Hyponik

Elijah & Skilliam

I’d Rather DJ In Kent Than Idaho: In Conversation With Elijah

“Welcome to the chaos”, is the enduring memory that our writer Tomas Fraser holds following his first conversation with Elijah after establishing his own Coyote Records imprint in 2012. With Butterz, the Grime label he’s built from the ground up with DJ partner Skilliam primarily encompassing radio, records and club nights, Elijah has grown to not only understand this chaos, but embrace it. From first releasing Terror Danjah’s ‘Bipolar’ EP back in 2010 to working with MCs on ‘Boo You’ with P Money & Blacks, to mixing their first ever Rinse CD in 2011, goals have been set, achieved and consistently bettered since the label’s inception. Where old avenues are exhausted, new ones are quickly brought to the table as part of a re-generating musical formula that has seen Butterz grow in stature exponentially over the past few years despite only having released three records since 2012.

Behind it all, Elijah & Skilliam have remained firmly at the helm, splitting their time between the label and their own DJ pursuits, none of which come any bigger than a chance to mix a FabricLive CD. Buoyed by their residency, one they’ve held since the forced closure of South London nightspot Cable last year, the duo have represented Grime, both on the radio and in the clubs, at a level that makes them a natural choice to mix the 75th instalment of the series. After all, who else could host a 4 hour set with Skepta, the Newham Generals and Riko in Room 1 to celebrate? Ahead of their biggest landmark moment to date, Tomas spent some time in conversation with Elijah to talk about putting together a FabricLive mix, how the Grime scene has progressed over the years and what lies in the future for Butterz…

Butterz

The Butterz Family: (L-R) Royal-T, Swindle, Skilliam, Elijah, Flava D

How does it feel for you as DJs, as a label and for the whole movement, to say that you can put your name to a FabricLive compilation?

For me and Will (Skilliam), it’s one of those things that you almost have to do at some point if you’re a DJ. We did the Rinse FM one three years ago now and Fabric is essentially the next milestone for us as DJ’s I guess. It’s not even about Butterz or anything really, it’s about me and Will pushing the music like we did at the beginning, as if we didn’t even have a label if you know what I mean?

I remember speaking to you before and you specifically saying “welcome to the chaos”, but it’s almost as if Butterz are the anti-chaos if you like. Even though the music is constantly evolving, you seem to bring order to it in your own way and almost cut above it…

I don’t know if we cut above it man but maybe I can navigate it better than most people…(both laugh)

I just wanted to get your thoughts on that? I always remember you saying it to me and I’ve always thought you had a point…

Me and Skilliam have this conversation all the time. It’s getting more confusing, the lines are more blurred. Before, we were the primary outlet but now there’s so many other ways to listen to the music with other people doing things at a level where they’re getting noticed without us. With guys like Visionist and Kahn & Neek doing things in their own, completely different ways, the music is ultimately different. Different parties are happening that we can’t even follow because we’re doing our thing, not because we’re not fans, just because we can’t keep up. Like, Boxed, I think the only one I’ve been to was one that was happening round the corner…

The FWD one at Plastic People?

Yeah. Me and Shiftee were just out having dinner and it was like ‘Oh lets just do it’. Every other time they’ve happened, I’ve been away. The vinyl only stuff Kahn & Neek do in Bristol as well, along with the sound set they use, it’s really cool, we had nothing to do with that at all, I didn’t see that coming from anywhere. What we do is just try reach out. Will’s much more of a people person than I am and he brings it all together and invites people to Rinse and generally just vibes out with all the people we meet along the way.

Do you think that it’s taken pressure off you, in the sense that a few years ago everyone was looking to Butterz for inspiration, where as now you can just enjoy what you do? Or do you feel under more pressure to compete with the newer movements and ideas that have emerged off the back of your initial breakthrough?

I think all Grime DJ’s had that pressure because it’s such a small scene and you feel you need to rep everything. Now, that’s lessened in the last 18 months or so. I can play certain tunes now and not get any grief, where as before you’d try and incorporate everything, to the point it wouldn’t make sense.

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I’ve definitely noticed that the Butterz sound has become a lot more defined over the last year or so and I think that’s reflected pretty emphatically in the FabricLive tracklist. I mean, when you were first doing stuff with Royal-T and Swindle, it was so out there and new and different, nobody really knew how to process it. Now, even though all the sounds under the Butterz remit are so varied, you’ve managed to unite it all and make it really cohesive and tight knit…

Yeah, like you see with Swindle? Instead of putting out another record, he took it upon himself to go with his live show and no one else has really done that with our music. I mean he took it to the clubs, it’s not like he was doing it at a gig venue, he was doing it in Room 1 at Fabric with EZ and DJ Q on the same bill. He could have put out four or five more records but sometimes you need to think differently. Putting out tonnes of EP’s tends to just reach the same people who are already locked into what you are doing. I want our music to reach people and be used in things and enjoyed on a wider scale. I was listening to 1Xtra the other day and I heard Flava D’s ‘Hold On’ being used as an embed; we released that record last March. It didn’t get much commercial play at the time but the fact it’s being used a year later shows there’s quality there.

So on a musical level, like you say you’ve not released as many records as you did when you first started out. It feels like you’ve almost built a release policy out of not releasing if that makes sense? 

It’s just a way innit, it’s not necessarily THE way. Some people could go the opposite way and put out a tune once a week all year, and every tune would be fire. There’s always a way that works for each person. The difference for me and Will is that we tour and when we tour, nothing happens with the label in terms of processing records. It’s not like we have someone else running it so when we don’t have to release, we don’t. I don’t feel that pressure anymore. As long as we’re happy with the tune that came out last, then cool. That’s basically the remit.

So moving on to FabricLive itself, can you talk to me a bit about the music? I touched on how cohesive it sounded before but how did you go about trying to condense everything down?

We have loads of music so we tried to shape the CD around the best tracks and some of the other tracks just kinda fit in the mix perfectly. The idea was to build it to move from 130-160 but completely within our own sound palette, so we compiled the slowest and fastest tunes and logically tried to put everything together. Certain tunes we would have included- like Champion tunes, but they didn’t fit in the mix, so we got him and Royal-T to make a new one. Certain tunes we couldn’t include due to licensing either which is a shame. We couldn’t include a track from Kahn & Neek, that was a bit frustrating. There’s Murlo as well, he came kind of late. We were doing a last run through of tracks the week before and we got ‘Into Mist’ and I was like, ‘ah this is cool’. It doesn’t even sit nice in the actual CD but I like the tune so much, i wanted to include it. I just thought ‘fuck it’ really. We’ve always had tunes like that, the ones that make you stop what you’re doing just to play it and listen. Not everything sits perfectly, it’s not Techno or something bruv, you know what I mean?

Sorry, that Techno comment has just thrown me completely… (Both laugh) 

You know I’ve been reading reviews and people have commented on the transitions being a bit rough but I don’t think people realise that was our intention. If people don’t like it, that’s fine, but we meant the mix to be the way it is…

Just listening to you talk then about how you went about selecting the tracks and BPMs, it was a nice motif of everything you’ve done with the label. Sitting down to mix a FabricLive CD must be potentially a chaotic process in the same way that releasing Grime records is, but the meticulous way you’ve gone about it is a nice insight into the way you work. You’re one of the few people I know who, when they say they’re going to do something, does it…

(Laughs) That’s my problem, I try not to say anything now!

You’d tell me you were confident that this would happen and six months later, it’d happen! The way you were talking about how you organised everything with the CD almost reflects that…

Yeah I guess so. Now it’s like what are you gonna do next?(laughing)

That is a good question actually. What’s next after FabricLive?

Well look, every time we do the nights at Fabric we get to choose who we’d like to play, within the budget of the club. This time, we thought we’d do this 4 hour set and have all these MC’s on our set at each hour and no one’s really done it before in our world. It’s a Techno thing, that’s where we got it from – the idea that the same DJ can control a room all night and it’s cool – but we’ve got the added element of having the best MCs around that we can use to spice it up a bit.

Like tools for the music almost?

Yeah it’s like a balance of a rave and a concert at the same time. I mean, we’re seasoned now, it’s our sixth year on Rinse this year bruv so sometimes you have to look at yourself and think, what is the next level? We can’t just keep playing an hour set at Fabric or wherever. We’ve got to up the levels between where we’re at and where everyone else is, not on an arrogant level, but to show where you need to go after you’ve reached a certain level. You don’t need to crossover, you can stay underground you know? I see it with Kahn & Neek, they’re on the same trajectory. In a year or whatever, I can see people just going to watch them play records and all their tunes for 6 hours and people will leave happy. It takes years to get that level of trust with people and that’s what we’ve always tried to do. All our mixes, studio sets, compilations – there’s bare music out there for people to listen to. Now, It’s just about trying to take up the level of DJ’ing and performance beyond what’s expected of anybody outside of House & Techno, you know what I mean?

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It’s interesting to hear you talk about trust, because I guess in the position you’re in, trust from all angles is really important…

Fabric have zero creative input in terms of anything really. They just ask us who we’d like to book and we go from there. What they do is help us produce to the level we both want and they always back us on how we’d like things to run, so it’s nice working with them.

So it’s a really good relationship in that sense?

Yeah, if they didn’t trust us, then they’d try and influence how we do things but they’ve never once imposed any ideas on us. That extends to the people who come along to the raves too. We don’t necessarily do stuff to gain people’s trust, but we’re open with our interactions on the radio or Facebook and Twitter and stuff like that. Like, when I was first going to raves back in the day, there was like a disconnect. I wouldn’t talk to a DJ, maybe that’s just me, but I couldn’t imagine saying hello let alone putting my hand on a deck and trying to wheel up someone’s tune. Imagine me trying to wheel up Slimzee back in the day? It would never happen, but these days people are a lot more trusting of each other.

It’s interesting to hear you talk about it on this sort of level. I think the amount of thought that goes into DJ sets and radio is lost on a lot of people…

When you’ve been doing it for a long time, subtle things become really obvious. Remember the zip folders we did? That wasn’t supposed to be what it was at the time. I just wanted to give the music to the people who wanted it and a year later, you’ve got people saying it was me trying to run some great marketing campaign. We still do that now, at a micro level. Flava D has her volumes on Bandcamp, Royal-T gives away bootlegs from time to time and we’ve run studio sets with Noveilst and Big Narstie recently. I mean, even with Jamz too – the parties are free. There’s no monetary gain from anything, it’s just music. Bare music bruv. I looked back at it all the other day and just thought ‘rah’.

Where are you taking things next?

Are you asking me if there’s a point where I’d ever think about getting to a point where I could stop?

Not stop, but to a point where you’re comfortable: the point where you’re not having to innovate or look for new ways to push the music and just do what you like doing. Is that something you can see for yourself or you are always going to look to push new ideas and do the unexpected?

That’s what I enjoy doing so it’s a hard question to answer. I do a lot of it for fun and other things are a bit more calculated, but either way most of it ends up being the beginning of a fruitful relationship. Like, with Shiftee for example, I just hollered at him on Twitter after watching his DJ routine and said we should get something popping. Next thing, we’ve done a tour of America together.

And you did the mix-tapes too?

We’ve done two mix-tapes and we’re working on a third now. We want that to be bigger than the last two. We’ve also got James, who we met at a Butterz rave, who does all our visuals. He’s just finished university so we’ve been building up some concepts. Same goes for DK who does all our artwork – we haven’t done any merchandise for about 18 months so we’ve got time to work on some new runs now. Swindle too, we’ve just done a US tour with him but not worked on any music together for ages apart from the ‘Let It Be Known’ record. Aside from that, the most obvious, tangible thing people can see we’re doing is building a club network. We’ve got regular parities in London, Leeds, Manchester and Berlin now. People think when you’re playing everywhere, you’re in demand but really I want to be DJ’ing in the UK more than anywhere else because it’s the primary market for our music. It doesn’t make sense for me to deejaying in like, Idaho or somewhere – I’m not saying that I wouldn’t go, but I’d rather be deejaying in Kent.

That’s gotta be the headline for this piece. “I’d rather DJ in Kent than Idaho”…

(Laughing) Nah, I’m just making a point. You know when I’m away all the time, there’s a point where that becomes counter-productive. You’re entertaining people but you’re not growing your audience necessarily and a lot of DJ’s and artists fall into that trap. It’s like, what would the point of me and Will being at every major UK festival this year without a record in the charts? I’m not famous, I’ve not been on TV or anything. If I was performing to thousands of people, it’d just be wrong. Apart from the money, it’d just be a waste of time.

Tomas Fraser

Elijah & Skilliam’s Fabriclive 75 is available to buy here.