Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Elijah & Skilliam v Blackdown part 3

The saga continues... after part one and two, here's the third segment of my long and rambling wildly insightful interview with grime's Elijah and Skilliam. Their mix CD, Rinse: 17 is out on the 21st of November.

Tomorrow night (Thurs 10th) they celebrate its forthcoming release by playing FWD (and we're playing it next week, woii!!), special guest Silkie v Swindle, Royal T and Scratcha DVA. 

But before that you should probably download their four hour special on Rinse FM that also featured Terror Danjah, Spyro, Mr Mitch, Preditah, Rude Kid, Royal-T, Swindle, D.O.K, Teddy and Faze Miyake. That line up is insane! 

DOWNLOAD Elijah, Skilliam and friends Rinse FM 4 hour special: HERE.

The interview continues with me harassing the duo, in the nicest possible way, about albums...

Elijah & Skilliam v Blackdown interview part 3

M Now Skilliam, I know you think I was having a go at you at the 10 years of FWD party the other day but I was just trying to make a point about your artists. It just struck me with Royal T getting an album deal, if that is what he has, you're in a position now that you could have done it.You built these artists up , and the next stage in their careers will be albums.

Sk We might not have the powers to take them that bit further.

M I think you do.

E Not yet that's the thing. I don't think were ready yet. I need more time to learn about the whole process. I've only been putting out music for 18 months, and I haven't done any music related work before that.

M I think you have all the tools you need. You have all the tools that everyone else has, but with a much better success rate. The only thing you probably need is a little bit of budget, but you can do it for a couple of grand. This is not the time for me to tell you the things I learnt about putting out albums, because this is about you lot, but  think the next step is got to be doing it, because if you have talented artists, and you're A&Ring their singles, and you spend money - because let's be honest, releasing records is spending money really, not making it - the next logical step is to pull things together into bigger projects.

E Dunno. It's probably us as well. Our brains aren't wired to albums either. This is our problem, everyone says this to us, but I never listen to albums.

M Here's a secret though, I A&R albums like DJ sets. They have an intro tune, a warm up section, heat of the moment in the middle, and then an arc that goes down. Many albums have a similar phases to that. So I believe if you guys can plan a DJ set - and I listened to your Rinse CD and you've got like an arc to it. It's got structure and phases all over it and coherent start points and end points, big tunes that sound like intro tunes and outro tunes, then albums are the same.

I know how you guys feel; it was like this with Chantelle Fiddy back in the day when she would only listen to rave sets and I was all over “Boy In Da Corner” but my point is they share the same structures.

E Even when I was talking to Swindle about it, he’s like “well if I wanna make an album, I wanna have orchestra’s and shit…” His aspirations for an album are like: "Well why don't you just do what you're doing?".

M But you're a grime label. Swindle is an exception in grime, but I don't think grime should be allergic to the album format.  What good mix tapes were missing was somewhere to just A&R it, to say: this is the bad one, this the good one, and here is how they all fit together. I think you guys were already doing it with your radio shows and your mix CDs, but those things you either give away for free or you make next to nothing because you divide the copyright by 25. With an album, you divide by one.

E I say it to Skilliam and Terror, where Butterz is going to begin again - or end - is when we find an artist that can pull together Royal T, Swindle, Terror, DOK and make something proper fucked up. Yeah, we could do a Royal T album, that's a way to do it. If we could have done Trim… but that's the thing about being too late. If were two years ahead, we could have done Trim’s album, or P money for instance.

M  But there'll be a new artist in two years, that's the cycle. I accept that you might not be in the mindset for albums. But why does Roska have a higher profile than say other funky DJs? Because he's put an album out and PR'd it. People who buy records now are a minority, and people who buy singles are even quite specialist, but the one thing that people buy that gets the biggest audience are albums. DJ sets people mostly give away for free but putting out albums has this kind of “step up” effect for labels. I think you should do it because you've put the work in with these guys - Royal T and Swindle especially.

Royal T Live at 'Butterz Vs Hardrive' @ Cable 13 08 2011 With Merky Ace

Anyway I‘ll stop harassing you, tell me about Royal T's set at Cable, because I thought it was really cool and different…

E For some context, his first DJ booking was July 2010, and as he's gone on, he hasn't played like a grime DJ, he's just played Royal T the whole way through, for an hour, and this time was the first time that he would be in a main room environment, at a good time, with people that he respects from his scene, there watching, he knew he was going to have the audio out there, so he kind of approached his set like an album. He made specific tunes for the night, and took apart old bits put them with new.

M: there were a lot of refixes, in a really cool way.

E: A lot of stuff you would know by ear, but he's kind of reworked it. I just thought to myself, he's playing “I love U“, and he would have been about 10 when it came out. As we said again, the 18 year old coming out for the first time to a grime night wants to hear that, but I don't want to play it because I've been through it. Do you see what I'm saying? But with Royal T he is our youngest person around us, and he can play that record to the young people and be excited about it.

M If we're talking about the distribution of power between MCs, DJs and producers. One of the things that shifted towards MCs in the middle of grime was the half-step beat which made it kind of un-danceable, turned it into the concert thing that grime was. You guys have definitely been part of moving back to the dance floor and making it DJ-centric, and I really felt like Royal T's set was grime - claps, synths and grimy and a bit lo-fi - but danceable.

E That's him all over, that's what he's been trying to do. And a lot people don't rate him because he doesn't have all these strong vocals that Rude Kid and Teddy have on their tunes. But he doesn’t have them because the MCs don’t want to vocal those kinds of tunes. It's a shame that he's got all these up tempo clubby things, because Merky Ace can see his tunes working but it doesn't follow through into the booth.

M I thought it was funny that the MCs were stood there, and it was obvious - if I'm talking about power distribution - that Royal T was the most powerful guy there, not the MCs. It was amazing.

Sk He fully commandeered that set.

E And, he didn't say to them: "don't spit."

SK Yeah, he didn't at all.

E They though "Ah OK, we're going to wait for you to give us a bit of room." And he only gave them two tunes to go in on at the end.

Sk And they said it repeatedly as well - "Yeah - we're going to get into the spraying," but it didn't happen.

M I think that this is the really amazing thing that you guys have done. When I look around the room and see where you guys have played - as this room is covered in flyers of places you've visited and raved etc - one the core problems with grime and MCs was that MCs made it totally unique, but it couldn't spread, because you had to be from East London and sound like that know what the slang was and know people, and so it both focussed the world on them, but then the world couldn't join in. But with the DJing stuff, I could see another producer in San Francisco or somewhere else listening to Royal T and thinking "I can contribute to that," and give you guys a beat.

E 100%

Sk We've always said that, because we play instrumental that everyone can understand.

E It’s like the dubstep thing

M Exactly. It can spread. And now you guys are playing all over the world.

E I think like we're saying before with the Plasticman theory, in isolation the vocals seem even stronger than they are. If you play two in an hour then they really understand that. If they only hear “I Am” and “Boo You” it’s like, “what’s that?”

M Funnily enough for a while I thought you guys were completely against vocals and against MC, but I feel like the bigger the vibe got the more involvement you have with MCs.

E It's all about balance, isn't it? Its difficult when you've got an opportunity to work with P Money, at that time - and we couldn't do that now because he's a playlisted artist on Radio 1 and signed. It’s either we did that then… it's not going to come around all the time. We've done quite a few MC sets recently, and then we might go through the next 6 months and not do any. I think we're capable of both, and I think our progress as DJs, personally, is that we’ve been able to play sets with Trim, and no one is cussing me asking "what is this weird shit?"

M: Haha, that got said when we played with him!

E But now the weird shit is the only shit, that’s the normal stuff. Before when we did “Air Bubble” none of the grime DJs played it. Even “Orangeaid.”

Sk Even “Moodswings.”

M Another thing you guys do really well is build links with other scenes, other styles you don't seem that bothered by. For ages grime guys were in conflict with each other even their own MCs. People in the same crews would fall out, but if you can't even get on with your mates, or on your station, and people in your postcode let alone the next postcode, how can you sign to a major if you can’t even collaborate with your own scene? You guys are different, always being approachable and collaborative with people.

E He's better at it than I am

Sk [Laughs]

E I'm trying to be like them. When LV hollered at us to do the “I Am” remix, I said to him [Skilliam]: "Oh, imagine there is a label that you can just holler to ask them to remix, and then end up on the release." At that time, if you could phoned up Terror Danjah and ask if you could remix “Sadie Ama,” he'd be like "What?! Who are you?" But these people like Terror and Wiley, even if they know who someone likes Skream is, they wouldn't let him remix them five years ago. I’ve seen Skream asking Wiley to do tunes but they don’t recognise the value of other scenes. Or they say, “that’s your thing, we’re doing ours.”

[As a technical point, Skepta and Roll Deep were very influential in breaking Skream's "Midnight Request Line" to a bigger audience, which in turn helped break dubstep as a whole, but I take the broader point - Martin]

M But it's like you guys do value other scenes.

E I do, definitely, because I go to places and I'll see people other people playing the same records, so...

M  And the other thing as well is the club infrastructure. You've got something that fits into a club infrastructure, but grime doesn't have one. It had a couple of great clubs at certain times, but for whatever long complicated reason involving Form 696 or whatever, they were shut down. But needs must, if you want to be a grime DJ you have to get on and build bridges with other scenes.

Sk And I think it was because we weren't playing much in London, so if you create your own scene so you can play in London.

E If we didn't play in Cable we couldn't play at all. We hadn't played at Cable before.

Sk It hurts to be a London DJ who never plays out in London.

E Especially grime which is so London.

M But you've done it.

E We're nowhere near there though. We’re establishing ourselves on the London club scene, but we're not a fixture. Like with Night Slugs: any rave in London is going to have one of them on there and that means you’re a fixture of the club scene in London. But it's not like that with Butterz yet. You know, where 140 isn't the thing, the thing on that level is house, so like I said if we'd done it two years earlier when everyone was playing dubstep, it would have been the perfect timing to be selling grime, when dubstep was the coolest thing in the world.

M Yeah, but maybe it wouldn't be though, because everyone would have completely ignored what you were doing. Part of that really good now is  - and I'm one of original dubstep fanboys - but there's so little dubstep now if  you don't like "tear your face off" stuff. I really like what you guys do, because it's 140 and its tough and it's got that kind of rudeness that good dubstep has as well. We love mixing your stuff with other people's and other scenes, because it fits together. But if you’d come along at a time when dubstep was the hottest thing in the world, you might have got drowned out. Whereas now a lot of it is terrible and a lot of the original fans have realised it and moved on.

E Like you say the original fans have gone down tempo, so they're not going to check anything up at 140.  So it kind of works both ways, like if they've gone and listened to Ramadanman now, are they going to go back up?

M Yeah but I find that a lot of people like pitching up 130 records to 135bpm and making a middle ground. You can do a lot with Serrato now. So we should talk about the Rinse mix CD, how did it come about?

E We both decided we wanted to showcase the best of the year in grime so far, the best of the label and a couple of forthcoming bits that people can look forward too. We have “Orangeade,” “Mood Swings,” “I Am,” “Boo You,” “Woooo” and “Air Bubble” on there representing the label, Terror Danjah & Royal-T collab, Swindle & Silkie collab and Swindle’s, Teddy’s and Royal-Ts dubs as forthcoming bits people have to look forward to out via various outlets soon.

We also have bits on there from producers on we have been playing regularly, but doing any work with like Faze Miyake, P Jam, Spooky, Rossi B & Luca, Bok Bok, because there is more to the scene at the moment than Butterz. Then we have bits on there that came out on other labels that I A&R'd like the Royal-T mix of “Its Wiley” and Trim and Starkey “This Aint Me.”

Most other Grime DJs only see their job as playing good records, but Skilliam and I really go the extra mile to make good tunes happen in the first place. Hooking up producers and MCs with stuff they would sound good on. That is how most of the records have formed on the label, not just because we have picked up whatever has been working. We have built up most tunes scratch as a team. “Ghetto Kyote” is one of our favourite tracks ever, any genre, and it works with what we play today still, if that was made now it would have been a Butterz record. Then it is put together like how our club sets are, really energetic, quick mixing, double drops, chopping, long blends.

Nobody really plays grime like us, all of our mixes have a beginning middle and end, not just good tracks all over the place mixed really well, then just stopping when you have reached a time limit. We both felt it was really important to do that, and it took ages to get song order right, ideas for mixes, how to link sections of the mix together, and then all mix it back to back live in one go. Took about 30 attempts, something I’m not ashamed of. Didn't want to cut and paste. I wanted it to be sick to someone that listened to us every week, someone that listens every now and then, and someone that hasn’t listened to us before, and then someone totally new to grime.

When we first got the call I was thinking we should go and get loads of records especially made for this CD only, but then I realised this would be the first time some of the bits that have been perhaps overlooked over the last 18 months, would get a chance to shine. Our sound and style isn’t that bait yet, so would be a missed opportunity.

M When did you get asked?

E A random Friday in - when was it - March?

Sk Around March.

M It's an honour though right?

E Yeah, Its sick. It's one of those things like - because we'd only been there properly for two years in 1 till 3.

Sk And 3 till 5, in the am...

E: And 3 till 5 slot. Still to not be a prime time DJ, and not be a the top of the lineup, but have our own thing going strong - and being recognised - is sick.

M Some of the best ones that have been done though, for me, are not necessarily the headliner DJs - like Alexander Nut for example. I love that CD - he's not going to be the number one headline DJ, or bigger than Katy B, but it's a really good listen. It's got a really good flow to it, and arc to it, that goes places. So how did you go about picking the tunes and selection and ordering of it all.

Sk A lot of tunes have a story, we were saying that before. “Orangeaid:” Royal T made it for Elijah's birthday. “Pineapple” - Swindle came on a radio show a few weeks before, and even the personal reactions were like "Oooooooh, what's that?".

E It didn't have a name until she [points to his kitten] came along, it was just a number.

Sk “990”

E So we just called it “Pineapple” after my cat.

Sk Faze Miyake, “Blackberry…”

E… that's a kind of a garage vibe. And he's not affiliated to us in any way, and it must be annoying for anyone else that does grime if the only good thing that people have to say about grime is Butterz. I didn't want it to be a Butterz CD, because there was other good things that are going on, like Preditah and Faze Miyake. They're two good example nothing to do with us, we didn't even break them, we're not going to claim that we had any involvement in them getting big. But we’ll still play their tunes.

M The Faze Miyake one - I was listening to the tunes’ beat patterns, thinking about grime being danceable again and just clocking how many weren’t half step, it’s back to snares on the 2 and 4, and how many were a bit more dancefloor energy, that wouldn't have happened a couple of years ago.

E And then he's got “Take Off” later on, which is kind of like hip hop, so he's got two different tunes. On one CD he's proves that he's not a one trick pony, which is kinda cool, and he's relatively new. It sticks with the thing we started off with in 2009 - that we’re gonna play all these new guys - to anyone who hasn't listened to us. They might know P Money, Trim, Terror Danjah but they might then go “who’s Faze Miyake, who’s Preditah?”

M That's what people look to you for, to think differently about grime....

E There's no Wiley one on there.

Sk There's no Wiley production, but there is “It’s Wiley.”

E I made the Royal T remix happen,  because the guy who was doing the release emailed me to ask if I knew anything about Shortstuff who did the remix of the tune. I said yeah, he's cool, and he said "would you play it?". I was like, let me hear it, and I heard it and I said "give me the acapella and I'll give you something that I'll play". Then I gave it to Royal T and told him “do your worst.” This might be the only time you might have a Wiley vocal, so smack it.

Sk He did it like three times, adding different bits. If you pay attention to the tune, a lot of different clips from Wiley's big tunes are added in.

M It sounds like he literally sampled Eskimo at one point

Sk Yeah, and Maniac...

E The “Where's My Brother” bit, and a bit with the Sidewinder set in it as well. Yeah that tune just happened because they got in contact.

M So it's cool that there is a little connection with history behind a lot of them. I like the idea of Silkie and Swindle working together, one is from one genre and one from other, but actually they couldn’t be closer.

E They're the same thing

Sk They've just got totally different directions.

M: funk-inspired synth guys, one of whom who loosely works in a genre called dubstep and another who loosely works in a genre called grime.

E Now Silkie is doing that house-y stuff, and Swindle's done it already. He's been through that already, two years ago. For some people, they were saying that they wanted that collaboration.

SK "Ah imagine that..."

E I always say think of the person sitting the other side of the radio, what would they want to hear? "Imagine a Silkie and Swindle tune? Cool - we'll try and make it happen then." They caught a vibe for that tune.

Sk It's like “Tag.”

E Oh my days! Name me another genre where four producers are battling on a tune. That's why grime is the best. “Tag” was just a joke from Twitter where everyone was discussing the best producer. Swindle was like "alright, I'm going to lay down some drums", and everyone put their stuff on the drums and we‘ll see who‘s the best. Swindle did his bit first, then Terror, Rude Kid and Wizzy Wow. Then it went back round, but Wizzy Wow was like "no", and so the tune did not get finished.

Sk So you can just hear the drum track go on...

M Isn’t it a bit like that old Statik track with all the producers, the 8 bar relay one…

E  I can't find a track from another genre, is there? The Statik one was just people using their signature sound but this is people openly battling. “Ave that…”

M That in one tune that encapsulates what really goes on in producing, what people called "scenius", so there's a collective bunch of people interacting with each other. Some artists tell me that they are only in their own world, and they don't listen to anyone else, and anyone who is like them isn’t a true artist. That's not really how dance music works for me. Someone has an idea and someone else build on it, listens to it and someone else vibes off it and soon builds on it again, and the whole scene together moves in directions, and no one individual had a monopoly on original ideas - though some individuals can contribute more than others of course.  You actually did it in one tune, with four guys building at the same time. Fucking clever!

E The fact that it never got finished, and say after six months I was like "hold on" - I was the only person with this tune in the computer. It’s a dubplate because I’m one of the few people with it.

M Who's going to get the royalties haha?

E Well it was Swindles idea

M There's no royalties in compilations.... I wouldn't worry about breaking it between four people. One 25th of the post-recoupment profits divided by 4 producers? It’ll be pence…

E That kind of stuff I don't really see happening in other genres. Especially as it's so easy to make happen, as people send their shit by email.

Sk I see Royal T and Champion having a little…

E On Twitter people are bait…

M The Champion thing is funny right, because you guys don't typically rep for funky, and nor does Terror either, so how did you get to know him?

E Terror know him via Pioneer. His tunes they were the same vibe that was us. It's not because it sounds like grime, but it's that kind of energy, that danceable energy.

M When I asked you about Royal T from Cable, one of the things I wanted to ask about was that it was danceable grime, but another thing was how close Royal T's danceable grime was from Champions' grimy funky. It felt like they weren't a million miles away from each other, in terms of the vibe of them and the both of them sat really well together, like they were converging on the same place.

E What I liked about the people who were there, they didn't say "this isn't grime, I'm going to leave and come back when D Double and Terror are on", they stood there and appreciated it.

Sk From about 10.30, we had to open early. That was one of the few nights where people stayed all the way through.

M Actually the real break up was D Double E. He went to concert mode and all the cameras were lit up on him, in his face, and he was louder than the music.

E Champion hasn't been probably DJing that much before, so that's why [we put acts on in the middle]. People say we're stupid for doing this - not putting ourselves on at the main times. We put on people that we're bringing in. Other people were like, what are you doing? Everyone else would be the highlight of their labels night, but we wanted to give these guys a chance, otherwise how would they get back in.

M  It's nice. It's honest.

E Yeah. We're not having the issue of getting into the clubs, we're kind of slowly breaking in. For example, we've already broken into Fabric, we don’t need to prove anything with DJing, so why not give the spotlight to these people who can't get in?

M That just reflects what your labels' been doing all along: bringing people through, saying “I think this guy is good, we should back him…” Its healthy.

E I think a lot of things beforehand have been too "I can't get anything out of that, so I won't do it." I don't know Faze, but he makes good tunes, and he replies to emails, which is enough.


  • The final instalment of this epic interview will be published on November 21st when the mix CD comes out. Read Part two and one if you haven't already.


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

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