Son Raw on the interview tip for 2014

Nearly a dozen new Grime labels have popped up over the past 2 years, but only one capped off 2013 with a full-length compilation. Coyote Records is the brainchild of Mixmag Editor and Grime-advocate Tomas Fraser and is one of instrumental Grime’s most vital new outlets. Across a series of 12’ singles by Mella Dee, TS7, Walter Ego, Arctic and OH91, Coyote has spread the instrumental gospel far and wide before releasing Coyote Kings, a 10 track summary of what makes contemporary Grime tick.  In this interview, Son Raw takes a look at just what it takes to DIY, and why Grime won’t necessarily be just a London some’ting in 2014 and beyond.

First up, why don’t you introduce yourself – who are you and what in the world possessed you to start a record label in this day and age?

I’m Tom, I run Coyote Records and have been involved in music for about four years now – I started out promoting while I was in University and then I got into writing. I was sent so much music during my time as a I writer that I thought, I might as well start releasing some of it and after that, I kind of just made it up as I went along to be honest! I had no idea where it was going after the first release and 2 years later here we are, 5 singles down the line and a full length compilation – it’s been a weird journey.

What was the motivation that took you from  receiving music to actually starting the label? It’s not conventional wisdom to try selling recorded music in 2014.

I wanted to release music that wasn’t getting a chance elsewhere. Our first single was by Mella Dee, he puts out a lot of House as half of Mista Men, and he was making Grime for fun and sending me tunes but they weren’t getting a look anywhere else. I didn’t really consider what it meant to undertake such a huge task. All I knew is that I wanted to put the record out and I just learned on the spot. Then, seeing it on wax, with Coyote printed on the label… I wanted more!

When you were throwing events, were those also Grime?

Yeah, I went to Uni up in Leeds. There was a lot of Dubstep at the time, 07-08 and I quite liked a lot of that stuff but I was always into Grime. Lost a bit of money in the end but through that experience I got progressively deeper into it on a more professional level, making relationships and such. I stopped being a fan and became more involved.

I think we’ve all lost money throwing events.

It was a horrible experience at the time, but you learn from it, you know?

Was there a learning curve going from that first Mella Dee record to your latest 0H91 plate and the compilation? I found out about the first single nearly a year after it came out but recently I’ve seen a bigger promotional push for your releases, including some play on Royal-T’s show and some online coverage.

When we put Mella Dee’s CTRL out, he’d never dropped anything under his solo name. I was lucky in the sense that I had good relationships with artists who put me in the right direction in terms of distribution and mastering, and production wise, the records have always sounded good – the issue’s been getting people to listen because I run it myself and I don’t DJ gigs.

I think Walter Ego’s Wavey broke us. Fact loved it and I think that woke people up to what we were doing. Arctic, our fourth release – he’s Australian so that got us some attention there and OH91 has quite a lot of backing. Stealth was brilliant regardless, but there was already had a buzz around him whereas previous releases didn’t have that. Arctic was just plucked out of nowhere, making tunes for fun, not necessarily expecting anything to come of it. So yeah, the challenge has been getting people listening, getting people engaged, and luckily people are starting to do that.

Which has all built up to this compilation. Coyote Kings covers a lot of ground in terms of drum patterns and tempos, I won’t use the word genres…but there’s an underlying unity despite the number of approaches and producers. How would you describe what you’re doing, sonically?

It’s essentially a Grime palette. Not all of it is Grime but everything has that edge to it. The tunes took about 6 months to come together – I was sent maybe 3-4 tunes and had the vague idea of a compilation to collate everything that we’re about but I was never working towards an aesthetic. For example, Annoy’s Fort, it’s raw and really basic, there’s not a hell of a lot to it but it’s just really old school Grime like when it first came out, while someone like Jon Deville, that’s completely different – it reminds me a bit of HYPH MNGO by Joy Orbison. Meanwhile Spokes’ Pigs Riddim is really dubby. Everything in Grime this year’s been good musically but sometimes people are just pushing one aesthetic – I wanted to include everything that I listen to and enjoy.

Why now? It’s quite a leap to jump from singles to a full release.

It just felt like the right time really! We put out 5 releases in less than 18 months and I think we’ve been consistently building. Each record takes 3-4 months worth of work so there was a backlog that warranted release but it’s impossible to give every track it’s own single. I wanted to bring it all together to let people know what we’re about and to introduce new faces. Once the idea was launched, it blossomed from there.

How did you go about choosing the tracks?

I can tell on the spot if I’ll sign it. With Stealth for example, I’ve known Royal-T for a while and he introduced me to OH91. He sent me the tune and within 5 minutes, I sent him back a few swear words and signed it. That’s how it works with almost all the tunes: people sending me music online and if it gets me, you’ve got a record, essentially.

On Coyote Kings, one moment definitely stands out to me. Mella Dee was supposed to be on the compilation and he had a great track but unfortunately he lost the file, which was irritating. Meanwhile, Notion’s been sending me music for a long time and I was always saying “you just need to make that one tune and I’ll sign it.” The day I found out Mella had lost his track, Notion sent me “In the Corner” and I was just like “oh my God…this is the tune”. For me, getting that tune, the timing of it, the fact that he’d been sending me music for a long time…it was perfect.

Notion’s In the Corner and a few others on Coyote Kings are fairly laid back and that wasn’t a word I associated with you guys. How did you balance signing harder bangers with the more chill tunes?

I wanted to make sure there was a balance. Normally, Arctic and Chemist drop tough, banging club tunes – the stand out instrumentals and archetypal tunes you want to hear at a Grime night. But I wanted everyone to bring something different. Even Checan’s tune – it’s not Grime but it has a grimey edge to it and the compilation explores that fully.

How does geography play into your approach? Grime for the longest was a Black, East-London thing but you guys have dropped records from Walter Ego in Sheffield, and Arctic’s from Australia. What’s the response to Grime in London these days?

We haven’t released a record from London, which is ironic really. I think with instrumental Grime, it isn’t bound by the same constraints as the more vocal strands which are still very London based, less so now – there’s good stuff from Birmingham, Manchester that’s kicking off – but the instrumental stuff is more bound by sound and everyone making it understands it despite lifestyle or geography. The scene’s been great this year: the sheer amount of people getting involved and making really good stuff is astounding. It would be nice to get somebody from London on there I guess, but if the music is good, I don’t really mind.

As far as London goes it’s always a challenge to convince people. Butterz, they were my first dance floor love and they inspired me in lots of ways to get involved on a more practical level with music because I saw what they were able to do. Now Boxed has come along and done something different but along the same lines, putting the music on the floor and making people realize Grime isn’t scary and confrontational – it’s just music. A lot of people over here assign too much importance to trends and what’s cool and what isn’t. I don’t think Grime is ever going to be cool. It never was cool in terms of how it’s portrayed but that’s never been a problem. We’re all grown men, we like listening to Grime. We’re not kids in the street. It’s legitimate but it still suffers from the same stereotypes since it began 10-12 years ago, which is a shame but it’s just our thing. It can be our little secret.

It’s definitely taken a very different path than Dubstep, so far.

Definitely. Dubstep and Grime share a lot of history but Grime has just evolved to be a mishmash of everything. Everyone has their own reference point in Grime and nobody’s coming from the same spot. That’s what’s great about it, you can’t pinpoint where everything’s coming from aside from maybe Eski clicks and other gimmicks everybody uses. Other than that, everything comes from a different place but you hear it and you know it’s a grimey tune.

To me, that’s what makes it healthy. You previously mentioned Butterz but prior to them and No Hats No Hoods, the perception was that Grime was one thing only and that was emcees over beats. Meanwhile Dubstep had a techno angle, the DMZ angle, the Purple angle… but now it’s inverted – Dubstep is limited and Grime has all these possibilities.

Dubstep just became just about impact. It lost its soul whereas Grime never did. Grime spent so many years in the wilderness where NOTHING was going on but there was always that core following of people. Slackk used to run Grimetapes, he used to listen to pirate radio and he’s an encyclopedia. He listened – we all did, we didn’t leave! It wasn’t popular on dance floors, there were no releases but we had the love for it. That’s the power how strong it is now that it’s coming back. It’s opened up and people are realizing that it’s OK to make Grime – it’s decent music! It’s like people were scared to make it, because of what tastemakers would say but whether people love it and it gets play on trendy websites or it’s getting slammed on BBC news… no one cares in Grime because you just carry on doing it.

It’s a survivor music.

Definitely. You really can’t kill it because it lives on. The amount of stuff that we’ve gone through…it’s crazy really and it’s still going.

Where do you see Coyote going from here on?

Lots more music. I’m really excited about Spare and Chemist who’re coming up next with 12’’ singles. I’ve always said the label is like a blank canvas that artists can paint on, exhibit and leave and I don’t see it as something I’m going to control or be nitpicky about but at the same time, it’s important to get people involved with the brand. We are the first of the new start-ups to come with a compilation, and I’m quite proud of that. It’s nice to think we’ve been a little bit ahead each time and I think the compilation is a step towards that.