in what I felt was a low point in my life. Meditating is key, people! I fully encourage everyone to do it. It has gotten me out during a lot of bad moments when I found running the label difficult.

"It's beautiful to see more Black and Asian individuals creating their own businesses and movements within the industry. I feel a huge rise has come in the post-pandemic world."

What do you like most about the music industry, and why?

I’m happy to work in a great industry and grateful to be doing something I love. I love my team – being on this journey with them is what gets me going. Going to gigs and meeting people is honestly my favourite thing to do. About 90% of people who I have worked with, or who have become industry peers, I have met at gigs. Seeing [Polarface artist] Safiyyah selling out her first ever headline show was really special. Also, I can’t forget, even though I work hard, it’s nice to enjoy the rewards of being on a festival guestlist!


If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be and why?

I would like streaming to be at a higher level for musicians and record labels. I feel, in my generation, it has become the norm to juggle multiple activities alongside music. It’s not a bad thing, and keeps you on your toes, but, if the economy was better and more supportive, especially in the indie sector, a lot of indie labels such as Polarface could become fully fledged record companies. I have had another job while running Polarface to ensure I’m financially safe. If there was more revenue support from DSPs, who knows where Polarface could be? I’m not someone who complains and I will make sure I achieve what I set out to do by any means necessary.

 

How do you see the future of the music business developing in a post-pandemic world?

It’s beautiful to see more Black and Asian individuals creating their own businesses and movements within the industry. I feel a huge rise has come in the post-pandemic world.

I’m all for it and I want to play a part in the development of that. It’s times like this when we are going to see a real change in the diversity and equality presented in the industry. 


Give us a ‘Do’ and ‘Do not’ piece of advice for working in the music business…

Do come into this industry if you feel you can be valuable or make a change and, most importantly, you want to see yourself and others win.

Do not come into this industry for clout or because you think it’s a quick money spinner.

Achal Dhillon

Achal Dhillon started Killing Moon Group in early 2011 in his parents' loft as a new music blog following a string of A&R/artist management positions at Universal Music, Quest Management and Turn First Artists/First Access Entertainment. It has since evolved into one of the UK’s best artist development platforms, encompassing a record label, artist management and live promotions business. Dhillon was elected in 2016 to the board of directors at the Association of Independent Music and was promoted to the Board Management Group in 2021. He is regularly engaged by third party labels and managers on developing artist campaigns as an area of expertise. In August 2021, Killing Moon Group announced the creation of The Music Federation – a collective of various music companies ranging from labels like Fierce Panda, and studios like Metropolis, right through to curators like Radio X’s George Godfrey and festivals such as Wild Paths and 2000 Trees – with Dhillon cited as the principal architect and the Federation’s first CEO. In addition, Dhillon is a consultant festival booker for Festival Republic focusing on DJs and stage comperes, alongside Killing Moon Live’s position as exclusive talent bookers to Native.fm – a platform with content exclusivity over 75 student unions in the UK, with over 3M subscribers. He has also worked a great deal in creating access to funding/capital for developing artists and new music businesses. Artists he has worked with currently and historically include Jack Garratt, Rita Ora, Arcade Fire, Fickle Friends, Paul McCartney, Bjork, Ellie Goulding, Annabel Allum, Marsicans, IDLES, Chapter and Verse, Cleopatrick, Bad Nerves and more. Dhillon is also a patron (as well as Killing Moon being the largest revenue-generating partner) of the House of St Barnabas in London; a charity operating as a members’ club, with the object of raising funds to eliminate homelessness in the UK.