Ahead of Masterclass 001, on Wednesday 23rd November at Talent House, your teacher for the evening, Elijah – artist manager, DJ and writer – gives an insight into his world, work and journey thus far…
How would you describe what you do?
It’s evolving constantly as the industry changes and different opportunities arise but for ease I’d say my day job is an artist manager, then I work on my own art project in my spare time and DJ sometimes at night.
You’ve built an incredible presence online via your ‘yellow squares’, and been credited with demystifying the music industry as a result. For those that don’t know, can you explain what you do and how you came to do it?
I write daily short notes and share them on Instagram, mainly around sustainable artistic creation, career building and trends that might be relevant for DIY or emerging creatives. It’s what I’m learning from my experiences day to day and a bitesize discussion format I can have publicly with peers.
Taking your concept to the big stage was an incredible feat. How did the show come about?
I’ve been doing public speaking on and off for a few years, about work I do and challenges we face, and I wanted to do a way of celebrating a year of the project, to bring a lot of the people together in one place that have been commenting and sharing the work. I saw HERE had the giant screen and that gave me the idea to do it there. It was like a hybrid between a lecture and a stage show which I’m going to continue developing.
How did it differ doing this to an audience as opposed to online? Were there any learnings for you in this?
This one I produced and promoted by myself. I won’t do it like this again, I’ll get real help, it was a lot of work on top of all the other things I do during festival season. It was a real buzz though and really help take the ideas to the next level I have written most days since. I think my personality comes across better in real life, online I can read like a misery guts sometimes.
From a confidence/ more personal point of view, did you have to do any work on you to take this to the stage?
No, being a DJ in the grime scene for a decade, doing pirate radio shows, and big festivals over the years has eased nerves. Everyone that was there was there to support me too, so no pressure in that sense. All of the points I’ve covered I’ve had long discussions about them, so feel at ease saying them out loud now. Sometimes people ask me questions then say I know what you are going to say already. Some have been quite sticky.
What’s next for you (and the squares)?
Continuing to stretch what I can do with the architecture and work on some riskier projects that really challenge my work ethic and creativity while being useful to other people that engage with it. Vague, but it all may all make sense in the end.
Taking it back a bit, what’s your career journey been like and can you give us some insight into how you began and the path to 2022?
I graduated in 2009 during the height of the credit crunch, with a pretty useless Business Degree. Luckily, at the same time, I was on Rinse FM with my partner, Skilliam, DJing grime music, together we started a small label, night and collective called Butterz. We put out records, toured the world, and got to work with a lot of the big MCs. At the same time, we slid into management roles for the producers in our collective and learned the back end of the music business. We stayed small, but sustainable and our artists all had really good moments. 2020 happened which was a massive set back as so much of our income relied on live related work. So part of the Yellow Squares is me actually rebuilding our artists’ businesses to be more robust, and a byproduct has created this other avenue for us, which has temporarily taken financial pressure off some of our art projects.
You began your career as a DJ, you still DJ now, what’s changed over the last 15 years or so when it comes to DJing specifically?
In five years I went from using vinyl, to CDs to Serato to USB. So there’s been a massive technological shift, which has influenced the way everyone plays and what people want to hear in clubs. I’d probably say 9/10 of the places I played on the come up have shut down so there are a lot less clubs, and a lot more DJs. The medium has become more visual too. Before nobody really cared much what people looked like behind the decks, but big personalities punch through better. DJ culture is a lot more diverse, in terms of who is playing, what is getting played and what kind of events are on offer. In these times I think fun is emphasised more than it was when I was on the come up. It feels a lot less serious and moody than it was, which is good for me as that was never really my thing.
UD have been based in Stratford for 20 years and have recently opened their new Talent House HQ. There’s a lot of change happening in Stratford when it comes to arts & culture, is this the same for Walthamstow?
Yes, I’m going to focus a lot of my work in east London over the next few years. I’ve never done an event in Walthamstow, but that will change very soon. I want to be part of the positive changes.
As a local resident, what do you love about east London?I’ve never actually lived anywhere else. I’ve travelled extensively but it’s where I come home to. I’m fortunate to have been born and lived here during some huge cultural shifts in British history. I’ve seen a lot of people start here and really go out in the world and make an impact too. Very gritty but enough opportunity to get going.
Is there anything you’d change?
People just need to know more about the histories here, and find creative uses of any space to tell them and celebrate people that have lived here to inspire new movements.
Some UD members want to work behind the scenes, others are following the artist path. What do you see as the main challenges to overcome in the industry as we conclude 2022?
Whatever you do, you will need flexibility, creative thinking and a few hard skills that can make you employable in any arena. That could be project management, coding, video editing, design, photography or deep understanding of how to manage data.
The main challenges are also the biggest opportunities. If you solve a way to sell music, tickets, merchandise or product on even a small scale for a project you work on, you will be working harder than you ever have to maintain and grow it.
Tickets for Elijah’s UD Masterclass are on sale now.
Pick up your ticket HERE.
Entry is £5 or free to UD Members.