London to Tokyo
In December, Butterz founders Elijah and Skilliam took up residency in Japan for a month. Their time there culminated in the Japanese Grime Allstars mix, showcasing key players in the country’s burgeoning grime scene. Here, Elijah reflects on the connection between London and Tokyo and what that suggests for the genre’s culture
In 2008 I started my first radio show with my partner Skilliam, a late night slot on Rinse FM broadcasting 1-3am GMT on Thursday nights / Friday mornings. For a late show we had quite an interactive relationship with our listeners that was made up of drivers, people coming back from FWD; students, people from random places in America and of course some crazy insomniacs who filled the Rinse MSN messenger account with all kinds of strange messages. In early 2009, I noticed a small bunch of messages and tweets coming from Japan. Over the months, the number of these messages grew and it made me really curious about how they found out about Rinse and our show and music.
We started our record label Butterz in 2010 and sold our records and merchandise direct for the first few releases with no distribution deal. Most of the sales were to people in the UK, but a significant amount was going to Japan, so we started talking to people from over there from as early as the first and second releases. It gave us a sense of potential of what we could do with our label in the future if we stuck it out. At the time there wasn’t much hype about the music, and there were certainly no events focused on grime in the UK or abroad, so for the next two years we built those up bit by bit.
During this time we occasionally played beats made by Japanese producers, but the real spark came in 2013, when they embraced a concept here that producers had only scratched the surface on: Producers Clashing. Top UK producers were making beats aimed at mocking others, and it ended in a special show dedicated to it on Logan Sama’s Kiss Show and an event with Lord Of The Mics where artists like Rude Kid, JME, Flava D, Jammer and Footsie played beats back to back, often using each other’s signature sounds. In Japan at least 100 producers started doing the same thing via Soundcloud with the hashtag #wardubjp.
It culminated in a live event called ‘War Dub Japan Cup’. It got a massive response from the UK scene and felt like the first time Japanese grime properly got acknowledged.
I got the chance to visit Tokyo via another project I was working on in October 2014 so I asked Pakin, an MC from Japan, to bring together some of the best producers and MCs so we could do a studio set together. As far as I know it was the first grime set with UK DJs with MCs in a different language for the whole time. It got a great response via our Soundcloud, and a few videos from the set went viral via platforms like SBTV and GRM Daily. People were shocked that there were grime MCs in another country let alone Japan, but what they don’t realise is this has been coming together for years. There are people there playing the music in clubs all year round, there are passionate producers and followers of the music. It is small, but it is exciting, and it growing could change the music forever.
"I hope this music can still get a chance on the global stage, and Japan can safely say it is one of the first places outside the UK and Europe to embrace and make an impact on grime culture"
I returned in December and linked up again with Pakin in Tokyo and brought together another set off producers and MCs. It features 12 of Japans finest. Some came from across the country just for this session. It starts off with instrumentals then has a 40-minute session with MCs towards the end.
Our club night at Unit in Tokyo joined by label mates Flava D & Swindle was as large as a venue we would play in the UK and we played alongside Hyperjuice (who DJed for Stormzy at his Tokyo show recently) and Part2Style who have been two of the biggest ambassadors of the sound there for years. The show was great and tracks that get a massive reaction in the UK were getting more or less the same response there, which is reaffirming for us creatively. If people can get it in London, Bristol, Manchester and Sheffield and we don’t have to adapt at all to playing in Tokyo, grime must be doing something right.
It is a crazy time for this music in the UK, with artists doing massive festivals, getting into the charts and touring with no compromise. But I hope this music can still get a chance on the global stage, and Japan can safely say it is one of the first places outside the UK and Europe to embrace and make an impact on grime culture.
Don’t be surprised if in a few years you see independent grime artists announcing new albums with world tours. Aspirations in this music will change a lot if that becomes a possibility.
Stream Japanese Grime Allstars at butterzisthelabel.tumblr.com.
Elijah & Skilliam appear at Horizon Festival, Bansko Ski Resort, Bulgaria, 12-17 March