Sunday, October 16, 2011

Elijah & Skilliam v Blackdown part 1

A month or so ago, I headed east to meet up with Elijah and Skilliam. They'd recently submitted their Rinse 17 mix CD and it was time for the sleevenotes. 

I''ve been talking, off and on, with the duo for three or more years now and have come to have immense respect for their vision, their work rate and how they go about things. Having hopped on a bus with no precise idea of where I would get off, luckily I found them waiting for me at a bus stop. We headed to Butterz HQ.

There'd been so much happen between that I felt not only did it need documenting but in some ways I felt it represented how grime as an entire scene had evolved in recent years. The resulting interview is the largest transcript I can ever remember doing in my entire journalism career... yes longer even than Loefah and Si Kryptic Minds.

So to celebrate the Rinse 17 CD and indeed the achievements of Elijah and Skilliam, I'm going to publish the transcript here in four parts, one a week until the CD is out. Each week will include some exclusive content. This week...

EXCLUSIVE DOWNLOAD: Elijah & Skilliam Live from Plug, Sheffield October 2011

And so, to the interview...

Elijah & Skilliam v Blackdown interview part 1

Martin I'm going to start right at the beginning, because we should have done this a long time ago. How did you two meet? And how do you know each other? Because it feels like - looking at that [Elijah’s wall covered in hundreds of photos and flyers] - that you've been mates for quite some time.

Skilliam University....You know what, I actually saw you before university one time - I was with one of my MCs, one of my old crew. He used to do videos at that time. I didn't say anything to you, because I was just with him, but he met you and that was it. And then we went to uni and I saw you walking around - it was like the first day I think, and obviously Dane was in my halls - and I was like "I know I've seen him before somewhere", and it clicked.

M When did you guys clock that you liked similar music?
Elijah It must have been pretty quickly... Well it was in the first few months of uni.

M So what times are we talking?

Elijah This was like 2005.

M And was it about grime then?

E Yeah, yeah.

M Good time to like grime!

E But then because we were… not isolated but I was in Hertfordshire, the Rinse stream had just started. I don't know how many people I knew were locking at the time - it wasn't many. So the only way I was hearing stuff was downloading it afterwards, and it wasn't even proper podcasts, it was people ripping it... Barefiles. People used to float about tapes - just exchange stuff.

M Literally “tapes!” Cassette tapes. Tape packs. You’re looking at me like I’m odd but certain generations won’t know what that is.

E Uni is liked a kind of closed community, isn't it?...

Sk ...It's like a little bubble. An obviously in Herfordshire, you can't go anywhere else apart from the campus.

E Yeah, all that stuff never really came to us, like raves and that - maybe Kano once in a year. When did Boy Betta Know come? in the second year?

Sk And Lethal B.

M But really, you would have to come into London to go to clubs?

E Yeah, just on the weekends when we were back we'd have Dirty Canvas  - which was still going at the time, and stuff like that. But I remember the first time we were hooking up was when I brought the decks up. I was like the only person on campus with decks.

M  It's a big investment when you're a student

E It wasn't even an investment - these were just some shit decks...  I still use it now. It was just something to do, I was just spending like 18 hours awake a day, you need something to do. There's nowhere to go. This thing about students sleeping all day, you don’t really do it do you?

Sk There's either nothing going on or there's always something going on.

E Yeah - "just come over for a mix quickly"

M We were talking before the tape was on about things being of their time and how quickly a time and place can pass and one of the things I only clocked later about uni that you definitely don't notice at the time is that you're in a community where everyone is your age. Hundreds of people who are exactly your age. As that’s time and a place, other phases of life  are not like that.... But then you're surrounded by people who might be like you.

E But we weren't, that's the thing. [Apart from] me and Skilliam, how many other people liked grime? We were still outcasts - the majority was like Friday night, put on a shit shirt and listen to Baywatch riddim. That kind of stuff is wicked, it's fun, but then we still liked our own kind of music from London.

M: What did the other black guys like? Did you have any black mates who liked grime?

E: There weren't a lot of black people in our year.

Sk The next year, people started coming through.

M Everybody who likes specialist music finds themselves a little bit isolated.

E Imagine here, we think it's bigger than it was. But when I got there, I though "oh right".

SK People know it, but - I don't know - they mature out of grime sort of. Everyone went into the RnB and hip hop sides of it. That's what happening at the raves. Djs: they all play RnB and hip hop & bashment. You don't really get grime in the clubs. Even on a Wednesday - nope.

E We went to uni early, before the funky thing popped off.

Sk When we started to do the radio show.

E Oh yeah, yeah.

M I think there were Funky guys in '05, but they were literally just playing American house.

E Straight up RnB and then there would maybe a couple of token grime records, “Hype Hype,” “Pow” if you’re lucky . In halls, I would walk past the kitchen, and I didn't really talk to [the other guys] for a while. I'd pop my head in and say "safe". One day I was just sitting around, and a guy just looked at me. "‘Safe’s’ a good thing right?” And I was like “wow”. And when you're here [east London], you think everyone knows things like that, like "Wha gwan?" Those are the things that I say that you think everyone in the whole country knows, but pretty much my  vision is different now, because most people don’t understand these things or know what grime is.

Sk You might even get people on Twitter saying "what does ‘safe’ mean?", and “teach me some East London slang!”

M That's something I definitely noticed, because I came to London and started working in places like Deuce magazine where I started writing about grime. It was in Hackney Wick and Stratford, and I definitely clocked that the MCs there had a world view that it was the ends. I asked if they had ever played in up north and they said "Yeah, we've played in Watford". I meant like Glasgow. And that was quite symptomatic of it being that world that they lived in,

E Yeah north to us is Tottenham. Their perspective of grime was Heat FM, and ours was Deja. Someone in south was On Top FM. And that's only in London.

M Or Raw Mission?

E Yeah. See how small it was? Though there were loads of stations over here [in east].

M I like each station basically being like a galaxy or universe in itself, but at certain points it must kick in in that decade that things could be recorded so that people can hear other stations outside of it’s radius.

E Most of them never crossed over.

SK: I used to go to online stations like Axe  and Heat as well, but you know get North MCs that go there, rather than cross over MCs.

M And I guess only certain MCs were big enough to go on multiple stations

E And the people who were listening to them online were still people from the ends, who knew the website. You think on occasion there might be one person listening in Canada. Now, you speak to people, and they've never been to England before, and they don't know anyone in England, but they know Rinse.

M So, you're at uni and you clock that you both like similar music. The normal thing is that everyone gets in to music, and if they really like it a lot, they start participating and getting involved. How did you find ways to participate? DJing originally? Buying records, I guess, but how did it develop from there?

SK I used to give Dane CDs as well.

E  There was no motive. We were just doing it. You know, did you talk to a person in a shop when you were buying this record? You just buy it because you like it. I used to listen to clips on the Rhythm Division Website, before I was buying records.

M Realplayer Clips!  I love that phasing effect that early file hosting had on dial up, I used miss it when I buy the actual record. was the same. It was a like a phase, pulsing down and up sound

E People used to come round my halls and have a mix, chill out, like normal friends do innit. Everyone is going it because they enjoy it. The part where we started interacting with people is when we were did the blog.

M Did the blog come before being involved with grime forum, or did that come after?

E  Before, grime Forum started in 2008.

M When did you start the blog?

E Early 2007. That was because other people that I was reading just slowed up or stopped. I was still going to the nights, whereas they weren't.

M Always a good reason to start anything, really, is that you feel there is a need to do it and no one is doing. There is a hole, I should go into it. there's something missing - I should do it. And it's funny because lots of labels and DJs have come out of blogs, and in a way they probably shouldn't, but it's a good platform for getting yourself known, and working out what you like about music and sharing it.

E But that wasn't a motive. When I interviewed Maniac it wasn’t the intention to get songs. I did it because I wanted to hear what he had to say.

M Of course, and I wouldn't say otherwise, but its often the effect of it rather than the motive - a bonus effect.

E Its weird, if  I wasn't at uni at the time, then I wouldn't have had the free time to be listening to everything again, to write about it and all that kind of stuff. If I left school and went into a job I would just live a normal kind of life. There’s so many ways I would have not been on it…

M I remember a time when you said that you'd had a guy turn you down for a job because you mentioned the music in your CV.

E Yeah, that was the last job I did. I was applying for recruitment consultancy roles. I came back from uni, and he said I had the job on the Monday before I was supposed to start, but on Friday he called me up and said "bad news, this music thing. We looked at it on Google and we think it would be a conflict of interest. If you need to stay until eight o'clock, then you won't be able to do your radio show." He put all these stipulations on it. I thought “arrg, this is long.”

M  Did you believe him?

E I didn't question it, I just left it. I knew there would be a point where I'd just go "OK", and do it 100%, go full throttle. It was just odd that it happened. I was gearing myself up, I’d been to uni for three years and done a year of work experience. So I was gearing myself up to work - to be in a office and wear a suit. I was comfortable with that -  I think. It's not even that I was comfortable of it, I was capable of it. I still am now.

M You [Elijah] did marketing right?

E Yes

M What did you [Skilliam] do?

Sk Business Management

M You see, those aren't intrinsically bad things to have as a background for musical careers. They're both actually pretty useful things to have. They are kind of things that most musicians have to work out later, or pay someone to do it, rather than having a bit of a grounding in it.

I don't know if there was a tipping point for you [Skilliam] with DJing, often things can look like a tragedy but actually turn out to be one of the biggest opportunities of your life. Maybe you wouldn’t have had all you’ve done as Butterz if it wasn’t for that?

Sk It's all decisions. What actually got me started DJing was that I had a choice of two schools, and the one I went to they went to me: "You want to be a DJ?" - that's what got me into it. If I didn't go to that school...

M The school wanted you to be a  DJ?

Sk No, my friends, the MCs said “we need a DJ and we need you to be it.”

E That's how crews started when you're kids.

Sk Yeah, they named me and everything, saying "You're gonna be Skills!". That's how it went. If I went to the other school, none of this would have happened at all… well, I might have been.

M You don't know - I've definitely had that with people I've met. The difference here though is that's a decision that was a positive one, that you've gone to a school and good things have come out of it. But the weird one is when something bad happens to you, and actually it ended up being a really good thing. At the time you're thinking "I've got no job, it's a really bad thing".

E I think the economy thing in general - if it was pretty straight forward to get a job, we'd have got a job. Because you've been through the whole university process, its natural, and much easier to make a living. Its the next stage isn't it? You go to college, go to uni, you get a job.

M With me, I also didn't get a lot of jobs for a long time in music journalism. I only permanent job I had was the Deuce one and it was really badly paid. It was great - writing about Deuce magazine early grime, but every other job I didn't ever get. I think if I'd ever got one I wouldn't have had time to specialise. Those times were hard, and I was really, really poor for ages. But the people I met there are now my really good musical friends, and a really good investment that, at the time, looked like a total disaster.

E At the time you can only see the short term, but when you look back at it now...

M How long were you with  Grime Forum?

E The four people who started it were just on MSN having a conversation about RWD Forum. RWD had gone, it was useless, so imagine the place was everyone had been going for years, it had no news on there about grime for ages, so the site was useless. And then, they didn't bother having a forum. There was no place for grime anymore, so we kind of had a conversation. "Who can do that? - I can do that.", once everyone kind of clubbed together...

M And who were the people?

E There was the Hij guy - he already had the Grimepedia thing going on. Lemon, who's a technical guy. Aza-T who was doing podcasts at time, and me who was doing the blogging thing. There was probably a couple of other people that liked the idea, but didn't get into it heavy at the start, you know Hyperfrank was around. If I could find the first 10 members of the site that would be a good statistic. Even at the time I'd only met one of them personally, but when you see names online and on blogs, you feel like you know them

M The funny thing about grime and forums is that for a lot of while I think a lot of the MCs saw it as what they would call really neeky right? I learnt a lot about garage and grime through forums. Uptown forum I used to read a lot. RWD forum. Those two were my staples for finding out about Pay As U Go. People like Logan were being really aggressive on forums. A lot of MCs used to look down on forums, but now it's just normal that you would be on Facebook, Twitter or whatever.

Sk I think that they'll see someone criticising them and take it to heart so much.

E But that could be your only feedback though. Remember that if you didn't have your Twitter of people praising you, the 30 people who are responding to your video, or you wouldn't even have the YouTube video up there. Think of all these things that are there to give them a decent level of feedback [at that time].

M The thing is, it's not just that they weren't there, in the grime scene, they were used to the fact that if someone had said critical things to them and they were in their area, then they would go and do something about it. They would have a word saying "You can't say that to my face, this is what's going to happen", or things would get retracted.

Suddenly, things are being said by people they couldn't get at. I saw this with jungle guys before, they were used to a similar sort of thing. Normally you'd say something to his face, but then you online you couldn't get at these guys.

E I never thought of it that way.

M The grime forum was good though, important,  it kind of incubated a  lot of people who were into grime and kept things in one place. Did it have an influence on you guys? Was it useful.

Sk Yeah. We used to post our shows on grime forum. It was on the university radio station, that's when we would be like on Krush. That guy Geo.

M So how we get the link of you guys being on that station to Rinse? How did the link with Rinse come about.

E Scratcha. I knew him because I'd been interactive with producers who were making grime and stuff. It kind of goes around that there is a person that is doing interviews in grime. That kind of thing goes around. The explanation he gave me was that Rinse are looking for grime DJs, and where would you find a grime DJ at that time. It was 2008, and the funky thing was popping off. It was like, why in the hell would you start DJing grime in 2008, there's no reason - not to say there were no big tunes at the time - but there was nothing stand-out at the time that would make someone new go like "yeah, I want to be a grime DJ."

M It didn’t have the momentum of ’04. It wasn't flavour of the month

E The year after “Wearing My Rolex” came out

M It gave you an opportunity I guess. People who know about you now, probably don't appreciate... To me that seemed like a leap of faith by Rinse in a really good, positive way, because it's not like you walked into Rinse at the level you are now. So you definitively worked up the visibility and exposure you've got. So how did it feel, and how did it come about in being asked to join Rinse, or demo?

E We had done a guest demo thing and its weird… the whole grime DJ thing is the height of DJing in grime is playing on Rinse. So getting an opportunity was like "oh shit!". We had like two days to sort out tunes, and imagine I had never done a proper radio show. We were doing the uni radio show, but it's not the same. Me playing on Rinse was like “we need to step it up a level.” We got told on the Thursday night, but I remember where I was.... I was in my girlfriends house in Harrow. We did it on a Saturday 9 until 11 in November 2008

M So you didn't have to submit a tape or an example of what you’ve done before?

E No, just come and try. There was no-one on before or on afterwards, you remember?

Sk [Laughs] Yeah, we had to go and get the key!

M Was this the studio that was underground? Actually I know two old ones that were underground…

E The one in Bow. I remember asking for feedback and they were like "Yeah, soon." We never got the feedback. The feedback was “11-1?” It kind of never stopped, we do cover shows now all the time.

M You do put the time in.

E But then we are on on 1 till 3 am, and I think it's important. We value that slot like its 9-11, And I think they recognise that we treat the Thursday 1 till 3 like the prime EastEnders kind of slot.

M I think if you have that mentality in Rinse - that you treat every show as sacred - that they recognise it - I hope they do anyway.

E I assume they do because we're doing this [mix].

M Rinse also recognise when people put the grind in outside Rinse. By their contributions they give back to Rinse. You’re loyal to it but you've made something by yourselves rather than hoping they do the work for you.

E That was obvious from when we got there, because we didn't them and they didn't know us, we had no conversations. A lot of people that were there when we started, they've come through their  connections to them. We're just totally disconnected from everyone. He [Skilliam] knows Spyro.

Sk But I didn't get a bring in from Spyro...

M Spyro seems to know a lot of people, don't you think? Well DOK because he's related to him right…

Sk The youth clubs and stuff- he used to go everywhere. Even at the time he was one of the strongest DJs, and everyone knew about Spyro. He was on Flava.

E We knew about him.

M There are a few DJs on Rinse that can do things that other DJs can't, like mixing wise and he's definitely one of them. I think that it's like Spyro, Oneman and Youngsta. Youngsta for his accuracy. Spyro and Oneman have similar abilities to blend things forever really quickly. I don't know who else you guys would look to, technical DJ wise…

Sk EZ?

E Plastician- when he was Plastic Man. He still has the skills now, but I prefer the music he did when he was Plasticman. Our show was based on him. The way he does it, yeah, is that he has all these instrumentals and he used the vocals as the glue. He'll play like 10 instrumentals, and only play one strong vocal every 20 minutes. The vocal stand out so much that it makes you enjoy it 10 times more. The format of all the grime shows was like play a tune for 4 minutes - OK that's finished - play another one. You're fitting in all these vocals that weren't all that good anyway, off mixtapes… random. First hour would be vocals unmixed, then it would be instrumentals time.

M Do you remember the times before that where they were playing American RnB in those early sections?  Then Dizzee started making “You Were Always,” they started making their own version of RnB songs, and then it became mixtape era.

E So now when we got into Rinse, it wasn't our idea, but we wanted to run the mix all the way through, so every show sounds like a CD. You can take a show from 2009 and its going to feel like an album. So you could listen back a bit, which was always important, especially as we were on so late. If people were picking it up, they could listen to it in an afternoon.

M So this is what Dusk and I do. You have an arc to your show, a shape to the show. I think some DJs just get up there and play tunes, whereas we try to say that this tune can really fit here, and it sounds like you also do that.

E Because of the volume of the show we do as well, it's not straightforward to do it. We might get in there and start with tropical songs, like the ones from JME’s Project, so once you get started on a vibe...

Sk ... You can go from there.

E Yeah

M A starting point

E Yeah. Or, if we know we have a couple of new Trim vocals, and we have to play them the beginning, as they won't sit in the middle of a mix.

M And they can be quite strange tempos as well.

Sk And even the listenership as well. Being one o'clock in the morning. You have to catch those one o'clock people.

E Yeah, otherwise they kind of drop off. Never save a good tune until 02.55am!

M [Laughs] Yeah, I see what you mean. So you got on Rinse, and I definitely remember a point where you were like "we're starting a label". How did that crystallise? Because, you know, starting a label in an era when records don't sell anymore, CDs or digital or download or anything. Why? When? Who's idea was it?

E I don't think it was any one person’s idea. I wouldn't let anyone take credit. If I said it was me, he could say "no".

M A shared mind..

E Yeah, and the volume of tunes we were playing, especially with our format, where I'm listening to Vectra's show, and he would only get through 35 tunes, but because we were in a mix from 1-3am, we were getting through 60 tunes and then 90%  by talented guys were not coming out. People who are really highly rated today, like Terror Danjah, Swindle, D.O.K at that time had no outlet for their music.

M Terror was in that lull period wasn't he, after Aftershock and Flash and all that, but before Planet Mu.

E: It was a myth. No tunes came out.

The interview continues here: Part 2 of Elijah and Skilliam v Blackdown. Rinse 17 mixed by them is out November 121st.

Rinse 17 mixed by Elijah and Skilliam tracklist:

Royal-T – Orangeade VIP
D.O.K – East Coast
Swindle – Pineapple
P Money & Blacks – Boo You feat Slickman
Faze Miyake – Blackberry
Wiley – It’s Wiley (Royal-T Remix)
Mr Mitch – Centre Court
Rossi B & Luca – Lost in Limehouse
P Jam – Arizona Skyz
Terror Danjah – Full Attention feat Ruby Lee Ryder
Royal T – Royal Rumble
Spooky – Spartan (Terror Danjah Remix)
Teddy – Community Links
Swindle feat Terror Danjah, Rude Kid & Wizzy Wow – Tag
Bok Bok – Silo Pass
Royal T & Terror Danjah – Music Box
Trim – I Am (Preditah Remix)
Faze Miyake – Take Off
Swindle & Silkie – Unlimited
Treble Clef – Ghetto Kyote
S-X – Woooo (DJ Q Remix)
Royal T – Music Please (TRC Remix)
Terror Danjah – Air Bubble (Starkey Remix)
Starkey & P Money – Numb
TRC – Into Sync
Starkey & Trim – This Ain’t Me
Swindle – Mood Swings VIP

1 comment:

Mike Darkfloor said...

Interesting piece. Looking forward to reading the remaining 3 parts.

Other than Youngsta's show, E&S's show is the only other one I continue to return to on Rinse.

Got a lot of respect for what they do.