Label Love #49: Coyote Records
Coyote Records is an instrumental grime label with a focus on providing a platform for new producers. Music journalist Tomas Fraser started the label in 2012 after deciding to do something with all the great music he was being sent. One of these tracks was Mella Dee’s ‘CTRL’, which became the debut release on Coyote.
Since then, Coyote has amassed an impressive catalogue, and rapidly become one of the best and most reliable new wave grime labels. Tomas clearly has a way with unearthing new talent, having introduced us to artists such as Arctic, OH91 and Chemist. It seems as though everything that comes out on the label is a must-listen – to my ears there hasn’t been a bad release yet.
If there’s such a thing as the ‘Coyote sound’ – and admittedly trying to pin down such a diverse collection of producers is something of a pointless task – then it’s crisp and detailed, with a premium on melody and emotion. Not that there’s a lack of heavy-hitters – far from it – but they’re polished rather than raw, putting a futuristic spin on the old square wave template.
2015 has been a great year for the label, with releases from Spokes and Letta, and a Last Japan remix 12”. Coyote also had their very own Boiler Room takeover in September – a special moment, as I’m sure everyone who was in that Shoreditch basement can attest to. Next up is Tom E. Vercetti – one third of Planet Mu-signed Silk Road Assassins – who’s set to release his ‘Future Perfect’ EP on 18 Dec.
We caught up with Tomas to learn more about the Coyote story, and what it takes to run a label in 2015:
I’ll let you introduce yourself first!
I'm Tomas, I'm a music writer from South London & I run a label called Coyote Records.
When did you start listening to grime, and what sparked the decision to go from being a fan of the music to actually releasing tunes?
I started listening to grime off the back of buying garage tape packs when I was about 13 or 14. I had a friend from school called Matt White who was really into Heartless Crew and Pay As U Go – we used to buy the Sidewinder & Garage Nation tape packs with our pocket money from a local record shop in Sutton (where I grew up) called IMO Records, which closed in 2006 I think. They were £20 for eight tapes and we'd just play them non-stop – my mum used to hate it but we played them anyway. It was around that time that you'd start to see Slimzee's name cropping up on the tapes & MCs like PSG, Champagne Bubblee, CKP, Heartless Crew, Genius Crew – and then slowly names like Dizzee, Maxwell D and people like that. The transition seemed fully realised when Dizzee made 'Boy In Da Corner' – it's a cliche album to look back on, but it really was the record that made sense of it all. That and Wiley anyway.
I owe a lot to Limewire following on from those early years too, because being in South, you couldn't pick up stations like Deja or even Rinse in East (we only really had Delight 103 & Flight 101.5 playing grime), so I'd download radio rips and freestyles through that. I still remember a 90 second rip of Kano, Ghetto & Demon spraying over Forward Riddim on Deja, complete with MSN Messenger alerts going off in the background – a proper time capsule recording now thinking about it.
The decision to start releasing music stemmed from being sent so much that I thought deserved a platform. Back in 2011-12, there wasn't the same DIY infrastructure available for grime artists to tap into really, and labels still committing to wax were few and far between. In essence, it was a massive risk to launch Coyote, but I'm so glad I did it.
Would you talk us through a couple of the key Coyote releases in terms of things really starting to get going for the label?
I think Walter Ego's 'Wavey' / 'Military Mind' was the first record that made me realise how many people were tapping into grime and what we were doing. It was a popular record before I'd signed it – Plastician had battered it on his Rinse shows – but more than that, it gave me a sense of direction and made me feel like Coyote had legs. You doubt yourself a lot when you're starting out at anything, but that feeling is amplified as a label – particularly because there's so much competition.
The second was probably Chemist's 'Defiance' EP that we put out in the summer of 2014. It was a record that ushered in a phase of releases that gave the label a proper sense of identity. Between everyone involved – Chemist, Tom E. Vercetti and then together as Silk Road Assassins with Lovedr0id, Last Japan, Spokes, OH91, Forever, Letta, E.M.M.A – we've kinda built our own micro-scene that people seem really receptive to, which is great.
It’s been a pretty great year for Coyote! 3rd birthday party, Boiler Room session, first artist LP… what’s been the highlight?
The year as a whole has been mad positive, especially the Boiler Room, but if I had to pick one moment it'd be meeting Letta for the first time. He was just sat in a pub in Camden waiting for me to finish work, having never left North America before, and the whole thing was just surreal and to be honest, a bit emotional. We'd been speaking for a year too, but didn't even know how each other sounded or talked or anything – the whole thing was crazy.
The Letta album was obviously a big deal, especially his trip to London. How did it feel to see this previously unknown artist getting so much attention?
We'd planned the album in detail – from his artist name, to the name of the album, to the photos of Skid Row, to him writing his own bio, to the artwork – it took months to get it all ready, but once we had everything in place, I knew it'd do well. He's a good-natured, honest and open guy and his music speaks for itself, so it was just about making sure people understood this was a special album. And I think we did that.
When Coyote started out, the climate was quite different. There’s certainly much more of a market for instrumental grime now. How do you see the label growing from here?
Like I touched on before, now we have an established identity of producers and a clear sense of where we're headed, I'm confident we'll just continue to grow. There's no time limits or goals set in stone because it's always been organic – it's more a case of making sure we don't get overlooked now things are taking off a bit.
The last year or two has also seen a big resurgence in vocal grime, at least in terms of press interest. I really enjoyed Last Japan’s set with Saint and AJ Tracey at the Boiler Room session. Which MCs do you rate right now?
We recorded a track with Last Japan and AJ in July which will be out early next year, and AJ is someone I've worked a lot with over the last six months, so he's top of the pile for me – he'll be huge if he makes the right decisions. I really like YGG as a collective too and Big Zuu's passion and genuine love for the music is infectious, plus I've got a lot of time for Nico Lindsay, Hilts, Jammz and Maxsta. That new Rinse EP with Maniac and Boothroyd is one of the best this year for me.
You’ve mentioned Mumdance & Novelist's ‘Take Time’ as a track you felt to be particularly important in terms of showing that MCs could work over new school grime production. Would you like to put out more vocal stuff on Coyote, or is that a matter for the artists you work with?
I think as a label with a heavyset emphasis on grime, it's only natural to want to tap into the vocal side of it too, and as I said, we've got AJ on board already. I don't think it's something I'll put too much emphasis on though, it's more about finding the right music for the right projects first – if I think an MC will suit a particular record, then there's always a chance we'd look to make that happen.
Tell us about how you see the label’s visual aesthetic. It seemed very complete from the beginning, and somewhat different from other contemporary grime labels. Futuristic yes, but more muted somehow.
It's all designed by Elliot Holbrow, who's been with us since day one in April 2012. He's always done the geometric thing really well, so we've run with that – the emphasis now is making sure we're making some sort of visual statement with each one. There's never a real brief though – maybe an artist will suggest a particular shape or colour – but I just let Elliot do his thing, so he deserves all the credit.
The label compilations are great, not many people are doing that, or at least not with such fully realised material. How important is that sense of community to you in terms of bringing together a group of artists? I see it in Coyote’s approach to remixes as well.
Cheers! Yeah that was the idea, as well as giving me an opportunity to release music from a lot of artists I was into, but couldn't necessarily dedicate a full 12" record to. Compilations definitely have their uses – and you can look back at them as snapshots of where the music was at that specific moment in time – but unless you're prepared to dig around, over time I've found they quickly leave people's minds, which is a shame.
How do you balance the workload of running a label with your other commitments? Is there anything you’ve learned that would have made things easier when you were starting out?
As a writer and with a full time job in music PR, it can get really difficult sometimes, but you learn to utilise time in different ways. Running a label isn't something you can just do – you have to live it, breathe it, believe in it. Coyote gets me up in the morning. The one thing I've learnt is to trust your instincts and stick to your guns – I worried far too much at the beginning, but if you care about something enough and believe in what you're doing, chances are other people will too.
What are the most satisfying moments of running the label?
So many to be honest, but the best is just watching artists do their thing. I'll never forget Chemist's face coming off the decks at Birthdays after playing his Boxed debut, or Letta coming off the decks at Boiler Room having flown in from LA the day before, or OH91 playing Michael Jackson on Butterz' show on Rinse in support of his debut EP, or Last Japan playing with AJ in Bristol recently. I'm just incredibly proud of them all.
2015 is coming to a close – favourite tracks/albums? And finally, what’s the one record that’s come out recently you wish Coyote had got to first?
Ah it's difficult – I've had to do this for a few mags already and really struggled. I think Dark0's 'Solace' EP on Rinse takes it as my favourite EP of the year, but there's so many tunes out there. 'Urban Myth' by Iglew and 'Tearz' by Rabit are two standouts, 'Shaded' by Silk Road Assassins as well. Albums wise, look no further than Visionist, although JT The Goon is up there. I really liked 'Eraser Meditations' by Kadahn too.
Finally, can you give us any hints about what’s coming up next on Coyote? Third compilation in the works? Plans for another artist album?
I tend to keep quiet about forthcoming music, but the Last Japan & AJ Tracey single is on its way, so look out for that in the new year. That aside, it'll be about consolidating – there'll be new music from Spokes, Letta, Chemist and Last Japan, who we'll be working on an extended EP with. The aim is to always better the year before though – I always have that at the back of my mind.