Back to Back: Elijah & Blackdown In Conversation

As a blogger myself, it’s been impossible not to notice a shift in online consumption over the last couple of years. At one time blogs and certain bloggers were one of the most important ways to learn about new and interesting music, with regular readers able to develop a keen and finite trust in the author’s taste, firsthand experience and world vision. But now, most of the good ones have gone. It’s a romantic view to have and it’s probably a way more outdated notion now than the fury of not having your Myspace top 8 placement reciprocated seemed when everyone jumped ship to facebook, but there was something inherently more interesting to me about the way people documented new discoveries and presented themselves to the world through their blogs. Self-publishing itself then became a concept, an outlet to be explored and undoubtedly part spawned ‘micro’ versions of itself like Twitter. And then… well then the internet spiralled: every person’s opinion loosed itself into their smart phone and steamrolled its way into a very public forum where it shouted as loud as it possibly could possibly, which, when you consider the scope of it, was probably about as loud as a single pin drop would be in the frozen stillness of an Artic dawn. Alas, the world kept turning and the online shifts just kept coming. And with them tumbled the endless streams of pertinent and not so vital information alongside the constancy of human self-verification, but however you look at it, it’s quite comforting to note the paths some of the profile self-publishers have taken since. Two of my own most influential, Martin Clark (aka Blackdown) and Elijah both begat record labels – Keysound and Butterz respectively – pouring the same passion and effort alongside a newfound sense of financial abandon into projects that still manage to serve up some of the same sort of reward as that first Google search did after you read about specific musicians on their blogs once did (note: Elijah has since retired the Butterz blog but keeps on trucking at whilst Blackdown Soundboy still exists in regular integers). They both run club nights, also. And, well, it just so happens that they’re both hosting rooms at FABRICLIVE on the 1st November with Butterz making a welcome return to Room Two and Keysound continuing their sterling run of Room Three takeovers. We, quite selfishly, decided that given their individual trajectories and their history as DJs, writers and label owners, we’d really like to read an interview where they both interviewed each other discussing projects old and new. So Elijah - bless him - he only went and made it happen… Elijah: We both came across each other for the first time via our blogspots and now we have both channelled our energies into our labels over the past few years. If you did have more time for writing these days can you think of something that you might have covered for say your monthly column that falls outside what you would be playing on Rinse or signing to Keysound? Like do you still have ideas for articles you never get to do? Blackdown: Well… and here's the paradox, for me these days there isn't a huge amount of stuff that I’d want to write about that I’m not directly involved with, and that's because - since there's been a lack of stuff in the last 3 years, I’ve sought to release it, which rules me out of writing about it. But people I’d like to interview: Mark Radford and Jesse Lanza. Actually I don't have a problem about writing about and interviewing people I am releasing if it's on my own blog, but that’s more because it's always supposed to have represented my very personal viewpoint. Elijah: Do you think blogging is less important than when you started out? Now, there is so much information out there before you even look at social networking sites? Blackdown: Before I answer that, lemme ask you the same question: are there people outside of the Butterz universe you'd strongly like to interview? Elijah: Yeah, I think a lot of talks I have with artists off the record would be good interviews. You just get an insight into their perspectives more than you know just maybe what is happening that we can see in front of us. I mean the obvious two are proper extended interviews with Wiley and Dizzee, but I'd always choose doing music with them first. Blackdown: Haha. I’ve done those two, but I think I'm happy to have done them in 2003... Elijah: I see it both ways… Now I can speak to them about 2003-2013 - without really looking beyond. They still do cool stuff even if it isn't for me and with Dizzee, I've never even met him so I'd literally be starting from the top. Blackdown: I think it depends on how you measure "cool stuff", because if your interest in them is "how did you get successful or reach a mainstream audience?", then there's dozens if not hundreds of artist you could speak to who have done this. Whereas if you were asking "how did you rewire garage's DNA in 2002 to make the most phenomenal explosion of popular but abstract and raw music (i.e. grime)?" - which is a question I am generally more interested in - well they're the guys to ask, ideally back when they were doing it. Should I tackle your blogging question now? Elijah: Yes please… Blackdown: Sadly, I think blogging is less prevalent and less heard now. When I started, a blog was the only way to get online and self-publish. Then came myspace, then Facebook, then Twitter, Soundcloud and the rest so back then there was a need to do it (to cover music no one else would). Whereas now there's a million voices being heard, from each artists' twitter accounts to Facebook pages and the rest. I still love blogging but I don't know if it is valued, needed or heard as much as it was in 2004 when I started. How do you feel? Elijah: The type of blogging we used to do was heavy and there's definitely still an audience for it. I can sit and read a 5 page interview with someone interesting or just some great music writing. That kind of blogging is like vinyl to me. Ill bookmark it, maybe go back to it in a couple months, years and draw some inspiration from it. It's definitely still needed. I’ve made an adjustment to posting small bits every day and maybe a long form piece once in a while. Although I haven't for a long time… But let’s move on to the labels. You have picked up your release schedule rapidly in the past two years. You are now just clearing 40 records. How the hell do you even manage so many projects and people's emotions!? Blackdown: Haha. Because I fucking want it rudeboy! Hunger! Less aggressively: email and social media connectivity allows constant dialog, to chivvy things along because if people turn out to be divas, delusional or dicks, we don't/can't work with them Elijah: Can you eventually see the situation flipping in this group of artists? Like most people know Keysound as Dusk & Blackdown’s label at the moment but artists like Wen and Logos are becoming your flagship artists that take the music to the world. Like how Swindle and Royal-T have for Butterz… Blackdown: Well, perhaps it already has? Though maybe people see us as a collective now, all moving broadly together; rather than just a Burial type situation. But you’re dealing with grime guys, how do you juggle all those emotions? Elijah: I've stayed away from the MCs really - which is our biggest weakness, I guess. It's the missing part of the puzzle. I wouldn't mind some typical MC problems once in a while if we had that dynamic within Butterz. We did releases with P Money and Trim back in 2011 and they were really easy to work with. My drama in the music game so far has been really small especially coming from a scene that so many people are scared to reach out to. Blackdown: Where are the new MCs, the new voices from the London road guys? where are those voices appearing now, in 2013? Because if they're expressing themselves, I'm not hearing them where I look for 'em... Elijah: Allow that question. It just ends up with me slewing people… Blackdown: Haha, come on, I know you Elijah. You've got your professional voice on but I like the direct you too! Anyway, next question... Elijah: Dun know Blackdown: There's been a lot of people re-discovering Wiley's eski (Wiley Kat Recordings) sound recently, and a new cluster of instrumental grime producers around the Boxed night. How do you see what they do compared to what Butterz does? Elijah: It's the same. A group of guys getting together feeling they have something to add to what’s out there right now, making tunes, putting on a night and spreading the music. We have just been doing it longer. It's difficult to compare stuff sonically as everyone in both camps does different stuff. We need more of these people in different areas, from different countries using maybe grime as a loose set of ideas and just doing something consistent with it Blackdown: I think the key there is "grime as a loose set of ideas"… Elijah: That's it, and whatever your interpretation of that is is up to you. Look at what Kahn and Neek do too. They have their own audience, bringing through another bunch of guys on their labels and just keeping it moving. I love that. Blackdown: To Dusk and I, grime is an influence to apply in a different context, whereas to you guys it's a broader umbrella to work under (or away from). Elijah: How would you say you work with it differently to how we do? Blackdown: Well sonically and rhythmically we apply it in different ways, though you guys have increasingly explored more garage (with Royal T and Flava D) now, so you're stretching things. Elijah: We have always done garage. The record we did with P Money was that style and we have always played people like DJ Q, Virgo, TRC and other guys from the bassline background. Blackdown: Yeah. It’s funny. I mean, you're right, yet somehow I always think of Butterz as being a grime brand. Maybe it's a lack of vision on my part... Elijah: Like how people don't connect garage to dubstep, people don't connect it to grime either? We are the modern bridge I guess… Blackdown: I think it's a logical bridge, since mid-era grime did need to get more "danceable" and you guys did that less "artist + concert" more "DJ + rave". Elijah: Yea straight up, that was always my aim. That leads us nicely into the club world: fabric! On these nights when you have your whole roster playing what does that leave for your own DJ sets? Do you play mainly your own stuff in these situations? Blackdown: Yeah, it's a problem! So, as you've implied, we don't play records by people who are on the bill - we leave them to play 'em, so it forces us to re-shape our sets. Dusk and I have about three or four unreleased tracks by us in our sets at the moment so we play those but thankfully the Keysound family is wide enough that we usually have people we can represent, like in this case E.M.M.A or Sully - we can't book everyone at once. Then there's producers we can’t or haven't explicitly signed but we play in our sets. Sometimes having a forcing function is good, it forces you to be creative. How do you handle it? Elijah: We either throw other elements into our set like JME performing live, or mixing in records people don't expect to hear that go well with grime. For instance at this party we have our whole current roster playing which maybe makes up 60% of my selection in clubs at the moment. It definitely forces more creativity from us and the days before I always go through demos just in case there is something I'm overlooking Blackdown: Do you ever commission tracks or VIPs? I love doing that - and people seem responsive… Elijah: All the time! I used to love listening to DJs that had one off versions of certain tunes I’ve grown up with - that whole dub plate culture. It just makes you stand out. Sometimes it is for big tracks like Kahn & Neek’s ‘Percy’ - everyone was playing it, so just to combat playing the same thing as everyone else I asked for an edit and they sent it over a few days later. But with some people I like maybe one part of the track and I just ask them to focus on one part for my version. Or what I asked Champion to do with 'Crystal Meth' was to make our version start with the 2nd drop instead. If you do it gradually you never need to go and ask for 10 at a time either. It just keeps you on your toes Blackdown: So Elijah, you're a man with a plan, where's it all going? Elijah: Big question. We spoke about this when we did the long convo just before we released Rinse:17 but Butterz and all the things that have started since is us just controlling our own destiny. Doing all the things I enjoy on my terms, working with interesting people, travelling, listening to great music, doing parties, writing and filming. If I can continue doing as many of these things at the same time as possible then I’ll continue to do it. The balance act keeps me on my toes. I guess the biggest addition to what I have been up to recently is Jamz. I have been throwing low key parties to lead upto the launch of an online store of the same name - opening soon. It’ll sell Butterz product and all the music we play, on record, in one place and it’ll do some cool editorial bits every month; just as another way of putting people onto some new music and especially that outside of our catalogue. A proper spot to sell our merchandise range was needed too, and next year we hope to expand on it and work with a few different brands. Blackdown: Yeah man, this is why we connect, or in part why we've always connected, cause all those are great things to be doing: honest goals in this music thing… Elijah: What about you? You have become an album heavy label so I'm expecting more over the next year or so right? Blackdown: Yeah. I wanted to break my record and do four this year but I couldn't quite do it. Maybe next year! I can certainly see, from this vantage point in September '13, our releases most of the way into late spring, so that feels fun but my broader aim is to bring people through who are talented, under heard and fit into what we do. Hopefully the more we bring through the more momentum there may be behind the sounds we're supporting and hence the more people may choose to join us, contribute or come to nights to hear these sounds.
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