How do obscure underground 12" singles–red-hot mash-ups from London, broken bossanova from Rome, drum & bass from Stockholm–find their way onto the shelves of your local record emporium? There's a good chance they come from Chicago's Groove Distribution, fine purveyor of "music with soul and music that falls through the cracks," as founder and president Dirk van den Heuvel puts it.
Van den Heuvel worked at Cargo Distribution for nine years; when they went out of business in 1995 he founded Groove Dis, which has become a vital link between forward-thinking labels and listeners. If you run a record shop and want to make sure you have the latest soulful house 12" from Paris' Q-Tape Records or an upcoming nu-jazz CD from Japanese compilation experts KSR, you better be in touch with van den Heuvel.
But unlike a DJ whose only concern is having the freshest sounds, van den Heuvel has to make sure these records are going to sell. "There's records that get written up in magazines, that people love and whatever, and then you cut through the bull and you find out, 'Well, shit, they only sold 300 copies!'" van den Heuvel explains with more than a note of exasperation. Besides the paucity of consumers with good taste, another challenge Groove Dis is currently tackling is the general decline of DJ culture.
"We're in the business of selling dance music to people who like dance music and not in the business of selling 12" singles to DJs," he explains. "If your business model is based on selling vinyl records to DJs, you're doomed. That's just a teeny part of the market out there and it's getting smaller every day." To that end, Groove Dis expends much effort scouting out CDs and keeping an eye on digital music developments. With 10 employees devoted to finding the kind of music "Gilles [Peterson] might play," the company does an amazing job of staying abreast of the latest movements, but van den Heuvel is well aware that he's not about to challenge the Virgin Mega's of the world for revenue. "I'm sure if I liked stuff that was a little bit more popular we'd be a bigger company," he laughs.