Welcome to another edition of armchair dancefloor. Below you'll find 'The Playlist' for a selection of new and forthcoming releases that have caught our eye this month, but first, we speak to one of our favourite, young UK record labels...
Since it first emerged as a UK counterpart to hiphop roughly ten years ago, grime has had a relatively turbulent history. Despite early critical acclaim - a Mercury win for Dizzee’s iconic debut - grime seemed to quickly fall out of critical favour, largely overshadowed by the rise of its close cousin dubstep, and heavily pillaged by mainstream pop. A couple of years ago the genre was written off for dead by many; with veteran artists jumping-ship to work on UK funky and dubstep projects.
But in 2012 grime is a significant force in clubs across the country, being embraced by DJs like Pearson Sound, Bok Bok and Oneman, with the influence of classic grime production cropping up in countless, forward-thinking new releases (see EPs from Logos and Slackk in the playlist below).
At the forefront of this resurgence is Butterz; a blog turned instrumental grime label that has recently celebrated its second birthday. Along with a handful of other independent imprints - among them Hardrive, and last edition’s featured label Hyperdub - Butterz have been providing a focal point, both through releases and club nights, for a thriving community of UK grime producers, and at its heart are DJing partnership, Rinse FM presenters and Butterz founders Elijah and Skilliam.
“We have turned around a lot of negative perceptions about grime as a genre,” Butterz co-founder and figurehead Elijah explains. “We have been making people come out and rave to the music again in big clubs, which isn't easy. It sounds so minor but for our area it has been excluded from the clubs for a long time now, so it is good to be back in a big way, in London anyway.“
The label's success is down, in part, to the sense of community that the Butterz camp have built around themselves. Their parties - now regular events, ever growing in scale - are some of the most fun nights you'll find in UK clubs, while Facebook and Twitter followers are regularly treated to free downloads of exclusive, unreleased music and DJ sets.
We spoke to Elijah recently, to put a few questions to him about the label’s origins, and their gameplan for the future:
How, and when, did you first get involved with grime music?
“We have been listening since the beginning, but really started to get involved when we started the Butterz blog in 2007, when a few of the good ones stopped writing. We were still going to events, enjoying the music and thought we would continue to document it like the people before us.”
What inspired you to switch Butterz from a blog to a label?
“We were DJing on Rinse FM for 12 months and it felt like we could contribute more than just playing tracks. We had a vision of where this could go and we were best placed to lead it. It was at a good time personally too, we were both finishing University in Hertfordshire, in the process of being in London full time again and considering career options. We had a great group of talented producers in Terror Danjah, Swindle, Royal-T and D.O.K without a home too, so it made it really straightforward to start.”
Why a mostly instrumental label? Was it always a conscious choice to focus on producers rather than MCs and vocalists?
“Our sets on Rinse and in the clubs have always focused on the beats rather than the MCs, so naturally it was always going to be that way. With vocals I feel like less is more, we have only done two so far with P Money and Trim who are two of my top 5 Grime MCs ever, so it makes those records even more special. A lot of the MC music is mixtape orientated, but we keep it club-focused as that’s the bit of the scene we enjoy most.”
As a label you give away a lot for free (mixes, .zip files etc.) Why? Is that a big part of who you are?
“We don't release loads of records, our release schedule is quite light compared to most, we are averaging between 5-7 singles a year, so the .zips fill the gaps between for the people that want to play similar kinds of styles in the clubs or just listen to out of the mix.
“It has really helped the music spread a lot faster than our schedule allows. We work with people that make tunes frequently too, so we end up playing around 50% unreleased music on most Rinse FM shows, so it prevents the better end of that work getting lost just because it doesn’t fit in with our plans.”
The label seems to have grown remarkably quickly, how big do you see the Butterz operation getting? Do you ever see yourselves co-operating with major labels, or releasing big artist albums with crossover potential?
“We are happy with how it is at the moment. It’s growing organically, and we are learning as we go. We are just focusing on releasing singles at the moment, keeps things focused and I find a lot of people know all the music we have released inside out because it has been in small doses. The major label thing doesn't work for Grime nobody has handled it well so far so I wouldn't put us in that position. I don’t see that as a route for us at all.”
Current Butterz releases
Elijah: “We have a release coming from Champion, who has been working closely alongside us for the last 12 months or so but doing Funky stuff, we thought he could do a great Grime release and he has done just that. The lead track 'Crystal Meth' is getting a massive response in the clubs and on radio.
“We have a club residency at Cable in London Bridge which is a big night for us, all the producers make fresh music for it, and it is a massive hype. The next one of those is on 7th July with smaller versions of the parties coming to - hopefully - a town near you soon.”
The playlist: new and forthcoming releases
The Bug - Can’t Take This No More/Rise Up [Acid Ragga]
After spending the past couple of years focused mostly on his soulful, dub-inclined King Midas Sound project, Kevin Martin is returning to his work as The Bug - and this is reason to be very excited. As Martin announced via Twitter last week, he’s launched a new 7” label named Acid Ragga (which will operate as an offshoot of Ninja Tune) through which The Bug will release a series of singles that, somewhat appropriately, see Martin reimagining ragga and dancehall via the synths and drum machines that gave birth to acid house and techno. The first release, ‘Can’t Take This No More’ and ‘Rise Up’ features Daddy Freddy in brilliantly furious form on the A-side and Hype Williams’ Inga Copeland on the reverse.
It all leads up to a new full length release, titled Angels & Devils - The Bug’s first since 2007’s near-flawless London Zoo - which is set to feature Grouper, Death Grips, Gonjasufi and JK Flesh (of Godflesh/Jesu) plus former collaborators Spaceape, Flowdan and Warrior Queen. We’d be very, very surprised if it doesn’t turn out to be one of the best LPs released this year...
d’Eon - Music For Keyboards vol. II: ‘What’s My Age Again?’ Variations [free download]
Music For Keyboards, the current series of free download albums from Montreal-based artist d’Eon, best known for his 2011 split EP with Grimes, sits firmly toward the ‘armchair’ end of this column’s remit; consisting of lo-fi (yet often beautiful), beatless instrumentals composed on old-sounding keyboards and semi-convincing piano emulations. Vol. II is a particular curiosity, in that it is contains 14 different compositions based-around the melody and chord progression from Blink 182’s ‘What’s My Age Again?’. Surprisingly, d’Eon plays it straight throughout, and somehow convincingly pulls off a project that, by rights, should have ‘hipster bullshit’ written all over it. Download it for free here. His debut album proper, titled _LP_, arrives via Hippos In Tanks in early June.
Fantastic Mr Fox - San’en EP [Black Acre]
After releasing one of the strongest breakout tracks of recent years in ‘Sketches’ in 2010, followed up by the excellent Evelyn EP later the same year, Fantastic Mr Fox seemed to drop almost entirely off the radar. He finally returns at the start of June with his new EP, San’en, on Black Acre, and it’s good to have him back. His lively, r&b-infused production style is as infectious as ever here, it’s just a shame that a lot of other producers have jumped on future-garage/post-dubstep bandwagon during his absence, and his style feels nowhere near as unique as it did back in 2010. An essential listen nonetheless.
Forward Strategy Group - Nihil Novi (Factory Floor remix) [Perc Trax]
At the end of May, consistently-excellent purveyors of dark, mesmerising techno Perc Trax will release Labour Division, the full length debut from Forward Strategy Group, which we highly recommend you keep an eye out for. Ahead of the album, however, Perc will release Labour Division EP 1, a vinyl EP premiering a selection of the album’s tracks, along with three remixes from the ever-brilliant Factory Floor (one remix from each of FF’s individual members, to be precise). This first reworking, premiered via The Quietus this week, sees Factory Floor’s FFGG reimagining FSG’s dark tones into a surprisingly summery, krautrock-tinged number.
Grievous Angel - Kleer [Forefront Recordings]
‘Kleer’ is the latest grime and UK funky-laced offering from largely underrated Sheffield producer Grievous Angel. It’s a lively slab of thick, mid-range synths and thunderous bass notes riding along on a heavily swung beat. Out now via Forefront Recordings.
Howse - Lay Hollow [Tri Angle]
There’s little information available about US producer and recent Tri Angle Records signing Howse. However, what we do know is that his/her(?) debut EP Lay Hallow lands via the label on 28 May, and it’s a superb exercise in 808-fuelled ambient dance music; juke inspired beats and rough vocal edits against a backdrop of bird song and insect noise. The whole thing maintains a tense mood throughout - feeling like the atmospheric, single note synths and kick & stick drum patterns are on the verge of breaking out into old-school jungle at any moment.
Kuedo - Work, Live & Sleep in Collapsing Space [Planet Mu]
It won’t see a proper release until the end of July, but Kuedo’s forthcoming single on Planet Mu is already a decent contender for the year’s best dance release. The A-side comes from the same sessions as the former Vex’d member’s much acclaimed debut album Severant. For our money though, it’s the grandest and best conceived example of Kuedo’s synth-rich, footwork-inspired soundscapes to-date. The two remixes on the reverse - from Laurel Halo and American Men member Claude Speeed - are both impeccable, ambient reworkings, and you can expect all three takes on the track to crop up in a lot of mixes over the next few months. You can hear previews of all three over at Planet Mu's site.
In related news, Kuedo brings his new live show to the UK for the first time this Friday (11 May), headlining a Planet Mu showcase at London’s XOYO, hosted by new promoters Broken & Uneven. The bill also features Machinedrum - whose last LP Room(s) was one of 2011’s best - and Boxcutter, performing under his new alias The Host. Full details here. We’ll be bringing you a report of the night on these pages in the coming weeks.
Logos - Kowloon EP [Keysound]
Slackk - Raw Missions [Local Action]
These two EP are prime examples of the influence that classic 8-bar grime production - particularly Wiley’s early Eskibeat tunes - are having on underground dance music in 2012. Both releases see the fizzy, mid-heavy synth melodies and sparse garage beats of early grime reworked into instrumentals that are both lively and atmospheric in equal measure. Logos’ Kowloon EP is out now on Keysound (although the title track has been floating around for about a year already) featuring four tracks that offer relatively minimal, melodic takes on the genre; sounding both nostalgic, and still vaguely futuristic. Meanwhile, Slackk’s Raw Missions, which is due for release via Local Action later this month, is a slightly heavier, and livelier, take on a similar theme.
Py - Tripping On Wisdom [mixtape]
Rising London-based vocalist Py* has been keeping some good company of late - she's recently released a collaborative EP with *Throwing Snow, and she's also worked with Keysound producer Damu and experimental rockers Breton. All of these collaborators are among the names featuring on this excellent mixtape, due for download and cassette release later this month, acting as a hub for the talented range of artists in Py's address book, as well as her own impressive vocal talents.
The Traveller (Shed) - A100 [Ostgut Ton]
Following on from his excellent single ‘The Praetorian’, released back in Feb, and ahead of his forthcoming third LP The Killer, German producer Rene Pawlowitz, best known under the alias Shed, has just released a wonderful three-track EP of pristine, intricate techno under the name The Traveller (the moniker comes from the title of his second LP as Shed). A100 is out now via Ostgut Ton.
For occasional links to new music, mixed with a lot of inane nonsense, you can follow Si on Twitter here.