Butterz is the label. While Night Slugs and Hessle grab more headlines in the EDM world, London’s top new Grime imprint is busy connecting the streets to international bass massive by breaking barriers and going places others won’t. Following an outstanding first quarter that saw the release of two top rated singles in Royal-T’s “Orangeade” and Swindle’s “Trending Topic,” co-founders Elijah and Skilliam announced “Phase 2” of their master plan to “fix all the problems in Grime” one release at a time. Having become an avid follower of their weekly sessions on Rinse FM, I jumped at the chance to interview label head Elijah and pick his brain about the Grime scene, the future of Butterz and the importance of “Big Tunes.” Combined with January’s Terror Danjah chat, I think this now makes me the world’s pre-eminent French Canadian Grime interviewer. – Sach O
What exactly is phase 2?
Phase 2 to say the obvious is doing vocals. It’s taking the music to the next step. You’ll be able to notice the difference hopefully between our first nine releases to the next nine. It might not become apparent right now with only the first two new releases (The “Mood Swings V.I.P” and “Boo Yoo” with P-Money) but hopefully, judging our first nine releases and our next nine, you’ll be able to see a clear difference in what we’re trying to do. Without being too specific because plans change all the time, that’s just the way it’s going to be and I don’t want anyone to compare #15 to #3…that would be a fail to me. We’re not trying to just continue what we’re doing.
Why now? What made you decide to take this step at this moment?
I think we all got to point where we proved Terror Danjah’s a good producer, we proved Swindle can make those kinds of tunes and I don’t think we need more of those. Doing something different would be more exciting than continuing with it. With beats, you can get that from so many different places, I’ve noticed thousands of labels popping up every other day and I want to do stuff that they can’t do. They can’t put together records with P-Money and Trim. They won’t do 8 minute long grimy songs. It’s just not in their realm. Nah’ mean
Have you felt some changes in the perception of Instrumental Grime since you guys started the label? I remember reading about you guys in late 09 and I got the sense that you were sort of “odd ducks” in the game but these days it’s pretty much impossible to have a conversation about the DJ-side of Grime without mentioning Butterz.
That’s another reason. We deliberately pigeon holed ourselves then but we have an opportunity where everyone’s eyes are on us now to open up and show people what Grime can be and what’s going on. Because if they’re only looking at what we’re doing, that’s only 5% of what’s going on, there’s hundreds of other creative people and minds that haven’t come together yet that I’m looking forward to putting together. I feel that we could be showing a much wider spectrum than what we already are.
In the past, have emcees even been a concern when releasing instrumentals? Because I could never get my head around how someone could rap on a Mr. Mitch track, I’ve always considered it something that stands on its own.
I think with the right emcee it does work. We gave Trim Starkey’s “11th Hour” beat and it didn’t sound wrong. We just gave P-Money “Oo Aa Ee” and it sounds right. It’s not that people can’t fit on the tunes, it’s just that you don’t hear it because no one’s been able to do it so far. When we put the right people on the music, and not just emcees but singers, it works. This is what Phase 2’s about mainly: taking it out of being DJ-only music. The Grime we’ve done so far, it’s a bit limiting for the general public and the general public is looking at it like “there’s nothing for me here, why should I be looking at this? It’s just beats and stuff.” And they think that’s all we can do but look at Skilliam playing bass on the “Mood Swings VIP” in that Youtube video…they don’t realize we can do things like that in-house without even going to a million pound studio.
P-Money and Blacks are some of the few emcees you’ve associated yourselves with in the past. Are you looking to work with other vocalists in the future or is it more about keeping it in camp?
I don’t really have a camp. I just reach out to people I like. Say Trim, he does his own thing and we speak once every couple of weeks when something comes into my inbox. I’ve only met him 3-4 times, we’re not hanging out or anything. We’re literally music buddies, same with P-Money we see each other at shows. I just rate them and anyone I come across that I rate, I’ll just reach out to them and say: “hi, what’s up”. Last year we were playing Clap Trap by Joe on Hessle Audio and that’s the only thing of theirs I played even though I like most of their records but we just reached out to them because we liked the tune.
It seems that in the UK, the minute anyone does anything remotely different they want to find a new name for it but you guys have been 100% dedicated to Grime and the Grime scene. Why the dedication to the word?
It’s because we grew up with it. To us, listening to Grime is like watching Football. It’s part of your culture, part of your daily, you turn on your radio, turn on the pirates, talk about it when you go to school and you kind of just get on with it. It’s only when I got out of London and went to University that I realized most other people in the UK didn’t listen to it. I was in my little bubble in east London listening to tunes, going to raves and that was normal life. Now, 5-6 years later, being a DJ and people around the world looking at it like a big thing is…whoa. If I knew at that time the impact it was having on different people around the world, maybe I’d have approached things differently. Started Djing earlier!
It’s weird, when you talk about Dubstep and Post-Dubstep and Future Garage. When I come out of my house I can ask a person more or less my age what Grime is but with all the other stuff they won’t know what it is. That’s how it’s embedded in our culture here. The other stuff is mainly an Internet or raving thing with certain type of people.
Which I guess is part of the challenge in getting the music out here where people have a very clear (if narrow) definition of Dubstep but don’t always fully understand Grime as something more than UK rap. How do you balance keeping that London-centric vibe while still reaching out internationally with material that just hits people musically like Mood Swings?
I think it’s a balance of both. People think I want to be a part of the electronic music world next to Hyperdub and Hessle and cool, I can do that half but I can also do that half where I’m in the streets and someone knows “Boo Yoo.” I can be at a bus stop and hear someone playing it off their phone. I don’t think we have to go over to the music eccentrics to get across to people. I want to do both even if no one’s really done that from my scene.
That’s definitely what got me interested in the music, coming from more of a Hip-Hop background, seeing the way it bridged that gap between the electronic side of things and the hardcore, urban side. Have you guys been feeling more attention from either side recently? It seems to me that when Grime was really starting to pop off in 02-04, it didn’t register an impact out here at all. These days there seems to be a lot more eyes on the UK bass scene but Grime still has that “by London for London” stigma attached to it, for better or worse – even when the producers aren’t from London!
Dubstep just changed everything because it opened doors. In that way, we’re going through the Dubstep circuit and I don’t think that’s a problem. People think I want Grime raves everywhere but I just want Grime represented in these places like how you saw Terror Danjah at Igloofest. I’d rather that than putting on a night and there’s 50 people who know what’s going on. I’d rather slowly seep things into people’s heads rather than make it a cult that’s cordoned off from everything else. I play stuff next to things deliberately to make sure you see it in the same context. I’ll give Ben UFO one of TRC’s tunes and he’ll play it next to Ramadanman’s tune and we’ll play it next to theirs and it just shows that it doesn’t matter what that context is.
It makes one wonder where the real difference is between guys like Hessle and yourselves.
They weren’t in London at the time when it was going on. Apart from a few DJs on Rinse they weren’t living here. Bok Bok was about, Oneman was I guess but a lot of DJs migrated to London to do music so they might have been introduced to Grime through Dubstep or they were listening to Drum & Bass or Hip-Hop. I’ve met a lot of people from that kind of background and they were listening to UK Hip-Hop or independent Hip-Hop from America and they were looking for something else and Grime is that happy medium between electronica and rap.
On the other side of things, Butterz has been great for DJs by releasing material on Juno and Boomkat instead of just iTunes. Let me tell you: it’s still pretty hard to find some of this stuff outside of London. It seems that you guys make a major effort to expand your distribution past the standard Grime channels to reach other listeners. Has it paid off?
I’ve never had any other sort of distribution and that was the way I wanted to do it from the start. I don’t know any other way to do it and I wanted the music to be in those places and if it wasn’t going to be there I wouldn’t have done it in the first place. With Grime, it’s not a label-based music. Artists put out their own songs, a lot of them produce as well, they’ll press the CD themselves and they’ll take it to a distributor. That’s a rare thing in music. Some of the CDs were made by a couple of people. JME will sit down, make the beats, do the artwork, half-direct the video and he’s got his own distribution deal.
That’s the side we don’t see here. For us, it’s really either the beat-music side of things or mainstream pop. Does it get difficult to explain to people the difference (or similarity) between what you guys do and Chipmunk or Tinie Tempah?
We’re all from the same place. Tinie Tempah worked with Terror Danjah, they used to be in the same kind of crew and everything. Chipmunk and Swindle have worked on tracks together. Everyone’s close knit even if they’ve taken the music in a different direction so the fans don’t see it the same as us. Because the artists and producers are closer, they’re the ones trying to hold it together. Obviously we don’t play any Tinie Tempah music, he’s on Television, he’s a pop star and everyone knows who he is: cool. But, at the same time those guys still want some sort of relation to the street so they still work with younger artists and producers to keep their names relevant.
Interestingly enough though, that’s another aspect that can get lost in translation for us because if you ask a random person on the street here about Tinie Tempah, you’ll get a blank stare because that niche is already filled by say, Lupe Fiasco or someone else in US Hip-Hop. But I promise you that if you play Tempa T’s “Next Hype” at a rave, people will go nuts. People seem almost more attracted to a tune like that because it’s so unique and different from the mainstream.
With “Next Hype” though, that’s a phenomenon. There ain’t another tune like that. Even here, you could be in a rave and people don’t really know what you’re playing but you play “Next Hype” and it’s the same. Half the time I play out in the UK people know what’s going on and the other half they’ll only know “Street Fighter” and “Next Hype” and “Slang like This.” And there’s no reason we can’t put records like those out because those records did a lot for those artists. And generally, they’re not pushed well. I think they could have done so much better with people actually purchasing them.
I’m interested in hearing any records that reach for the same level as the stuff you just mentioned. It’s great to hear P-Money again on Boo Yoo, it’s been a while since I heard something new from him.
And everyone was saying tha he done Dusbtep singles last year so the fact that we came out with something that’s totally not *makes brostep chainsaw sound*… people were pleasantly surprised that he was paying homage to a Garage style of emceeing that you don’t really hear anymore and you don’t usually hear him do.
You guys have put out a couple of tunes on that tip, there were definitely some Royal T tunes that had that vibe but what I like is that those tunes are harder than a lot of Garage that’s being put out today. Without dissing anyone, a lot of the Garage I hear today is like ambient garage…and it doesn’t have that energy to it.
I totally agree. It’s polite. If you play it in a club, people will dance because they paid to get in but they’re not really vibing. When Royal-T does a really hyper set, I just see people going mad for it and that excites me more than the polite stuff. But everyone’s allowed their preferences.
Alternative designations aside, the artists you guys have backed have some very distinct sounds. How do you guys go about selecting releases? I can imagine S-X selling beats to Young Jeezy or Rick Ross without changing much anything whereas Royal-T is VERY UK.
S-X, He’s working in America. It’ll be big this year, he’s done a lot of work with different people. Look out for that. It’s funny, a lot of people say our records are really similar but I sit down and think…nah, they can’t be. S-X can’t do what Swindle does and vice versa and that’s the way I like it. The crossover is in them being good tunes rather than being similar.
The simple answer is that I prefer working with people other than who is necessarily making the biggest tune at the time. S-X is the perfect example: he had the biggest tune at the time in the Grime scene (Woooo Rididm) and that crossed over way outside the scene into the dance music world from being played by Ramadanman which no other Grime tune last year really was. He’s 18 and he’s working with all the big artists in the UK so it was a no brainer. Swindle is just musically talented and he was kind of with us when we got started and believed in what we were doing so he was one of the people who inspired me start in the first place. He didn’t have an outlet, him and Royal-T who were two young producers who didn’t have an outlet for their music. Swindle was ready in 2009. Royal-T, I could see he had a style, it took longer to get him out but now people are taking to it. We’ve been talking to him since late 2008 and he’s been honing his craft since then.
I definitely picked up on Royal-T in the past few months. It got to point where I was mixing 4-5 of his tunes in a set, practicing, without really thinking about it and that’s when I realized that I needed to be paying more attention.
I think the zips helped him the most, more than anyone…
I’d say so.
Especially in regards to people like you where if we’d just put out a Royal-T record randomly with good beats you might not have paid attention because you didn’t know the name. But because you’ve already seen it in the zip, anything he puts out now hopefully you’ll check it on the basis on the 6-7 good ones before it.
You get a lot of questions asking you why you put stuff out on vinyl, but how exactly do you decide what stays exclusively on vinyl like the Wooo Glut or the DJ Q remix of Woooo tune?
For vinyl, it’s been pretty straightforward. Wooo Glut is a bootleg. Ramadanman e-mailed me and asked if we wanted to put it out – why not? I didn’t think he’d be on it. Obviously someone else owns the other half the tune so we couldn’t do a digital for it. With the Q Remix of Woooo, because Woooo was a year old when we put it out, we just wanted something special for the people who wanted to buy the vinyl because that could have sold 1 copy because the tune is so old.
With TRC, I had some extra money and other records had been delayed and I was like: what producer is out there right now that doesn’t have a home but is good and you could see yourself working with and we went through so many names and then got TRC’s number and asked for 10 of his best tunes. I’d never spoken to him before. We only had 2 releases at the time, we weren’t even big and we picked Oo Aa Ee and Skipping Rope and we took a risk. We had nothing to lose. Just to save on paperwork, I didn’t even have time to do it, we just got it sorted before going on Holiday and we just put it out in the shops randomly like that. It wasn’t really a strategic move; it was a move from my heart.
Also, the vinyl thing it’s my safety net. If I don’t want to spend 700 pounds on putting out a record. Maybe it shouldn’t come out at all. It’s my kind of quality control. We can do a release a month roughly so imagine if we didn’t have that safety net in the first place. There’d be so much more music because the people I work with they produce so much as you can tell from the zips.
Signing Oo Aa Ee is paying off, now it’s leading to Phase 2 and Boo Yoo.
I’m not a believer in luck but it happened for a reason. We signed that tune in August, to be talking about that tune in April…it’s a quality tune.
What are some of the goals you guys have for the future? Is a full-length Butterz release in the cards?
Everyone’s been asking that. My answer at the moment is what we could produce, you’d expect and it would be possible but it wouldn’t be as good as I’d want it to be. We can get 15 beats from all the producers we’ve released so far and put it on CD and vinyl and digital but that’s too easy. What would motivate a purchase from me wouldn’t be 15 beats because we have the zips so we can already do that over night. Something that would make someone part with their money and think “Oh shit! This 3-minute segment alone must have taken 2 weeks…” until we’re in a position to do that, fuck it. I’m not putting out no long players man, I listen to compilations and albums of 15 beats and that’s not really that interesting to me. You could do 5 singles anyway.
So yeah, no cheap compilation! Until you hear Terror Danjah on production with Vybz Cartel and Trim on the hook! You gotta take it too far. Even the Mood Swings VIP, it’s something for a listening context.
On my end, I definitely listened to Mood Swings at home more than I played it out. Trending Topic was the one I reached for when mixing.
I think that’s a good thing. Royal-T does the clubby stuff but I don’t want someone who wants to work with us to think they have to do that. Everyone asks if Trim’s vocals on Butterz are going to be clubby? Maybe not: they don’t have to be! He can do what he wants, giving him an outlet is more important than making him fit us.
Boo Yoo in the last 24 hours has opened so many doors. People have just been sending me tracks saying “I noticed you’re releasing vocals now, we should hook up!” This record, we’ve had it since in November and people only knew it existed last Sunday!
When you’re listening to a lot of the latest electronic singles…I find there’s not even a catchy bit I’ll remember in 5 years and that’s the trap I don’t want to fall into. Just putting out technically good music, I want to put out stuff that people will remember and play 5 years down the line.
That’s the sweet spot a lot of London music reaches: in between the sophistication of electronica and the raw impact of urban music.
The people I’m working with they don’t even know (the electronic world) exists. When we all started, not that I didn’t know it existed but I didn’t know much about it myself. We’re just doing it for what we see, what’s in front of us where someone else who’s toured Australia and America and Canada, they’re making their music for a different context. We’re just making it for Rinse and to play out over here. My mindset would be different if it was aimed at all over the world.
That local aspect is so intangible. As soon as it gets too big…it changes naturally.
That’s the battle I’m facing and it’s fun to work with people who’re sitting down and making music for the love of it. When TRC made Oo Aa Ee 3 years ago, he didn’t think it would be a big tune, he just made it because he enjoyed making it. Same with S-X, he sits down in his bedroom and makes tunes like every other kid in the world. I want that feeling from all the producers who send me tunes.