In Conversation: Butterz

Butterz have had arguably their best year yet. The label have been busy throwing huge parties and touring the world, releasing music from Footsie, Rapid, and of course Flava D and Royal-T. Not forgetting Swindle, whose ‘Peace, Love & Music’ is the label’s first artist album. It’s an ambitious, globetrotting, genre-melting record that Elijah says only represents the start of what Butterz can achieve.

Elijah – minus Skilliam – is here to talk about their newest project, ‘Grime 2015’, a 2xCD compilation covering the year’s biggest tracks. It’s a fantastic snapshot of where the music is at in 2015, five years after they started the label.

Elijah is a generous, serious interviewee, talking at length about Butterz’ successes and struggles, and the state of the Grime scene today. His answers cover a lot of ground, and the edited transcript doesn’t really do them justice. Perhaps he’s just in a particularly existential mood, one where he’s prone to finish answers with phrases like, ‘Basically, nothing matters.’

‘You just caught me on one of those days,’ he says,  ‘where that sense of perspective on just how minor what you do is, is right at the forefront of my mind.’ He’s harsh on himself. But then nothing would get done otherwise. If at points he seems to be talking down Butterz’ many and significant achievements, it’s only because he’s always thinking about the future. ‘Grime 2015’ is a rare moment of looking back, and even then it’s only over a 12-month period.

Today, the whole Butterz crew are meeting up ahead of a pre-record for Logan Sama’s show on 1Xtra. (When the show actually goes out later that week, Elijah can be found shelling down Manchester’s Soup Kitchen along with Kahn & Neek.) Elijah arrives at our central London bar along with Swindle. During the conversation, Royal-T, Skilliam and designer DK all pitch up at various points. Flava D and photographer James arrive after I’ve left. Elijah points out, ‘It’s actually rare that we’re all in the same space. Butterz is the label, innit? This is what we’re trying to be.’

E&S Grime 2015 (Roof 2)

Let’s kick off with the new album. ‘Grime 2015’ – it’s a pretty comprehensive title. What was the aim when putting it together?

Elijah: It’s just a reintroduction for everyone that hasn’t really paid attention to the music this year. They might have liked ‘Shutdown’ but don’t know about Frisco or Swindle or Dapz On The Map, or all these other guys doing music that’s just as good. 2015, that’s more or less what it is. Most of the artists included are the people you hear in the clubs, in the sets, at Eskimo Dance.

I like how you’ve got stuff like ‘Feed ‘Em To The Lions’ bumping up against, say, a Mumdance track. It manages to cover everything under the Grime umbrella really.

E: It’s not really a sound, as you can tell. You can have Mumdance and Preditah and Swindle and Skepta on the same disc, easy. But it’s rarely presented like that. It’s all the same music, but it just stretches out wider than most people think.

There must have been lots of stuff that you had to miss out.

E: There wasn’t, really. There’s 38 tracks on there, I think we submitted 50. Some got taken off because I didn’t want too much of one artist, some we couldn’t clear because the tunes are sample-based and they never really got official releases. And then some people were just too slow on email. It’s not their fault though. [Pointing] Swindle’s doing his email now, he doesn’t have a manager, he does all this shit himself. Sometimes you just miss things. Unless I can ring them and make them sign the thing, it doesn’t happen.

I like the idea of someone buying the CD because it’s got the ‘That’s Not Me’ remix, and then going out and buying the Swindle album afterwards.

E: You could do that with ‘That’s Not Me’, and then next it’s Frisco, and they go and get that Frisco and Chase & Status tune, and all the tunes off that Chase & Status project, then they check Bonkaz, then Giggs, then this person and that person. So there could be 38 ways out from those tracks that you can go with the music.

It’s a good starting point, I guess.

E: Yeah. For now, anyway. For 2015, not Grime in general, just – this year.

You’ve done big mixes for fabric and Rinse in the past. This is more like a compilation, how different was it putting it together?

E: Those mixes were like Elijah & Skilliam albums, with people that made tracks for us. They were really about Butterz, our sound and our style, what we do as DJs. But ‘Grime 2015’ is about the music and us presenting it in a certain way. That’s why our name isn’t on the cover. I expect the people that are picking this up might not even know about fabric or Rinse. I’m not even trying to make them find out about those things. It’s just literally – what’s on the disc, and then go from there. That’s the vibe of the CD. If they find out about Elijah & Skilliam and then do their little Wikipedia searches, they’ll see that we’ve put in some work. If they don’t, it doesn’t matter, because they’ll probably still enjoy the music. [Swindle] rang me up and said, ‘the CD’s good’, and that’s all I care about. It’s not really about Elijah & Skilliam. We’ll do some projects where I’ll be in the video and dancing and shit. But not now.

E&S Press Shot (Roof 2)

You’ve written about how the Grime scene is received in the press, for example your annoyance at people running ‘Grime resurgence’ pieces as though it’s been dead for five years. Is it important to you that people cover this record in a particular way?

E: I don’t know how aware the music press are of how little their words affect the general public. Especially with electronic music. We’ve had releases that’ve done ridiculously well and the artist has toured around the world, and it’s got no coverage at all. And then we’ve had loads of coverage on certain things, and that person’s sitting in their bedroom doing nothing. I don’t even care, because I can see the reception to the music every time I go outside. We’re doing thousand capacity venues, every week. It’s a big change, but a music journalist wouldn’t know that you went to Leeds on Saturday and 700 kids that like Grime came out. They’re just gonna take it on what they think of the product, and like, the hi-hats and all this shit. When we’re talking about Grime and the first artist you mention is fucking Skepta… he’s been around for 13 years. It’s a shambles. But when you look at the tracklisting for the new album, the ratio of new artists is still very small. That’s one negative thing about it.

You want to see more new artists on the compilation, if possible?

E: Yeah, but not for the sake of it. That’s why I didn’t put certain guys on there. You want it because they’re selling tickets, or they’re making good music and people care. Not because there’s an article about them on RA. I don’t give two shits about that.

I agree to a certain extent, but you’re a writer as well! I read what you wrote in response to that Eskimo Dance piece that went up a year ago… and obviously it matters, otherwise you wouldn’t have taken the time to respond to that.

E: Yeah… [Long pause] Alright. The reason why I’d respond is just so the facts are in place. Not because I care about what that person in particular thinks. I think it’s good that everyone has their own feeling towards the music. But if I feel like someone’s putting out something that actually isn’t factual, then I’ll wanna straighten it out. If someone says ‘OK, this is the biggest thing happening right now in music’, and then the people they’re talking about have a hundred capacity club and can’t fill it…We’re doing a thousand capacity club with no marketing, just us in our pants in our bedroom, so what’s the difference? Why don’t we get the same coverage? And it’s not a thousand people because we got Katy Perry on the song! We’re still with P Money, JME, D Double E and all these people, still releasing Swindle records and Royal-T records with no compromise. I understand how the press works, I’ve written for some of these publications, and sometimes the best thing to put out isn’t what’s actually happening.

You’re doing the Asia tour later this month. What kind of venues do you play out there?

E: The place in Tokyo is quite big. They’re really receptive to new music, taking it on what it is, and not reading into the context too much. In England, specifically on the internet, context is very important. Abroad, it’s not really like that. America too. People will just think, ‘OK, I like ‘Mad Ting’. Sick.’ [Laughs]

Swindle: In other places you just like the actual music, and that’s enough. In England you’re only allowed to be into one genre for the summer, y’know? This year you’d better be making Grime, last year you’d better have been making House, 2012 you’d better have been making Dubstep, and next year will be something else. Some of us transcend that but only because we have audiences in other places. That’s how we’re able to survive. I can go and do 20 dates in America while everyone’s here listening to House, and come back and still play Grime and do my thing.

E: That makes it sound like pleasure, but we’d rather have a strong foundation here so we’re able to present Swindle in a better way. If he was playing those 20 dates in the UK instead of America, then we’d be a lot more powerful here. And I’d be able to put out more records, better records, videos and all this stuff, but we don’t have the resources. Yet. The Swindle album was just a taste of what’s possible. We’re getting there. But it’ll take a while.

E&S Press Shot (Roof 1)

The Jamz parties have been doing really well this year. What’s it like now compared to when you started out?

E: The Jamz thing is just about regularity. In Leeds we had a party every week, the last eight weeks, at this place called Wire. We’ve been doing other places too, Manchester, Liverpool. All 300 capacity, but doing them all the time, so we can get loads of different artists coming. Then when we go to bigger rooms in the same city, they’re already accustomed to all the different shades of what we like, rather than just ‘nah nah nah that’s not me, feed ‘em to the lions nah nah nah.’ We had Swindle play live with his five-piece band… DJ Q and Spooky played like all night. It’s not something that you’d see at a big venue or a festival.

Would you like to play more festivals, if the bookings came?

E: Yeah, yeah. It’s just an easier way to reach a lot of people.

You did Field Day this year.

E: Even that was a par. I’m not even trying to slew them, I’m in a good mood today! Believe it or not… Look, this is a good example. That was the first festival I played in London. Ever. In June 2015.

Have Lovebox never come asking? None of them?

E: No. We’ve been doing these massive parties at fabric and Cable, every quarter since February 2011. Doing these parties, touring worldwide, putting out our own music – somehow that doesn’t translate to a big festival audience? I don’t know why. There’s some sort of disconnect. Maybe this CD will help get us across the line a bit. At Field Day I think I played second on some small stage. And people afterwards were going, ‘What the fuck is going on man, what are you on this small stage for?’ I was like, ‘I dunno bruv.’ And I go to the next stage and I’m seeing some random Techno dude from Berlin playing to like 4,000 people. If I played at the same time, people probably still would’ve been there and I probably still would’ve murked it, but I just wasn’t given that opportunity. People think, ‘OK, Berlin Techno, everyone likes that.’ These people are not convinced yet that everyone likes Grime. They don’t know what we do or have any belief in it, and really, they’re not fans of it. But we’ll see.

A few years ago you spoke about how the whole aim behind Butterz and putting Grime out on vinyl was because you thought the music deserved to be seen on the same level as Hyperdub or Tempa. Do you think you’re any closer to being accepted on that kind of level?

E: Yeah! The worst thing is, that’s accomplished. We’re seen on the same level, to a degree. Hyperdub put out Grime records, you’ve got Mumdance & Novelist on Rinse. In 2010 when we started, there were no Grime DJs being booked for anything. Or producers. So even it being a possibility is good. But we’ve gotta move on. How are we gonna take it up a notch, with the same ethos? I think about past shit, like ‘Wooo Riddim’, and it means nothing for the audience that’s there now and paying attention to the music. When I see things getting celebrated from back in the day… like Goldie, he’s doing 20 years of ‘Timeless’… there ain’t gonna be no 20 years of ‘Shutdown’, or ‘Pulse X’, or ‘Next Hype’. Or 20 years of Butterz, as it stands now. But if we push forward and do interesting things for the next 10, then we’ll get there. Sometimes people bring that up, ‘You used to say Butterz could be like a Hyperdub or a Tempa.’ We haven’t even done that yet. Hyperdub did Burial bruv, one of the biggest things in the last 10 years. Tempa birthed Dubstep. What have we done? Put out a few records and done some parties. Not trying to diminish our own little achievements, but they had a global impact. They can move around with that for a long time. It took them a while to get there, and I’m trying to get there now.

‘Grime 2015’ is out now on Butterz, order it here. The launch party is at Ace Hotel on Thurs 03 Dec, you can sign up for guest list here.

Words: Cosmo Godfree

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