On Skilliam, Butterz, Jamaica, London, community, curation, radio, technology, daily thoughts, legacy, breaking down borders and the future of music.
Just before we spoke for this piece, Elijah sent me a link to an interview we’d done for Hyponik back in 2014. The title? ‘I’d Rather DJ In Kent Than Idaho: In Conversation With Elijah’. “I got a message from someone in Idaho at that time, too”, he says, before sending a host of other links to interviews and features we’d collaborated on since Butterz – the label he has pioneered with close friend and sparring partner, Skilliam – was first established in 2010. “There’s a lot of us on the internet after all these years”, he quips.
For me, a wide-eyed grime fan with an outsider perspective on the industry and moreover, grime’s ecosystem at the time, Butterz was the blueprint. I felt it was how grime could not only sound, but could also be presented, shared and enjoyed – and for all Elijah’s influence and achievement in music since, the label still ranks, in my opinion, as his greatest legacy.
So, as our cameras come into focus on a frosty winter afternoon, it comes as a surprise to us both that it’d been almost five years since we’d spoken, person-to-person. “Before I was on auto-pilot, I just enjoyed so much stuff and I was busy to a point where I wasn’t thinking as much, where as now I’ve got downtime so I think more, sometimes unnecessarily”, he says, reflecting on the past two years. Has that been a blessing in disguise, I ask tentatively? “Nah”, he says firmly, “…it’s just an adjustment really. I was reading back over those interviews and features from before and it was just chaos, innit? I thrived on chaos I think, but even then, everyone has their limits.”
For Elijah, the pandemic has not only brought about a shift in perspective but also a total recalibration in terms of how he lives and works. Pre-2020, he recalls spending two or three nights at home a week — “it was just the place where my stuff was” — such was the nature of his schedule and the demands of working in multiple industry spheres. Now? “Ah it’s my home, definitely, but it’s still something I’m adjusting to. I seem to feel different about things every three months or so, in terms of things like direction but also how I feel about life. Before, I knew what I was doing and where I was going, where as now I feel like I’ve still got a direction, but maybe less of a plan.”
Elijah was born in Hackney and grew up in Leyton in East London, the son of Jamaican parents. Raised by his mum — his dad moved to Jamaica as a young child — he’d visit the island during the school holidays, recalling a sense of duality that permeated his early life. “I felt like a Jamaican”, he says, “but like, obviously I was born in England. It was different. Looking at things now, I remember seeing all the young black kids wearing England kits during the EUROs, but that would be something I never would have done as a kid because I was Jamaican. I didn’t resonate with being English in that way, but it’s nice that people do now we’re a generation deeper. I’ve got cousins whose parents were born here and have never been back-and-forth like I used to. Like, I was always looking to Jamaica. Obviously I had the musical connection but there were also communities here … Black, Irish, Asian … I didn’t feel the need to engage with being English in that sense. Now, I look back and I’m like ‘rah, I was living in a very different bubble to everyone else’ but that’s what it was like for all of us, for everyone I grew up with.”
In fact, it wasn’t until Elijah went to college in East London — he attended Sir George Monoux Sixth Form College in Walthamstow where, inspired by programs like Dragon’s Den, he studied Business Economics and ICT — that he started to meet people from outside the communities that had birthed him. “In terms of growing up though, I used to play outside a lot, I used to play computer games, football, I’d skate, play cricket, tennis, I did martial arts … stuff to keep me busy and out of trouble”, Elijah recounts. “People would come to my house a lot as well. In my family, our house was always the central house, so at weekends the doorbell would ring and it could be anyone. People would just turn up, eat, cotch, whatever … it was just an open house. That’s something I’ve missed during the pandemic, everything has to be scheduled. You can’t just knock on someone’s door.”
“That’s something I’ve missed during the pandemic, everything has to be scheduled. You can’t just knock on someone’s door.”
“Music was always there too”, he continues. “I remember always listening to pirates. I didn’t grow up in a house full of records so for me, the radio in my bedroom … it was my window into everything going on. I’d scroll the dial and land on things and be like ‘ok, reggae’s playing, bang’. People that’d come over would bring their music over as well or when you went to someone else’s house, you’d hear something and be like ‘right, let me grab that’. Remember you could record like, tape-to-tape and you could hear the drop in quality when you played it back? We’d do that all the time. I wasn’t actively buying music until I was a teenager because I didn’t ask for money for things. It meant I’d just learn songs from the first beat, even old jungle and garage stuff. That meant I got good at taping songs from the radio like, mad efficiently, as well. Even on commercial radio, they’d be like ‘coming up we’ve got Busta Rhymes’ and I’d be on it straight away …. ‘get the tape in the deck, hit record, bang’. I’d try and make sure there were no jingles or talk-over, so in the end, I’d have these perfect rips.”
What was it about a certain track or song that’d draw him in, I ask? “Basslines, innit”, he says, smirking. “It sounds really obvious but yeah. Stuff that maybe felt experimental at the time that is now standard, that’s what always stood out to me. So like, if you listened to commercial radio you’d be hearing the Spice Girls and then you’d lock into a pirate and you’d be hearing people like Dillinja and Wookie. To me, that was experimental, where as now there’s 25 years of music existing in that style. It was the same as early grime. How I see people writing about techno … that was our techno at that time.”
“Grime didn’t necessarily get me straight away either”, Elijah continues, “it was an adjustment. You had to get used to the different accents and voices, and don’t forget the change from garage MCs to grime MCs … like garage MCs still had an American twang to their voices and they were performers essentially. Grime on the other hand, you had the harshness of the beats but then you had the bars … ‘hit ‘em like a lightning bolt, 5000 volts it’s your own fault’ … it’s a lot to digest. For most people, I think it hit them over the head too hard, but for me it was at the intersection of all the things I really liked. Experimental beats, this ragga kinda dancehall vibe, MCs … and the format was the same as garage and jungle; it was on pirate radio, it was easy to find, it was local. I remember hearing D Double E for the first time, I must have been about 14. The adjustment was so sharp. Imagine you were scrolling through the dial and you’d hear whatever was popping in 2002. There’s Sean Paul, 50 Cent and then you turn the dial again and you’re hearing ‘head get mangled and dangled to the side just like I wear my Kangol’? It was mind-blowing. There was no context either, there was no Google, you couldn’t find out what any of it meant or who anyone was. I did take a minute for me to get my head around. Not that long, though.”
“Imagine you were scrolling through the dial and you’d hear whatever was popping in 2002. There’s Sean Paul, 50 Cent and then you turn the dial again and you’re hearing ‘head get mangled and dangled to the side just like I wear my Kangol’? It was mind-blowing.”
By the time Elijah headed off to university — he studied Business at the University Of Hertfordshire — grime was starting to take root in his thinking. He loved its DIY ethos and what he saw as the challenge of putting records out. It had potential in business, he thought. And then, quite by chance, he linked up with Skilliam, whom he’d first met through pirate radio back in London a few years prior.
While the night life on campus didn’t offer much — “I think Supa D came one time, Sean Paul … Kano came once, JME & Skepta, but even then I saw them loads at events in London” — Elijah had started to learn to DJ. “I just thought I could offer something different to grime and the UK whatever … that Rinse FM banner of grime, dubstep, funky, garage”, he says thoughtfully. “I’d been on the other side as a raver for so long, so I had a lot of my own ideas. I’d find myself at events having a sick time, but still fantasy booking line-ups in my head and thinking about how things could be different or done better … even the format of club nights themselves. That’s what drew me to DJing and made me believe I could be a DJ rather than just someone that collected records and played them at home. I felt there was something in it for me.”
“I’d find myself at events having a sick time, but still fantasy booking line-ups in my head and thinking about how things could be different or done better … even the format of club nights themselves.”
How did you learn, I ask? “With Skill, innit”, he affirms. “I’d been learning myself but not practicing enough, so when we linked up it just took off. He kinda understood what I was trying to do as a DJ, although I didn’t really have the technical skills to pull it off yet, but over time he helped me get better. Every time we linked up to practice he was just like, ‘let’s go’, which focused me.”
Skilliam, also living in halls of residence on campus at the University Of Hertfordshire, found himself living with one of Elijah’s friends from London. The two built a rapport quickly. “I had my decks at uni with me, so I’d holla and be like ‘come round, let’s do a mix’ and we also realised there were decks at the uni radio studio as well”, Elijah recalls. “We started a show together and we never looked back really. It kinda feels stupid saying it now but like, when you put something on the internet, it’s like saying ‘I’m giving up drinking’ or something, do you know what I mean? Like, you’ve been seen, you can’t go back on it. Those first two years at uni, after I’d told people I was a DJ and we had our radio show, I felt like I had to work hard. There was no escape once it was all online, but I didn’t wanna give up on it either, and I knew it’d take a while to get my ideas across. I’d actually started doing the blog by this point too, but it was very much complimentary to the radio show. They were the first two thing’s I did that extended beyond just my friends … the first two things I put out there, you know.”
Elijah’s Butterz blog — a rolling feed of archived sets and opinion that became a living ecosystem of its own — was not only a place to showcase his skills and tastes, but also a vehicle for him to compile and transmit ideas. It was his URL scrapbook — and it laid the foundations for what would later become a career. “I feel like back then you could say I was just a blogger or just a DJ”, he reflects, “where as now I don’t think things are anywhere near as separate. Now you’ve got photographers that DJ and directors that produce music, rappers that play the drums and have their own YouTube channels … all these vessels have become one. I still describe myself as a DJ when I’m asked just for ease, but it doesn’t describe my day-to-day life or all the things I can do or have to do.”
“Now you’ve got photographers that DJ and directors that produce music, rappers that play the drums and have their own YouTube channels … all these vessels have become one.”
After leaving university, Elijah continued sharing his radio shows online, while also becoming a founding member of Grime Forum, which was established in response to RWD Forum closing down — grime’s original de facto URL hub and cornerstone of the community. “That was how we met Royal-T”, he notes. “He was sending us music through the forum and it made us realise that they were people from all over the country making grime but nobody was hearing it. If you listened to Rinse FM at the time, the majority of the producers getting their beats played were producers the DJs knew or could get CDs from. There wasn’t as much openness … like back then, how would you get Maximum’s email or his phone number? There was no Twitter or Instagram DMs. I suppose there was MySpace but who was checking MySpace messages? It was difficult for people.”
On their return to London, Elijah & Skilliam — now a fully-fledged DJ duo having cutting their teeth so diligently on university radio — joined Rinse FM. It was a significant milestone for Elijah — “it was the station I was listening to and the place all the hot DJs were” — but he also recognised that people’s perceptions around grime had changed. “No one really saw the music as going anywhere at that time”, he concedes. “There were no raves basically. A lot of DJs had moved on and were playing funky and dubstep or had just stopped altogether and it was bang in the middle of the vinyl to digital transition as well. It was a strange time. For us, being on Rinse meant we were broadcasting to the world though which was big. The first three years we were on air, I’d say we were getting a minimum of 1000 downloads per show and that was just from my own platforms, never mind Rinse’s. It was a great situation for us really because there weren’t many outlets online for what we were playing. If you wanted to hear that sort of music, we were a good outpost.”
“For us, being on Rinse meant we were broadcasting to the world though which was big. The first three years we were on air, I’d say we were getting a minimum of 1000 downloads per show and that was just from my own platforms, never mind Rinse’s.”
“You gotta remember, I graduated in 2009 as well”, Elijah continues. “It was the credit crunch year, I’d had a load of job interviews and got knocked back from most of them, I got told I was unemployable. I was 21 and competing with 34 year olds for the same job in a lot of cases. The choice came down to trying to get a job that’d pay me £17k a year full-time, or taking a risk and trying to make DJing work for a few years and see how it panned out. Even if I made less money, I knew I could survive and that I’d enjoy what I was doing along the way. At this point, I’d only ever worked at Marks & Spencer’s, I had limited experience, my degree felt effectively useless … like what could I do to prove my worth? Butterz the label started off the back of that dilemma. What else could I do?”
“The choice came down to trying to get a job that’d pay me £17k a year full-time, or taking a risk and trying to make DJing work for a few years and see how it panned out. Even if I made less money, I knew I could survive and that I’d enjoy what I was doing along the way.”
It was a move that Elijah would never look back from. Formed in 2010 alongside Skilliam and christened by BR001 — Terror Danjah’s ‘Bipolar’ EP – Butterz the label felt every bit a slick, well-oiled machine from the outset. The distinctive black and yellow vinyl labels immediately stood out on the racks at record shops, the uniform bubble-art fonts — designed by a then 17 year-old David Kelly — were both playful and nimble, and most importantly, the beats were sugary and dance-able. This was grime as it hadn’t been seen or heard before. Behind the scenes however, Elijah was still learning on the job.
“I’d been to enough raves and bought enough records and been around music long enough to grasp where things were at”, he says humbly. “The idea was to make sure we always had something going on, whether it be records, radio, club nights. Grime had always been focused on the artists in the past, but artists on their own couldn’t match our output or the ferocity we had in those early days. There was no other brand or platform pushing the music at that time either, so I guess we were without comparison. It was good to see so many things come off of it as well, all the other pockets of talent and ideas that started springing up once Butterz had solidified itself. That was the bit that always excited me and gave me things to bounce off.”
“I met Terror through a mutual friend”, he continues, “and we actually spoke for months about my ideas. He ended up coming on Rinse and we spoke some more that night, it was actually at the time he’d been working on ‘Gremlinz’, the retrospective album he put together for Planet Mu. Seeing the reception to that at the time just reinforced my own thoughts about this music having a different context … the idea that people outside of pirate radio could appreciate it, and the notion that grime wasn’t just for MCs to spit over. Terror was the highest-profile artist in our network at the time, so we felt like it’d be smart to start with him. The buyers and record shops already understood where he was coming from the ‘Gremlinz’ record so it was a good crossover point.”
‘Bipolar’ would open the floodgates for a slew of definitive early Butterz records from the likes of D.O.K. and Royal-T — already on the map after producing ‘1 Up’ for P-Money on No Hats No Hoods but still a raw talent — as well as ‘Quality Street’, which saw Mr. Mitch and SRC join Terror and Royal-T on a four-track, multi-artist 12”. SX’s era-defining ‘Wooo Riddim’ also got the vinyl treatment through Butterz, released on white label in 2010, before Elijah then brought Ramadanman (now Pearson Sound) into the picture six months later. Butterz released ‘Woooo Glut’ — a much coveted blend of Ramadanman’s ‘Glut’, itself a defining UK club record of the time — and SX’s ‘Woooo’ in March 2011, which not only saw buyers scramble for copies in their droves but also spotlighted Butterz’s penchant for dance floor cross-pollination. From the outside looking in, it felt like the label was upscaling with every record.
“What was happening was that I was selling records direct”, Elijah explains. “It meant that I could work fast, especially in terms of money. Once we got the first four records out and made our costs back and paid the artists, we had a little chunk of money. We put out ‘Boo You’ with P-Money and ‘I Am’ with Trim really close together after that, more hoping that it’d work than anything else. That was a reminder that we still needed other labels to bounce off really because although they sold alright for what we were trying to do, our only comparison in the market was dubstep. We were selling 3-500 records a time and those guys would be shotting anything from 2500-5000. Our thing was like a drop in the ocean at the time by comparison, but the decision for us to start releasing merch helped subsidise that and gave us more cashflow and the agency to maintain our ability to flip things really quickly.”
As the years started to pass, the Butterz network quickly started to expand. Alongside a core group of producers including Terror Danjah, Royal-T and Swindle, there were new names joining the ranks in varying capacities — some, like dubstep kingpins Silkie and Joker, would make fleeting appearances in supporting roles — while others, like Champion and Flava D, were starting to become an integral part of Elijah and Skilliam’s vision. “The thing was until July 2012, we weren’t doing too many shows outside of London”, Elijah explains, “or not with any regularity anyway. In late 2012 and early 2013 that started to change and we started to take things nationwide. We kicked off our Jamz parties at Wire in Leeds, we did something in the US for the first time, Flava D came on board. Things just started to shift a little bit. You’ve got to remember as well that Swindle and Royal-T had starting making hits for other labels by this point too, Swindle with Deep Medi (‘Do The Jazz’) and Royal-T with Rinse (‘I Know You Want Me’). It meant there was a bit of a gap in our release schedule or the first time, but it allowed us the space to introduce Flava D properly with ‘Hold On / Home’. We actually made the decision to manage Flava from the jump too, which I kept quiet for a long time because I wanted to work on things together in the background, while still learning the role myself. I’d kind of already done it in a soft way with Royal-T and Swindle, but it was a lot more informal, where as I felt Flava needed more structure in place at that point and I saw a lot of potential in her and her music. I felt like we could build a world around her and over time, we built a level of trust that I knew meant we could achieve a lot.”
“That whole period made us think too though”, he continues. “Like, how were we gonna establish the next phase of what we wanted to do? Were we just gonna continue releasing records from different artists or… what were we essentially? By the end of 2013, we made the decision that our core would be Royal-T, Flava D and Swindle, and that was what we were gonna focus on, alongside Elijah & Skilliam. As Elijah & Skilliam, we were artists playing the shows, promoting the nights, doing the business side of it. We had no label manager. Skilliam would do the backend himself for example and it took a lot of time, so we had to find a balance and prioritise what and who we were gonna focus on. There was a whole new wave of sick producers around at the time too, Preditah and Murlo and people like that, but I felt like we didn’t have the capacity to accommodate them. We decided to double-down on what we’d made already. And here we are.”
“As Elijah & Skilliam, we were artists playing the shows, promoting the nights, doing the business side of it. We had no label manager. Skilliam would do the backend himself for example and it took a lot of time, so we had to find a balance and prioritise what and who we were gonna focus on.”
As well as their artist focus, the early London parties Butterz did throw — firstly at East Village to learn the ropes and later at Vauxhall’s now long-since closed, Cable, via a couple of Room 3 shows at fabric — were also some of the capital’s most game-changing at the time. Similarly to their approach to releasing music, Butterz’s vision for throwing club nights felt revolutionary. At Cable, the stars were the DJs, many of whom were also producers, allowing for sets to ripple with individual flair and nuance. Swindle, for example, would flit between crunching, early grime burners like ‘Airmiles’ and the woozy, lo-slung funk of ‘Do The Jazz’, with some in the crowd blowing whistles and horns, while Champion — fresh from releasing 2011 funky anthem ‘Lighter’ — would sway the whole dance floor from side-to-side, a sea of lighters held aloft in the air. Some DJs would even make specials just for those early Cable nights themselves, adding to the sense of occasion that permeated the crowd. And then there were the MCs, some of whom were booked, others who’d just turn up. D Double E spent nearly five minutes trying to actually launch into ‘Bad To Tha Bone’ on his first Cable appearance, the track pulled back six times after 10-15 seconds of him touching the mic and spitting his trademark ‘OOOOO-EEERRRRR, OOOOO-EEERRRRR’ adlib. Then there was JME, who clambered — and somehow maintained his balance — on top of the DJ booth in a sky blue onesie to shush the entire club into silence before launching into a live PA of ’96 Fuckries’, which had charted at #41 on the UK Singles Chart only weeks before despite it having no recognisable hook. Even Skepta turned up at Cable one night in 2013, jumping on set with Swindle and Joker for a performance only those there to witness could quite believe.
“The idea was originally to continue the FWD>> vs Rinse vibe, but with a focus on grime”, Elijah says, casting his mind back to August 2011 and the first Cable party. “The spine of it was producers playing their music, but we also wanted to be present, we wanted to interact with people. Like, we’d be in the crowd when we weren’t playing, there was no separation. Cable was good for that because when you finished your set, there was nowhere else to really go. Lots of people met for the first time at those nights as well, especially people who were familiar online but maybe not in person. You’d have people coming down from different cities, people flying in, people bumping into each other like ‘oh, you’re that person, sick sick’ … they were all really positive things that came out of it.”
“Lots of people met for the first time at those nights as well, especially people who were familiar online but maybe not in person. You’d have people coming down from different cities, people flying in, people bumping into each other like ‘oh, you’re that person, sick sick’.”
“What made the nights more memorable was that we then put out the sets online as well”, Elijah continues. “We’d record the sets live, I’d get home from the rave at like seven in the morning, upload the audio, put it on the internet and go to sleep. Nobody else was doing that at the time. I remember there was one night where we couldn’t get the audio out until the following evening and I had all these people tweeting me in the morning like ‘where’s the sets?’”. Unfortunately, Cable — set under the arches of Vauxhall station — was abruptly (and controversially) forced out of business in May 2013 after Network Rail sanctioned a repossession order to fit an emergency staircase to the station above. It was a hammer blow to London’s nightlife sector at the time, but Butterz nights will forever be enshrined in the memories of those lucky enough to go.
Returning to the Butterz discography, Elijah is keen to talk about one year in particular. “Going back to the label, 2015 was a marquee year for us I think”, he says, pausing briefly, “…especially in terms of really establishing who and what we were. We had the Swindle album (‘Peace, Love & Music’), the Footsie EP (‘Scars’), Rapid’s EP (‘The Rapid EP’), Royal-T’s ‘Shotta’ EP with the Wen and Kahn & Neek remixes … we actually did a little launch party bundle that meant if you bought a ticket, you got a copy of the record … and we obviously started tqd and put out their debut release (‘Day & Night’) for Record Store Day. Going back to Rapid’s EP, we actually launched that at fabric with a Ruff Sqwad reunion which was sick, and then there was ‘Grime 2015’, which was the compilation mixed by me and Skilliam. It was kinda an amalgamation of everything that happened between 2014 and 2015 … ‘That’s Not Me’, ‘Take Time’ and all those tunes … and it did really well for us. It got into the hands of a lot of people that didn’t know anything about Butterz and just wanted a grime CD, which is kinda cool. There’ll probably be like 10,000 people with a Butterz product sitting at home now, whether they realise it or not.”
While certainly a banner year for the label, the launch of tqd also proved a masterstroke for Elijah & Skilliam as ever-evolving execs behind-the-scenes. A new-gen UKG super-group comprised of Royal-T, DJ Q and Flava D born inadvertently at Red Bull Studios, where the trio were in-and-out of studio sessions, tqd’s explosive success shone a light onto the pair’s ability to not only re-contextualize their skills as label heads, but capitalize on social trends for the first time too. “The catalysts were videos being introduced on Twitter and the virality of videos on Facebook”, Elijah affirms. “Sharing clips from the tqd DJ shows, especially shows to big crowds … like we were part of that first wave. People would see these clips of a reload in front of 5000 people and think ‘yo, that’s sick’ … and from the sheer virality of stuff like that, we were able to take that tqd show to any city in the country. And that’s what we did for most of 2016.”
“We were essentially managing that project as a whole”, Elijah continues, “and I really wanted to make sure we got something solid out of it. I didn’t want it to be a case of just putting out some tunes and that being that.” The result? tqd went onto play over 65 shows between 2015-2019, including slots at Glastonbury, SW4, Creamfields, Parklife, Sonar and We Are FSTVL, a nationwide club tour and multiple dates across the US, Europe and Ibiza, with their debut album, ‘ukg’, released to widespread critical acclaim in 2017. Even Pitchfork, notoriously hit-and-miss with their coverage of smaller, niche strains of UK music, were unanimous in their praise of the record, spotlighting album single ‘Vibsing Ting’ in particular as “British dance music of the perfect vintage”.
Now almost a decade deep in music, 2017 also saw Elijah presented with a completely different opportunity altogether. He was approached by an arts charity organisation called Lighthouse, who, based in Brighton, had been given a fund by the Arts Council to bring on an artistic director on an 18-month contract for two days a week. “It was very different to running a label”, he says with a grin. “It was project-based though and the focus was to help artists build on their ideas, which I was able to do on a bigger scale than I could with Butterz. I still don’t think I’ve scratched the surface of working in that world at all, but it was a good experience working with a team and just learning from other people that are not invested in music or a particular scene. It reminded me how small and niche what I do with Butterz is, but it also helped me understand my value and where I can take that next. It was only a short amount of time in the grand scheme of things, but the stuff I did and the people I met there was very impactful, particularly in terms of getting my work in grime getting recognised elsewhere.”
Then came 2020. It was a year Elijah had been working toward for the previous 12 months. There were releases, tours, live shows and of course, ideas — but all were either parked indefinitely or scrapped in their entirety in light of the pandemic. It was a disconcerting period of time, he admits, and one that he’s still navigating his way back from as we move into a new year. “It was horrible, man, to be honest”, he acknowledges. “All I’d been working on for that whole decade just went up in smoke. What do you do next if you can’t do shows or club nights or even see the artists that you work with? What do you even do?”
“All I’d been working on for that whole decade just went up in smoke. What do you do next if you can’t do shows or club nights or even see the artists that you work with?”
It was a question that took a while to sink in, before, after being recommended by friends, he applied for a job to launch and oversee a special fund for Youth Music — “I hadn’t applied for a job since 2009” — where he began working in March 2021. “It actually took the rest of 2020 to catch my breath from the past decade of working like crazy”, says Elijah, “but it’s been interesting to work within a proper organisation and away from Butterz. I now work with them part-time, managing and promoting the NextGen fund, as well as being an advocate for new artists.” The NextGen fund is open to any UK-based creatives aged 18-25 (and up to 30 who identify as Disabled), who, upon a successful application, can receive a grant of up to £2500 to help create their own project.
Sandwiched in between , Elijah also returned to Twitter in the summer of 2021 after a nine-month break — a move which, unexpectedly, has re-platformed perhaps his most valuable asset; ideas. Posting ‘daily thoughts’ die-cast in over 12 years of experience across DJing, working with artists, booking agents, managers, PRs, clubs and more in simple, handwritten fonts on yellow squares — itself a full circle nod to Butterz’s iconic early colour palette — Elijah has been a major catalyst for recent discourse around the future of the music industry.
Refreshed this month for 2022, he’s vowed to write and share his ideas on Instagram every Monday-Thursday for the foreseeable future. “I was effectively starting again from 0”, he explains. “Twitter had deleted my old handle, so I thought about what I could share that’d be useful to anybody who wanted to follow this new account. My mind was clear because I’d been off socials for so long as well, so a lot of those thoughts are a direct result of that clarity. It all started to happen organically once I started tweeting those things out. I even started using my Instagram again and I’d never used that before besides when I was DJing a lot, but because I’ve been sharing things with purpose, I doubled my follower count in the first few months of being back on it. Basically, like, 4000 people came along and started following me on there because I was doing something useful, so those 4000 people only know from the context of being useful or valuable to them, which is nice. I actually got introduced as ‘the guy that does the yellow squares’ the other day.”
“I actually got introduced as ‘the guy that does the yellow squares’ the other day.”
“Thinking about it, it’s a simple concept but it’ll reach more people than Butterz ever did, which is cool as well”, Elijah continues. “And it’s a way to flex my brain a bit but also, the practice of writing every day and articulating your thoughts actually makes you a better writer. I’m working on being super quick and concise with it, especially because, when you think about it, that little yellow square will be the only 15 seconds that I ever get with a lot of people.”
“Over the next 10 years, success would be releasing more music, doing work in our local communities, helping more people get started on their creative journeys and working with our friends that we’ve been cut off from since the pandemic struck”, says Elijah, reading the caption of an archived Instagram post from December 2020 after I ask about what the future might hold. “Any projects that play into those sentiments, basically. Putting out all those ideas has magnetised opportunity of all kinds so I’ve been using the last couple of months to work out how my own creative ideas fit in with everything. I’ve got Butterz, I’m managing artists … how does that build into those aims? I want to move around again but I also want to do stuff local to me in Walthamstow, so what projects are gonna allow me to do both?”
“Over the next 10 years, success would be releasing more music, doing work in our local communities, helping more people get started on their creative journeys and working with our friends that we’ve been cut off from since the pandemic struck.”
One such project took shape in the form of ‘BRIME!’ — the first fully Brazilian grime record ever made available on wax, and only the second Butterz have released in the pandemic landscape. A thoughtfully crafted reissue — the original was released by Brazilian imprint, Ceia, back in March 2020 — it sees three of São Paulo’s most decorated grime artists in CESRV (producer), Fleezus and Febem open a tin of rally-style reload grime over beats that reference everything from Baile Funk to ‘That’s Not Me’-era Eski. “BRIME! was done completely during the pandemic, so I wish we’d done a different catalogue number for it looking back”, says Elijah. “The music that came before was made and put together in totally different circumstances than the music that came after, do you know what I mean? That said, the reason we chose to do it was because nobody had ever put Brazilian grime on record before. Their scene is popping, they’ve got a huge fanbase … we shot a set with them and put it out on our YouTube channel, which we’d started from scratch again shortly before, and it’d had done 300,000 plays in a week. Mad.”
Is the drive to keep pushing new music and new ideas still the same, I wonder, as we start to wind down. “Errrrm”, Elijah begins, pausing briefly, “…it’s hard to get excited about doing the same things, so I find new ways of doing the things that I do wanna do if that makes sense. With fabric for example, we’ve played fabric loads of times, but we played there with Daytimers in October, which was a completely new way of experiencing playing there. The stuff that really excites me though is the stuff that goes beyond the realm of whatever I thought possible when I started doing Butterz or whatever. The way certain people talk about or explain things I’ve not considered before and those people that bring up ideas about technology and how that might change the way we experience music in the future, all those possibilities. That’s what excites me.”
“In general though, I’m most interested by the challenge of how we break down borders in music”, Elijah continues, wrapping up our conversation with some final reflective thoughts. “I think there are good parts to incubating things separately … different micro-scenes or whatever, as I’ve learned with grime … but I’m always thinking about how things sit together as one. Like how does amapiano fit on a jazz line-up for example? Or how does it fit on a grime line-up? Like, I dunno. But I wanna find out.”