Mouna Dif on shattering industry gender roles, leading Quality Good Records’ merger with Virgin Music/UMG
For more than six years, electronic music label Quality Goods Records (QGR) has been led by artist UZ and co-founder Mouna Dif, who has molded the imprint’s expansive reach and diverse roster of talent. Under Mouna’s leadership as head of operations and artist manager, QGR has launched the careers of some of dance music’s esteemed acts, including Rome In Silver, ATLiens, Oski, Nitti Gritti, and Jon Casey. On March 31, QGR announced a merger and distribution deal with Universal Music Group/Virgin Music Artist & Label Services; Dif was the main driver. “Quality Goods Records has only been about pushing our generation’s next most forward-thinking artists in electronic music no matter the importance of their sphere of influence, social media numbers, country of origin, digital streaming platform presence, or whether they are actively touring or not. It has only been about the music and taking risks. On this day, I am happy that we stuck to our guns from the start and never drifted away from the vision UZ and myself had for QGR,” she said.
With support from Virgin Music, the team will continue to widen its reach and roster, focusing on upcoming artists and bringing them further into the spotlight. Through access to additional UMG-provided resources, QGR intends to further advance artist development, streamline releases and larger projects, and continue broadening its sonic reach, with a focus on singers and songwriters in particular. “I’m planning on being deeply involved on the A&R side with UZ. Finding powerful vocalists and songwriters to really amp up the level of each song. I’m excited to be using my experience and pastille as a singer-songwriter to curate these releases. And UMG/Virgin Music will definitely help facilitate that process also with their large and diversified roster in the pop and rap world,” Dif said.
As the driving force of the acquisition, Mouna Dif, an independent artist turned indie artist-manager and label head, warrants a look as an influential woman in the electronic industry. The daughter of an Algerian father and British mother, Dif never set out to be the frontwoman of the QGR label and brand, but alas, after two decades of triumphs, trials, and tribulations in music, she’s established herself as a revered industry veteran and a pioneering woman at the helm of an indie label.
In the early 2000’s, Dif was a singer-songwriter performing under the moniker Moona in France. Exploring electronic-hip hop with her friends in the city by night, and studying architecture and photography by day, it was during this part of her life that she built character, learned to develop an artistic vision, and ultimately honed her unwavering determination to find success in the music industry. “I’ve never been a traditional learner. I like to test things as well as experience the results on my own, to be analytical of those outcomes. I was definitely never afraid to ask anything either. My experience firsthand as an indie artist such as booking shows, releasing my own music, as well as promoting everything really helped and shaped my abilities to do the best job I can as an artist manager and head of a label,” she said.
From 2002 through the early 2010’s, Moona would go on to perform in an acid-jazz live band (Moon and the Funky Satellites), collaborating with French duo Walter Sobcek, German nu-disco band Les Loups, Anoraak (who she now manages), Foreign Beggars, and future QGR founder-turned-label-partner, DJ Troubl aka UZ. The pair met on one fateful night in Strasbourg, France in 2009, Mouna dished in a 2020 interview with noisprn. Her best friend was an active electronic music and hip-hop promoter who’d booked the 2X World DMC champion, along with French rapper-graffiti artist Grems, for a live event. During the event, the two connected; they’d stay in touch and in the next few years, Dif would become increasingly involved in and challenged by the business side of the industry.
Like many independent artists, Moona’s foray into the industry would be plagued with highs and lows. After seeing success from several singles, garnering support from Diplo via his “Diplo & Friends BBC Radio Show,” and placing an original composition in the main title of a popular kid’s show (for which she was never credited nor compensated), Dif was frustrated by the limited possibilities for an indie-electronic artist with a small team. “Only a few artists were making it big in those days by having few managers, as well as labels and marketing teams to back them up. Possibilities were pretty limited unless you had a big team around you. It’s what pushed me at a point in my artist career to reconsider my goals and to explore other avenues while still being immersed in my passion—music. I simply wanted to help artists out so they wouldn’t make the same mistakes I did,” said Dif.
In 2014, she was approached with an offer to become UZ’s tour manager, handling the day-to-day logistics and “big picture stuff.” Shortly thereafter, she would go on to become the artist’s full-time manager and his QGR label partner. “I’m thankful to UZ for believing in me and giving me the benefit of the doubt. Trusting me with his projects and overall vision for not only his career, but the future for QGR. We’ve known each other for over 13 years now, and we’ve always been driven by the same passion and vision for music as a whole. He has always allowed me to follow my gut and trust my insight and decisions from the beginning to now.”
For Dif, having an inclusive roster and diverse team working alongside her has always been an essential part of her work with QGR and its international team of artists and partners. “Diversity is wealth through the precious knowledge it brings, letting you see the endless possibilities the world has to offer from the rich and timeless art and music within. It’s very important to me to highlight artists from around the world because everyone’s vision is different. Their own creative process is very much inspired by traditional tones and emotions. Their culture, perception on life and overall personal experiences are what make the project beautifully original in a scene where artists are often included by mainstream trends,” said Dif.
However, since its foundation in 2016, the Quality Goods Records roster has only signed less than three percent of women or female-identifying artists to its label. When asked if she expects this percentage to change in the future, Dif noted that there is “still much work to be done within the electronic music community” first. “In order for there to be change, there has to be continued equal representation of women on the executive side of the industry as well. We need more women managers, engineers, booking agents, label managers, and more. And as long as we keep standing up and continue to push for change, we’ll all see more and more women and female-identifying artists joining this industry,” she said.
Of course, the new partnership with Virgin Music and UMG poses a grand opportunity for growth and change at the label. With Dif spearheading this new acquisition and planned endeavors, rest assured that QGR’s next chapter will be an evolutionary one. “We’re inspired by the music that we receive and discover daily, and want to share it with the world. It’s all about the music and if we’re vibing with it, not about what sub-genre it is or how it would be labeled,” said Dif. “We have some great releases planned for the upcoming months: D&B, wave, rap, house, and trap! And with UMG backing us, up we feel more comfortable and excited than ever in exploring these new roads.”
Featured Image: Diane Sagnier