Catching up with the UK independent...

Five years is a long time in any context - but in grime it's a lifetime.

When Coyote Records launched in 2012 the genre was about as far away from the mainstream as it was possible to get, but since then everything has changed.

Fast forward five years and grime is once more a chart phenomenon, gaining enormous success without ever sacrificing its innate independence.

Coyote has certainly done its bit. Last Japan's titanic 'Ascend' helped launch AJ Tracey, while a series of vital releases from a disparate array of producers have helped turn the label into a by-word for excellence in instrumental grime.

Toasting its fifth birthday with a flurry of shows in London and Bristol, Coyote remains a force to be reckoned with. Clash catches up with founder Tomas Fraser to find out more.

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What is the one material difference between running a label in 2012 and running a label in 2017?

Social media, especially Twitter — it’s changed the game. Five years ago, it was still a bit of an unknown quantity with regards to how artists and the industry would engage with it to push music, but now its crucial. It’s a direct line between artist and fan that never existed before.

How has the growth of streaming impacted on the way you approach Coyote?

In quite a big way, without properly realising until fairly recently. Spotify, Apple Music and so on have become go-to platforms for new music in such a short space of time, but it’s difficult to imagine the landscape before they existed. Now, everything is geared towards playlists and charts from a distribution angle, where as say in 2012 when we started out, a big trend was on finding online stores to take exclusives on your releases for example — that whole model seems to be pretty obsolete now.

You’ve worked with Rinse on a number of shows, while the producers on Coyote have appeared on several different stations. How important is radio for establishing a new artist? Has the growth of digital radio helped provide fresh platforms for Coyote?

I’ve always loved radio, it was my first entry point into underground music back as a 13-14 year old kid (shouts to Delight 103 FM and Flight 101.5 FM) so in my head, it’ll continue to be really important forever! Rinse have offered us shows month-to-month for the past year or so, which has been great — if you’d told me I’d have a label show on Rinse back in 2012, I’d probably have laughed in your face — but digital radio has obviously opened up new avenues for everybody.

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We can play Coyote music, book Coyote artists...

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Live events have been a key factor this year, how integral are these to the label? You often include people not directly associated with Coyote – Mssingo in Bristol, for example – is there a broader vision to these nights?

Massively so. Labels are often headed up by a certain DJ, producer or crew, where as Coyote is defined by the artists, which makes the challenge of people latching onto what you’re doing that bit harder. Club nights address that problem for me and have become a good measure of how the label is doing and what the feeling on the floor is.

We can play Coyote music, book Coyote artists — it’s also a great way to blood new signings and get everyone together in person — but also bring in outside artists, like MssingNo for example, who compliment the music we push and release. Bristol has been like a second home to us and we’ve had some really special nights there over the last two years — the broader vision is to find homes in new cities and put down similar markers across the country.

London has lost a lot of small clubs in the past five years, some of which were pivotal to Coyote. Does this threaten the city’s underground culture? Which venues are currently catching your eye?

London is really tough to promote in, partly because there’s so much competition but also because independent promoters are cut very little slack by venues. I’ve put on nights where I’ve been treated with disdain, as a nuisance almost, and there comes a point where you just think, ‘Is it even worth it?’.

People often ask why we’re always throwing parties in Bristol, but what’s the alternative? You’re either at the mercy of bigger London clubs who’ll give you a budget and then micro-manage the whole operation, dictate line-ups etc or you go out off your own back and oversee everything as you’d envisaged but get zero support. If you do well, you’ll get a muted ‘well done’ and a pat on the back but if you do badly, you’ll never get another date. We’re basically squeezed whichever way we turn and it needs to change.

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Independent promoters are cut very little slack by venues...

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The only regular spot we throw parties at is The Alibi in Dalston, because the arrangement they offer independent promoters is up-front and no fuss, and the technical setup is also pretty good and more importantly, reliable. We’ve built a rapport with the staff now too, which is a rarity in my experience — I guess trust on both sides is the main thing.

Recent releases include three Stateside producers – Letta, Spokes, Marks – did this arise from a conscious attempt to broaden beyond London/UK beat makers? Do you regard their music as being essentially grime in nature/influence, or has the label moved beyond any genre tag, such as that?

Not at all, no. It just so happens that the music I seem to hear and instantly feel a connection with has been made by people operating away from London, and in Letta and Marks’ cases, the UK in general. Spokes is from here, he’s relocated to New York for work, but to be fair his music has always seemed to bleed into what Letta and Marks do anyway, it’s all quite natural.

I think all three of them reference grime, whether it be certain sounds, patterns or structures, but they all have their own outside influences that blur the lines a bit too. Coyote has always been a blank canvas in that respect.

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Some artists with Coyote have gone on to pursue ventures elsewhere – we’re thinking of people like AJ Tracey, as well as other guests – what’s it like to watch this happen? Their success is almost the best form of advertising you could wish for.

It’s the reason you do it really. AJ has obviously become a star and I’m chuffed for him — from day one, he had the right attitude, mentality and focus to make it and I think everyone around him from the jump was aware of that. He was never late for anything either, which has always stuck with me.

There’s also Silk Road Assassins, who are now signed to Planet Mu and in the midst of writing a new project for them. I’d obviously released solo music from Chemist and Tom E. Vercetti but to see them go off and do their thing and have Kuedo playing their music is something I’m very proud of. Letta is another too. Between us, we managed to kickstart his career and release his music, fly him round the world and away from North America for the first time in his life, write music with Ryan Hemsworth and Mr. Mitch — it’s been a hell of a trip.

Coyote’s sound/approach has been cited by a number of labels and producers as an inspiration, what does the admiration of your peers mean to you?

It’s pretty humbling to be honest and I’m very grateful. It started out with me just releasing music I liked and not much has changed, although I guess I’m more savvy and considered about certain projects now. The artists need to take the credit really though, because they define everything the label stands for.

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I look at it all as an investment, both in myself but also the artists.

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You’ve been an advocate for the physical format since the label’s inception, what changes have you noticed in production/distribution? Has the so-called vinyl revival aided you, or have you noticed problems/drawbacks?

Things take a little bit longer now, which is natural given the demand for vinyl has increased over the last five years, but aside from that things are pretty much the same as they were. I love having a physical reference point, whether it be wax, cassettes or CDs, and that’s not gonna change for the foreseeable I don’t think — we’re selling more than every now too, which is great. The only issues really are the financial implications and on a slight downer, Record Store Day delays (the less said the better), but I look at it all as an investment, both in myself but also the artists.

Given so many artists simply self-release what benefit does being on a label hold? What do you think gives Coyote the edge over that approach?

The support network I guess. I’m available pretty much 24/7 to anyone and everyone and I think that has helped a lot of the younger guys get an insight into how much work goes into releasing records. Like you say, anyone can release independently now, but I’d like to think the stuff I put out is done with care and attention.

There’s also the notion of a ‘campaign’ — understanding PR, radio, distribution, events and all the other components that go into releasing music in the most interesting and engaging way possible.

Given the enormous umbrella that it now covers – from No. 1 albums to Boxed, old school to new – what does the term ‘grime’ mean in 2017?

Good question. I think it’ll always mean different things to different people, but that’s what I’ve always loved about it — no one will ever put it in a box.

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