A Lawless Establishment: in conversation with Butter Sessions founders Corey Kikos and Maryos Syawish
When you think about the genesis of great record labels, Frankston, Victoria isn’t usually the kind of place that comes to mind. Unlikely perhaps, but this quiet South Melbourne suburb where Maryos Syawish and Corey Kikos first set into motion their record label Butter Sessions. Founded in 2011 when they were still in their teens, in the ten years since, their label has become a dance music institution, beloved in their local Naarm/Melbourne scene, and renowned across Australia and the world. Though they’ve moved from the suburbs to the city, Butter Sessions continue to proudly demonstrate the power of building a record label with and for the musical communities from which it emerged.
With the launch of Butter Sessions apparel and accessories collections, Corey and Maryos have shown that their organic approach to creative projects is far from limited to music. Reflecting the label’s genre-defying approach to musical releases, Butter Sessions have long had a reputation for lively record covers and poster art. Sure enough, the label’s clothing offers the same eclectic visual palette and disregard for convention. Shortly before the release of Butter Sessions’ final collection for 2021, Maryos and Corey spoke to us about how they ground the label in their local musical community, unexpected sub-cultural crossover encounters, and the spirit of spontaneity they’ve maintained since day one.
Where are you guys right now?
C: We’re in our studio in Carlton, next to our office where we pack orders and all our stock lives.
M: It’s in a building with eight other studios/offices of record labels and producers.
Which other labels are based there?
M: Michael (Kucyk) and Research Records are upstairs, which is another label that I run with my partner. The rest is music studios.
C: In terms of producers, there’s RBI, Hector, Fabrics, Yoni, Cale Sexton, Liluzu.
How long have you guys been there?
M: It’s coming on five years. In Feb I think it’s five years.
You’ve said that you originally started Butter Sessions to release your own music. When and how did you decide to expand to releasing other people’s work?
Maryos: I think it happened the following year, very naturally. Friends of friends were sending us stuff—it was in the Soundcloud days when you’d chat to other producers on there and share things. So it kind of just happened like that. We used it as a platform to connect with other people and to prop up those who didn’t have a platform, because we were in that same position as them not long before. It was a lot of fun; we both like creating things that people can enjoy and be a part of.
Corey: I think after one release you’ve done the hard yards of setting everything up, so the second one seemed quite natural.
So it wasn’t the case that you had a core group of friends whose music you were releasing; it was more a way of reaching out to people beyond your immediate circle.
C: Yeah; the people we released, we were friends with them, but we weren’t close friends at that stage.
M: The second release was with Dan White, who’s Rings Around Saturn now, and another guy Booshank, and Tuff Sherm from Sydney. Rory (Dan White), I think a friend of ours put us onto him. He was uploading heaps of shit on Soundcloud, which was all great, and we just connected through there. The other guys, I don’t actually remember how we got onto them, in passing, or through friends connecting us. It started out as a way for us to put out our own stuff, but it was never the end goal to strictly do that. It’s always adapting and expanding; there are no real parameters to where we go, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad (laughs). We do shit on the fly mostly.
I was going to ask, you’ve described your approach in the past as having a “lawless angle.”
M: Yeah, that’s probably pretty accurate (laughs).
C: Yeah. We’ll be presented with an idea or direction and we’ll just meet to chat about it and then see where we go from there. Every year, things keep sprouting and we do new things.
Starting a label very much grounds you in a place and you’ve become big champions of your local scene. What made you want to keep expanding Butter Sessions as a label representing the Melbourne electronic underground rather than say moving to Europe to pursue your Sleep D project?
M: For me, there’s never been that massive urge to relocate, partly because we would go there (to Europe) for a couple months of the year most years and that would kind of fulfill that need. Maybe also partly because we are so grounded here. It would be quite difficult for personal reasons: family, partners, pets, stuff like that. We’ve got a pretty good, comfortable set-up with our studio situation as well. It may have made everything easier and fast-tracked what we do if we did move, but this is what we do and we’re in it for the long haul, so we feel like we can achieve what we need to in Europe or America or Asia by visiting a little bit here and there.
C: I think our career ambitions are a little bit different from the norm in our position as well. We really wanted to focus on what’s happening here and build a community here more than just go to Europe. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
M: It’s quite rewarding as well, working in a small community and trying to push it and have it thrive and work with other people around us here. Compared to ten years ago when we started the label, the scene here is much bigger now and there’s much more going on. There’s been more than enough to keep us engaged and excited and busy.
You started Butter Sessions when you were both really young. Being a bit older now and celebrating BS’s 10 year anniversary, what does your engagement with younger people and collectives look like?
C: I personally do a lot of mastering and mixing for other labels and I think throughout the last few years I’ve been doing a lot of stuff for people who seem to be at the stage that we were at when we started; I think it’s really cool seeing a new wave of people getting into it, and the music’s always really good.
M: We try and engage with those crews whenever we can and we definitely love to put people on at gigs and search for the next artists that we want to work with; there’s seriously no shortage of them. It’s another reason that we haven’t left; there’s so much happening still to discover and be involved with.
Do these younger artists reach out to you much? Do you collaborate on events?
M: We definitely get people reaching out to us and we play at the same gigs as a lot of other crews as well.
C: We try and put a lot of other crews on mixes as well, through our website, and show our crowd these other sounds.
M: Probably one of the best stories in that realm is the Polito one. They approached us at the end of a gig we played and subtly left this USB stick on the table we had just finished playing on.
C: Yeah, actually they didn’t even approach us. We didn’t even see them. We were packing up and there was this USB on the mixer.
M: With some demos and a note on there. They’re a pretty young crew; there’re two guys that make the music and they have two performers with them that dance when they play live. And it was amazing, some of the best stuff we’ve heard in ages and we’re still working with them now. They’re going to put out an album next year. So yeah, there’s been some great little connections like that with some up-and-coming crews, it’s really fun.
What does intergenerational exchange look like in a broader sense in the Naarm/Melbourne dance music scene?
C: I’d say there’s a big range of people, from veterans of the scene to people just starting. Even in this building, there’s Michael Kucyk who’s been running his label Efficient Space ten years longer than we’ve been doing Butter Sessions. Then there are other artists in here who are just starting a label, or they’re just starting to produce. I think the scene has a whole variety of people.
M: I think the heart of the scene pre-covid is the younger crews in terms of clubs, but the older heads and the more varied demographic come out for special occasions and specific events. There’s generally a sense of everyone being welcome at the events that we go to or put on. It’s really cool seeing people sharing knowledge and ideas from different generations and scenes, like when you see people from the punk scene coming to a techno party and really getting into it.
In terms of formal training, did you both study audio engineering?
C: Yeah, we both did a couple of years.
Do either of you have formal musical training?
C: No, we’re pretty self-taught.
M: Yeah, studying was more just to keep the parents happy, you know, the extra studies (laughs).
C: It was helpful in getting us out of the suburbs, where we grew up. Going to uni was a way for us to just see what was happening in the city and meet people.
M: We met a lot of great people there.
How does the increased incorporation of live performance into your Sleep D project and Butter Sessions as a label affect the events that you throw? Has it attracted different listeners?
M: It’s interesting. We started playing live shows and really threw ourselves in the deep end with it. It’s a great way to put on a special event and show people what we’ve been working on in the studio and get direct reactions from the audience. It’s always changing and we do a lot of collaborations in that realm with live improvised sets.
Circling back to your question, it’s put us into the same line-ups as bands in some instances, which is very different; people are more focused and attentive compared to a club setting where everyone’s partying and it’s much more social. We’ve played a lot of live shows, some in this kind of band-oriented world and some more sit-down ambient gigs; they all offer something different, which is why we love it so much.
What’s coming up in terms of Butter Sessions releases?
M: We just put out the Guy Contact album, then after that there’s another album by Japanese producer Yuzo Iwata; he lives in Berlin now and works at Sound Metaphors. After that, it’s an EP by Hybrid Man, a couple of producers from Melbourne.
C: We’re looking at doing another album for Cale Sexton, but we don’t have a date yet and Polito have done an album. We’re also working with Jennifer Loveless on another EP, but these last few are all TBC at the moment.
Butter Sessions has a really vibrant and varied visual identity. Could you tell us a bit about how you think it has come to be what it is?
C: I’d say a lot of it can be attributed to Maryos actually, who does most of the designs.
M: I think it comes back to the same thing as the label in general where it has this kind of lawless approach. Maybe it’s a reflection of our own personalities, just quite erratic, jumping from one thing to another, wanting to explore everything and constantly push what we’re doing. Collaboration is a big part of it as well; we love to work with other people on projects to create something special.
Do you have a background in visual art Maryos?
M: No, not at all. I’m self-taught.
C: You did art in high school, yeah? (laughs)
M: Yeah, I think I just passed art in high school (laughs). That’s probably a contributing factor as well, not having any kind of formal training and just learning different techniques and exploring styles over the years. It’s been great to have a platform to share it with people and develop the styles and techniques, and there’s no one here to tell us “you have to do it like this” or “it has to look like this” or whatever. We can just do whatever we want, which is a blessing. We can just experiment.
When did you start making apparel and accessories as more than record label merch?
C: It’s probably been about one year and a half now. It was around the same time that covid hit Australia. We had a bit more time on our hands and were thinking, “what should we do now?” And one of those ideas was to focus more on our apparel.
M: We’d been doing it infrequently at a more basic level since after our third release. But recently we’ve had time to focus on it and just tighten it up a bit and bring it up to par with the record label side of things.
Who did the designs for the new collection?
M: Ben Jones did some stuff; he’s done record sleeves for us before and is a good friend of ours. Then Molly Dyson and Jack Taylor—they’re from Australia/UK but live in Berlin now—they’ve done a bunch of stuff as well. Molly contributed some patterns, t-shirt designs, and bags to our first range actually. And I designed some things as well. A lot of collaborations again.
You don’t seem concerned about adhering to fashion industry conventions.
M: That’s probably because we’re just making it up as we go (laughs).
C: Yeah, as we put a range out we learn some new things for the next time.
M: With all this stuff, I’m sure there are a lot of rules and ways to do it but we just kind of do it and for some people it resonates, and for others it’s too shambolic. It’s all we know at this stage.
C: As long as we’re improving as we go on, then I think we’re on the right track.
M: We’re passionate about it, but music—events and putting out records—is at the forefront of what we do. But working with other artists and designers is definitely a lot of fun.
What’s happening for you and Butter Sessions now that the (presumably) final lockdown is over?
C: We preempted this. So basically from New Year’s Day to April, we’ve got festivals and warehouse parties and club nights all booked in. Next week we’ll be working on a live set for New Year’s Day.
Not such a lawless approach after all.
C: Yeah, we didn’t just wake up today thinking, “now what?” (laughs)
M: We’ve been keeping regular working days in the studio, so we haven’t fallen too far behind.
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