Launched in May 2010 with just £5,000 “and a bag load of passion,” Black Butter has become one of the biggest little dance labels in the U.K. The brainchild of tireless music enthusiast Olly Wood – who’d previously run a number of his own labels, including Hardcore Beats and the tear-out breaks specialist, Wicky Lindows – it was initially intended as simply a way of securing bookings and publishing deals for acts on the roster of Stackhouse, an artist management company run by Wood’s partners Henry Village and Joe Gossa. But the promotional platform soon developed a creative life of its own, to the point where now only around half the records Black Butter releases are by artists they also manage, and the likes of Laurent Garnier have waxed lyrical about their output.
Black Butter’s USP – and undoubtedly the key to its success – is its determinedly tag-averse strategy. While their peers were busy building readily identifiable profiles along genre-specific lines, Black Butter established a broad remit from the off. Their debut release was “Lovestruck” by Camden indie-grime/ska-garage duo Man Like Me (then managed by Village), which featured one Jessie Ware on backing vocals; their second was RackNRuin’s grittily soulful “Deep & True”; and number three was grime MC P Money’s massive “Ho! Riddim,” which recently reached one million views on Black Butter’s own YouTube channel.
The label can also boast that it beat SBTRKT to the punch – Jessie Ware’s first feature credit was not with him, but with RackNRuin on his “Soundclash” from June 2010. But Black Butter’s most recent and impressive success has been with Rudimental, whose “Feel The Love” with John Newman bagged them (and joint venture partners Asylum Records) a UK No. 1 in June of this year.
eMusic’s Sharon O’Connell picked four Black Butter artists to watch, and spoke with Wood about his vision, putting out records in tough economic times, and the label’s future.
On the Black Butter vision:
I wanted the label to not be restricted to any one genre and to make a real point of being all over the place, sonically. We just move with whatever’s in the air and sounds right – now, it’s on the bass-y house side of things. Kids now have connected to that house and garage sound and a lot of what they’re doing goes back to the late ’80s/early ’90s. I’m in my mid 30s now, so I’m really feeling it. But I’m looking forward very much to the first piece of indie music that we put out. Dance music is really dominant at the moment, but bands will come back. Back in the day, it was Primal Scream who brought dance music back into the live arena and it’s cyclical, so we’ve got an eye out for that. Eventually, there will be something with guitars in it that comes our way. That’s how it works, really; we’re just like shrimp, waiting for stuff to come along and then we filter out the bits we like!
On releasing singles and EPs rather than albums:
Being a singles label means you can be really nimble and quick in terms of reacting. I did do one album before on one of my other labels, but I found that you’re basically taking that artist out of action for 10 or 12 months, and people are like, “Oh, they were hot a year ago – I don’t care about them now.” “Feel The Love” is set for American release in October. It’s No. 3 in Australia and Rudimental haven’t visited there yet. It’s still smashing it here, too, so there’s no need to release another single just yet.
On running a leftfield dance label in a tough economic climate:
It kind of is becoming more difficult, but I have this slightly hippy-ish belief that if you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, then the universe doesn’t let you starve – there will be enough breadcrumbs to keep you going. And that’s kind of what we were doing; we were following the breadcrumbs until they led us to “Feel the Love.” Then all these opportunities suddenly opened up, where all these money people suddenly wanted to sit at our table and play with all our nice, shiny toys. But that doesn’t really sit with what we’re trying to do. We just set out to have fun and to promote the music we like. That’s our bottom line. We’ve created this big ball of energy. I think of Black Butter as like a spinning plate and the faster it spins, the more it draws into it. It’s all about keeping it humble and true.
On what’s next:
We’ve got one release a week from now up until Christmas. There’s the debut from [19-year-old south London singer] Syron, who featured on Rudimental’s “Spoons” and we’ve got a good remix package with that. Then there’s Fear, who’s on the house-y side of things, plus new EPs from [young Bristol post-dubstep producer, and winner of the RackNRuin "Territory" remix competition] Woz, Hostage [Scottish U.K. bass and rave don], Kidnap Kid and [classical/folk/urban/electronica hybrid] Clean Bandit, who I’m really excited about. They turned down a major-label deal for us. Grace is a cellist who studied at the Moscow School of Music and her boyfriend Jack makes all their own videos. They hire a council-subsidized studio in Kensal Rise and the deal is that they have to let a kid learn studio skills, so they’ve got all of these local kids in to sing on their tunes.
Twenty-six-year-old Londoner Matt Scott is often classed as a breaks/future garage producer, but he runs the groovy gamut and has also embraced house, electro and dubstep. He's done remix work for Nas & Damien Marley and The Nextmen, although a less likely hook-up saw him working with Sting's daughter, I Love Coco on her "Quicker" album track. RackNRuin has also teamed up with Foamo as Gorgon City, producing monstrously bass-weighted tunes with top notes of everything from vocal house to ragga.
This four-strong, East London songwriting and production team – comprised of Piers Agget, Kesi Dryden, Amir Amor and DJ Locksmith, and usually pictured in rabbit costumes – is much admired by The xx, among others. Their big, Gary Barlow-beating, number one hit (and fourth single) "Feel The Love" has racked up 500,000 sales to date in the U.K. alone. "Rudimental have soul dripping out of them," Wood reckons. No immediate signs yet of their debut album, but anticipation runs high.
Young Sheffield producer Matt Relton's specialty is effortlessly funky breaks and percolating, minimal grooves, wedded to warm, treated vocals – what he calls "loved-up dance music". KK's sweet 'n' sumptuous Alphaville EP suggests two-step teleported to an Ibizan sunset – maybe not what you'd expect from someone who faked a kidnapping in a KFC with some mates. But it did gift him his name.
Alex Lodder is the son of respected jazz pianist Steve Lodder and produces minimal grime and crunked-out dubstep as Noisses. Typically tuff and bass-heavy latest track, "Run Your Mouth" is on a ragga tip and features RTKal, Lady Leshurr and OV (from Foreign Beggars) on the mic.