Not sure if you got the memo but the past year or so has been a really good period for ~Grime Music~. Mainstream success on a global scale, led by Joseph Adenuga & co, has meant that the first 7 notes of Shutdown/That’s Not Me are on the verge of becoming a 7 Nation Army-esque football chant they’re that popular. The scene is also ##thriving# from an underground perspective: artists new and old have been producing banger after banger, with collaborations all over the shop meaning that the genre has started to progress in new, interesting directions.
Right at the heart of it, witnessing all this hype, are two lads that have been around for a long time and know their shit. Now toasting such a strong year, Elijah and Skilliam of Butterz have stepped up to the plate to look back on grime’s glory and provide a retrospective compilation of some of 2015s best bits. Via the aptly 2015 medium of Group SMS Chat, we caught up with the two top grime geezers to chat about this essential compilation and the scene in general at the moment.
Tom Kirkby: Why, in 2015, was it important to cement Grime in a double CD, very nicely designed album. Why not in 2014 when Rari Workout came out?
Elijah: 2015 for us as a label has been a big year, our 5th in operation, and it happened to be the year a lot of people took notice of the music we have been playing for ages in all different worlds really. So it’s nice to bring it together on a product for every day fans and people that ask what is all the hype about?
The CD is a good entry point to the music, some of the biggest MCs and producers, Butterz, Elijah & Skilliam, David Kelly etc
Tom K: So kinda like end of year wrap up, an annual to say – “Look, we smashed it, here is what we did’?
Elijah: Yeah and people are probably going to hear tunes on here they haven’t heard before too, if you know every tune on there you are a hardcore fan I’d say.
Tom K: Were any of the tracks difficult to license? What are some of the issues people wouldn’t know about making a compilation like this?
E: Yea we didn’t get all the tracks we asked for, but we have good relationships with the whole scene so there was logical reasons a lot of the time, it actually was really straight forward. Grime artists aren’t long in my history of working with them
Tom K: That can’t be true, not everyone can be easy to work with?
E: Depends for some people we are not easy to work with, but that might be for someone else’s gain and not ours? But with a lot of these guys featured on here they know what we do, our commitment and level of investment to even do a project like this in the first place.
Tom Brandhorst: CDs a great slamming recap of ~vocal grime~ – what are your thoughts on instrumental grime recently and how that’s grown – would you ever be tempted to do a similar CD just looking back at the instrumental side?
E: What people call instrumental Grime now is probably sonically wider than ever, and we’ve always tried to merge the two worlds with our bigger events like Fabric. Like in January we had Kano with Mr Mitch opening and Murlo opened for Wiley etc. More promoters need to have confidence in the artists emerging from it on line-ups and it would help the music get out there more. A unified scene of all this stuff at a high level, MCs, Producers, DJs, Live bands etc and we can really create a force.
Tom K: With that in mind, will you ever be bringing back the Butterz Zip Files? I kinda feel like your motives there were good, giving up and coming MCs good beats to flow over, whilst simultaneously getting your music out there at a grass roots level. Or is grassroots not a thing now Stormzy is getting chart hits?
E: In short no, the actual point of those to establish what you just mentioned instrumental Grime, to get it to people quickly, to get it to DJs around the world and move forward with other ideas we had rather than making the vinyl production schedule slow us down. It was nothing to do with MCs at that point. The last time we did one was 2011, and just approach music completely differently now as a label, crew etc
Tom Brandy: What has the boom in grime meant for grime nights themselves, from what you’ve seen. Has the popularity changed things for the better/worse?
E: It’s a mix because the shows now are so varied. Some are actual club nights, a DJ playing music, people dancing like you’ve seen at Wire [Editors note: Wire is a club in Leeds, Breaks are originally from Leeds, I go see Elijah play Leeds when we’re both in town]. Some are more like concerts at club time where people are just waiting for an MC to come on, and are not overly receptive to anything that isn’t the performance. Both are cool as you are clearly playing to different, and new ears and it is very humbling to remember outside of the big five cities in England people still barely get this music in any form.
Tom K: With that in mind, are there any corners of the UK that have surprised you in their open-mindedness to new sounds?
Tom B: Best place to play?
E: Wire, Leeds
Tom B: If you were starting your own club would Wire be the sort of template you would go for then?
E: In short no. But I wouldn’t, or couldn’t run a club. In general I feel like they are fighting a losing battle. So much is against that form of entertainment at the moment and the way spaces are being used. People want flats everywhere and they seem to slot them in to every little space possible especially in London and it means anything open after 11pm is a myth.
Tom K: To the casual listener, do you think they can hear grimes decade of progression? What do you think a compilation from 2005 would have sounded like, compared?
E: No, I don’t even think that’s important. I don’t even want to think about the past too much as it doesn’t really figure in any decisions we make especially that far back. The people that listen to us, I see in the clubs and maybe have been following us for a while didn’t even listen to Grime at that time, or were way too young.
Like an 18 year old now would have been 8 at that time. Sounds real simplistic. But old school to them might be Woooo Riddim. That’s half a decade old now
Tom K: Looking forward, Grime has clearly had quite a moment this year, where is 2016 taking you/us/the scene?
E: If we started everything from Culture Clash last year to now. This is where things are at pretty much. That’s where I think things reset.
Tom K: Not culture clash in Wembley when BBK won?
E: Nah there wasn’t the momentum at the same time with other artists like Novelist, Stormzy, Bizzle, Chip, Newham Gens, P Money in the same way.
Dubstep and House was the big ‘new’ music around at that time – Rudimental and Disclosure were on the same team with Magnetic Man and Annie Mac. Like that’s what was popping.
Tom K: True, true
E: They lost as well lol
Tom K: Yes because Annie got all her mates up and with the time they had, they only managed about 2 tunes each, it was way too convoluted.
Tom K: For the casual listener, are there any exclusives on the album?
Any cuts they won’t have heard on Radio 1?
E: Do you know Frisco – 1,2,3?
Tom K: Nope. You trying to out me as a grime tourist?
E: That’s the second tune in, you don’t know it, and it’s not exclusive, so its new. That’s my point. Didn’t really need to get Frisco in to do something because he’s got good stuff there already
Tom K: Looking at the tracklist, the breadth of producers is cool, it’s not just ’Grime Producers’. My Nu Leng, Last Japan, Plastician etc all make appearances.
E: Nah, and I welcome it, like I want people that are maybe known for other things to feel like the can dip in when they have something our style. Like Chase & Status are doing a project with MCs I’m like yes. More people clocking this music cool. They picking the right people to make it with too
Tom K: What part do you and Skilliam play in the process for picking those producers and MCs, matchmaking if you will. Do you do it outside your camp? As I know you hang/talk to more artists than the immediate or extended Butterz squad.
E: That’s kinda why Grime isn’t a global music as it isn’t easy to replicate. Dubstep had that problem where guys just did their own flips on it and got big in America to a point it didn’t even need anyone from England anymore and it made it less special.
Detach Butterz from us for a minute, we can stop that label at any time. First and foremost we are just fans of the music so we are always going to work towards situations where good music and events can happen whether we benefit directly or not. Sometimes this works to our personal advantage, sometimes it doesn’t. All I know is I’ve got some more music that we can enjoy. I don’t think we have used this enough over the years really. But now we have a studio and spaces to work from properly you will get better product from us and our friends like Swindle’s.
Tom B: Definitely. There’s a bit of UK wide representation – what % of artists on the CD are London based? And are you ever keeping tabs on other cities to seek out new people?
E: Producers tend to be from all over the country. MCs are predominately London then Birmingham second then Manchester. It’s difficult, like really our job is to present what is out there in the best way possible, find new artists, develop them, release their music, tour, make videos, do radio, work with brands, run a studio and live some sort of normal existence in between. We keep our operation very stripped back in terms of team. It’s pretty much what you see is what you get so its like difficult to sit there and just listen to random demos if I’m honest.
Tom K: Are there plans to turn this into a series? Like, ‘Now That’s What I Call Grime’ but produced by people that give a shit?
E: Yeah we put this together in about 6 weeks so if we gradually work on the next one from now to deadline day next year it can be even bigger.
Tom K: What are the biggest frustrations, from your point of view, in Grime at the moment?
E: Us not all talking more and working on projects together on a big scale. Whether that’s tours, music, deals, merchandise. Artists not really doing albums is a shame too as singles always have to be pretty direct musically so you only get one layer musically. But we can get deeper.
It’s been done before, by these artists that are still present but nobody is going to have say a mellow introspective track as their main song that they want to get club bookings from. Where the money comes from really effects how people make and release music whether you like it or not.
Tom K: The money comes from brands these days, is that stifling grime or giving it opportunity?
E: It’s a leg up. That’s all no matter how much money people pay for things. Rarely are people offering anything interesting creatively.
Tom K: Do you think if brands consulted with scene leaders, rather than these ideas just be the result of something half baked from a marketing agency, then we’d be seeing more creative campaigns utilising grime artists – to the betterment of both parties?
E: Of course. This is what I thought I’d be doing after leaving University doing my marketing degree.
Tom K: I guess you still are… in a way
Tom B: It’s great how a lot of the lads on the album have been around for ages/since the start, what age are they going to pack it in do you think? Is there an expiry date to a grime career or nah?
E: I’d behave completely differently if that were the case. We don’t know yet. It is mad to think of a 40 year old Grime MC on stage at Eskimo Dance to some. But people go to D&B events and it’s like that, the same in Garage, the same in Hip Hop.
Tom K: True, look at Danny Byrd.
E: The biggest Garage DJ is EZ. He could be 20 years older than me real talk. Rodigan is 64.
Tom K: What have you got planned for 2016 – where is this tidal wave taking you next?
E: We are about to close out 2015 in Japan, Korea and China then we enter 2016 with a lot busier than we started 2015 lets just say that. The successes of Swindle’s project, t q d (Royal-T, DJ Q & Flava D) and our work with MCs means that there’s always a lot going on even if it isn’t Elijah & Skilliam being everywhere and doing things like this.
Intro: Tom Brandhorst
Interview: Tom Kirkby & Tom Brandhorst