Label head, journalist, press man, and all round industry creative Tomas Fraser certainly likes to keep himself busy.
The grime and dubstep editor for Mixmag, Fraser has published a healthy chunk of his musical thoughts through publications like FACT, Crack, The Quietus, Dummy, and our own platform.
Founding Coyote Records in 2012 after being inspired by the vast amount of quality music he was being sent, Fraser has built a close-knit community of forward thinking artists who collectively continue to redefine underground club music.
Comprising of experimental artists like Last Japan, T_A_M, OH91, E.M.M.A, Letta and Silk Road Assassins, Coyote’s sound perhaps lays closest to avant-garde grime music, but traces of trance, IDM, hip-hop and ambient spread far across their DNA.
Continuing our birthday event series this Friday with a Coyote Records takeover, we catch up with Fraser to discuss the label’s beginnings, the importance of building a family, and the pros and cons of balancing a number of creative fields.
So we’re celebrating our 18th birthday by hosting a label takeover with Coyote Records tomorrow evening. The label has also turned 5 this year, how have you celebrated?
18 years is a long time, so congratulations! We celebrated turning 5 with a new logo, a run of t-shirts (our first in over 4 years), a party in Bristol with Mssingno and a special vinyl issue of Letta’s ‘The Recluse’, taken from his debut album ‘Testimony’ back in 2015. It featured an all-strings, orchestral remix from Spokes on the flip too, which I think is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve heard in a long time.
Did you imagine Coyote would be going this strong 5 years down the line?
To be honest when I first started I didn’t think that far ahead, it was maybe one or two releases down the line and that was it. The turning point was Chemist’s ‘Defiance’ EP, which we released in 2014. The whole aesthetic he landed on when he first sent demos in early ’13 was exactly what I wanted Coyote to sound and feel like — it was cold and brutal, but tinged with this sense of foreboding and sadness, a vulnerability if you like. He was also big on melodies, which I love, so that whole record helped me zero in on what sound I really wanted to push.
We got Last Japan and Rabit to remix tracks from his EP too, which was incidentally the first time Last Japan became involved with the label, so it was an important record for lots of reasons. From there, I had a clear vision and through Chemist, I was introduced to Tom E. Vercetti, who would later start sending me their stuff as Silk Road Assassins and everything started to piece together. That said, I still didn’t envisage things being as they are with Coyote now. I’m very grateful.
What drove you to start your own label? Did you feel a sound like Coyote’s wasn’t out there?
In a nut shell, yeah. I was writing and interviewing a lot of up-and-coming producers at the time, particularly towards the back end of 2011, and it just felt there was nowhere for their music to go, aside from small blogs like mine. Mella Dee, who I’d actually first got to know through a night he co-ran in Leeds while I was at university, was sending through lots of stuff and ‘CTRL’ stuck with me for whatever reason.
Luckily he trusted me with the whole thing, introduced me to Elliot Holbrow (aka Breez) — who I quickly realised I had to get working on everything — and through recommendations from South London Ordnance and T Williams, I was able to get mastering and distribution sorted from the off. Their help and guidance gave me the drive to keep going after that first record and through Elliot, who has been nothing short of incredible considering he was only 18 when Mella first introduced me, we’ve managed to establish our own little micro-aesthetic.
How has your background in PR and journalism helped you make running a label a realisation? Do the areas of profession ever get in each others way?
I’d only been writing for a year or so before I started the label, and even then I’d only just started getting my first recognised writing gigs, so I suppose I didn’t have too much additional insight into how anything worked. I got my first job in publicity about a year and half later though, which really did help because it gave me a broad overview of how press, publicity and labels operated from the inside out.
On the flip side, I still write a lot now and have edited the grime and dubstep page in Mixmag for the past four years. I’m lucky in a sense, but it does sometimes get in the way — Coyote releases are rarely reviewed in Mixmag for example, unless it’s a record that ticks boxes away from the page I look after.
Coyote is often described as an ‘instrumental grime’ label, does this bracket leaves a lot of scope to explore sound, as opposed to being a straight grime imprint?
I guess so, particularly because the instrumental grime world is so fluid and expansive these days. When we first started out, there were only a few labels — Butterz, No Hats No Hoods, Hyperdub etc — that were pushing grime in instrumental form, but since Boxed’s breakthrough in 2013 and the emergence of visionary producers like Murlo, Rabit and Mr. Mitch, the sound and general aesthetic has been blown wide open.
A lot of stuff we release now doesn’t really class as grime in a traditional sense at all, but I’d like to think it still draws from the foundations, whether it be a certain sound, beat pattern or sample. OH91 and Last Japan are always on hand to bring things back into grime focus if I ever get carried away.
What are some of the musical inspirations behind Coyote?
The biggest inspirations are the producers on the label themselves, people like Silk Road Assassins, Letta and Last Japan, who have all inspired me by making the sort of music I wish I knew how to write. I never really looked outwardly in terms of influences, which probably sounds a bit odd, but I’ve always admired Kuedo — some of his sound design work is incredible — and Logos in particular. His debut album on Keysound was my favourite record for a long, long time. ‘E3 Night Flight’ still gives me chills.
You released Letta’s second album this year, and he remains the only artist on the roster to release a full length, how does the process differ from releasing a 12”?
It’s really different, from start to finish. Albums are often bound by a narrative and in Letta’s case those were clear and defined from the outset, but also pretty loaded emotionally, so ensuring everything was handled with care and love was paramount. Manufacture is also far more complex and time-consuming and given albums are such large bodies of work, having a relationship of complete trust between label and artist is also really important. Letta’s music, especially his first album ‘Testimony’, was perfectly suited to the album format, partly because of the rate he was writing songs but also because of the sound he landed on. I felt like the world needed to hear his music.
How much involvement do you like to have with an artist’s release?
I’m quite involved but not over-bearing. I’ll generally hear a track or a group of tracks together that I like and that’s it, I’m hooked. From that point, I’ll let them breathe for a bit and discuss a time frame with the artist before formulating ideas for artwork and design, release formats etc. I take the most hands-on role re: publicity because it’s my job, but the creative I generally leave alone, bar the odd suggestion here and there.
Like Letta, Coyote artist Marks hails from the U.S, how are you coming into contact with new artists these days?
Most of the music comes my way, I rarely reach out to producers unless its for a booking or a guest mix or something like that. In Marks’ case though, he’s actually the only artist I’ve ever reached out directly to without being sent any music. tI remember his name popping up on Soundcloud after he’d liked a couple of Chemist tracks and for whatever reason, I clicked on his own profile and loaded up the first track, which turned out to be ‘Drain’, the title-track from his debut EP we released back in June. I was totally sold on the simplicity and kinda weird beauty of the melodies he was writing and knew I had to try and get him onboard.
The label has often introduced us to new artists, are you conscious when showcasing new artists that they need to fit with Coyote’s aesthetic?
Yes and no. I think the artists define Coyote themselves, so as long as a new artist is feeding into what the others are doing already, then that’s the main thing. Spokes and Marks share a similar outlook for example, as do Last Japan and Tom E. Vercetti, so forming relationships is also really important, and to be honest, I think that’s why working with newer artists is so exciting — you never know where those early connections will take them.
The live showcases often operate as quite a family unit, how important is it for you as label head to build relationships between artists?
Yeah massively, I’ve always set out to make sure that Coyote feels as comfortable for everyone involved as possible. We’ve all become really good friends and are always on hand to give each other advice, me included. Bringing Last Japan on board was a big thing too, especially because a lot of the newer guys looked up to him, but over the last three years, through playing together, sharing tunes and ideas, you can see how much everyone has rubbed off on each other. Friendship has been so important, I can’t stress that enough.
What can we expect from Coyote for our label takeover? Who’s who on the bill?
Tarquin, who remixed T_A_M’s ‘Watty’ for us last year and played quite a few parties, has been a friend of the label for a long time and has gone from strength to strength since debuting on Mr. Mitch’s Gobstopper label a few years back. He’s also come a long way as a DJ — he’s got an amazing Kuduro edit of Lil Silva’s ’Seasons’ that goes off every single time he plays it and dropped a great EP through Rinse this summer too.
There’s also Impey, who like Tarquin, has been a long-time friend and he also remixed Last Japan’s ‘Ascend’ ft. AJ Tracey for us last year. Last Japan played it to 5,000 people at Detonate in Nottingham and it got wheeled three times or something ridiculous — listen out for ‘Bangclap’ and tracks like ‘Bleepz’ from his latest EP on Astral Black, ‘Midnight In Little Havana’.
Last Japan is at the core of everything Coyote, a brilliant producer and technically superb DJ. ‘Ascend’ with AJ Tracey landed as one of the biggest grime tracks of 2016 and he’s also remixed tracks for Letta and Chemist, as well as releasing ‘Harca’ with us in 2015. His new EP will form the first Coyote release of 2018, which is something we’re really looking forward to.
Finally, we’ve got special guest Aurora, who has been making waves with her club night Spectral and blissful radio shows on Radar Radio. She’s also started producing recently and provided an excellent guest mix for Beatrice Dillon on NTS back in August — a name to look out for.
We’re all really looking forward to playing!
How do you see Coyote Records, as well as your own career in music, growing/expanding in the future?
I’d like to just keep going and achieve as much as I can, both for me and everyone else involved. We’ve all got different barometers for success, but to be able to run the label full time, travel and explore as much of the world as I can in the process would be a dream for me.
Words: Callum Wright
Featured Images: George Quann-Barnett, Asia Huddleston