Label Profile: Butterz

Leading Grime's resurgence...
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"You've got to big up Butterz, without them grime would be pretty boring" says Royal-T of grime's premier label, brand and stable for some of the most exciting producer-driven sounds coming out of the UK. Led by dynamic label bosses and DJ duo Elijah and Skilliam, Butterz have enjoyed a meteoric rise, bringing grime and all those who'll listen with them to transform a genre pretty much single-handedly. From a scene often perceived as lacking direction, organisation and scope for progression, Butterz have plucked a comprehensive roster of producers from all over the UK and given them the platform to excel. And excel they have.

It's well documented that a young Elijah and Skilliam met whilst at university and united by a love of grime, were intent on making their mark on UK music, but few could have imagined how quickly things would fall into place. After initially starting out writing the Butterz blog, one of grime's most comprehensive online resources of its time, the duo secured a coveted DJ slot on Rinse FM just over three years ago. However, Butterz the label remained more of an after thought until nearly a year later when in 2010 they teamed up with exceptionally talented veteran producer Terror Danjah on their debut release, the 'Bipolar' EP. Although a great place to start, Butterz' relationship with Terror bore down to far more than just a release; as he himself admits in a great documentary piece on the label by Dutch filmmaker Wout Westen, "We're all each other's second ears." Thus, with the Butterz counsel very much in session from day one, relationships with other producers and label outfits have shaped their approach to releasing music and continue to form an important part of Butterz' thinking.

This was no more evident than when releasing their first collaborative record, Ramadanman's 'Woooo Glut', a delectable twist on SX's monster grime riddim 'Woooo' (a track Butterz also released on a limited edition purple vinyl) and 'Glut'. Not only is Ramadanman, now releasing under the Pearson Sound moniker, one of the biggest and most respected names in contemporary dance music and boss of much-lauded imprint Hessle Audio, but he and label counterpart Ben UFO acknowledge grime as a credible influence on their own work. Whilst others may have balked at just the idea of collaborating on a record or completely missed the opportunity altogether, Butterz have tapped into grime in places you'd least expect. And there's plenty of it too. You only have to look at Bok Bok's incredible grime-themed 'Southside' EP (including the monstrous 'Silo Pass'), Toddla T and his work with Jammer, Mumdance and even Ben UFO (who has a habit of playing Jon E Cash in his sets) for inspiration.

Although best known for putting producers first, Butterz were also quick to address demand for vocal tracks with their first MC-based outing coming on Royal T's remix of TRC's 'Oo Aa Ee'. Rather than opt for a safe bet, the label plucked for two of grime's most enigmatic, prolific personalities in P Money and Blacks, resulting in last year's excellent summer anthem 'Boo You'. It would have been easy to bask in the success too but where others may have stood still, Elijah and Skilliam were quick to harness their next success story in revitalised MC, Trim and after first guesting on a series of their radio shows, the wonderfully catchy 'I Am' was born. Again produced by the ever-versatile TRC, 'I Am' not only served as their second quality vocal single, but relaunched the career of one of grime's effectively forgotten men, who has since gone on to sign with Rinse Recordings.

As far as reigniting careers goes, Butterz start them too. Southampton's Mark Taylor, better known as the prodigiously talented Royal T, is arguably the label's biggest success story to date with his story providing perhaps the best insight into how Butterz work. By his own admittance 'just a guy that made tunes on a shitty computer in his pants' upon first speaking to Elijah, Royal T is now grime's go-to producer with a debut album forthcoming on Rinse Recordings and official remix work for Katy B and Cheryl Cole. After first coming to the scene's attention back in 2009 with '1UP', a hard-hitting arcade themed grime joint released on No Hats No Hoods (complete with Bok Bok remix and vocalled by P Money on his 'Money over Everyone' mixtape), Royal T had been on Elijah's radar for some time, having been the first to play his records regularly. By this point, Butterz the label didn't actually exist but just over a year later, 'Orangeade', Royal T's Butterz debut, was readied and released to rapturous approval. The rest as they say, is history.

Another key factor of Butterz success has been their decision to put time into not only listening to their fan base, but making them a part of it. I've written countless pieces on the label over the last two years and often find it best to refer to them as grime's equivalent to Barcelona in footballing terms; they keep fans in the loop whilst unearthing the producers of tomorrow simultaneously. Welcome to the world of 'Open Source', a term coined by Terror Danjah and others to describe the way in which this is made possible. Essentially, fans are encouraged to get involved, with stems to Butterz releases sent out via the ever-popular Butterz zip files for them to remix, vocal and generally experiment with. The best are then selected to be released in the next zip installment and thus new producer talent is identified and propelled into the spotlight of other Butterz fans. This way the label get an exclusive first listen to potential stars and thus the whole process becomes equally as beneficial to them as it does the fans. Producers like Walton, now on Hyperdub, have got their names out there through this exact system.

Fan demand is also appeased by a solid emphasis on product; vinyls, and t shirts are all Butterz staples with all their artwork exclusively designed by talented 18 year-old designer David Kelly. Although vinyl remains a must for many independent dance labels, Butterz are the only one to be putting out grime consistently on it and in a variety of colours; the more unique a product, the more desirable. The impact of their packaging hasn't been lost on outsiders either. US street-wear giants Mishka recently collaborated with the label to put out an exclusive Butterz t-shirt range, with the launch coinciding with Elijah's first stateside trip to play a number of dates in Philadelphia and New York.

Club nights have also become something of a Butterz tradition too, having been granted a residency at one of London's top nightspots, Cable, last summer. Their first event with Hyperdub boss Kode9 was a storming success and thus more dates were planned, with bigger and better line-ups being drawn up to represent the ever-growing stylistic inclinations of the label itself. Essentially one big party, another feature of Butterz nights is the crowd, lots of whom aren't from London, who share only one thing in common; music. Image is left well and truly at the door and Butterz have torn up the rule-book and re-written their own with regards to the ignorant stereotyping that had often derailed grime events in the past. Highlights of the second night in March included an incredible performance by JME, who spent most of his set in the crowd, and Kiss DJ Logan Sama on impromptu (and hilarious) hosting duties for Royal T. The night was also streamed live and audio of each set was recorded for fans to have access to long after the party itself, a concept inspired by Sidewinder tape packs from back in 2001.

The pinnacle of all Elijah and Skilliam's hard work arguably came in the shape of Rinse 17 however, with the duo selected to be a part of the station's legendary mix series. Leaving no corner of the genre untouched, Rinse 17 was the biggest and most public recognition of their contribution to music over the last two years and thoroughly deserved. It was released to widespread critical acclaim late last year.

2012 had sparked a flurry of activity around the label as they began to enjoy widespread recognition from some of music's most accomplished publications and media outlets but releases from the vastly creative, jazz-inspired Swindle (he teamed up with dubstep lynchpin Silkie on 'Unlimited') and heavyweight funky selecta Champion, whose forthcoming take on grime 'Crystal Meth' is due out in a little over a month, have kept Butterz' momentum consistent. They have also aided fellow imprints, Hardrive, run by Terror Danjah and Formula, run by Champion with their efforts to establish themselves, all of whom share the same fundamental ethos and continue to look at new and exciting ways to release incredible underground music.

There has also been good news at Rinse with label alumni Royal T and Swindle both securing weekly slots on the station, the latter having also just released the excellent 'Do the Jazz' on Mala's legendary Deep Medi imprint. Terror Danjah and D.O.K are continuing their good work on Hyperdub too and Champion is now running his own Formula club nights at East Village, all of which point to just how strong the Butterz core has become over the last two years.

So, in short, having achieved so much in such a limited space of time, Butterz are firmly on course to continue redefining expectations. And long may it continue.

Words by Tomas Fraser

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